First impressions: New World has the foundation of what could be a great game

Especially when it comes to the combat


Like a lot of people, I’ve been hotly anticipating Amazon‘s New World, one of the first truly big name new MMOs we’ve seen in a while, so I was quite excited to receive a key to the current preview event.

My main impression after a few days of play is that delaying the launch to 2021 was a good move, and to be brutally honest I think even the new launch date feels like it might be overly optimistic. But the news isn’t as bad as that makes it sound. New World is far from finished, but the bones of a great game are already there.

New World opens with a fairly impressive cutscene that introduces you to the mysterious island of Aeternum, from which none return. You’ll be steeped in Lovecraftian dread as a gravel-voiced scholar warns you of the dark powers awakening within the isle. It’s a great start.

It loses some of that momentum out of the gate, though, as you then begin playing through the most generic quests imaginable. Paper thin NPCs, repetitive objectives, long travel times, no real story to speak of. Aeternum is a lush and beautiful setting that is a delight to explore, but without any meaningful story, the eldritch horror promised by the intro is largely absent.

The quests are so bad, in fact — lacking even voice acting — that I assume they must be placeholders. More than anything else, the quests are what I expect to be changed between now and launch.

Again, though, the experience of questing in New World is not as unpleasant as I’m making it out to be. The quests themselves are bland in the extreme, but the game built around them is not.

As I said above, Aeternum is gorgeous. Lush, vibrant plant life covers the island, creating woods and glades that are wilder and more alive than anything else I’ve seen in a video game. The soundtrack is also lovely. New World is a feast for the senses.

But what really makes this game shine is the combat. When one of the developers claimed New World is the first MMO with “100% real time action combat,” a lot of people scoffed, and that maybe wasn’t the right way to put it, but this is genuinely an evolution over what’s come before. New World‘s combat is as far above other “action combat” games as they are above tab target titles.

In New World, you genuinely need to aim every attack. And I do mean properly aim. This isn’t a soft target lock system a la Elder Scrolls Online or Neverwinter where just pointing the mouse in the general direction of the enemy is enough.

This does of course mean that you’re going to need to get better at aiming your attacks if you don’t want to miss, but it also has the potential to reward good play in a myriad of ways. For ranged weapons, you have the potential for head shots for extra damage, like in a shooter. For melee weapons, positioning becomes more important as you try to include as many enemies as possible in the arc of your swings. It is spectacularly satisfying to line up a crowd of enemies just so and lay them all out with a devastating shield slam.

On the other end of things, enemies also have to actually land a blow on you in order to do any damage. With good use of dodge and block, you can evade it all. Every enemy has their unique tactics, so it you’ve got to stay on your toes, but good play can prevent virtually all damage to your character. Skill is rewarded in a way most MMOs never truly achieve.

I know a lot of people are worried about the limited action set in New World — only three active abilities, often with long cooldowns — and I was, too, going in. I prefer limited action sets to bloated bars, but even to me three buttons seemed excessively restrictive.

It doesn’t feel that way when you’re playing, though. Between reacting to the unique mechanics of each enemy and aiming your own attacks, you don’t really notice your limited set of abilities. In New World, those buttons are more special moments where you get to feel extra awesome than the bread and butter of how you play.

It’s difficult to describe how New World‘s combat feels in this format, but it all comes together to form a system that’s easy to learn, but hard to master; challenging, but not frustrating; engaging, but not exhausting.

New World could well become the new gold standard for MMO combat.

Something else that helps the combat along is that the various weapons all have quite distinct playstyles. Sword and hatchet are both one-handed melee weapons, but they feel very different. Sword is a tank weapon that lets you impose your will on enemies with powerful crowd control and AoE attacks, whereas hatchet emphasizes mobility and versatility by weaving in ranged attacks alongside melee strikes.

This is another area where the unfinished nature of the game starts to trip it up, though, as the current selection of weapons is pretty limited. It’s especially bad if you want to play a magical character; right now, fire and healing are the only types of magic available. Hopefully this is something else that will be fleshed out before next year’s launch.

Balance between weapons is not in a great place right now, either. Melee feels like the superior choice in most cases because it doesn’t need to worry about managing mana or ammunition. In fact, ammo is currently so hard to come by that playing purely with ranged weapons doesn’t even feel like a viable option for a low-level character right now. The magic weapons seem to at least have some pretty potent abilities to compensate for the issue of mana management. Bows and muskets feel like they’re only useful as a supplement to your main weapon, if that.

