Red's Read - First Look at Crafting in New World
I’m so glad to finally be able to write about New World, or at least my experiences in the game. There are a lot of legitimate complaints about the project, and I’ll even add a few of my own to the list today, but there are also a lot of things that have been done incredibly well. If I’m not careful, I’ll spend the article gushing about the vistas and the world design, and how the game evokes this sense of being in the untamed wild even as you know there are players all around you. I also might lose myself in delight over the excellent score for the game, though for the life of me, I can’t find the name of the composer anywhere.
I thought that instead of any of that, I’d take on crafting in today’s article. I’m a huge fan of the industrial role in virtually every game I play, and crafting in MMOs is one of those key things that’ll make or break games for me. Whether it’s the find, loot, and combine random components that some games use when crafting is added as an afterthought, or the complex and many-layered approach to a massive player-based economy we find in games like EVE Online, crafting maketh game, to paraphrase an old film.
Sit back, grab your cup of coffee, and let’s dig into some of what I liked and didn’t like about the crafting system in New World. I’ll also step through some of the ways the system ties to other features of the inbound MMO. Obviously, you can expect some discussion of what changes I’d hope to see by release will find a place in this article, as well.
Food is one of the more complex crafts, but the UI does a really good job of presenting information in a controlled manner.
A Taste of Complexity
Despite a few issues with crafting, it’s a system that I like a lot in general and for several reasons. First, I like the stratified layers to the crafting. Hardly a new concept, but it’s one that’s not always used in MMOs. I think it gives the game depth and a sense of immersion that can often be missing, and Amazon made some specifically smart choices on this front.
It’s incredibly common for players to have to chop trees or even bushes to acquire the wood used in crafting things like bows, arrows, and various other tools and implements. Less common is to have that refinement step to take the raw timber and convert it into useable lumber. New World takes it a step farther, though. Where most systems would have the refinement linked to the lumberjack skill in some fashion, New World has separate skills for the refinement of timber, ore, and raw stone.
This added layer in the crafting process creates economic opportunities for players on both micro and macro scales. I can easily see swarms of dedicated lumberjacks felling trees to feed their company’s woodworkers, who in turn supply the various crafters. That same system on a larger scale may have players purchasing goods from the player market, rather than spending time and effort harvesting and refining their own.
One lesson that I don’t think many developers have really embraced from EVE Online is that more layers in any economic system is a good thing. It’s not the easiest thing to develop and it’s even more difficult to balance in any realistic way, but a multilayered crafting system does provide for a robust and dynamic player economy. I think that New World starts down that road but doesn’t pursue it very far.
Personally, I’d rather see them go all in and give us the deep and complex industry that I’ve been craving in a fantasy game and never gotten, but I also believe they’ve made a very smart choice. Yeah, I know it’s a little odd to say that I’d rather have one thing while acknowledging they were smart to do something else.
In this case, I think Amazon straddled a line very well. They’ve implemented an economic system that has some layered complexity in it, but that is still relatively approachable by more casual gamers. From a business perspective, that was a very smart move. It’s also a move that we should support to some degree because it contributes to a healthy game, and healthy games inspire more games.
The complexity of the crafting system is approachable without being so simple as to be boring.
Another thing Amazon did well in their development of the crafting system is creating a diverse set of ingredients and resulting goods. Cooking in particular requires the sourcing of a large array of ingredients. Not all these ingredients can be found in the same area commonly, and thus it promotes economic exchange.
I also like that there’s an element of randomness in crafting. While I’d rather have that variability be built into crafting directly through optional ingredients and processes that are controllable by players, doing so would probably be too complex for the New World target audience. Thus, having a pseudo-random roll to determine level of success and potential bonuses for each crafted item creates needed diversity in the game with a lower barrier to entry.
Another thing that I think the team did really well is the UI for this system. The UI, while a little wonky to figure out at first, takes a modest amount of complexity and distills it down to a very well-executed and easy to understand interface. In fact, I’d really love to see these guys step over to the web services division and help the AWS guys out a bit with their UI, but that’s a different article.
I found the UI design to be particularly cool and immersive. For one, it uses font and stylistic choices that directly promote immersion by fitting the game’s historical setting incredibly well. I also don’t know that I’ve seen anything quite like this design before, which shows that all items come in tiered variants with increasingly higher-tiered ingredient requirements. The UI is easily navigated from general information to contextualized specifics and once you get used to it and understand how it works. I think I could say that it’s probably one of the better crafting UIs that I’ve ever used.
Another aspect of the crafting system that I like a lot is the way it’s interlinked with other systems in the game. Interlinking systems is a good way to create additional complexity with little effort, and also a good way to promote specific types of play that the developers are wanting to see in the game.
Specifically, in New World the crafting has been tangentially linked to settlement development through town projects. These projects are selected by the company that controls that region at the time, but spawns missions that players can take to help complete that project. These projects can be many things, but often are upgrades to crafting facilities in the town. Thus, it’s in crafters’ best interest to support the project through these missions.
Where the interconnectivity with crafting comes from, not counting the fact that some of these projects literally improve the crafting stations, but the missions are often related to crafting in several forms. There will be hunt, delivery, and exploration missions, but crafters in particular will be glad to see missions to provide resources. Crafters might be asked to provide everything from raw skins and timber to refined stone blocks and metal ingots.
Advancing in community standing will open a lot of perks for the player. I really like that you can even configure different perks for different regions. Maybe one for combat and leveling, while another is focused on crafting and tax mitigation.
