New World is Amazon’s foray into the MMORPG genre and I got my hands dirty with an early version of its opening hours, which allowed me to create a character, fight in a tutorial area and graduating in a nearby town full of vendors and lots of quest markers. So only a small part of what is undoubtedly a game built for hundreds of hours of play, but enough to know if I wanted to go back in there and clock an hour or two more towards this first hundred in his world. That’s what matters when it comes to MMOs, isn’t it? And I have to say yes. Yes, the itch could do with a good scratch.
But let’s forget about my itchy body and take a closer look at New World’s, starting with his heart. As you’d expect, it has those familiar MMO rhythms: an XP bar at the bottom of the screen that fills up as you complete quests, and an open world populated by other players. This is conveniently laid out on a clean slate that says you’re an adventurer who’s been shipwrecked on the Isle of Aeternum, a place where mysterious magic flows that does good magic and bad magic. And you, dear explorer, have to choose a faction and “be part of it”, as TV chef Jamie Oliver would say if he were pickling out of combat.
Hardly any of the factions or combat for land PVP was available in my preview session, which was a bummer considering that’s probably a big part of what separates New World from other MMORPGs. However, I got a very small glimpse of how this might work, as houses in the first town I visited could actually be purchased by players if they had a high enough standing level – don’t Don’t ask me how standing itself works. But things like smelters and tan racks in the city center are shared between players, so they level up and unlock bonuses for everyone. And I noticed that I was taxed a bit when I was making stuff too. Presumably, the faction that controls the territory could be real bastards and set very high taxes to line their pockets. Something I would never do. Not me.
Still, what I experienced of New World territories was almost non-existent, so while I wish I could tell you more about how fighting for land or player-driven economies will work, I can’t. . As someone who traditionally only cares about how good my new shoulder pads look and if they match my cape, I’m curious to see if I’ll actually stick to those aspects. Will the increased tax rates in Scunthorpe get me to the nearest Fork and Rebel? Only time will tell.
That aside, so far I’d say New World shares its DNA with survival game Valheim as much as it does with an MMO. Unlike World Of Warcraft or Final Fantasy XIV, crafting isn’t something you can totally bypass if you don’t like picking flowers or chopping wood. From the start of New World, you’ll be rustling bushes for sticks and pocketing flint to craft yourself a skinning knife. And you’ll soon be gutting a wild boar for its meat and watching it crackle over a fire. Health bars don’t just refill here, son.
By the end of my brief session with New World, I had started smelting ore, tanning leather, and fishing a little. Good God, it was a lot of manual work, but it never felt like it. Mining, for example, lets you press a button and watch a circle gradually fill up. But the sounds your tools make when they crash into rock or slam into wood are so satisfying. The fishing was more complex than I expected too. You have to reel the fish carefully, so as not to break the line, and later I found out that there are different baits for freshwater and saltwater fishing. By no means revolutionary, but these small details added well to my immersion.
These skills don’t seem compartmentalized like in other MMOs I’ve played, where you can just focus on one or two professions that are totally diverging from each other. Here, all kinds of raw materials will flood your bags, just as much as quest items or shiny rewards, so tools seem just as important as the swords you swing or the arrows you throw.
Combat in New World also feels like it’s feeding that loose goose, “you can be anything you want maaaan!” thing that is happening. Instead of picking a class that dictates what gear you can and can’t use, here it’s pick up and play, baby. Swords, shields, spears, hammers, or even magic gauntlets are at your disposal if you’re feeling spicy. And the more you use them, the better off you’ll be, Elder Scrolls style. Freedom is liberating, especially coming from other MMOs where I’ve desperately tried to try gear that doesn’t fit my chosen class.
The actual New World steel shock isn’t half bad either, with a more stripped-down feel, so I wasn’t drowning in hotbars. I know everything reminds me of Dark Souls, but this time it really does! You have to time your swings, blocks, and dodges to survive fights, instead of standing still and going through myriad abilities like you do in many other MMOs.
Each weapon has two skill trees. For example, with sword and shield you can focus on damage or tanking. The branch in which you score the most points determines your specialization. I went with the damage one, which boosted my spinning blade attack, one of three abilities to unlock and use in combat. Yes, that’s right: three. I enjoyed their heavy feel and simplicity – but I’m afraid it will make it more difficult for your character to really stand out from the rest.
The same simplicity also goes for your character build, which has five attributes: strength, dexterity, intelligence, focus, and constitution. Each time you level up, you hit a point or two in one of these branches and this will determine the type of role you take on. That’s as close as the game comes to defining classes, basically. I wouldn’t say it was as rewarding as something like FFXIV, where you unlock crazy new spells at a fairly frequent rate. Still, I liked that it was easy to see what I would have access to every few levels through a dedicated menu screen that told me. It’s something other MMOs could learn from, I think, because often I’ll miss important milestones like being able to mount a mount because no one told me I’d passed it.
Don’t expect to choose a spindly elf or a tall, hulking orc to play as in New World. That could change, of course, but for now the only option is to play as a human. Just something to keep in mind if you’re a fan of role-playing as something with an edge, and another potential reason why we might all blend into one once we play.
But what about the world of New World itself? Is it really new? Does it have an advantage? From the tiny bit of the game I played, I’d say it was pretty standard, albeit enjoyable, medieval stuff. Serene music, beautiful trees, dirt roads. The tutorial area was perhaps a sign of otherworldly things to come, with a dark beach and shipwrecks teeming with blue zombies, so there’s potential for a surprise, but I’d need to spend more than time in the world to see if it will stick. Others have pointed to its colonial undertones, but having only played a very small part of the game, I can’t appeal that score anyway. Something to keep in mind for sure.
However, New World did enough to interest me. I liked its mix of survival and MMO elements, as well as this concept of a world controlled and fought by players. This in particular I’m eager to explore further, as I feel like that’s where the real meat of the experience lies and what might separate it from other heavyweights in the genre. When the New World closed beta arrives on July 20, I’ll be there, hoping it delivers on that front. Part of me fears that if you don’t, the shores of Aeternum could sink into darkness very quickly.