If you were to bet me $20 that Amazon would be making an MMORPG at some point, I would still find some reason to not give it to you. Amazon games announced 3 new PC games to try to break into the market for, let’s just say, more notoriety than anything else. Their first announced game, Breakaway, was quietly silenced and thrown under the rug to the surprise of no one. While its second game, Crucible, was taken out of beta, put back in beta, only to be canceled afterward. So, with not the best track record I wouldn’t blame you for being cautious of their new ambitious MMO, New World.
Over its open beta weekend, I had the pleasure and sometimes displeasure of playing it within a limited time frame. With some hesitation and two cups of coffee, it was time to see what Amazon Games had to offer.
It is said that first impressions are everything, but it looks like no one told the development team. I was greeted with a lofty waiver and a survey they would like me to complete after I had my fun. After a lengthy opening cutscene does a bit of world-building, you’re asked to make your avatar…. from somewhat limited options of choices. Call me spoiled if you wish but, but most MMOs offer a bit more than just a couple of faces and some truly awful hair choices. I picked my favorite pompadour and mustache and proceeded to… watch another lengthy cutscene.
After the cutscene, you are washed up on the beach of Aeturnam and your journey begins! Well, not quite. You are guided step by step for each of the controls for the combat, grinding of materials to make items, and how to hunt for food in the wilderness. I was reminded of tutorials of various mobile games that trying to rush players to the good stuff. I was expecting New World to ask for my credit card at some point, but I still had hopes that it would improve. The next couple of hours did not pan out as well as I hoped as I fought from generic locale to generic locale and completing generic quest to another generic quest until the game gave me directions to the nearest town. At this point as I was ready to write the game off, but I was curious to see what lay ahead.
I arrived at the first town with a virtual chip on my shoulder and nothing to lose. The town gates greeted my character with a warm atmosphere and a color palette that wasn’t brown and bloom. Players of all levels running to the nearest crafting stations to make gear, accept missions, or maybe sell an item or two. It was a complete 180 from what the game had offered me to that point. After some mean character introductions, New World opens up a little after being given brief direction on how to use your crafting skills. It gave me nostalgic flashbacks to RuneScape’s Tutorial Island. All the familiar hallmarks were there; mining ore to make bars that would later become armor, chopping down wood to make charcoal; cooking, and even leather work were on the menu. It was just Tutorial Island by another name. You can even find multiple campfires set ablaze just outside of towns (when you know, you know). That’s when everything clicked. While doing story quests kept the familiar loop of fetch quests and kill quests, your ability to ignore all that and just explore the game world was a real treat. I took my musket and sword outside the city walls and just went off to the wilderness.
It’s about time I talked about mechanics, and not the ones that scammed me out of my last 20 dollars. Rather than the usual level up and class system of its contemporaries, New World instead opts for a skill-based one ala Skyrim or again, RuneScape. The more you use a skill, the better it becomes, and the more skills and options you will have at your disposal such as mining stronger ores or gaining new combat abilities. On top of this is your actual level which goes up with standard XP from quests and the like. Each level up grants you two skill points to add to whichever stat you are looking to increase (STR, INT, etc..). The combat itself is a bit of a mixed bag. New world ditches the tag targeting that you would usually see in games like these in favor of more active combat. So, you’ll be defending and swinging your sword in real-time. Your combat mileage will vary depending on the management of your stamina. Defending and dodging are ruled by this meter and more astute players will have to learn to keep an eye on it lest they fall victim to having their guard broken. Luckily getting in your enemy’s face isn’t the only way to take them down. If magic or firearms are more your style, you’ll be satisfied with what New World has to offer. Should you meet an unfortunate end (as I often did), death is merely a slap on the wrist and a small dent in your armor or weapon. You can revive in either a registered town or a campfire where can rest Dark Souls style. Most likely a deliberate choice to keep everything nice and smooth with the number of things happening on screen.
One of the biggest draws of New World that piqued my interest was the focus on territory that can be fought for by players. After a certain number of quests are completed, you have the option to join one of three factions. Each faction fights for territory and must do its best to maintain control of it from other competing factions. Once chosen you’ll receive missions from your factions NPC to raise your standing and get faction-specific items and gear as a reward. You will also be a part of your factions’ chat group, which will never stop with messages of which stronghold is under attack and vice versa. Once you’ve made the trek to where it is, you’ll be part of the war effort to claim glory and territory for your respective team. The frenetic chaos of seeing players clashing swords, slinging spells (hopefully healing spells), and firing muskets was quite a sight to behold. Those holding the stronghold must push back the opposing factions’ attack and prevent them from taking it. When things die down, brave players will keep a watchful eye over their precious fort and alert others via faction chat to the impending invasion. This brought a sense of tension as during my first battles, I stood guard with my musket at my side, occasionally using my sights to check if the dot in the distance was just an animal passing by or another player keeping an eye on me. Despite the player count the battle raging on, it’s easy to keep track of yourself while in the fray and is one of the most interesting modes of play in New World.
Devil is in the Lack of Details.
As much as I mostly enjoyed New World once it really got going, after a while, small cracks in the game world start to creep in. Normally with something in beta, I’m usually a bit more forgiving However as of the time of this writing, the launch is only weeks away which causes me a bit of worry if things will be buffed and waxed before it hits the digital storefront. As mentioned earlier, the tutorial is a bit of a slog and leaves a bad first impression. The first couple of hours or so boils down to: go here; find or kill the thing; come back; rinse and repeat. This goes double for once you reach your first city. It eventually just gets to the point that you do it for the experience points rather than learn about the world you are playing in. Bits of lore are sprinkled around the game world like notes and journal entries, but it’s very “by the numbers” writing.
The same goes for the NPCs. They are nothing more than glorified job boards to get the quests you need to move forward. With limited combat options in the beginning, I hope you like seeing the same 3 hit combo with your preferred weapon repeatedly. While that doesn’t change much later, you’ll at least have some active skills that can break up the monotony and keep fighting interesting. This combined with a general lack of polish in certain areas does bring some concern as New World is getting closer to entering the MMO space. With WOW’s “blizzard polish” and FF14’s high production values, Amazon’s efforts look bland by comparison despite some decent art direction. I’m reminded that this is a beta, so I’m remaining hopeful. At least for now.
So Now What?
Monday came the message that the beta was done and had to be deleted. I did my survey since they asked me nicely and moved on, looking at the steam page for the current release date. New World is a bit of a rough gem, and I can see what the developers may have been going for but for every three steps forward, there was one step back or one to the side. Amazon Games may be on to something here and it feels like a very competent game. Overall, I had a good time with it. It would almost feel wrong to just dismiss it as “just another MMO.” Perhaps it has to do with my current frustration with the genre due to SEGA’s bizarre choices with my current MMO of choice (I’ll get to you New Genesis. Just you wait). There is some genuine effort here and because of that, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and see for myself where New World is headed when it launches. For those already on the ship and ready to go, maybe I’ll see you there too.