You know an MMO’s starting to click with you when you’re logging on during lunch breaks. There’s a moreish interplay between New World’s gathering and crafting that’s got its hooks in me. But for everything that Amazon Games has got right in its new MMO, there are plenty more features that feel undercooked and ill-considered, putting a significant dampener on the experience.
Does it scratch that itch you’ve got in the back of your brain for a new MMO? Definitely. Will you be gasping in awe, wondering how Amazon Games has managed to reinvigorate the genre? Probably not.
As soon as you get your first sword and shield in the tutorial zone, you’ll notice that New World’s combat differs significantly from most other MMOs. Rather than leaning on auto-attacks and cooldown-based abilities, New World employs an action-combat system that’s closer to Elder Scrolls Online’s bastardised take on Skyrim’s combat. The result is that swordplay feels so much more satisfying, and I’m no longer mindlessly clicking between mobs until the XP bar ticks over. It’s certainly not the first MMO to give the player a more active role in combat, but melee brawls feel tight and responsive.
The experience varies dramatically depending on which weapon you’re using. The greataxe’s swing is meaty and impactful, but somehow the greathammer’s size belies its range – it feels like you’ve got to get close enough to touch your opponent’s eyelashes in order to hit anything. The bow feels meek and lacklustre, but the rifle fires with a satisfying pop and little plume of smoke, which other players can see around you. My current favourite weapon is a high-level hatchet I found in a crate, which has a hefty strength bonus. I feel swift and nimble, darting around flailing with my swings as my friend aims headshots with his rifle. Each of New World’s weapon types are leveled separately to your character level, so you’re encouraged to try a few as you get your introductory loot drops. That can feel a bit like a downside when you receive a powerful rare rapier and realise that you have to start grinding a whole new weapon skill tree.
Frustratingly, there aren’t many skills to level per weapon, so while you have more control over combat, it doesn’t always feel like much of an evolution on the traditional MMO clickfest. There is an upside to this simplicity in that it’s easy to tell which skills your opponent is using in PvP, enabling both of you to read and counter one another.
New World's quest design makes a mockery of MMORPG storytelling
Sadly, combat is further marred by the game’s wonky spawn rates. I’ve stood in a forest surrounded by players desperately trying to tag a deer or wolf before it dies to progress their quest, ten minutes before being ganked by dozens of rapidly respawning skeletons that appear in a flash of blue beside or behind me as I try to slash my way to a box of loot. Amplifying these frustrations is the fact that other players can ninja in and harvest the body of skinnable mobs – like bison, boar, or lynx – before you get there, leading to a frustrating clickfest as you hope to be the first to press ‘E’ on a slain animal. General loot drops are instanced, so it’s a little baffling that skins aren’t.
There are a few different routes into PvP. The simplest is to target a player out in the world and ask them to duel. These one-on-one bouts have an air of Dark Souls about them as each player attempts to figure out their opponent’s rhythm and style, but they don’t seem to serve much of a purpose beyond killing time while you wait for a quest-related mob to respawn.
World PvP is a different beast. Taking inspiration from World of Warcraft’s War mode, you can head to a town where you’re able to toggle world PvP on or off. If you enable it, you get a 10% XP boost as you quest around, which goes some way towards offsetting the risk of being hunted down by higher-level players or gank squads. I flicked the PvP switch on a few times as I explored and had a few impromptu battles that got my heart racing, but ultimately I always returned to town to turn it off so I could go about my menial gathering tasks without the fear of winding up with a dozen rapiers in my back.
I'm not sure if the odd revolution makes up for having to shop around for fair tax rates
The huge faction battles, where Marauders, Covenant, and Syndicate players duke it out over territory, have an impressive sense of scale to them. While tactics don’t appear to be a significant factor at this early stage in New World’s life, you’ll usually find dozens of players on the backlines firing arrows, bullets, fireballs, and healing orbs into a brutal scrum of bodies. These battles also produce a tremendous racket as cannons boom, muskets pop and fizzle, arrows whistle through the air, and warhammers and great axes poke out above the throng before plunging down into their targets with a metallic crunch.
At first glance, I didn’t think New World’s crafting system was much of a change from the standard formula you’ll find in WoW or Guild Wars 2. However, after spending some time with it, I understand just how wrong I was. Gathering, refining, and crafting are by far the best parts of New World. It feels like a revision of Old School Runescape’s trade skills in that every form of gathering has its own sense of progression, and the sound design brings every animation to life in a way that’s somehow still not wearisome.
