I’m not sure how long it will take for the words “Amazon Game Studios” to stop sounding weird when put together as a proper noun. Yet despite the on-paper oddness that is the world’s largest online retailer entering the gaming market, Amazon has quietly amassed a formidable team of industry veterans that have all been hard at work on New World, a big-budget MMORPG that could rival the genre’s biggest powerhouses.
That the company means business was evident from the moment I set foot in Amazon Game Studios for a small New World preview session with a handful of other journalists. We had to turn in our IDs, sign NDAs, and get scanned through entry doors before we even saw an elevator, let alone an actual employee. The walls were lined with portraits of influential developers like Shigeru Miyamoto, waist-high cubicle walls were ordained with nerdy bric-a-brac, and there was a general buzz of excitement one would expect from a studio facing an impending launch.
It felt like the real deal, in other words. People may not associate Amazon with the creation of games just yet, but that might change soon with the power of the underlying tech it has built.
New World Screens
Most online games are primarily powered and run locally on a user’s computer, known as client-based processing. But in the case of Amazon, due to its significant server resources via the AWS (Amazon Web Services) branch, most of its simulations are server-based. This frees up a lot of resources and computing power in terms of enabling New World’s real-time physics-based combat, as well as the sheer size of its battles.
“A tremendous amount of our simulation is server-based, instead of client-based,” says Richard Lawrence, Director of Game Technology at Amazon Game Studios on New World. “In a lot of games, the client makes suggestions to the server and the server verifies. For us, the server actually does the action. The server says, ‘Oh, you’re swinging your sword, I’ll do that for you and I’ll figure out what happens in terms of intersection with another player and causing damage.’ That’s pretty expensive computationally, but it turns out Amazon has a few servers, so we felt like that’s something that might be solvable long term.”
However, the name of the game in the MMO scene is finding a unique angle to stand out in a saturated market. Every MMO has thousands of players, most modern MMOs have player-controlled cities and territories, PvP-focus has been a marketing line for over a decade now, and large-scale PvP warfare is no longer a novel concept. Only a few holdovers from yesteryear even use tab-targeting as the core of its combat system anymore. But where New World has an opportunity is in how it combines these ideas, polishes them, and wraps them all up into an accessible – yet deep – package.
Game Director Scot Lane sees three core features in New World that will help it stand out from the pack: its art style, its combat, and its wars and invasions. “I think those three features put us in this other bracket of MMO that really hasn’t been done yet.”
New World Concept Art Gallery
From what I played at the New World preview event, Lane has the right to be confident, but it’s all going to come down to execution. Thankfully, combat, which relies heavily on Dark Souls-style precise timing and methodical rhythm, is fast and fluid. One moment you’re side-stepping a sword swipe from an enemy player that’s trying to breach a wall, then you’re ducking and dodging a musket blast from across the field before a ball of fire crashes down and obliterates the group in front of you. It’s all in real-time, too, without automatic targeting or lock-on abilities. It feels wild and ambitious.
This skill-based action combat system is the most crucial moving part at the core of what makes New World tick. In a lot of MMOs when you say it has “action” combat that just means effects are flashier and you have a bit of mobility during fights. But at the end of the day, you still end up targeting enemies and clicking abilities. New World isn’t really like that at all.
Instead, you’ve got to actually think about positioning, how your weapon is swinging, where your arrows are going in real-time, and so on. This means dodging an arrow is possible, or ducking behind cover. Just because an enemy sees you doesn’t mean they can hit you. It truly changes the way you approach every single combat encounter in both PvE and PvP and seeing all of that manifest itself in epic 100-player battles is certainly special.
Ensuring that something as intricate as New World’s combat – which flips a genre’s typical style on its head – is accessible without sacrificing complexity is difficult. Scaling back the hardcore PvP focus was an important first step. Back in alpha from October 2018 until June 2019, New World was a fully open-PvP game. This meant you could be attacked and murdered pretty much anywhere and would lose the gear on your corpse, similar to Ultima Online or Darkfall. This resulted in lots of griefing and player-killing, which drove off players out of annoyance and fear. But if you pay attention to the vocal groups of fans that wanted open PvP at all times, like it was in the alpha, many are extremely unhappy with the new direction.According to Lane, Amazon Game Studios isn’t resigned to the new model, and would consider bringing features back. “We will always consider bringing things back. We are set on launching our alphas and betas this way and seeing what happens.”
An important lesson the team learned from the beta is a lot of players would quit out of the game after visiting PVP areas they didn’t want to enter, or upon discovering full loot drops. “What we want is a world where they [PvP players and PvE players] could co-exist,” says Lane. “We want everyone to play. We think it’s a really special world and really fun. So we’re trying to create a way we can do that. We have options. We could do servers, like we said we could do PVP areas…but what I don’t want to do is exclude people from content.”
New World also sets itself apart with its “War” PvP system. During the game groups of players, called Companies, can take control of entire territories. While controlling a territory, a governor is appointed to control things like taxes on property owners, which community initiatives are focused on (such as improving defenses or installing new work stations) and so on. Owning territory is essentially the end game in New World, which naturally means company rivalry and conflict is the ultimate end game.
To take control of a territory that another company owns, you must engage in a War. These are battles by appointment in which each side drafts 50 players into the War for a specific date and time. When the time arrives, so too does the battle with attackers capturing control points and breaching walls while defenders hold them off by any means necessary. It’s incredibly tense and exciting.
Since Wars are asymmetrical by design, that means that Attackers and Defenders have very different objectives and resources at their disposal. For example, Attackers are required to capture three control points outside the keep’s walls, then breach the doors through force, and finally capture a single point at the center of the keep. But as a Defender, all you have to actually do is hold out until the timer runs out.
“The defenders build siege weaponry through the town projects, upgrade it, and have a set number of siege weapons at the start of the War. Whereas the attackers, they start out with fewer siege weapons” says David Verfaillie, Creative Director on New World. “But they can build them over time. So it’s sort of like a battle of attrition, even on the siege warfare front where the defenders have a set amount that’s more, but they can’t increase that base, whereas the attackers increase it gradually. ”
To encourage typically PvE-only minded players to engage in the big PvP battles, Amazon Game Studios has designed ‘Invasion’ scenarios, which are entirely PvE. They work a lot like Wars, with enemies attacking a keep at a predefined time, but instead of facing other actual players you’ll defend the keep from ‘The Corruption’ instead. The Corruption is a twisted, dark force that’s hellbent on abusing the powerful substance found within Aeternum, Azoth, and using it for nefarious means.
Open world events where The Corruption starts to slowly take over the environment are other good places for players to dabble in more intense, non-quest focused areas of the game without excluding or hampering enjoyment elsewhere.
“In the War whatever you went into the War with, you’re in that exact same state [after] unless you’re a governor and you lose your control over your territory,” says Lane. “But that’s very few people. The rest just get to go experience it and the invasion will teach you that and then you’ll learn that in War.”
Amazon Game Studios has a tall order at hand here with New World. They’re targeting one of the most opinionated audiences out there in the form of PvP-minded MMO players. New World is a big-budget project with a large team built on the foundation of what could be the future of gaming with its cloud-computing AWS platform. The future of Amazon as a whole may not ride on New World’s shoulders, but a significant portion of its goodwill in the gaming market as a developer by the name of “Amazon Game Studios” certainly does.
Keep an eye on New World at IGN by reading our in-depth hands-on impressions and this round-up of everything you need to know right here.
David Jagneaux is a freelance writer for IGN. Talk RPGs with him on Twitter at @David_Jagneaux.