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New World Review in Progress

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Amazon’s New World is finally available in our world (which is now technically the old world, I guess?) and its servers are so packed on day one that I haven’t been able to get in yet. However, I’ve spent the past week running around a finalized version of this colonial-era MMO, albeit without nearly the same player count or queue times that many are currently experiencing. Note that, since I’m also responsible for a large chunk of IGN’s official wiki guide, almost all of that time was spent running around as a pre-made level 60 character and poking various Corrupted bee hives to see what I could shake out of them so that you don’t have to. But that has given me some time to get the lay of the land and get a sense of how everything works, so here are my initial impressions of this long-awaited MMORPG.

The premise of New World is pretty simple: You’re a member of a pirate ship crew that’s gone out searching for a mystical island called Aeternum, which is rumored to be full of treasures. You land yourself in the middle of a storm that’s been infused with the island’s dark energy, called Corruption, and then you end up beached on the shore with nothing but the rags on your back and must contend with creatures and the rest of the island’s human inhabitants (survivors from past shipwrecks). Basically, it’s kinda like a Pirates of the Caribbean MMO with some high fantasy elements thrown in. This is perfectly fine as an original setting, and it’s great that Amazon Games seems to be taking expert consultation in crafting the real-world cultures and influences that it depicts. At least, that’s what it claims on the splash screen. However, I’ve yet to dig into its main story quests – meaning that it’s too early to say whether it’s compelling enough to drive me through what will certainly be a long journey.

It’s worth noting early on that this all looks downright gorgeous on Amazon’s Lumberyard engine (based on CryTek’s CryEngine), which does a great job of rendering real-time volumetric lighting and handling a large number of characters and effects at the same time. Not only are the draw distances quite impressive for an MMO, trees and grass all sway in the wind and cast accurate-looking shadows on max settings. In its favor, I get strong Witcher 3 vibes from New World’s overall look. Take note that my machine is pretty souped up – I’m running an RTX 2080 Super on a Ryzen 3900X with a whopping 32GB of high-speed RAM.

All of this looks downright gorgeous on Amazon’s Lumberyard engine.

As in other MMOs, you’ll start off by creating your character – though New World has a relatively modest sum of different faces and hair styles – then you’ll choose your name and you’re off to go. It doesn’t get any deeper or more complex than that, and there are no additional races or classes to choose from at the beginning. If you like to keep things simple, this is just fine – but it certainly doesn’t offer nearly the bevy of customization options that fans of Final Fantasy 14 or Black Desert Online might be familiar with.

As soon as you get to the island you’re introduced to combat and basic questing. Don’t expect anything groundbreaking in either case. When you speak to an NPC who has a quest for you, you’ll get a page of dialogue and a preview of the quest’s reward, which in practice feels about as deep as any interaction you might have in World of Warcraft or Destiny 2. But at least these conversations are decently voice-acted.

I haven’t decided yet whether I think New World’s combat can hold up over the long haul. It’s not all that different from other hack n’ slash RPGs, although it does often make you block, dodge, and break your opponents’ defenses in order to be effective. Enemies, especially the Dryads which you encounter later on, are also a bit more fierce than standard foes in other action MMOs – they’re more clever, and don’t simply stand around while you take swings at them. They’ll dodge and sidestep your attacks, making fights more dynamic than I’m used to. On our end, weapons feel good to swing around – your position and timing have a major impact on your efficacy in combat, though you’re locked into an animation once you activate an ability. This can make combat feel stiff if you aren’t timing your attacks, dodges, and blocks at the right moment.

Enemies are a bit more fierce than standard foes in other action MMOs.

However, New World’s combat isn’t without issues. For me, those started when a swarm of enemies ran up and spammed their attacks in unison, making it hard to get enough shots in before they stunlocked me to death. I’m taking into consideration the fact that I’ve thus far played entirely solo and these encounters may be suited to groups of players, but still, these swarms are pockmarked all over the map, including in the middle of roads that I needed to travel through to get to the next zone. That doesn’t bode well for anyone who was planning to venture out alone.

