New World faces a significant challenge vying for a spot in a genre that’s proven notoriously hard to conquer. As the newest face around the block, Amazon Games’ first MMO banks on enough familiarity to easily accommodate existing genre fans, while seeking to carve its own place through a mixture of PvP and PvE modes, departing from tab-targeting combat, and focusing on freedom of choice.
One clear takeaway from our time with New World’s closed beta, it’s that it definitely does a great job of making you want to explore the island of Aeternum while easing you into most of the things you can do there. After surviving a shipwreck and a short but clear tutorial fight against a nasty-looking undead sailor, we were met with the first of many gorgeous vistas.
There were several moments while out in the world when we just had to stop and admire the scenery. The moonlight piercing through treetops, illuminating an empty road leading to our next destination felt like an impromptu guide. The arresting light of the sunset bathing a forest, its animal inhabitants, and dense vegetation offered plenty of screenshot-worthy sights.
Returning from a bout of exploration, the hamlets that act as temporary homes in each of the map’s territories welcomed us with beautiful, moody lighting, bustling with life as players roamed about, crafting, picking up quests, and grouping up for their next adventure. But while New World manages to pull this off without leaning too much into its supernatural aspects and remaining relatively down-to-earth, its environments could use a bit more variety outside of the settlements that bring different layouts and themes to the mix.
New World’s main quest is a breadcrumb trail that not just gives a taste of its lore but also gradually introduces core concepts, from cooking meat into rations that heal you to crafting tools used for different professions (trade skills), weapons, or armor. It also introduces the three factions that play a large role in PvP.
The minimalistic writing, however, does little to give any weight to your struggle against the Corrupted – which the game tries to paint as a serious foe –, even with them overrunning areas of each territory and sieging settlements in instanced endgame Invasions. This disconnect extends to the characters whose brief dialogue makes it hard to actually believe in their motivations.
The main reason for questing in the closed beta was to fill up the XP bar, rather than help NPCs rekindle their friendships or convince them to help their settlement in the fight against the Corrupted. The bog-standard questing, that never tries to get past the “kill x enemies,” “collect x things,” or “speak to y” style of objectives also drains the life out of long sessions of leveling up, falling prey to one of the genre’s most notable sins.
Thankfully, harvesting and crafting also let you gain experience, providing both a welcome detour and an alternative when traditional leveling gets stale.
Although New World does gate quests in some areas by level, you’re free to explore in whichever direction you like and can even tackle some of the more difficult tasks, if you’re bold enough (or know a high-level player or two). Freedom is, in fact, one of the game’s core tenets. There are no traditional classes, although the holy trinity of Tank, Healer, and DPS does remain in place to some extent.
You can access all crafting disciplines from the first minutes of the game and can pretty much choose how you want to play. You can stick to questing and PvE activities, you can become an expert harvester and/or crafter, go into the PvP game – whether out in the world or in instanced activities like War and Outpost Rush – or pick a mixture of them.
New World’s eleven weapon types range from the good old sword and shield to great axes, muskets, ice gauntlets, and life staves. Each tap into a different playstyle that broadly falls under the above-mentioned holy trinity’s umbrella. What Amazon Games does differently is focusing entirely on action combat, which emphasizes positioning, dodging, and timing attacks.
Each weapon lets you equip up to three skills from two potential trees that offer different gameplay flavors. The light staff, for example, lets you mix and match the abilities of a more traditional healer that can target-heal allies and place down a protective dome with some that replenish more health based on weapon damage and active buffs.
You can equip two weapons at any given time and switch between them on the fly. Their abilities do not share cooldowns and weapon damage scales not just with the weapon quality but also the stats of your character and gear.
We opted for a dexterity/intelligence build and played mostly using the rapier and musket. Where the former let us apply a Bleed effect then follow up with a stylish flurry of attacks that dealt significant damage while extending said bleed, the musket let us set enemies on fire and fill them with lead from afar. By the time we had to switch to close-quarters combat, at least one-third of their health was gone.
Playing solo as a fully ranged character is viable since stamina lets you block with all weapons and all characters can use a fairly awkward dodge move to evade attacks. But while New World’s combat does feel refreshing and has its moments, most of the time it fails to find a rhythm. Figuring out when exactly to dodge in fights that involve more than one enemy isn’t always easy, since the telegraphs are rather hard to follow.
The rapier’s skills and attacks required additional precision, relying mostly on forward thrusts rather than slashes while also locking us into animations that gave enemies larger windows to land hits. We often went from feeling like gods of the battlefield to helpless fools and, switching weapons, the same feeling persisted. This lack of consistency – that may go away with enough unlocked skills and time to get used to the combat – is doubled by underwhelming sound effects, in some cases, which really made other weapons like the sword or fire staff feel really weak.
