Our Vision For Combat: What Happened? v2.0

DISCLAIMER: To anyone familiar with the original post, very little has changed. This is just a continuation of the most popular discussion from closed Beta.

We finally made it to launch my friends. It’s been an interesting year and a half since the original launch date with a lot of ups and downs. Still, as the population of the game has increased, so too have the complaints surrounding the combat system. Anyone who played in the early Alphas or the Preview can immediately tell where those issues originate. Anyone brand new to the game can quickly identify that -something- feels off, even if they’re not quite sure what that -something- is. They speculate weapon balance, scaling, the armor system’s design. These are all just symptoms of the real issue, unfortunately.

So let’s get right to it. We’re going to talk about stagger and why removing it from light and heavy attacks was not the right direction for gameplay. This isn’t about just PvP or PvE, as both are ultimately affected by it. This is a COMBAT discussion. This will be a lengthy post but I’ll do my best to break it down into easily palatable segments.

My goal is to explain why the removal of stagger was a bad decision and show all the unintended consequences it has caused that impact gameplay.

I especially want to give credit to @Chooby and acolyterush for being major sources of inspiration and influence for the content and suggestions of the post.

Click on the item of the list to learn about each topic.

The History

After the announcement to move away from a hardcore PvP Sandbox game into a more inclusive online experience back in December 2019, players were STILL addicted to the gameplay of New World. Despite the common “lack of content” complaints from players searching for PvE content, players were pouring countless hours into dueling. This was because even with the limited number of abilities available to players, combat had DEPTH. The game advertised Souls-like combat and it delivered. Timing, positioning, dodging, blocking, strategy; All these things worked in harmony with stats and gear to create a truly skill-based combat system. Three people could murder a player just as well as one player could murder three.

There was no prior indicator to the outcome of a battle because how you played mattered every time. Having better gear or being a higher level would certainly help, but it was still secondary to how you performed as a player.

True skill-based combat that simultaneously rewarded character progression.

The Preview

The opening of the flood gates. After AGS realized they weren’t going to hit their May 2020 release goal they pushed it back to August 2020. Once they decided August 2020 wasn’t going to happen either, they gave the players who had been patiently waiting for the game a taste of what New World had to offer. They loved it. The gameplay was fantastic and for most people the only gripe is they wanted more things to do in this amazing New World. Many people considered the game to be launch ready in that state. Why? Because the gameplay, especially the combat, was extremely engaging. You give players good combat, and they’ll make their own content. It wasn’t perfect, but it was damn good. People run dungeons a few times and then never look back, but good combat can keep players hooked for the long-haul.

A fair amount of players trying New World for the first time were new to action combat, many being only familiar with tab target MMOs. Plenty of players made the adjustment just fine but given that the Preview event was only 11 days long a significant portion of players didn’t get to fully explore and understand how the combat worked.

The Myth of Staggerlock (And why it wasn’t real.)

Due to the nature of stagger(hit-stun), one weapon rose to infamy above all others; The Hatchet. The hatchet had a fast attack speed and a lot of built in sustain through perks. Make no mistake, it was by no means the most powerful option. It was however the EASIEST weapon to be effective with. For most content you could simply spam left-click and mow things down with the fast attack speed and built-in self-heal (sound familiar?). Hatchet was a button masher’s wet dream. Hatchet users weren’t going to kill any skilled opponents, but many of the preview players in New World weren’t skilled. They were new players in a new system without proper time or training. To really understand this though you need to dig deeper into the combat system to understand what was happening and why.

EDIT: Developer confirmation on free stagger escape-

Frames. Action combat in a game like New World or Dark Souls or even fighting games like Street Fighter revolves largely around frames.

Attacks have start-up frames, active frames, and recovery frames.
Ok, now here is where the problems occurred:

  • If hatchet man hits me, he has X recovery frames before he can use another action.
  • If I got hit, I had Y frames of stagger before I can use an action.
  • If Y > X, then hatchet man gets to start his attack before I can, and I will ALWAYS lose the next trade, because he can start his next action before I can start mine. This is where most people ended up getting “stagger locked”. They were attempting an attack at a frame disadvantage.

What should I have done instead with my invulnerability frames? I could have:

  • Put up a block.
  • Dodged out of the way.
  • Used an ability with grit (that white glowing animation) that goes through an attack.

All of these things would have put me into either a neutral or advantage state.

