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New World Interview: Talking Heart of Madness Update With Creative Director David Verfaillie

Joseph Bradford Posted:
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With the latest update of Amazon's New World hitting this week, Heart of Madness provides more opportunities for players to enjoy Aeternum. From a story culminating expedition to a new weapon type meant to give more variety to combat, Heart of Madness aims to bring something for all New World players, new and old.

However, with everything New World it doesn't seem to come easy, as this week's delay of the update shows. Bugs, economy freezes, issues with the general grind and more continue to be at the top of some player's minds when looking at Amazon's MMORPG. New World aims to provide more meaningful content with each update, though, and the Tempest Heart expedition is one major move in that direction. Capping off the story of Isabella and the corruption that plagues Aeternum, max-level character will be able to explore the deepest reaches of the capital of Myrkgard. It's a challenging expedition which will push even the best groups in Aeternum.

Ahead of the release, we were able to send a few questions off to the New World team for an email interview, asking about the expedition, the team's approach to expeditions in general, as well as how the team is reacting to the exodus of players compared to the heights at launch.

MMORPG: Expeditions remain my favorite activity in New World, and the Tempest Heart expedition is no exception. How has it been, especially now that the team has a few expeditions under their belt, to design these encounters? How do you ensure that they remain fresh and interesting and not simply linear versions of the same thing each time?

Dave Verfaillie, Creative Director: We’ve learned a few things from previous expeditions, and we’ve used those lessons to really make Tempest’s Heart feel new and epic. Since this expedition is the culmination of the Isabella storyline, one area we pushed was storytelling - integrating a lot of environmental storying telling, NPCs, and even a cinematic at the end. There are also some new mechanics in this expedition, like unlocking an expedition chest with items found in the expedition and some turret gameplay.

New World Heart of Madness

With so many expeditions tied to story progression in the main questline, how do you ensure that even players who might not have the best gear or stats but still want to experience the content can without much struggle?

DV: Our goal with end game expeditions is not to push difficulty too high. We want players with decent gear to be able to complete the base expeditions, so they can share in the experience and story that they offer. The mutated versions of these expeditions are where we start to amp up the difficulty.

While many areas in New World have a similar feel, especially in the early zones, the later, end game areas feel unique, especially the expeditions themselves. I LOVE the art direction in the Tempest Heart expedition – the moments where you are passing through the hallways with the tendrils and just the blood red skybox were some of the most impressive looking sights in all of New World. How does the team ensure that these areas at endgame – and especially these pivotal encounters and moments – look as unique as they feel?

DV: The team was very excited to make this expedition. We gave them the time to really explore the concepts of corruption, the conflicts of mind and soul, and the history of Isabella. The depth of thought and their passion led to a very unique experience that pushed visuals, gameplay and storytelling.

How has the feedback to expedition mutators been since they were introduced earlier this year, and what has the team done to incorporate feedback you might have received?

DV: Overall, mutators have been pretty well received. Players like the additional challenge they provide and enjoy figuring out how to deal with the new mutations and curses. There are also some great pieces of gear to chase after! Players have also really appreciated having a reason to go back to the Dynasty Shipyard, so expect us to do that with other leveling dungeons in the future, with the Depths coming next.There has been feedback on balancing and tuning, and we have addressed most of the major concerns there and will continue to tune over time. One other piece of feedback that we’ve heard a few times is that the bosses in dungeons not being impacted by mutations is a missed opportunity. We agree, and its something we’ve started to look into solving.

Last week on the PTR, the idea was floated that the team was going to test 40v40 wars in an effort to make things more strategic. However, that seems to have been scrapped due to feedback, the chief reason I was reading is simply down to the difficulty of getting into wars as they currently are and how reducing the available slots could make it impossible for some. What is the team doing to ensure that new ways to experience war are able to be tested and such, while also still being cognizant and responsive to player feedback?

