My preview session was held at Amazon Game Studios’ Irvine, CA office. I was joined by a handful of other journalists from around the world to try out the MMO ahead of its beta period and get a taste for both the new player experience and the end-game content.
Predictably, my adventure in New World started at the character creator. Admittedly, it felt a bit barren. There weren’t a lot of hair options and most of the preset faces had a very “samey” vibe to them. Overall it felt lacking compared to its contemporaries and I was hoping to spend a little while tweaking things but ran out of stuff to alter very quickly. And since everyone plays as a human, it was extremely easy to get the various hunks of meat running around confused at first glance. Luckily the in-game text and proximity-based voice chat worked well to help tell people apart.
New World Screens
The first several hours of New World were about as predictable and cookie-cutter as PvE content can get in an MMO. I’d talk to a quest giver with a flashing icon above their head, skim over quest text full of needless exposition and fluff, then run over to the quest location that was usually a solid few minutes away even when jogging at full speed. Every quest I did involved basic checklists like talk to this new person, kill these enemies, collect these thing-a-ma-bobs, and so on. Afterward, I had to run all the way back to turn in the quest, collect my reward, and grab the next quest which was often back at the previous spot or even further away — without mounts. Rinse and repeat.
As far as I could tell the main story exists entirely in optional lore pages scattered around the world, other than that it seemed to be a bunch of fetch quests to grind out levels. From what I was told it sounds like most PvE content is free-form open-world bosses and a few large “points of interest” scattered about, but there won’t be any actual dungeons or raids at launch at this time. Overall, I fear the result could be relentlessly tedious travel across a mostly empty world. PvE felt lifeless, uninspired, and unoriginal.
Now, to focus on some of the great things New World absolutely gets right, first of which is the combat. The developers at Amazon Games Studio specifically cited Dark Souls as heavy inspiration and it shows. Rather than targeting enemies and cycling through your auto attack and lock-on abilities, you have to actually be engaged and focus to succeed.
Every weapon has actual weight and hit-detection based on its physical movement in space. So even if you walk up to an enemy and swing your sword it’s not going to do anything unless the swing actually hits the other character itself. This is a far cry from most any other major MMO on the market. Even action-heavy MMOs like TERA or Black Desert Online are still based on tab-targeting as the underlying foundation, but that’s not the case here. Even projectiles like arrows move through the world in real time meaning they can be dodged if you’re quick enough or behind cover.It’s a thrilling rendition of typical MMO combat. Rather than memorizing the correct ability rotation, I had to recognize enemy attack patterns. Some enemies would lunge for a heavy attack then follow-up with a quick swipe while others would try to block and counter attack. Wolves were ferocious and quick to lunge long distances while other infected enemies would spit globs of toxic goo at me from afar. Blocking, dodging, and understanding when to go for a heavy attack versus a light attack is all crucial.
New World also does not have a class system at all. Instead, you level up your base attributes through amassing XP from completing quests and fighting enemies and then also level up each of your Weapon Mastery trees alongside your base level. Your combat style is determined by a combination of the two. The Weapons Mastery trees determine your powers and abilities, such as a sweeping sword strike or shield bash, whereas attributes determine your stats.
New World Concept Art Gallery
Eventually you’ll have a total of three quick-swap weapon slots for a variety of situations. For example, if you plan on using a bow and arrow primarily, with a throwable hand-axe for your secondary slot and maybe a sword and shield as your third slot when things get dicey, you’ll probably focus a lot of your attribute points on Dexterity over Intelligence and Strength. It’s a good, flexible system that was fun to explore. Each weapon type is wildly different and being able to equip multiple weapon sets at once felt a bit like on-the-fly multiclassing. I didn’t get to see what it’s like over the course of an entire game though.
From the very start, it was obvious to me that New World is built around PvP at its core. All of the PvE content feels engineered to teach you the base mechanics and give you lots of opportunities to get good at combat before being thrust into the massive territory-control War battles. These battles are undoubtedly the main draw and main focus in New World.