Furthermore, in the old system, the default movement speed was a jog, and sprinting required pressing a button and had a stamina cost. Essentially, players could trade stamina for an increase in movement speed. Dodging was another combat mechanic that cost stamina. Dodging granted invincibility frames (iframes) and was a great way to get out of a bind. HOWEVER, when you combined the sprint button and the dodge button you got the Jump. Jumping cost stamina but didn’t grant iframes. If any of these “locked” players used a dodge or grit attack, they could have beat the hatchet spam.

You’ll see in every “staggerlock” video that the person being locked is attempting to either jump or basic attack, never a dodge or a grit attack. Guaranteed.

On top of the lack of understanding surrounding dodge, jump, and grit, there was also a hidden safety net for players getting hit. After a couple successive hits, the player was given a free window of opportunity to escape the attack spam. Unfortunately, just like the difference between jump and dodge, this information was in no way communicated to the public through the game. It’s not that people couldn’t get out of staggerlock, it’s that the game didn’t teach them how. It doesn’t do you any good to have safety nets if players don’t know how to use them! It’s the same reason jobs have mandatory training for things like fire extinguishers.

Here’s some examples of players getting slammed by multiple opponents and still easily avoiding being locked down. There’s no special technique or superb reflexes needed, just a basic knowledge of how combat worked.

Hatchet Escape Guide

New World Hatchet Escape for guy on Reddit - YouTube

Expand for 1v2

New World Combat Discussion - YouTube

Expand for 1v5

New World PvP - 5v1 lvl 25 Archer - YouTube

Notice how in these videos you don’t see the enemies zerg their opponent? Stagger was natural anti-zerg protection. Can you think of anymore more beautiful than seeing deep and engaging combat that discourages zerging?

Remember, every video showing a person being “staggerlocked” will show that they were either using jump or trying to outmash the opponent. Let’s not focus on the fact that some people were playing wrong, because in their defense, the game didn’t teach them how to play right and it wasn’t exactly intuitive.

The system wasn’t broken, it just wasn’t communicated.

So what happened?

The Death of Stagger and the Journey Away From Skill-Based Combat.

Amazon Game Studios poured over a ton of player feedback after the 11-day Preview and found that a lot of players disliked being locked down by hatchet spams.

What players said: “We don’t like being staggered to death by hatchet.”

What the players meant: “Hatchet spam needs fixed.”

What Amazon heard: “We don’t like stagger.”

First, in October 2020 they added a FREE dodge roll and ability refund:

A decent, reasonable and tempered approach.

Then December 2020 hit…

Let me start by saying the chaining of attacks was another fantastic addition, as prior to December 2020 you could spam light attacks indefinitely, which is where a lot of the “locking” was occurring. One of the best combat decisions they could have made to prevent locking issues was put in the same patch that they ripped stagger out. No testing, no feedback. The baby went out with the bathwater.

Ever since stagger was removed from light and heavy attacks, New World has been trying to throw band-aids on the bullet hole they created. Melee combat has been in a terrible spot ever since. Here we are a year later, and that wound is still hemorrhaging.

One of the recent band-aids includes the infamous June Update:

Sprinting is no longer a careful decision. It’s the default. No more stamina management, no more strategy when running from a fight. Just all speed, all the time.

Surely the slows attached to attacking and being hit by melee attacks would resolve the issues melee faced, right? Well, no. You see that jump button and that dodge button? Those ignore slows so if you got hit and wanted to get away you could just jump and roll to avoid melee hits until the slow wore off and you are free to go, and since the attacker gets slowed on all their attacks, you basically just needed to avoid 1 hit and you were free to sprint off into the sunset while regenerating your stamina, eating food, and drinking potions as you run.

They’ve broken sprint and combat interactions because they couldn’t fix the gaping void left by stagger.

Another reason for these movement changes was Amazon didn’t like low level players running into high level zones. All these screwy movement decisions were made to try and fix that “issue”. Yet on the first day of Beta naked lowbies had already run to the endgame content.

Ripped this picture from Reddit, Day 1 of the Beta. Absolute madman.

They even tried to further fix the sprint problems from June in July’s pre-Beta patch:

Yet here we are today post-launch with the common consensus being that it’s STILL extremely easy for anyone to run away from a fight. On top of that, Hatchet has continued to display its prominence as a weapon choice both offensively AND defensively given how much utility and functionality has been built into it.

Since the Preview event they’ve also introduced the crit% stat. The existence of a random crit chance based on a stat is categorically opposite to that of skill-based combat. Randomly doing significantly more damage without any change of play on your part isn’t skill. It’s gear. Stat-based combat is what we have now. Why else would PvP scaling be such a highly debated subject if stats weren’t the most important deciding factor?

