New World is Amazon’s attack in the MMORPG genre, and I gained hands-on experience with an early build of the opening hours, which led me to create a character, fight my way through a training area, and graduate to a nearby city filled with vendors and ample mission markers. So just a small part of what is undoubtedly a game built for hundreds of hours of play, but enough to find out if I had that itch to get back there and watch an hour or two to the first hundred in the world. That’s what matters when it comes to MMOs, right? And I have to say yes. Yes, the itching can use a good scratch.
However, hardly any of the factions or battles over PVP stuff from land were available in my preview session, which was a disappointment considering that it’s probably a big part of what sets New World apart from other MMORPGs. I got a very small snapshot of how it can work, as houses in the first city I visited could actually be bought by players if they had a high enough Standing level – just do not ask me how Standing itself works. But things like melting and tanning in the center are shared between players, so they level up and unlock bonuses for everyone. And I noticed that I was taxed a small amount when I made things too. Presumably, the faction that controls the territory can be straight bastards and set taxes very high to stretch their pockets. Something I would never do. Not me.
Still, what I experienced of the New World territories was almost non-existent, so although I wish I could tell you more about how battles over land or player-driven economies will work, I can not. As someone who traditionally only cares about how good my new wardrobes look, and if they match my coat, I’m curious to see if I’m actually being towed to care about these aspects. Will climbing the tax rates in Scunthorpe make me reach the nearest pitchfork and revolt? Only time will tell.
Apart from that, so far I would say that New World shares as much of its DNA with the survival game Valheim as it does with an MMO. Unlike World Of Warcraft or Final Fantasy XIV, crafts are not something you can just get around if you do not like picking flowers or chopping wood. From the very beginning of the New World, you will rattle bushes for sticks and pockets to make yourself a shiny knife. And it does not take long before you beat a wild boar for the meat and see it crackle over a fire. Health bars don’t just fill up here, son.
At the end of my short session with New World, I continued to smelt ore, brown some leather and fish. Good lord, it was a lot of manual work, but it never felt that way. Mining, for example, sees you press a button and sees a circle gradually fill up. But the sounds your tools make when you crash off rocks or slam into wood are so, so satisfying. Fishing was more complicated than I expected too. You have to rewind the fish carefully so as not to snap the line, and later I discovered that there are different baits for freshwater fishing and saltwater fishing. By no means revolutionary, but these little details added nicely to my in-depth study.
These skills do not feel divided like other MMOs I have played, where you can focus only on one or two trades that are completely different from each other. Here, all kinds of raw materials will flood your bags, as much as missions or shiny rewards, so that the tools feel as important as the swords you want to swing or the arrows you throw.
Combat in New World also feels like it’s flowing into this loose goosebumps, “you can be whatever you think of maaaan!” things it has been going on. Instead of choosing a class that dictates what equipment you can and cannot use, here it is to pick up and play, baby. You can use a sword, shield, spear, hammer or even magic gloves if you feel spicy. And the more you use them, the better you will be with them, in a way that older people roll. The freedom is liberating, especially coming from other MMOs where I have been desperate to try out equipment that is outside my chosen class.
The actual collision with steel in the New World is also not half bad, with a more stripped back feel, so I did not drown in hotbars. I know everything reminds me of Dark Souls with me, but this time it really is! You have to set your turns and blocks and dodge to survive battles, as opposed to standing still and cycling through a myriad of abilities like you do in many other MMOs.
Each weapon has two skill trees. For example, with the sword and shield you can focus on damage, or on refueling. The branch you put the most points in determines your specialization. I went with the injury, which increased my spinny blade attack, one of three abilities to unlock and use in combat. Yes, that’s it: three. I liked their weighty feel and simplicity – but I worry that this may make it harder for your character to really stand out from the rest.
The same simplicity also applies to your character building, which has five attributes: strength, dexterity, intelligence, focus and constitution. Each time you level up, you slam a point or two into one of these branches, and it will determine the type of role you want to take on. This is as close as the game is going to set course, basically. I would not say that it felt as rewarding as something like FFXIV, where you unlock crazy new spells at a fairly frequent rate. Still, I liked that it was easy to see what I would access with a few levels thanks to a dedicated menu screen that tells me. This is something other MMOs can learn from, I think, so often I will miss important milestones like the opportunity to ride a mountain because no one told me I passed it.
Just do not expect to choose a flimsy Santa or a hulking big orc to play like in the New World. This can of course change, but for now the only option is to play as a human being. Just something to keep in mind if you are a fan of role-playing games as something with an edge, and another potential reason why we can all blend into one when we play.
But what about the world of the new world itself? Is it actually new? Does it have an edge? From the very small piece of the game I played, I would say that it was pretty standard, about nice, medieval stuff. Quiet music, nice trees, gravel roads. The training area was perhaps a sign of other worldly things to come, with a dark beach and shipwreck creeping in with blue zombies, so there is potential for surprise, but I have to spend more time in the world to see if it will hold up. Others have pointed to their colonial undertones, but after playing only a very small bit of the game, I can not call anything on that score. Something to keep in mind, that’s for sure.
New World has definitely done enough to interest me. I enjoyed the mix of survival and MMO elements, along with this concept of a world controlled and fought over by gamers. I am especially eager to explore this further, as I get the impression that this is where the real meat of the experience lies and what can differentiate it from other heavy hitters in the genre. When the New Worlds closed beta comes on July 20th, I will be there, hoping it delivers on that front. Part of me is worried that if it does not, the width of the Aethernum could sink rapidly into obscurity.