This means that communities attracting crafters may find themselves progressing more quickly over time. This improved economy directly supports any company that controls that territory, so every company that captures a territory has to walk that tightrope of military and economic might, and maybe even a little in-game politicking. That’s the sort of emergent complexity that generates content through player conflict, and I’m really excited to see how it plays out.
All players select a preferred faction and there are ways for crafting to support that growth, as well. Just as there are missions for the settlement that involve collecting and crafting, factions offer a similar set of missions for progressing faction ranks, which unlocks access to and provides faction-based resources for special gear and consumables.
This was another really intelligent design choice with respect to crafting and supporting the in-game economy. Not only does it provide a way for more industrial players to contribute to both factions and town projects, but it also acts as an additional sink for player-procured resources. Along with item wear, this sink of resources should help maintain a decent level of demand and thus ensure industrial players consistently have a market for goods.
Now, let’s get into some opinions that are going to be unpopular. Humorously enough, these ideas are even going to be slightly contradictory. But hey, consistency is boring anyway.
I’ve heard a lot of contributors taking shots at New World and I’ve heard a lot of people say it’s not ready for release. I happen to disagree on that point. In part, I expect it’s because I’ve played so many survival games and MMOs that have been in far worse shape. New World really just isn’t that bad in comparison.
That’s not to say that there aren’t legitimate points and issues, and the relative lack of end-game content, rather repetitive mob-design, and similar missing content does make for some dull moments in the game. I think that all ignores what the game is at its heart, though. The game is a team-based PvP game wrapped in MMO dressing. The MMO aspect supports the PvP, and that lessens the import of the only semi-finished MMO portions of the game to some degree.
The various biomes in the game are far more varied than most seem to admit. The flora of each region is distinct and I definitely saw a difference between the forests of Windsward and the tropical lowlands of First Light.
The part of the game that matters is the crafting, because that’s a key piece of what drives that PvP portion of the game, and that part is in pretty good shape. I know, I’m kicking out another contentious point, but I’d submit that while there’s room for growth, in general the crafting as a system is feature complete. It just needs to be expanded, and that’s something that can be done on the fly and over time.
But there are some problems with crafting that do need to be addressed relatively quickly. One is that it’s a little too easy to get to higher-tier gear. Crafting stations are available for the entire town, which on the surface seems cool. What happens once all towns have been upgraded and all crafting stations have been maxed out, though?
I know that the idea that some people have access to something others don’t is a bad thing these days, but that’s what drives conflict and conflict is a core aspect of this game. Why bother fighting over a town when you can just go in and use the crafting station no matter who owns it? Disparity in access is necessary to help push conflict between companies.
I get it. I realize that Amazon made this design choice because they didn’t want to prevent some players from ever having access to end-game gear. The problem comes from the fact that this choice also undermines one of the foundational elements of the game. Short term, I think everyone is happy. Long term, I think that there’s a good chance the game becomes less active and political entropy sets in.
I also don’t like that players get access to all crafting skills, and I realize this is another opinion that some folks will very much disagree with. My reasoning is again that this fails to support another of what seems to be the game’s core elements. New World is a PvP game, but specifically a group-based PvP game. It’s not just a total sandbox gank-fest, but rather a game built to encourage players to form together in small groups (companies) and to engage each other in PvP.
Allowing any player to effectively master all crafting skills at once removes reliance on other players, which in turn creates space for players to exist easily outside a group. I’m all for allowing players to make that choice, but this system makes that choice too easy. Granted, getting to max skill takes time and a company feeding a player a supply of resources will gain access to higher tiered good sooner, but there’s nothing to stop a single player from getting to the same position on their own eventually anyway.
All toons are created equal, but that doesn’t mean they have to stay that way. I’d like to see something similar to combat skills for crafting skills that allow players to unlock higher tier crafting, but on a limited basis in order to ensure some dependence on other players.
This creates issues for the economy, and we should be able to test my theory over time. If my concerns are valid, then the economy for lower-tier raw resources will degrade over time and eventually be followed by mid-tier and eventually higher-tier resources and goods. This’ll happen because players are full-stack crafters and aren’t reliant on other players for anything.
A system where players could gather and even refine all resources at a certain base level would be fine. I’d even be okay with allowing all players to craft all first-tier goods, but players need to be restricted to at least some degree when it comes to advanced resource gathering, refinement, and crafting. Those restrictions create the dependence that will eventually push players into the groups that support the group-based PvP the game is built around.
As it stands, I think New World is in much better shape than it seems many are giving it credit for. Frankly, I’d be logged in and playing if they released in just a few weeks. Compared to the other options out there, New World stands apart as being interesting and developed on a much larger budget than we’ve probably seen in a while. The fact that it’s missing “end-game” content is largely irrelevant because I think it misses a critical point. That is that the players are the end-game content. With just a few tweaks to spotlight that fact, I feel New World is relatively ready for launch.
That said, I do have a few issues. I believe Amazon has made a couple mistakes with how they’ve implemented crafting. Making crafting stations too common and allowing players unlimited access to crafting skills is in direct conflict with the unique design of the game and may actually detract from the how sustainable the project is if not corrected. Rather than support the game, these systems are detracting from what seems to be the core design.
Economic disparity is the greatest tool games have for driving conflict and conflict is content. More importantly, it’s content that tends to be better than anything a developer could ever write, because players in the aggregate are creative, vicious, noble, and dynamic in epic proportion. I’d argue that Amazon has made a critical mistake by not playing to that potential, and I hope that it’s corrected before it’s too late for an otherwise very cool game.