All of Aeternum is split into territories, each of which can be owned and controlled by a Company, the New World equivalent of a guild. While controlling a territory, which is comprised of several settlements or villages, the head of that Company can delegate down leadership positions. The leader is appointed as the governor and gets to set things like the tax rate on players that own land and homes in that territory, as well as decide on community projects for upgrades such as new defenses or new shops.Notably, the entire economy in New World will be entirely player-driven. There are zero merchants in the game that sell or buy items from you. Instead, players will control all of the resource gathering, crafting, selling, buying, and so-forth. It’s a novel approach that should be interesting to observe over the long term.
All of this builds up towards Company combat. Since power is derived from land ownership, territory struggles are the heart of New World’s end-game system. During a War the attacking and defending sides hit the battlefield to decide which Company will retain or gain control of the territory. The attackers must capture control points along the outside of the walls, then breach one of the gates, and finally take the central control point inside the keep. All the defenders must do is hold out until the time limit is reached. It’s a good, balanced format that rewards cooperation and tactical thinking. Rushing blindly will not succeed for the attacking team.
Rather than opening keeps to constant raids and never-ending battle, there is a “battle by appointment” system instead. When you own a territory your Company must designate a window of time it will be available for War. Players can then sign up for the War and the leader will construct a “roster” of 50 players, as well as alternates if needed, to take into battle. Once both sides are set and ready within that War window, the battle can begin.
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During my preview event, I got to take part in a single War battle as a defender. Seeing dozens of enemies rushing towards our keep, lobbing arrows, bullets, fireballs, and more at us was both epic and intense. It really did make me feel like I was taking part in a climactic battle from a fantasy film such as The Lord of the Rings and I didn’t even have months of guild politics and baggage leading up to that moment. I can only imagine the tension players will feel when waging War against actual rival guilds.
Apparently there is a PvE alternative to War referred to as Invasions that take place at keeps with a similar large-scale format against the Corrupted NPC enemies, but none of that was available for testing during my preview. It’s hard to say whether or not it will have the same end-game appeal as the addictive War skirmishes.
I truly loved the War battle I got to try and it was by far the highlight of my preview. Up until very recently, New World was designed to have PvP at its core no matter who you are or where you went and I could feel ripples of that philosophy everywhere. The entire world was originally designated as open for PvP and the massive War battles often became one-sided affairs with dozens overflowing towards attack or defense at all hours of the day. It wasn’t balanced and was often pure chaos, but it offered unprecedented freedom. That’s no longer the case.
In a lot of ways the game that I played a preview build of at the Amazon Game Studios offices recently is no longer the game Amazon originally set out to make. Now, you have to opt-in to PvP when you’re out and about in the main open-world map. War battles are capped at 50 vs. 50 and happen only at predetermined scheduled times. Every castle has the exact same layout, meaning territory leaders can only choose minor town projects to focus on, such as where to place the next trebuchet, but they don’t have actual control over how to build out the keep itself.
Arguably these changes lead to a more streamlined, balanced, and accessible game, but it doesn’t really feel like the game as a whole was founded on these ideals originally.
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As it stands, New World feels like it’s struggling to find its identity. As a response to alpha concerns from fans, Amazon walked back many of its PvP-centric ideas to accommodate a wider range of players, but the end-game still seems to revolve around faction disputes and territory Wars which will inherently be driven by PvP conflict. But ultimately since the path to reach this PvP-focused end-game is a one-way road littered with monotonous PvE content, I’m not sure how many people will stick it out. Granted, I only got to try the game out in two relatively quick spurts equaling less than six hours total, but when you combine that with the interviews and presentations packed into that same day, I feel like I’ve got a well-rounded idea of what this game aims to be, and more importantly, what this game actually is.
If the PvP side of things can live up to its promises it may convert me into a believer purely on the depth and intensity of its combat and inter-faction disputes alone. But until I see more creativity from the PvE side of things or a clearer picture of what the path to end-game actually looks like, I’m not sure it can hold my interest long enough to get there.
David Jagneaux is a freelance writer for IGN. Talk RPGs with him on Twitter at @David_Jagneaux.