There are a few other areas where New World feels unfinished, though they’re more minor. Character creation options are a bit limited, for one.

One interesting aside on that note, though: Instead being labelled as choosing gender or sex, the character creator instead prompts you to choose “body type.” In practice it makes little difference as you’re still choosing between male and female bodies, but to me it does feel like a nice nod toward gender as a fluid concept, though I’d be curious what an actual non-binary person thinks of it. I could see this becoming standard practice in the future — Magic: Legends is apparently planning something similar.

Another area where New World currently suffers is long travel times. The game would benefit greatly from mounts or some other out of combat movement speed boost, as well as more fast travel points. Be nice if we could swim, too — right now your characters just start drowning if they get into water too deep to wade through.

One area that does seriously concern me is that there doesn’t seem to be any sort of level-scaling right now. Aside from the fact I feel that’s a feature that every MMO should have in this day and age, a sandpark like this is definitely going to suffer immensely if only a small part of the game world is relevant at max level. This especially concerns me because it’s the one flaw that feels like a genuine bad decision rather than things simply not being finished yet. Maybe level-scaling is coming; I don’t know. We can hope.

Not everything feels far from ready, though. The extensive crafting system already seems to be in a pretty good place. It’s very similar to ESO‘s system, which is a plus in my view. My only complaint is that it could use a little streamlining. Do we really need entire tradeskills devoted to refining materials into other materials?

I haven’t had a chance to check out the housing system yet, but I was impressed with the fact that nearly every building in town seems to be available for purchase.

Finally, I did enjoy the Standing system, wherein you steadily level-up your status within a given area. It’s basically a reputation grind, which I normally hate, but this feels much better than the average rep grind. It progresses at a good clip, at least early on, just through normal play, and each time your Standing levels up, you can choose one of several permanent buffs that you benefit from whenever you’re within that region. The customization feels nice.

As you can see, New World still has a lot of issues, and pushing back the launch date was very clearly the right choice. Even so, I’m coming away with a pretty positive impression. There’s a difference between something that’s poorly made and something that just isn’t finished yet. My impression is that New World‘s problems stem much more from the latter than the former.

The rational part of my mind says there’s no point in playing too much if it’s all getting wiped at the end of the week, but I still kind of want to keep leveling my weapon skills, and craft some new armor with all that leather I harvested while exploring last night…

It all comes down to how much can be added and fixed in the next few months leading up to launch. If Amazon makes the right choices, New World definitely has the potential to be the blockbuster next-generation MMO we’re all hoping for.

Massively Overpowered skips scored reviews; they’re outdated in a genre whose games evolve daily. Instead, our veteran reporters immerse themselves in MMOs to present their experiences as hands-on articles, impressions pieces, and previews of games yet to come. First impressions matter, but MMOs change, so why shouldn’t our opinions?

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1 year ago

I didn’t find an issue with range ammo. In fact, after only two hours of farming basic materials i made over 600 bullets (and around 800 arrows but i’m a musket guy).

Range does indeed feel like a secondary skill though. Unless you are in a team and someone is keeping the baddies at bay i rarely found it possible to kill something without going into melee; and usually at great expense to ammo (not that it was a problem for me, again; but you notice when it takes 20 shots to kill a mob).

I was disappointed by the lackluster pvp. For a lot of the faction features they boast (zone control and fort sieges) don’t even feel like a thing (player can go in and trade with any settlement, no matter of which faction owns it or if you are trying to actively conquer the zone)(invasions are instanced 50v50 activities with a single instance and a luck factor to get into one).

It also didn’t help that wpvp was optional; with most players opting out.

But my biggest issue is how alone i felt in this game. Couldn’t find a company to save my life and i’ve tried. I blame half of it on being a timed event but there were companies around. Just no one reading chat… (ADD CHAT BUBBLES)

Combat is nice though.

Kickstarter Donor
1 year ago

Well said! I think we saw a lot of the same, and I’m happy to see that I’m far from the only person who seems cautiously optimistic about a title I was far from excited about a year ago.

That being said, I do disagree on a couple of your thoughts.

First and foremost, I cannot stress enough how much I do NOT want mounts or additional fast travel elements in this game. I know it is difficult to see what I’m talking about at the lower levels, but by the time you’re in your 30s and 40s, the travel becomes part of the adventure. Traversing the landscape, sometimes being forced into fight-or-flight scenarios as you crest a hill into a massive angry elite bear, is part of the majesty of the world.

