Note: this is not a review of a video game, rather it is my thoughts after around eight hours of gameplay from an open beta. The final product may change between now and the eventual launch date.
New World is an upcoming MMO from Amazon Games, the interactive entertainment branch of retail giant Amazon. It is, arguably, their biggest title launch to date and so, after several delays and retoolings of the property, should finally be dropping on September 28th of this year.
A closed beta, available to people who had pre-ordered the game, took place in July of 2021 and… it did not go great. Players were reporting broken PC hardware from playing the game (an issue that, ultimately, was not Amazon’s fault but certainly did not help from a PR standpoint) and feedback suggested that there was still a lot of work to be done in order to make the game satisfactory.
I managed to sink some time in to New World for a couple of evenings this week and though it’s difficult to judge a game of this scope of from such a short period, I thought I’d share my initial thoughts here.
A Tough Nut to Crack
MMO’s are a big risk for any game studio. If they succeed, they tend to really succeed; World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XIV, The Elder Scrolls Online, etc. However, I’m sure at one point games like The Matrix Online, Warhammer Online or even a Marvel MMO (Marvel Heroes) seemed like dead certs when they were being planned and designed. These games may have had their fans but MMO’s tend to aim high and rely on a steady stream of new players and income. Without those key ingredients, they can quickly fall to the wayside.
So it is with some interest that Amazon have attempted to break into this fickle market. One thing they have is capital; for better or worse, they can keep this title afloat by sheer force of will & wallet. Another botched title by the same studio, Crucible, might seem like evidence to the contrary of this but if there’s one thing MMO’s rely on it’s longevity. It’s not the only key to success but knowing that you’ll be able to play this game three years from now is certainly a consideration upon purchase.
Location, Location, Location
I’ve actually had some trouble finding these older articles but, when it was first announced, New World was designed around an aspect that sticks closely to the imagery the name evokes; the discovery of North America by Europe. It was never *explicitly* described as such but nobody could look at screenshots of this game, with its buffalo roaming the plains and heroes dressed in 15th century garb, and think, “Oh, this is clearly high fantasy.”
This did not sit well. Colonialism: The Game might work in a strategy or 4X setting, where the whole point is to explore the highs and lows of human history, but making this into a sandbox playground where you are the eternal hero in charge of saving the world is not a good look. And so, Amazon rejigged the game. Now, you are cast into a fantasy landscape beyond the veil of our world, propelled by some mystical artefact gifted to you by a man in a monk’s robe. Yes, there are still quarries, villages, ports and settlements for you to attack and exploit, but now they are inhabited by… zombies or something? Problem solved, I guess.
After a series of tutorial missions that assume you have never played a video game before, let alone an MMO, you are soon cast off into the wild to fend for yourself. And by fend for yourself, I mean gather resources and fight the wildlife.
I thought the combat was fine if not particularly ambitious. You can dodge and attack like a more action-oriented RPG, but you still have the usual special abilities and items with a cooldown period like other MMO’s. Enemies often have a “tell”, letting you know when they’re winding up for a big attack. This is not Dark Souls, by any means, but it least feels mildly engaging and provides a level of interactivity.
When facing off against multiple opponents, though, it does not work so well. Often I have flung the camera around to try and face two or more enemies and I have no idea who I am hitting or with what, so I tend to just run away and stand in a corner to square off. You could argue that is perhaps a reflection of what real combat is like but, if that is the case, why do I have a magic gauntlet that can fire icicles out of it? It could be an attempt to encourage group play but I fear that adding further warm bodies to the mix would just make things even more confusing.
The game does look nice, I’ll give it that. By God, it makes my rig struggle at 4K but it has an Old World (heh) charm to the landscape that often prompts me to stop and just take in the view. But it’s kind of a hollow experience sometimes. As mentioned above, this is not a living, breathing landscape. By removing the “undiscovered land” aspect, it’s kind of left the game in a weird limbo. It’s not as damned or random as it might have been, finding a new village will just give you the opportunity to fight more zombies. Or wolves; there are so many bloody wolves.
I utterly understand why Amazon decided not to go full Christopher Columbus with this game, it caused a backlash for a reason. But they already had enough in the can that they couldn’t start over and this fresh lick of paint makes the world feel a bit… well, soulless. For a title where the whole point is carving out your own destiny and deciding who will be king of the castle, so to speak, it rather ruins the original design document.
At times it reminds me of Grim Dawn or Diablo 2, a blighted kingdom in need of rescue, but only on occasion. Oh also, the soundtrack and audio is pretty nice.
There is soooooo much running in this game. There is a fast travel system but I suspect that is where the microtransaction element will come in, as it’s largely time limited or based on finite resources. And when the quest you embark on is, “Go to this temple, look at it, come home,” it feels like ten minutes of your life you will never get back.
There is a whole mechanic based around guilds or factions, and some battle over land that will play out in real time, leading to some juicy PvP battles no doubt. This was not available in the beta. Again, there is only so much you can show off in a demo but it’s hard to judge this aspect if I can’t partake in it. It would be like if someone asked me to test Tetris, except they hadn’t added the blocks in yet.
Also, the game teases you by giving you a musket early on and then making the ammo for it a pain to craft. I really liked the musket, it reminded me of playing Fable 2, but once you burn through your initial stash of bullets then it’s off to the saltpetre mines. This feels unnecessarily harsh and, dare I say it, a bit like padding.
This is a beta and so there were bound to be bugs and issues. That, after all, is mainly the point. I actually found the experience largely painless but there were a few times where boss enemies would glitch into walls, quest markers would not appear, or I would have to stand around for a few minutes to fight a specific creature in order to finish a collect quest.
I’ll be honest, it was actually pretty polished overall. In fact, I would say that any bugs that did occur were mainly annoying because of their infrequency.
I am… actually cautiously optimistic about this. I don’t think the game has an awful lot of charm or, really, any original ideas but I did find myself wanting to carry on playing it. More interesting realms have been teased in the promotional content, so maybe the *really* weird shit will be later on but I am not willing to write this off just now.
My advice is to wait for the reviews and, even then, wait for a few patches or content drops. I think every MMO, ever, has had a shaky start but this feels like it could build up to something.
Mind you, I once predicted that Fortnite “won’t be a hit”, so don’t put any money on my opinion.