Behind the Scenes: Expedition Mutators

18 May 2022

Greetings, Adventurers!

Mutators push players to experiment with different builds, but these augmented Expeditions challenged the New World Development Team well before the community received their first Mutated Expedition Tuning Orb. Like many gameplay mechanics, Mutators were created through a combination of fan feedback, internal tests, and a desire to create something difficult, yet fun. We recently had the chance to chat with New World Level Designer Darren McKinsey and World Experience Lead Michael Willette in anticipation of their upcoming Mutators for more insight into that desire. Explore their inspiration, philosophy, and ambition behind Mutators in the interview below.

Design and Development

The idea for Mutators was born from a mix of internal brainstorms and passion for another genre - roguelike games. Michael said the design team wanted to challenge the community in new ways through tougher Expeditions, similar to how roguelikes often feature powerful enemies that can easily overcome underprepared players. These challenges in New World ultimately took on the form of Mutators.

Darren walked us through the creation of Explosive, one of New World’s first Mutators, to help us understand the team's design process. This Mutator pits players against mob enemies that explode on death.

“We liked playing around Explosive almost immediately since it created an incentive for our internal testing teams to communicate, letting other players know there was about to be an explosion,” Darren said. “It’s tuned just tight enough that knowing when the enemy will die is way more effective than dodging after the effect is in motion.” The team also called this design choice effective because players are forced to face familiar enemies with different techniques.

That fresh through familiar design process rapidly evolved throughout development as a result of internal tests. Each test introduced valuable results for the team to further refine Mutators. Fans might be surprised to learn just how much went into their development. Multiple departments like Visual Effects, User Interface, Character Design, Combat Design, and Expedition Design all played major roles in helping early Mutators fulfill the team’s core philosophy.


The guiding principle behind Mutators according to Darren is to encourage varied counterplay, incentivize teamwork, and foster communication. Alone these goals might create a few fun moments, but together they vastly improve replayability. Each week, players can join a different set of Expeditions with randomly selected Mutators for diverse challenges and gameplay patterns. This variety stems from feedback. The developers noticed players enjoy strategy over pure difficulty tuning and continue to design Mutators around what players can do to outplay every effect.

Censored, Darren’s favorite Mutator, exemplifies their philosophy. To succeed, players must coordinate ability usage and positions to avoid dangerous zones. Just one miscommunication can make it far more difficult for even the most experienced adventurers. Memorable Mutators like Censored not only feature unique scenarios that promote different team dynamics, but also strike a careful balance between difficult, yet compelling challenges.

Finding the Right Level of Challenge

Simply spawning powerful enemies isn’t enough to create a fulfilling challenge. Instead, the team strives to push players in new ways that make Expeditions feel fresh. The community’s enthusiasm inspires Darren and Michael to make on the fly tuning based on player responses. They then review feedback from each new release to help further iterate Mutators through new effects.

So, how do they know when the challenge is just right? Mutator difficulty is like a ladder. Each step up adds extra effects. If players feel a great sense of accomplishment, then that’s a win regardless of their step. The designers are always looking at ways to build these moments up. More importantly, they want players to be able to freely experiment with their favorite roles and find fun, successful tactics for their team.

Thanks for continuing to brave the depths of our weekly Mutator rotation. Look forward to our upcoming batch of challenges:

  • Overgrown - Focuses on Nature Damage and Resistance. Overgrown adds effects like Toxic, a pool which tracks down players, and Compost which turns trash into healing areas for their allies.

  • Barbaric - Focuses on Physical Damage. Adds Berserk, an enrage effect, and Shattering which deals Stamina Damage.

  • Fiendish - Curses that focus on the nocturnal. Fiendish adds Weary, which will weaken players with Rend and make them vulnerable with Slow. It also features Blood Offering which stacks damage over time.

The Design Team has some exciting stuff in the pipeline, including player requests. While Darren and Michael have nothing to reveal yet, they’re thrilled for what the future has in store for Mutators.