The rest of my issues with New World’s combat stem directly from its lacklustre character customization system. The classless approach is fine enough – building up your character is a matter of choosing what interests you and focusing on those specific skills, much like in The Elder Scrolls Online. On paper, there’s a decent pool of weapons skills to pick from. But this stalled progress for me when I realized you can’t meaningfully mix and match several skills at the exact same time. It makes sense that you can’t use Hatchet skills with a Rapier, but it’s disappointing there are no interstitial skills or spells outside of those lines. You don’t get to have a weapon in one hand and a bomb or fireball spell in the other. It’s not like there are any passive skill trees or armor skill trees that help you in all situations either – if you’re developing a weapon skill, you’re playing within that exact skill tree with absolutely no interplay between that weapon and anything else.

It’s just fine, then, that you can quickly switch between two weapons in the middle of combat. For example, if you want to lure your enemies into close range with a bow, then take them out with a giant axe, you can theoretically make that happen… but you may not want to.

This is because New World’s character customization – and subsequently, its combat – is held back by its limited attributes system. It shoehorns you into using only a small, carefully selected pool of weapon types per build. For instance, the Focus attribute is completely useless for anybody other than a Life Staff wielder – putting your points into Focus is a huge opportunity cost that pulls you away from putting points into Strength, an attribute which would be useful if you wanted to use a War Hammer but, like Focus, is completely useless for anybody holding a Bow or a Musket. But since you muddy your build by attempting to split your points between the two, your options are remarkably limited if you want to be effective. It’s an irritating limitation on what seems like it should be a flexible system that’d allow for all kinds of builds. Mercifully, you can respec your entire attribute build whenever you’d like – even in the middle of dungeons – for just a few coins.

Mercifully, you can respec your entire attribute build whenever you like.

Weapon skills and their associated abilities are a separate issue entirely. You still need to grind these individual skills, like the Sword and Shield skill or the Bow skill, in order to build them up, and even then, there are a tiny number of attacks you can queue up on your hotbar. You’re stuck with only three special moves or spells on your hotbar at any given time (by comparison, The Elder Scrolls Online gives you six, and other MMOs basically have no limit). And the ones you do get to play with are tied directly to the weapon you’re holding, which means that playing with a specific weapon type almost always feels exactly the same, with the only variation being two distinct skill lines that you can follow within each weapon skill tree.

But if you want to be the best tank, for instance, you will always play with a sword and shield and you will always dive into the exact same shield-focused skill line. My level 60 sword and shield-wielder (again, a pre-made character I was using before launch) didn’t feel all that different from when I’d created a first-level character.

New World’s other major focus is its player-based economy, which is heavily centered around its crafting and survival elements. If you’re not into survival and crafting elements ala games like Minecraft or Don’t Starve, you may be very quickly turned off by New World’s absolute reliance on these things. Practically every item you need must be plucked off of bushes or mined out of boulders, then refined or crafted at trade skill stations in town.

The kicker is that there are no NPC vendors whatsoever in New World.

The kicker is that there are no NPC vendors whatsoever in New World. If you can’t find an item being sold by another player at the local trading post, which is specific to whichever settlement you’re currently standing in, you’ll need to go out and craft it or find it yourself. This is cool, if you’re into that sort of thing, because it gives you a tangible reason to build up your trade skills. But again, New World’s economy isn’t a fun side-activity that you simply dip your toes into between quests if you feel like it – it’s your lifeblood as you trek across this gorgeous haunted island.

Harkening back to older MMOs, New World is also a much tougher game to move across. There are currently no mounts whatsoever, making it something of a slog to get across each zone – especially when encounters on the road can absolutely kill you and send you back to your original starting point if no other settlements are nearby. Fast travel exists, but is heavily restricted by the scarce resource called Azoth, which is difficult to acquire (but not so unreasonably difficult that fast travel is useless).

Regardless, as soon as the server queues allow it I’ll be jumping in to begin playing New World with a fresh character from scratch one. Be sure to stick around and keep up with my adventure as it unfolds, and let us know what you think of New World so far in the comments.


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