Welcome to Amazon’s Brave-ish New World

New World Preview

While it’s almost hard to believe that, in 2021, MMORPGs are still a thing, there is a mountain of evidence to the contrary, including hundreds of active games, many with player bases in the millions. Clearly, there is still a market willing to at least give new games a try, if not pony up a monthly subscription fee in perpetuity.

So maybe it’s not surprising that still-fledgling Amazon game studios would choose to release New World, an MMORPG with significant ambitions and a design that aims to split the difference between innovation and giving players a comfortable and familiar experience. I recently attended a press event for New World, played through the tutorial area as well as several starter quests and listened to members of the development team talk about their project.

From both my time in the game and from listening to the developers, it’s clear that New World embraces many of the standard game play mechanics that MMORPG players are accustomed to, from quest-giver NPCs to crafting better gear out in the field. Quests in New World are not instanced so that there will likely be dozens of players all completing the same objectives simultaneously, though happily quest objects appear to everyone and there is no waiting for a particular treasure to respawn.

That said, the age-old fantasy of the player being a unique hero in the world is practically impossible to maintain when everyone is killing the same enemies or talking to the same NPCs like they’re crowding around a celebrity seeking an autograph. It’s a problem that many more recent MMORPGs solved through instancing and it’s interesting that Amazon has chosen to retreat a bit to an older idea.

Although developers claim that “90% of the game can be completed by a solo player,” there definitely seems to be an underlying philosophy of “it’s always more fun or more interesting to group with (or against) other players.” Setting aside that many people do enjoy soloing an MMORPG, and games like Elder Scrolls Online are built for it, New World’s biggest innovations and strongest focus seem to be on PvP content and grouped PvE activities. For example, Factions are incredibly important. They have their own quest lines and objectives through which they capture territory and ultimately, factions can challenge each other in the epic, 50×50 player War mode for control of the map. There is also a mode called Outpost Rush, which a late game activity that combines both PvE and PvP mechanics. The team stresses that thanks to player feedback, they have bolstered end game content.

You Drive The Bus

The developers assert that New World is heavily player-driven, with permanent settlements altering the landscape, player housing for storage as well as being a recall point, and an entirely player-made economy. There will be no NPC vendors in towns and all items for sale will be crafted and sold by players in the game, meaning that gathering materials and trade skills will become extremely important. Player-driven economies have had a spotty history in MMOs (EVE Online anyone?), so I’m interested in what sort of limits or controls the game will place on price gouging or inflationary economics.

Of course, as in most MMORPGs, combat is at the heart of the game, and New World features an action combat model with heavy and fast attacks, special attacks, blocking and dodging, plus of course various forms of spellcasting. There are no set classes and players can choose to craft a character however they see fit, assigning points to the usual array of traits: strength, stamina, constitution, intelligence, etc. I found it both surprising and disappointing that the developers “have no plan for including gamepad controls,” instead focusing exclusively on mouse and keyboard. Given how effective “Soulslike” action combat is using a controller, and how gamepad controls are now essentially standard in MMOs, I hope the team will reconsider this. Currently, the game will recognize controller input but it’s clearly not built for it or fully implemented.

It’s hard to tell from the small slice of game that I played just how engaging the combat will be over the course of many hours. There are essentially four classes of enemies — The Ancients, The Corrupted, The Lost and The Angry Earth — and they range from zombie-like humanoids to spectral undead to more nature-based creatures. As in most MMORPGs, at least the early game, the enemies mostly just spawn in and stand around, waiting to be killed, as the kill-and-fetch quest-type missions are dominant. None of that is bad, it just feels a little like Amazon was determined to follow a well-worn path. You play as a shipwrecked immortal, and your task is to hunt down and kill the Corrupted as you unite the remaining humans. According to the developers, it’s all in answer to the question, “what is the price of eternal life?” I don’t know about that, but I do know the price of New World is $39, and there won’t be a monthly subscription. There will be an in-game shop selling “cosmetic items” for real world money, however. New World won’t be the first MMORPG with microtransactions, of course, but I think it would be hard to find anyone who thinks it’s an essential component of the genre.

New World looks very good, with a variety of biomes and architectural styles that are not entirely unfamiliar: Medieval-looking towns, Asian-inspired areas, with maybe a bit of steampunk at the margins. The music and sound design seem effective and I was impressed by the punchy sound of combat (at least through good headphones). There isn’t much in the way of voiced dialogue or chatty NPCs, and the game’s character creator is decent if still a major step down from that of Black Desert Online.

By and large, New World embraces the familiar, and anyone who enjoys traditional MMORPGs will probably enjoy this game, especially players who prefer PvP, faction-based combat, and group questing over playing solo. Whether basing design decisions on “community input” is being admirably responsive or abdicating responsibility for choices remains to be seen as the game evolves, and we get to experience the large-scale PvP events and diversity of the world. It is understandable that Amazon Game wanted to create a game that a large community of players can appreciate and I think it has the potential for doing just that, but I do hope that New World has a few surprises and a bit of amazement in-store as well.

Thank you for keeping it locked on COGconnected.

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