It’s now been a few weeks since the launch of New World‘s first season, Fellowship and Fire. I wanted to give it some time to settle, but I think I’ve now had enough experience of it all for my opinions to crystallize, and overall, I am sorry to report I do feel more underwhelmed than anything.
There’s two main things to talk about with this first season, and I’ll give each its own section.
The season pass
Going in there was a lot of concern over how essential completing the season pass would be. Now that it’s out, half the the playerbase has been complaining that the season pass’s rewards are pay to win, but the other half has been complaining that the rewards are too weak to be worth the effort, so… I’d say Amazon hit about the right balance.
The gear rewards can be nice if you’re new to level cap or gearing an alt, but they likely won’t make a big difference to those well-established at endgame. Ultimately I think whether it’s worth it to grind out the pass or buy its premium track will come down to how much you like the cosmetics it offers, as those are the only things exclusive to the pass.
So I think the studio hit a good balance on the rewards, but when it comes to actually completing the pass, it could have done better.
My first experience with a battle pass system was in Magic: Legends, where the battle pass was extremely generous and incredibly easy to progress. So perhaps I’m a bit spoiled, but I did go into Fellowship and Fire with the expectation that I would be able to finish New World‘s season pass mostly by playing the game normally.
That hasn’t really panned out. There is a trickle of seasonal XP to be gained from earning regular XP and other everyday tasks, but it’s so incredibly small as to be irrelevant. You’d be lucky to complete more than a level or two of the hundred level pass by relying on this baseline XP.
This also has the frustrating side effect of making season XP boosters — available from the pass itself or through the cash shop — entirely useless, as they apply to only the minimal baseline XP.
So how do you progress the season pass? There are two main ways: the season journey and the activity card.
The season journey is a set of one-time objectives divided into chapters, with a large XP bonus and other rewards for completing each chapter. The chapters have to be done sequentially, but you can earn progress for objectives in later chapters at any time; you just can’t claim the rewards for them until you’ve unlocked that chapter.
The first few chapters are pretty low-stress, but the last couple require a lot more effort. The final two chapters are also completely out of reach of solo players, as completing them requires significant time spent in endgame group activities, like outpost rush and mutated dungeons.
Again, maybe my expectations were unrealistic, but I was pretty frustrated when I realized this. I hadn’t initially noticed that the last two chapters require seven completed objectives rather than five, and I’d thought I could still finish them with solo activities. I had been looking forward to acquiring the excellent Speardaughter outfit, which is a reward for completing the final chapter.
The XP to be gained from the season journey is significant, but eventually it runs out, leaving the activity card as your main method for finishing the pass. It’s a set of various quick activities that can be completed to earn small but steady bumps in season XP, with bonuses for filling out full rows on the card. You need only complete three activities before turning in the card for even more XP, though you don’t need to turn it in right away if you like your current selection of activities. You can also reroll the activities on your card as many times as you wish, with increasing azoth costs.
There’s no time-gating on the activity card, which can be both wonderful and terrible. On the one hand, there’s nothing stopping you from grinding to your heart’s content, but on the other, there’s nothing stopping you from grinding to your heart’s content. You can get sucked down the rabbit hole pretty hard.
I spent most of the first few days asking myself if I felt progressing the pass was too slow or too grindy. Eventually I realized I was asking the wrong question: It’s not about how fast or slow it is but about how enjoyable the process is.
If you play smart and set your mind to it, you can finish the season pass pretty quickly. Supposedly some people managed it in the first day, though I’m not sure that’s realistic for the average player. But completing the pass requires you to play in a very narrow, specific way. It’s very easy to fall into a mindset that any time doing anything in-game other than filling out your activity card is time wasted, and that’s just not a good feeling.
It’s not that doing the activity card is even that obnoxious. It can be if you really hyper-focus on only doing the most efficient activities, but you can mix in variety without sacrificing efficiency too much. It’s just that I don’t want to it to be the be all and end all of the game. I want to be able to do other things without feeling like I’m wasting my time.
It should also be said the pass is quite difficult to progress if you’re below level cap. The journey doesn’t unlock until level 60, and a lot of card activities require you to be max level as well.
Ideally I’d like to see the baseline season XP earned by general gameplay substantially increased, such that the activity card becomes more of a nice bonus or an option for those that want to grind super hard rather than the only viable path to seasonal rewards. That way the boosters would actually have some value, too.
For my part, Amazon Games granted me with a press pass to test the system with, but if I’d had to pay out of pocket, I’m not sure I would have bothered.
The seasonal story
Despite their flaws, I have often stuck up for New World‘s quests and the quality of its story-telling. So I hope it means something when I say that I really, truly did not enjoy the Fellowship and Fire story on any level.
I should offer the caveat that the recent Brimstone Sands storyline was pretty strong, and even in this patch I’ve really enjoyed the new Brightwood zone story, so this isn’t necessarily indicative of a downward trend for the game’s story as a whole, but the fact we will apparently be revisiting the Silver Crows in future seasonal stories is worrisome.
The rest of this section is going to have some spoilers for the story, so if you don’t want that, you can skip to my final summary and just know that I didn’t like it.
The season’s storyline briefly covers the founding of the Silver Crows mercenary company before delving into helping your first client, a Celtic warrior named Skye the Speardaughter, whose warrior spirit has been stolen by a Varangian warlock. Bit of an offbeat premise, but it fits with the folkloric feel New World has been increasingly leaning into.
Skye is introduced with a pretty impressive animated cutscene that sells her as a complete badass, and she immediately hooked me as a character – which is what makes it so disappointing that she does basically nothing the entire time.
Yes, the premise of the story is that she’s been rendered helpless, but I kept waiting for the moment when she regains her warrior’s fire and starts kicking ass and taking names. It never came. By the time she gets her fire back, you’ve already beaten the boss, and the story just ends with Skye going off to find herself or some such.
Meanwhile, Skye’s lover — a fellow speardaughter named Aidyn — exists in the story only to be corrupted (not Corrupted) by the villain and then killed off so Skye can be sad, which seems like a pretty cut and dried example of the “bury your gays” trope.
This stands out especially since this is a setting where death usually isn’t permanent. It has previously been established that while people usually come back on Aeternum, they sometimes don’t for unknown reasons, so Aidyn’s death being permanent isn’t technically a plot hole, but it feels weird that no one acknowledges the oddity of it in-universe.
So I’m not saying that killing off queer characters should never be an option, but this was done in such a slapdash and cavalier way that it seems like the embodiment of the trope.
The two permanent members of the Silver Crows to join this season — Grace O’Malley and Zander the Undying — are entirely unappealing. Neither contributes to the story significantly or does anything at all, really. Worse still, they both embody that grating, faux-MCU forced quirkiness that plagues so much of our media these days.
I feel like a lot of writers see humour as an easy path to success, but it’s actually very difficulty to write effective comedy, and attempts to add levity to an otherwise serious story can often fall flat on their face, as we see here.
So both the seasonal pass and the story have been disappointments this season, though the latter much more so than the former. I don’t think there’s anything conceptually wrong with the seasonal model New World is pursuing, but the execution leaves something to be desired. Hopefully the team at Amazon Games can learn from its mistakes once again and do better with future seasons.
It did at least succeed in bringing me back to the game after a few weeks of break. I’m actually having more fun with New World now than I ever have as I bring my alt through the revamped leveling zones, but none of that’s connected to the seasonal content.