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.