DV: We decided not to introduce 40v40 wars based on feedback from war participants that it’s really important that wars have as many people as possible; more important than some potential gameplay improvements we felt 40v40 brought.

Overall, Wars still feel like an exclusive event, something that many players in New World may never get to experience due to the limited slots and the fact that companies are always going to choose players and favorites they are familiar with. How does the team at Amazon solve this issue, making it so more players have a chance to participate?

DV: We believe that war is a pinnacle moment in New World and want to give anyone who wants to try it a way to do so. As we build out our instancing technology, integrating war and invasion into the system and offering more on demand ways to participate in those modes is something we plan to do. But there is a lot of work to do to develop, test and iterate on this before we launch it.

The Blunderbuss is such a cool weapon. Can you talk briefly about what it’s use will be, especially in group activities? Why would someone want to pick this up and level versus a loadout they may already be familiar with?

DV: I hope a lot of players try out the Blunderbuss. As you said it’s a cool weapon that brings some really cool new skills such as Claw Shot, which allows players to quickly close the gap, and Splitting Grenades, which provides great disruption and damage. The Blunderbuss also scales primarily off strength, so it will be a great weapon for melee players who want a bit of mid-range damage.

And to help players experience this new weapon, we will have a double XP weekend that also doubles weapon mastery XP so you can quickly level up your Blunderbuss.

New weapon skill lines are coming this year in addition to the Blunderbuss according to the roadmap, with the Greatsword slated for Autumn. How hard it is to plan and execute on new weapons, and how do you ensure that when they are introduced they are balanced, as best as they can be, with the meta at the time?

DV: Weapons are one of the features that have the longest timeline of all our content, because they entail not just the weapon and its skills, but also all the crafting integration, weapon variants for drops throughout the world, and the legendary weapon quest line. So we start weapons months before players see them in the PTR.

Because of this, meta isn’t an important factor in our weapon choices. We focus much more on what gaps we have in our weapon arsenal and what we think would be cool. But as weapons get closer to launch, we do exhaustive testing with the internal team to try to ensure the weapon is fairly balanced against the current meta. Then the PTR gives us a large data set that we do some final tuning around. For instance, we tuned down the Blunderbuss a bit based on its strong performance in the PTR

The team has been pretty transparent with updates, plans and much more. The very long conversation YouTube videos that you’ve put out in the last few months have done a lot to keep the community informed. How important is it to the team to continue this level of communication, even when it might be during a difficult time (like say, another dupe bug or something else that could be affecting the title at the time)?

DV: Maintaining a high level of communication is very important to the team. We’ve seen the relationship we are building with the community pay off in a better game, with great feedback on the end-game changes we made in January and some of the “reduce friction” efforts we are releasing in February and March. To have good communication it needs to be open and transparent, and that means not only communicating about the great new features coming up, but also some of the long-standing issues with the game. We try to cover these issues and our plans to address them in the team update videos, and hope players understand these are complicated problems that sometimes take time to fix the right way.

Many people put stock in the current player count being reported by Steam DB, with a small fraction of the massive user base the MMO launched with being reported. Does this bother the team at all, and how would you assuage fears of fans worried about what this might mean for the future of New World?

DV: Amazon Games is behind New World and we have a long future ahead of us. There has been a decrease in players since launch and some of this is natural. Technical and gameplay issues also impacted this, and we have been working hard to address those issues. Those efforts and the recently released roadmap will hopefully show players the commitment we have to New World. There is a lot of cool content coming up - new weapons, new expeditions, new PvP modes, and even a new territory. And we will continue to update the roadmap with newer releases over time.


Joseph Bradford

Joseph has been writing or podcasting about games in some form since about 2012. Having written for multiple major outlets such as IGN, Playboy, and more, Joseph started writing for MMORPG in 2015. When he's not writing or talking about games, you can typically find him hanging out with his 10-year old or playing Magic: The Gathering with his family. Also, don't get him started on why Balrogs *don't* have wings. You can find him on Twitter @LotrLore