In short: They’ve largely removed player skill from combat and movement and solved essentially none of the problems. This is all because the game was originally built around combat that included stagger.

The Disconnect.

At the same time that they removed stagger, Amazon Game Studios came out with this message, the namesake of this thread:

I think it’s time to stop pretending we’re moving in a direction of skill-based, visceral combat.

Skill-based combat: Positioning and timing don’t matter when you’re effectively just trading hits. Many new people complained that the game needs more abilities because they’re tired of just mashing left click while eating damage from enemies. The sad part is, they’re technically not wrong. What they don’t know is that they don’t need more abilities for combat to be engaging. They need attacks that matter. Attacks that are VISCERAL, HIGH-IMPACT, and MEATY. You know, like the old light and heavy attacks were in Preview.

Could they play differently? Sure, but there’s no reason to. There’s no punishment for mindlessly spamming attacks. Hell, it’s the most efficient way to do things. This was a problem addressed before when stagger was in the game and remains (and is drastically worse) now that stagger is gone. Why do you think Great Axe and Hammer are so popular now? They do good damage AND have CC. Of course don’t forget to slap on a hatchet in the other weapon slot for the on demand CCbreak /Movespeed /Regen /Defy Death and zoom away all while recovering stamina and health in auto-sprint.

To recap: Melee feels worse, hatchet still busted, ranged unaffected.

So clearly, stagger wasn’t the source of their problems, and we’ve covered extensively in this part and earlier parts of this message the ways that they’re removing skill as an aspect of combat. There’s still a little bit of skill left, like aiming your shots or dodging an attack, but it’s a hollow shell of the combat it used to be. There’s very little decision-making left, and players are even encouraged to just mindlessly attack, especially with changes like this:

You are actively penalized for being too defensive with no penalty for mashing attacks. They just want people killing each other in a Team Death Match style brawl rather than any sort of skill-based combat. More and more we see the same approach to emphasize hit-trading and minimize outplay potential.

Visceral and High Impact? The current system is a complete contradiction to this. Someone please explain to me how the often cited “wet noodle” feeling of hitting players resembles anything closely related to “Visceral and High Impact”. When you hit someone in the old system, both you and your target FELT it. It was clear, it was obvious, and IT FELT GOOD. In the current system, you trade hits with players, but you have no real feedback on who is winning without just watching hp bars and status effects.

In the old system, if you hid the health bars and had two players fight, you could pretty much tell who was playing better.

In the current system, if you hid the health bars, you have no clue which person is winning until one of them dies or takes off running.

Depth of system and builds? To their credit, they’ve added more weapons and builds. Finally scratching the surface of one of our goals! However, as we’ve pointed out, the removal of stagger has left combat overall feeling shallower. Not to mention, since player skill plays less of a role in the outcome of battle, weapon and ability choice have become significantly more important. You practically predict which abilities any given player has based on what weapons they’re using. Where is the depth in that?

This all makes for a very SHALLOW combat system.

"How Do We Fix Combat?

The beautiful thing about fixing these problems is that I didn’t even need to come up with new ideas for convoluted systems they would need to create! It’s all things that were already a part of the game’s foundation that just need to be applied in the correct manner. Have you seen the threads from tanks complaining that they get ping-ponged around? Imagine if you and your teammates could interrupt many enemy attacks and outplay them rather than trade damage!

  • Bring back stagger to light and heavy attacks. This is critical. Almost every combat and movement problem being addressed on the forums these days stems from this. Keep the light attack chains added in December to cut down on the mindless spamming.
  • Make using consumables a risky decision. Currently whoever has more potions and food can often determine the outcome of a battle. Using consumables in the middle of combat is a no-brainer because there is no risk or cost associated with it. Force people who are eating or drinking on the move to slowdown to a walking speed. There’s a reason the Estus Flask in Dark Souls immobilized you.
  • Completely remove the movement changes added in June/July. This was a band-aid fix to stagger and should have never been added in the first place. They solved no problems and only created new ones.
  • Weapon perks involving grit such as 300STR and other related combat mechanics would need to be re-evaluated.
  • The entire armor system is probably due for re-evaluation as well.

If you took the time to read all of this, thank you. If you have any questions or need explanations for things you’re not sure about, feel free to ask. If you claim something contradictory to what I’ve said, back it up. Also, please try to keep petty arguments to a minimum.