As you use your weapon type of choice, it levels up, obtaining points that you can spend to unlock active and passive skills. It’s a rather straightforward system that’s also easy to understand and seems to provide enough personality for multiple builds across all weapons. While three skills do feel a bit slim, at least when compared to the expanded rotations of other MMOs, each weapon’s light and power attacks feel distinct from those of their peers, adding needed variety.
Unfortunately, that’s what New World’s enemies lack. The first time you encounter a shielded enemy, you learn that you’ll have to either get around the shield or break its guard using heavy attacks. This, unfortunately, isn’t built upon enough. Up until level 25, you can get by well enough with spamming attacks and skills, even in the first Expedition (dungeon), Amrine Excavation, which we effortlessly zerged through.
In order to fire our musket, we had to either purchase bullets from a settlement’s trading posts – each having its own separate economy – or craft them ourselves. This is just one way to go down the crafting and harvesting rabbit hole, which developer Amazon Games plans to keep relevant until endgame. Having access to all trading skills from the get-go makes it easy to get distracted while out in the open, but your limited carry capacity will likely see you specialize in one or two things which, while never forced upon you, also gets you faster access to the higher tier craftables.
Whether you choose to harvest plants, forge gear, or become Aeternum’s premiere tree chopper, you gain experience while competing with other players for resources, some of which are very rare. This translates to long waiting times which you’ll also see when completing quests that ask you to hunt certain animals. You can customize your gear’s stats and roll random perks that can end up enhancing your playstyle when crafting. You can also dedicate your life to creating furnishings for players’ houses.
It’s always good to prepare before going out in the world by cooking rations, repairing your gear, but also stocking up on health, mana, and stat buff potions, especially if you toggle PvP on in any of Aeternum’s settlements. This enables you to attack any players that are also flagged for PvP and belong to any of the two opposing factions.
Fighting other players out in the open world was either very fun or very chaotic. The former happened mostly in 1v1 battles, where skill tends to shine thanks to what’s likely some form of power scaling. Dodging, blocking, and properly aiming your attacks can see you emerge victorious over a higher-level player. But you don’t always have this privilege and, while tens of players shooting and slashing at each other certainly has its charm, the chaos may prompt some to leave town with PvP toggled off.
Instanced PvP, on the other hand, proved very tricky to get into during New World’s closed beta. Once you’ve declared allegiance to one of Aeternum’s three factions, you can contribute to the territory control game by completing PvP missions and fighting over forts in each region. When your faction’s influence is high enough, you trigger a state of conflict and can declare war, which plays out as a match between two teams of 50 players duking it out to capture and hold three control points.
The players on the waiting list vastly outnumbered the available spots in any Wars, which meant that only those chosen by the companies (guilds) involved got to try it out. Although understandable, given the beta’s short period, being left out and having to wait for a chance in the next war is rather discouraging, especially when that never comes. The Outpost Rush PvPvE mode and Corrupted Invasions are then locked behind reaching level 50.
New World’s closed beta also had its fair share of issues. Server stability was the big one, prompting consistent maintenance times and heavily impacting performance. We had trouble getting a stable 60 FPS at 1080p on Very High settings, despite our system (GTX 1070, 16 GB RAM, and i7-8700K) being better than the recommended system requirements.
These issues were gradually fixed, enabling us to play the game on high settings with a very small amount of stuttering, and will, hopefully, not be present at launch. However, the MMORPG also left us with the feeling that it doesn’t excel at anything in particular but does several things decently enough. Since we didn’t get to experience all it has to offer, this is far from a final verdict, however, we’d lie if we said it didn’t feel a bit confused about its direction.
The first dungeon seems tacked on in an attempt to satisfy PvE-focused players, while its underwhelming narrative and bog-standard questing will likely struggle to maintain anyone’s interest. Its PvP, territory control, and crafting seem to be where the meat of the game lies but getting into all of their facets might prove trickier than some players would like. You can contribute to a settlement’s projects and reap the benefits of controlling it if you’re in the right faction, but only high-rank members in the controlling company seem to be able to determine its direction and pick who fights their Wars.
But the game’s laissez-faire approach to playstyle might just prove to be one of its strengths with players that aren’t looking to be forced into praying to the RNG gods for gear or beating the current raid tier. Although it didn’t blow our minds, there is a certain freshness to New World as well as the potential to have an MMO that definitely feels and plays differently from that of its peers. We’ll see how well Amazon Games pulls that off when the title launches on September 28.