So much time, attention, and effort is put into crafting these large, beautiful game worlds. And then mounts allow everyone to simply fly past it all at the speed of light. I say keep the mounts out, and get yourself a sturdy pair of boots (and a Life Staff to make travel a tad faster, maybe). If Frodo and Sam can walk from The Shire to Mordor, we can walk a few kilometers!

Mounts aside, I wanted to talk amount ranged weapons for a moment. While I will certainly agree that musket cartridges can be a tad difficult to acquire at the lower levels, flint arrows are another story altogether. I main a bow, and have since I picked up my first bow near the initial watch tower. Once you get past that first tower (around level 7 or so, which happens fast!) you will find that wood, flint, and feathers are exceptionally plentiful, and collecting them increases valuable gathering skills! You then simply craft them at your camp, 25 arrows per stack. Easy as pie!

I bring this up because, as someone who genuinely enjoys the ranged combat (especially the bow!) in New World, I don’t want potential players to be discouraged from trying it out. There is a very slight, short-lived ammo shortage at the very beginning, but arrows are very easy to come by very quickly in the game, once you’re past the starter spot.

Anywho, I’m glad you enjoyed your time in Aeternum overall, and I too am very much hoping that this title turns out to be the major blockbuster I’ve been waiting for.

Rodrigo Dias Costa(@rodrigo_dias_costa)
1 year ago

I’m actually surprised I like this game this much. I wasn’t intending of even playing it, but some cousins were already pre-ordering, and since gaming is the only way we can socialize currently (not only because COVID but also we live on different states), I had it pre-ordered too.

I like the combat enough. I’m being forced on using life staff because of the traveling utility, but I’m ignoring the hatchet existence just because it’s really enjoyable the back and forth of battling with sword and shield. Also it’s not my main focus, since I like to craft, and it’s actually the best thing the game has to offer right now.

I agree with all the complains though. They need to fix the questing, also balance the weapons (if not nerf the hatchet, then buff all the others, specially the poor ranged ones). I’m not having performance issues other than loading the players on a town after logging in or after a recall, but the problem exists. And character customization is indeed lacking.

Anyway, it does have a good foundation, and with a bit more work it could be ready for early access.

1 year ago

Personally, I don’t have time for games that might be great one day or have great potential. Call me when it’s ready!

Loyal Patron
Patreon Donor
1 year ago

Yay no bunny hoping guys in PvP was my first thought. Leave that to Call of Duty. ?

1 year ago

Great article and I agree with pretty much all of it.

The one thing I disagree with is level scaling, though. I like that the game isn’t level-scaled. It gives the world a sense of geography – some areas are more dangerous than others.

Also, I look forward to being able to one-shot enemies with the bow in low-level areas when I’m high level ?

Brown Jenkin(@brown_jenkin)
1 year ago

One of the things that surprises me is the level of crazed toxicity about New World. It actually seems worse than the MMO sector’s standard of awful fans, it’d be cool to hear from Massively about what’s going on here? I mean certainly the move away from a PvP-centric game had something to do it, but it definitely seems worse than usual.

Bruno Brito(@bruno_brito)
1 year ago
Reply to  Brown Jenkin

Probably because it’s a open preview and people from all walks of life are testing. The game was also sold as PvP earlier so PvP minded people are testing it. It’s to be expected.

Kickstarter Donor
1 year ago
Reply to  Brown Jenkin

It’s also worth noting that the toxic folks tend to be the more vocal ones, as well. The majority of the people I’ve encountered thus far have actually been pretty cool folks.

1 year ago

This game is terrible in it’s current state, I played it for about 6 hours and then asked for a refund…

1 year ago

Mix New World’s combat system with ESO’s world and quests and you’d have a game I would want to play. I’ll see how things shape up at launch, but right now there really isnt anything there to make me want to sacrifice current offerings to pump time into this.

Jacquotte Fox Kline(@jacquottefox)
1 year ago

Agree with everything said here. After a few days of playing, it feels like the paper thin NPC’s, forgettable repetitive quests, and the nearly non-existent story are just a shell that is/was supposed to lead to PvP “content”. The NPC dialog writing is very wordy and decently written, but it doesn’t convey a strong sense of the world the NPC’s are living in. The character creator for female characters was also pretty meager. None of the faces or figures seem to look very feminine. Tons of potential though, hope it comes together. Will probably play when it comes out regardless of what they end up with.