So I ask again, Amazon, what happened to Our Vision For Combat?

EDIT: Added Developer confirmation of anti-staggerlock system as described in “The Myth of Staggerlock” section.

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Great post. Liked it back then and will liked it again. I think above all things that the combat is what needs to have the most attention right now as it’s the way we interact with all of the content in the game minus gathering and crafting. If the medium of interaction is lacking then the rest of the game will feel lacking too.

After they removed stagger (a decision I still disagree with) they have not yet replaced it with any suitable method to improve combat. On top of that the changes to stamina, grit and sprinting are pushing the game into a worse state. The exhaust system they hastily added in beta was like applying a napkin to an amputated leg. Hopefully they have some plans upcoming soon.

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Just want to put it in this thread for all to see.

The near lack of the tutorials for the combat system wasn’t quite as bad as I thought and stated in the prior thread.

It turns out it did show you stagger working. When you fight that first corrupted, first it tells you how to block, and then it tells you how to light attack.

Well when you do make that first light attack, you can see the mob was staggered by it. It’s very subtle which is why I missed it until I played in last invite-only Tech Beta thingy right before the last open beta.

It turns out that the stagger is still there. So they went from a such a subtle demo of how stagger works that most everyone missed it, to actually teaching you wrong if you pay close enough attention.

Ugh

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“So I ask again, Amazon, what happened to Our Vision For Combat?” +1

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Well, you put a lot of thought into the thread. It seems to be mainly focused on PvP combat and I haven’t done any of that.

On a PvE level, I think introducing staggers would mean having to rework several enemies and while your videos were interesting, all of them were in an open environment. I’d be interested in seeing some videos in a small, enclosed area or against one of the larger enemies like bears or alligators.

I’d be fine with slower, more thoughtful combat. I would also be happy with defensive combat that benefited from counterattacks. That would require a retuning of almost all the spawn times in the game, however.

I’m not sure the developers would be down for such a substantial rework as they now have a much larger player-base that would have to adjust to the change.

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100%!

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Not this again… lol… gonna have to go to Costco and get the biggest bags of popcorn I can find.

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Very true.

Every time problems pop up AGS tries to band-aid fix them rather than acknowledge that the change wasn’t a good idea. Sunk cost fallacy in full effect. The problems keep compounding and the awkward band-aids keep piling up. I don’t delude myself in this being a simple switch to be thrown and everything is happy again, but a big part of fixing problems is acknowledging them. Unfortunately AGS keeps tight-lipped about anything they intend to do.

Things definitely get heated on this topic!

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As someone who played back in the stagger days, a lot of the enemies (especially the <40 ones) play pretty much the same now as they did. Obviously there have been changes, but 1v1, there’s not too much different. Mostly it comes down to AGS removing some of the mob staggers as well.

The biggest changes would have to come in mob density and expeditions.

There are a lot of places now where you can’t help but pull multiple mobs at once. Unless you’re sorely out-leveled (or they’re bears), this isn’t an issue. But if stagger went back to its original values, you’d be dead, even against lower level enemies.

It made combat much more exciting even though it was slower as it took more effort to kill things and the ever present threat of getting swarmed.

I’m not even sure how they’d handle expeditions as both expeditions and taunts didn’t exist back then. In open-world PvE, your tank was the guy who physically stood between you and the mobs. And given how weird aggro works now without taunts, it wasn’t always successful.

My guess is they’d do the typical MMO thing and make bosses immune to stagger just like every other MMO boss is immune to pretty much any CC

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Do people not like stagger in combat?

Is there any topic where a lot of people aren’t bitchy and unhappy for their own amusement?

There’s a lot of misinformation regarding stagger.

The biggest is that you can be “stagger-locked” and so killed easily, but it’s not true. After being staggered twice you were given a free dodge to break out.

Against multiple opponents, yes you could be staggered a lot, especially with poor stamina management (or too many opponents), but you’re also fighting three people by yourself. What did you expect to happen?

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Just small handful really, a half dozen at best, but by the end of CBT they had nearly 1000 replies by themselves of the approximately 3.5K total.

Original Post stats

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Totally. Which is why it can be difficult to tell how much people actually dislike an idea.

I mean, I was attempting to solo rifts earlier today and breezed through the first ones, but once I hit the ones made for a group of five, the mob density did me in. It’s the blend of enemy types that cause a problem. Getting two mobs in your face while a dog charges your side and an impaler takes potshots at you is a struggle even without stagger.

