What happens when you combine the shell of a hardcore fantasy MMORPG with the trappings of a hardcore survival game? I just spent the last month and a half finding out with New World, Amazon Games’ Colonial-themed MMO that plops you and other human survivors onto a cursed island where you must gather, craft, and fight for the dominion of one of three competing factions. It’s visually gorgeous and its ideas for a player-driven economy are bold, yet coming away from over 170 hours spent reaching the level cap and exploring the endgame content, it comes together as a thoroughly unremarkable game thanks to a needlessly drawn-out grind with not enough variety or swashbuckling to sustain it.
The premise of New World is pretty simple: You’re a pirate shipwrecked on a mystical island called Aeternum, which is rumored to be full of treasures. This is all a thinly veiled excuse to go out and plunder everything you see, and New World wastes no time teaching you how to cut a direct swath through its breathtaking wilderness; you’ll soon find yourself chopping down every tree, skinning every animal, and mining every ore node in sight, then turning their raw resources in to the local Town Project board or just selling them to other players at the trading stall. And even after reaching the level cap of 60, you’ll still need to engage heavily in all this crafting and gathering business, even when you finally get to engage with the thoroughly enjoyable Outpost Rush PVP mode.
There is action combat, of course, and it feels especially slick in the initial few battles. For instance, enemies are way more reactive than in other MMORPGs, often dodging and darting around you. It forces you to stay on your toes at all times. Since there’s no tab-targeting system, you need to aim each of your attacks, so the timing of a particular attack or dodge roll can make or break a fight. This would be exhilarating if it were built upon from there, but it drops the ball in that there isn’t all that much variation to how your character plays over time as you level up.
Combat would be exhilarating if it were built upon from there.
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, so putting your points into Focus is a huge opportunity cost that pulls you away from putting points into Strength. That’s 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.
Questing on Aeternum is sure to put that combat system through its paces, but by the end, it’s far preferable to sail off to some other distant shores. What begins as an interesting battle for survival against the island’s ancient undead guardians, dryads, and the odious, otherworldly Corruption rapidly devolves into a mad dash to gather the most resources. The reward for all of that effort is getting to watch your numbers go up at a tick so slow that it makes progress in Pokémon GO feel speedy. On top of that, even when you’ve gathered plenty of one specific material, there’s no knowing when the corresponding Town Project that requires it will appear at your local settlement’s Town Project board to scoop them up in exchange for a major payoff of XP.
Sure, you can find plenty of lore scrolls that vaguely tell you what’s going on, but NPCs are sparse and their quests are almost always written with no more enthusiasm than “go here and kill 10 rats, because I said so.” It’s nice that the main quest at least forces people to cooperate for a few dungeons, but it still ends on a note so forgettable that you can blink and miss it entirely. Just a short conversation with a throwaway character, after all of that? Really?
In its favor, Aeternum is a massive, sprawling island.
In its favor, Aeternum is a massive, sprawling island. There are a ton of zones, each with their own flavor and scenery drawing inspiration from different real-world cultures. And it’s cool that some of these points of interest can climb into the sky, giving Aeternum a surprising sense of scope and scale – especially when you’re visiting, for instance, Ebonscale Reach’s Mountain Temple area. It’s worth noting 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. Take note that my machine is pretty souped up – I reviewed New World while running an RTX 2080 Super on a Ryzen 3900X with a whopping 32GB of high-speed RAM.
But good graphics can’t sustain an MMORPG forever, and even New World’s gorgeous vistas get old after a while. It’s frustratingly inconvenient that fast travel is limited to a very select group of points on the map. Because you’re forced to spend a scarce resource when using it, you’ll often find yourself hoofing it from place to place. Sure, this makes Aeternum feel spacious, but it’s exacerbated by the fact that there are no mounts to speed up your pace. After enough of those long treks, it becomes apparent that very few of these spectacular locations have any unique personality. Really, they usually serve as themed set dressing for cookie-cutter areas stocked with the same reused monsters and loot containers, every time.
New World features an in-game exchange where you can turn real money into Marks of Fortune, which is the currency used to buy things in the microtransaction store. The most basic exchange rate is $4.99 for 5,000 Marks of Fortune, but the larger packs offer incremental bonuses based on tier. For example, the largest pack gives you 60,000 Marks of Fortune for $49.99. This is all run directly through your Steam wallet, so you don’t need an Amazon account for any of this.
