Need for Speed World is all about writing your own story. Lead producer Jean Charles Gaudechon tells us this several times. It's an unusual sort of claim given that, for the majority of motorsport games, the kind of story you write is: “I drove a car.” Possibly “I drove a car in circles,” or even, “I drove a car in circles fast.” But the team behind the free-to-play MMO incarnation of EA's street-racing series plan to extend the kind of freedom you have beyond the track, allowing players to define distinct driving personalities, charting a course of progression through RPG-style levels and skills.
NFS World revisits many of the settings from previous games, albeit now suitably revamped, filling the familiar city spaces with live players, and breaking off individual race events into instances. But Gaudechon says NFS World isn't just an MMO by virtue of increased player numbers. EA have studied the ways successful MMORPGs work – their traditional community divisions, economies and trades – and attempted to find analogues for these within the world of streetracing.
“We've tried to avoid reinventing the wheel,” says Gaudechon, speaking of the way they've brought MMO convention to bear on the racing genre. “As you play, you level up. With new levels you get new driver skills. Driver skills give you different trees where you can spend your points – the three axes of the game will be Racing, Pursuit and Exploration.”
Between these main branches, the game tries to cater for a diverse range of interests – from straight-up competition to the socialisation aspects of cruising the city, and even a form of crafting. And while the skills you earn tie into the strengths of one of these categories, there's a good deal of interplay between the three. A passive Exploration skill called Socialite, for example, increases the amount of cash you win from each multiplayer race.
“The Exploration axis is about you and your place in the world,” says Gaudechon. “So if you spend skills there, you can become a better merchant or crafter. Crafting is something we're looking into. It's basically the third type of player that isn't usually served by motorsport.
Other skills directly influence the effects of power-ups, meanwhile. Putting points into one of your racing skills can increase the length of time for which you can use nitrous.
“But some people might prefer to use the Juggernaut power-up, which allows your car to push away traffic,” says Gaudechon. “In which case you'd put more points into the Rolling Fortress driver skill. Another example is Nerves of Steel, which will improve your car handling, while points put into a Pursuit skill can allow you to see the cops from further away. So some people will want to be an anti-cop driver, while others will focus on being a competitive racer, and others will be interested mostly in vehicle customisation.
As for how the cop system works: “They act like the cops in Most Wanted, roaming the hub world,” says Gaudechon. “Pursuit is more of a secondary mode right now, but you can still get Reputation Points from it, which you use for levelling. It's very much an escape game mode rather than an objective mode; if you go and mess with a cop in the world, you'll begin a pursuit. The longer the pursuit goes on the harder it will get, and you'll get rewards – crashing a cop will give you more points, as will breaking stuff along the way – but the cops get tougher on you. It's going to be a challenging mode – our feedback from the beta was that it was too easy, so we're doing work to make it tougher.”
Gaudechon says that there won't be any explicit Exploration game modes at launch, but they hope to find ways to reward freeroaming and cruising in the months after it. Similarly, while there will be a good deal of cosmetic freedom and performance upgrades, greater options for customisation and tuning will also be rolled out with the first big update. Gaudechon is evasive about whether or not players will be asked to pay for this patch – indeed, while EA are clear this will be a game supported by microtransactions rather than subscription, the details of exactly which parts of the game you will find yourself needing to pay for are as yet undetermined.
Regardless of which unlocks become purchases, Gaudechon is insistent on one thing: “It's important that you don't feel shitty at the beginning. Obviously you're going to unlock better cars as you go, but we want you to feel like a hero.”
And that term, usually associated with burly men wielding flaming swords, is rather poignant: EA wants you to bring a personality to NFS World. To achieve that, they'll have to create a community that is more than the sum of its alloy wheels and go-faster stripes.