I do think there’s a skill gap here to consider. The majority of people who PvP do so because they have the reactions and skills to counter another human opponent. It’s possible that you find PvE content easier than many others, so adding stagger makes it challenging to you but overwhelming for them.

If nothing else, if you added stagger back, you’d probably want to amp up the level scaling for PvE. i think part of the appeal of an RPG for many people is that they don’t have to become more skilled–they just level up and get more powerful. Being able to stomp on mobs that once gave you trouble is part of the draw.

I only have one disagreement, they need to fix hit boxes on some of the bosses and get more of the PvE systems working correctly before any of the combat fixes they could do would matter to the majority of the player base :sweat_smile:

1 Like

The thing is, stagger still exists on the on NPC side. It’s not quite as strong as it was, but they’ll happily interrupt your attacks.

What we’re mostly talking about is giving stagger back to the players. Enemies would see some benefit, but because they retained some staggering attacks, it wouldn’t be as large. Basically we’re trying to put players and mobs on the same playing field.

But yes, having that wolf nipping at your flank and staggering you out of your attacks would cause a problem. Especially if you’re trying to do group content solo. With the old stagger system you either wouldn’t solo it at all, or you’d have to very skilled at combat and positioning.

Honestly I don’t see much fun in curb-stomping enemies I seriously out-level. I can one shot a lot of the low level wolves, but them attacking me is an inconvenience not fun.

Besides, when I say lower level, I mean something like you’re level 20 and the mob is level 15. Even now that’s not one-shot territory. With stagger, the solo level 15 mob isn’t going to pose a problem. But two will make you think a bit. It’s still going to be a victory for you, but you’ll have to work a little for it. But run into a group of seven or eight mobs and you’re going to be in trouble.

As opposed to now where I see people getting 8+ equal level at 45+ mobs all aggroed on them and then they just burst AoE them down once they’re all together. That never would have happened in the old system.

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yes there is misinformation; because people like you keep spreading this nonsense. yes there was a “stagger escape” mechanism, but guess what, it was interuptible by… you guessed it, stagger attacks, yes there were immunity frames, but if you say… were exploiting hatchet with a macro; by cancling your light attack animation after damage and stagger was applied, allowing you to swing your weapon x2/x3 faster then normal, you could still stagger someone trying to escape stagger with the free dodge.

even for people not locked down by an exploit, if you were pinned to a wall or object, there was no escape, the dodge didn’t work… if you were in medium or heavy armor, you couldn’t get far enough to escape the melee range of the person locking you so you’d dodge right into another stagger attack

Stop spreading this misinformation that it was possible (or easy) to get out of a stagger lock, especially from a weapon like the hatchet.

by the end of the last beta with stagger, the meta was for everyone to wear heavy armor, and weild a sword and shield, and life staff, plus 3rd weapon (usually hatchet, sometimes firestaff, as heavy armor was weak to magic, and meteor storm was still a viable AOE); everyone was using sword and shield plus life staff. because stagger lock from hatchet would kill you if you didn’t.

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Get rid of animation canceling while we are at it…

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You tell others to stop spreading misinformation while also spreading misinformation. The dodge was not the only way to get out of a stagger lock. Blocking was the best method in most scenarios as well as letting it completely recover your stamina bar if you were out of stamina and got block broken. Grit attacks were another option to not only recover from stagger but also attack the enemy allowing you to move. If you got stuck in a corner you used grit attacks to get out, it literally works no different than it does now because now you can still get stuck in a corner unless you sheath weapons (which only works in PvP, not against AI).

Exploits are an entirely different issue, even now the game has exploits and yet again they make hasty changes and gut the game for all players.

Also the meta for the preview used 2 out if the whole 3 melee weapons, that’s the best meta in any game by far percentage wise. Not to mention hammer had it’s place in larger scale PvP and was still good in small scale if you were a good player. Not to mention again that bow was a powerhouse of a weapon and fire staff was also godly. The balance then was way better than it is now and that’s not even related to stagger.

Also light armor was the meta then, not heavy, because dodge roll was much better. Heavy was only viable in war which makes sense because of how point capture works.

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Oh it is strong. Especially on high level lost enemies. They all spam stagger you. Yet all you can do (from a hatchet perspective) is a second root. I mean come the fk on.

Hatchet is still just fast attack spam plain and simple and nothing particularly special in terms of DPS.

I wish some form of stagger on it would be reintroduced taking some of the focus back away from the greataxe.