Right now, the only items featured on this in-game microtransaction store are cosmetic; there are assortments of dyes, housing items, emotes, costumes, and weapon skins that cost anywhere from “free” to up to 25,000 Marks. It had previously leaked that Amazon Games planned to include “conveniences” such as XP boosters in its microtransaction store, but it then received pushback for this (now scrapped) model. Amazon appears to have settled on keeping New World’s microtransaction store limited to cosmetics for the time being.
New World’s repetitive crafting, refining, and gathering systems can become fun – but only if you take part in the heavily PVP-oriented player-based economy. That often means either selling your items at the local market or contributing spare items and resources to the highest-level crafters in your company, AKA guild. New World’s PVP-focused endgame, where all of these pieces come together and become relevant towards driving your faction’s war engine rather than just grinding, finally opens up at 60. But it really is a mad dash to get to the end, once you realize that levels 1-59 play out virtually the same and there’s nothing much to the story, even after you become a Soulwarden with the power to drive back the Corruption.
There’s nothing much to the story, even after you become a Soulwarden with the power to drive back the Corruption.
There is at least some light at the end of the leveling tunnel. Starting at 50, you can functionally participate in the faction conflicts and community-based rivalries that paint the backdrop of much of what’s been going on around you, but you’re heavily encouraged to hold off until 60. Meanwhile, there’s enough consistent fun to be had with the Outpost Rush mode that it’s really confusing why Amazon Games decided to lock it behind so many hours of grueling grinding. These 10 to 30-minute PVPVE skirmishes between up to 40 players across the entire server give decent rewards and are easy to jump into, but a lot of people will probably give up long before they get to level 60 and unlock it.
It’s also quite cool that the overarching metagame pits each of the three player factions against each other in a competition over who owns and operates each of 11 conquerable zones across the world map – but it goes a little too far in that this also determines the quality of life for everybody on that server, even down to tax rates. Based on who’s in charge, you might be getting a raw deal – and until you hit level 60, it’s basically taxation without representation. That said, there can be a deeply satisfying element of strategy that goes into drawing up your own personal supply lines and planning your Territory Rewards to give you the maximum benefit in certain zones. For instance, you can specialize in maximizing your harvesting speed in First Light and minimizing your trading fees in Windsward, which is especially handy if your faction owns both territories, since personal and faction-wide benefits stack on top of one another.
Intertwining trade skill systems and player-driven economies can be downright chaotic.
But still, these intertwining trade skill systems and player-driven economies can be downright chaotic. For instance, because there are no NPCs dishing out money for items you collect like in most MMOs, the main currency, Coin, is extremely hard to find right now. As a result, trading stalls experience wildly fluctuating prices across all settlements on all servers, making it increasingly difficult to sell things. Nobody knows what a “reasonable price” for anything even is! Furthermore, you can’t even respec your Territory Rewards perks if you choose to set up shop somewhere else.
In my initial previews, I wagered New World would be a far more compact game than it appeared to be when it finally came out. But now I’m starting to agree with everyone who dragged me for the line I previously said about “dungeons in droves,” which you can find in my Amrine Excavation preview from back in May. It made sense to me at the time – I was comparing New World to Destiny 2 in my head, based on how simplistic New World’s action combat struck me as during that preview event – but now, after 170+ hours logged on my main character (and over 240 hours logged between both the main and press versions I own on Steam, which also accounts for the amount of time I spent waiting in queues), I think it’s time for me to walk that sentiment back and call it a lesson learned.
As far as dungeons go, there aren’t as many available as in other MMOs of this size, and they’re all beatable within less than an hour. That last part’s great, because dungeons don’t need to go on forever in an MMORPG that’s built around action combat – but the sheer lack of them in relation to how much time you’ll spend chopping wood and running around in circles, ends up making their inclusion seem like a bullet point rather than a fleshed-out feature that’s actually worth bragging about. Granted, even after all this time I haven’t managed to grind my way up to the two endgame dungeons, the Garden of Genesis and the Lazarus Instrumentality (though I gave the latter a solid shake during the final preview run in July, and I enjoyed what I played of it) but at least the gorgeous Dynasty Shipyard and challenging Starstone Barrows make an interesting distraction from the grind while you’re still leveling up. However, the lack of matchmaking made it easy to play them once and forget they’re there. There are only so many times I could tolerate sitting around and typing “LFG” into a chat window until I found a party with a required tuning orb, or put in the work to create one myself. I’d have preferred something much more akin to the Duty Finder from FFXIV, which is accessible anywhere and automatically teams you up with others – even across servers.