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.
Click on the item of the list to learn about each topic.
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 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
Expand for 1v2
Expand for 1v5
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.
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.