In my first post covering New World‘s Rise of the Angry Earth expansion, I laid praise upon the new mounts and riding skill, as well as the flail. Today, I’m going to look at another headline feature for the expansion, the zone that was once First Light but is now the Elysian Wilds, as well as the story contained within.
Please note that this column will contain significant story spoilers for the expansion.
Of all the new additions in Rise of the Angry Earth, the Elysian Wilds zone and its accompanying storyline are the thing I’m most conflicted about.
On the one hand, New World has once again hit the ball out of the park when it comes to art and sound design. I was mildly unsure about the Elysian Wilds looking so alien in comparison to the relatively realistic environments of the rest of the game, but I can’t deny it’s a gorgeous zone. I first arrived in the dead of night, and the bioluminescent fungi and clouds of eerie radiant spores were absolutely stunning.
There’s just enough of the original First Light zone’s geography and architecture left to feel familiar to those of us who played through it back in the day, but it definitely presents as a new zone, not a rehash of the past. In contrast to the complaints about “laziness,” I suspect it was probably harder to build something that feels this fresh while still having callbacks to the past than it would have been to build a new zone from scratch.
I’ve noticed some strong environmental story-telling, as well. You can find makeshift barricades set up in and around the few buildings left standing, hinting at the desperate final hours of those who once called First Light home.
I also thought it was very interesting how the parts of the zone under Artemis’ control have that alien, fungal appearance, whereas the Beast Lords’ domains look like any natural jungle. It’s a great, subtle way to deliver the message that what Artemis seeks isn’t a true return to nature but a remaking of the world in an image of her choosing. Given the implication by Shirzad that the Ancients are also aliens to our reality like the Corrupted, I’m left to wonder if this fungal nightmare is what their home realm looked like.
The sound design is equally compelling. Strange beast calls and stranger sounds still echo through the Wilds, strengthening the otherworldly atmosphere. The music, meanwhile, is maybe the best zone music in the game yet, being soothing but with a hint of energy that makes you want to keep delving deeper into the region’s mysteries.
My first impression of the story was strong. It had a darker, more intense feel than I expected. For the last year, New World‘s story has tended to feel a lot more like conventional high fantasy, and I was beginning to despair that NW had forgotten its horror roots, but the Elysian Wilds brings back at least some of that flavour. If you thought becoming Corrupted or Lost was the worst thing that could happen to a person in Aeternum, think again…
Unfortunately, the gameplay doesn’t deliver that same sense of horror, and that brings me to my biggest complaint: Elysian Wilds is too easy.
Questing through Brimstone Sands was one of the most challenging open world experiences of my MMO career, and going into the Wilds, I expected to once again be tested to my limits. But in practice, it was a very tame zone. Aside from the armoured drakes and the final soul trial, none of it felt challenging at all.
I thought perhaps the difference was simply that I am now a more experienced player with better gear, so I took a trip back to Brimstone for comparison… and promptly got my head kicked in.
Even with the level cap increase and a massive bump in my gearscore, Brimstone Sands is still more difficult than Elysian Wilds, and honestly it’s not close. I had about as many deaths doing one faction mission in Brimstone as I did in my entire run through the Wilds.
Now, I think you could definitely make the argument that Brimstone was a bit over-tuned, and I don’t think everything needs to be quite that brutal, but this is definitely an over-correction. A level 65 zone shouldn’t be a cakewalk compared to a level 60 zone. A challenging open world is one of the biggest things separating New World from its competition; Amazon should not compromise on what makes the game unique.
It felt a bit short, too. I wasn’t keeping an accurate count of my play time in either case, but it definitely felt like it took me a lot longer to finish Brimstone Sands, even putting aside all the deaths.
The story also felt a bit too easy and simple. I don’t need a lot of twists and turns, but I think every good story should have at least one swerve — a revelation that defies what you expected, a moment when the protagonists are dealt an unexpected defeat, something.
Brimstone Sands delivered that. Going in, all the lead-up in-game and in the marketing was about the Corrupted Romans being the big bad, only for us to then discover that Artemis and the Angry Earth were the real threat.
Rise of the Angry Earth doesn’t deliver on that front. It’s entirely straightforward. Artemis is trying to conquer the world, then we stop her, the end. That’s not to say it isn’t without a lot of good moments (like the return of horror vibes), and there’s interesting new lore revelations (like the “Ancients might be aliens” implication), but it could have been more.
I don’t expect an enormous amount of moral complexity from this game, but it was also a bit of a shame to see Artemis — previously the game’s most morally gray character by far — reduced to just another murdering egomaniac. I don’t mind her being the villain or going too far, but it would have been nice to keep some of the more sympathetic motivations she had in the past.
I am glad that we didn’t kill her, at least. I had hoped this expansion would be part two of a trilogy, with her final defeat in the next expansion. It looks like we’ll instead be moving on from her for the time being, but at least the door remains open for her to return, be it as an ally or a foe. Let’s hope.
A lot of the problem is my own expectations. Brimstone was the high water mark for the game’s story to date, Artemis is by far my favourite character in the game, and until now the trend for story-telling in New World has largely been upward. In light of all that, I expected the new story to be something special, and instead it was just… decent. Not terrible by any stretch, but not amazing.
So it definitely could have been better, but I also definitely over-hyped myself. In the end the problem isn’t so much that Elysian Wilds is bad but simply that Brimstone Sands was better. Given the meteoric rise in content quality this game has enjoyed to date, I find that a step backward like this, even if it’s small, hits hard.
That covers my thoughts on the new zone and its story, but hang on tight because later this week I have one more piece on my Rise of the Angry Earth impressions coming, in which I’ll discuss season three and the updated endgame.