With the physique of a Jelly Baby, the telltale wheeze of a smoker and a barely concealed disdain for exertion, I wasn't exactly the top pick when it came to my school's team sports. On the occasions where I wasn't forging my mum's signature to get out of them, I'd typically fall into the 'I guess someone has to take him' bracket. If I was lucky, I'd get to sit on the bench and dream about being anywhere else.
Now that I'm arguably an adult, I realise the bench sucks. I want to be where the action is. I want to be picked first and then get to look extremely smug. Not in sports, of course, which are still terrible, but in videogames. I've been trying to get selected for a war in New World for a week now, and it's become my white whale.
New World's wars are crucial to the MMO's game of territorial control. The PvE layer is the bare minimum of what you'd expect—a box that's been ticked—but PvP feels much better integrated, with an engaging player-led conflict raging across the world. Each of the game's three factions and their respective companies are trying to paint Aeternum in their colour, using emergent open-world fights and the more structured wars to claim territory and reap the accompanying benefits.
There are PvP missions, forts to fight over and players to gank, and all of this contributes to a meter that eventually allows companies to declare war on each other. This isn't like two guilds having a scuffle, because everyone in those factions the companies are attached to will have very good reasons to want to see their side win the siege. Companies get direct control over territory, setting things like the tax rate, but there are also faction-wide bonuses tempting other players to join the conflict. And then there's the bigger picture to consider, which is why you might see enemies working together to take out the bigger threat.
New World's faction rivalries are a high point, so naturally getting stuck into a war, the culmination of these rivalries, is an exciting prospect. I've been looking forward to it since launch. And every day just brings with it more disappointment.
When I got my first opportunity I was positively giddy. My faction, the Syndicate, is the underdog of my server, and since things kicked off last week we've been perpetually butting heads with the churchy Covenant, the server's top dog. By the second day, we'd managed to claim two territories, but the Covenant was already working hard to take one of them from us. We fought off fortress invasions, we participated in PvP missions, but our numbers were too small and the Covenant was able to declare war. I was extremely invested, so I immediately signed up to help the defenders.
Conveniently, wars don't start immediately. Instead, these are scheduled battles that give everyone time to prepare and make sure they're in-game when they begin. I'd been waiting all day, too scared to log out and potentially get trapped in a queue, and when I was halfway through another quest to cull the wolf population, I realised that things were running late. The war was meant to have started 15 minutes prior.
It turned out that the war had actually occurred as planned, it only took 15 minutes, and I wasn't invited to play.
See, it's up to the companies involved in the war to create their teams. It makes sense, giving them ownership over their personal conflicts. If you're fighting to protect your territory, the last thing you want is a bunch of randos who might not even be in your company. But this also leads to a lot of people missing out. Only 50 people can participate on each side, but I've yet to see a war that hasn't attracted hundreds of players, most of whom won't get to see the war for even a second. And even those within the company could miss out, since they can contain up to 100 players.
If I knew there was no chance of me getting to participate, I could live with that, but instead New World keeps you hoping until the last moment. You can see if you've been selected, but everyone who hasn't ends up in the back-up pile so that they can be brought in if someone doesn't turn up. It's a sensible solution to the problem of absent combatants, but it's harder to swallow when you've signed up for four wars and are still waiting to get into your first. So far, I've had to rely on watching streamers duke it out, which might be worse than not getting to experience the fights at all.
For those playing on one of the busy launch servers, there's another problem: queues. If your war is during peak hours, you might have to start queuing hours before just to make sure you get in on time. That's simply not possible for most people, and certainly not preferable when there's still a chance they won't be able to participate even if they get there before the bell rings. You can be on time and be selected and still get screwed over, since companies can boot people from the war even once it's started.
The way in which wars work also makes me a bit concerned about the future of New World's PvP. Once enough influence has been gained in a territory to declare war, the vanguard—the company leading the war—is picked by lottery, but not everyone is equal. The companies that contribute the most are more likely to be picked, allowing the larger ones to snowball.
It's not just down to the number of members a company has. The 100-player cap introduces a bit of balance, but it still means the most successful companies, the ones that are big, active and have more players at a higher level, get more opportunities to command wars, and thus get even more powerful. As servers become more established, that's going to make it even harder for smaller or newer companies to get to a point where they can be competitive.
With only 11 territories able to be controlled, and companies able to control more than one territory, New World is already seeing its playerbase split into the haves and have nots. A handful of companies effectively control the world, using the benefits from claimed territory to gather mountains of gold and resources, and determining who gets to fight over those territories.
At level 60 you can participate in Outpost Rush, another structured PvP mode, but one designed to get you fighting immediately instead of marking it down in your calendar. But that's not much of a salve if you're level 20. And while you can still participate in the world PvP whenever you want, unless you're in one of the dominant companies you'll effectively be working for someone else, helping them grab more territory or defending what they already hold. Sure, you'll get some rewards, and your faction will benefit from the win, but that increasingly feels like a consolation prize.
On Reddit, players have been expressing their frustration but also trying to come up with solutions. It's a tricky one. I think Amazon has designed a really good PvP system, but in practice it's one that mostly benefits an elite minority. Because companies obviously pick the higher level players, one solution I like the sound of is brackets that take into account gear scores and other metrics, using them to create different war instances. Another solution with promise is the idea of weekly cooldowns, reducing the number of prospective combatants.
This isn't to say that everyone has a problem with how it works now. The top comment on the Reddit thread argues that wars are just the capstone of New World's PvP, and that the real endgame is Outpost Rush and world PvP. I think this undersells the influence of companies, however, and how much the fight over territory dominates all phases of the game. If Amazon really wanted the faction rivalries to be centred around a few big companies, then why let everyone participate in the build-up to wars and sign up for the finale?
Last night I was finally selected for a war. After a week of waiting, it was finally my chance. It was scheduled for today, and I was all set. Except, it seems, for the eventuality that extended server maintenance would get in the way. No war for Fraser.