Resource nodes can be found all over Aeternum, some rarer than others, and there’s something tantalising about seeing a sparkly higher-level resource that you can’t gather from yet. Mining ore or chopping trees produces a satisfying ‘thunk’ or ‘clink’ that echoes around the immediate area. It’s even more impressive when you hear it walking around the wilderness, followed by the fall of a tree in the distance. Being surrounded by players is what makes the best MMOs so special, and the noise of industry filling the forest is a nice example of that. I just can’t help myself as I explore the world – every time I see an iron node I have to mine it. Every time I see a hemp plant, I have to harvest it. My pack is forever full, so much so that I’m frequently salvaging my actual loot drops to make more space for ore, wood, and plant fibres. MMOs ask you to spend a lot of time doing nominally tedious tasks, so it’s a real pleasure that something as simple as chopping down a tree feels good.
Crafting itself can be quite convoluted to level up, but it’s just accessible enough to entice players who might not ordinarily engage with it. Spending hours gathering only to be able to craft a dozen or so iron helmets might not seem like time well spent, but there’s no better feeling than wearing gear you’ve painstakingly assembled yourself. From my experience in MMOs I feel like I can already see the trajectory of New World’s crafting community and player-driven economy. Rather than spend all that time chopping down rare trees and skinning boars, the rich players will buy those resources on the trading post for their crafting efforts, and a whole other side of the community will shirk questing and PvP content to become gathering aficionados. I’ve already found myself spending hard-earned gold on some ludicrously expensive rare materials when I couldn’t be bothered to find them myself, just so I could make my first sateen hat with the right stats.
It does feel strange having to pay a small tax every time I craft anything or buy a resource in town, though. The ruling guild – or company, in New World’s parlance – sets the property, crafting, refining, and trade tax rates in a region, driving you to trade elsewhere or scheme to overthrow them if they’re setting extortionate rates. The irony of Amazon making a game with such a focus on taxation is not lost on anyone, but it does make for some interesting emergent storylines. I saw players banding together to overthrow a Covenant guild in Everlight who set their crafting fees three times higher than any other region. But I’m not sure if the occasional revolution really makes up for the inconvenience of having to shop around for a reasonable tax rate.
Given how satisfying the crafting system is, it’s disappointing then to look at some of New World’s other features. The quest design in New World makes a mockery of MMO storytelling. Quests I’ve encountered are almost entirely voice acted, but I can scarcely understand why. Why would I care about an NPC’s reason for wanting me to kill a specific skeleton or a set number of wolves when I’ve already killed that specific mob for someone else half an hour ago?
Gathering, refining, and crafting are by far the best parts of New World
And for a game without any mounts, New World sure does expect you to run around a lot. You can easily spend ten minutes running to a quest objective, only to quickly gather a few materials, head back to town, and be sent fifteen minutes in another direction to kill a low-level skeleton. Rinse and repeat. The travel time is immensely off-putting, and even the main questline doesn’t offer enough of a narrative draw to get me excited for my next objective. I found myself so jaded from the uninspiring storylines that I simply ceased to care about the mystery at the core of New World. ‘Why can’t anyone on Aeternum die? What’s this corruption all about?’ the game asks. And I reply: ‘yeah, yeah, just hurry up and send me on my next half-hour hike’.
Lore is mostly delivered through short notes you find littered all over the world, but the main questions they raise are why people are so careless with their important documents, and how come they haven’t blown away in the wind? I’m usually a lore-hound in games, but all these notes mean to me is a quick pop of XP for opening them. I can’t see any YouTube channels like WoW’s marvelous Nobbel87 springing up for New World for the foreseeable.
Expeditions are New World’s answer to dungeons, but there’s nothing that sets them apart from other games in the genre. The Amrine Excavation, the game’s first dungeon, could easily be a modern WoW dungeon if you gave it a coat of Azeroth’s high-fantasy paint. My first foray is pretty straightforward as my party methodically dispatches trash mobs and early bosses with little issue – having a dedicated tank and healer certainly helps – but we do have to employ some strategy for a couple of bosses. On my second run I’m joined by an experienced, over-leveled tank who runs through all zones as fast as possible, kiting enemies into chokepoints while our healer plops down an AoE heal and the rest of us get carpal tunnel clicking as fast as we can to slay every enemy. It’s fast and efficient, but it’s crying out for some boss mechanics to shake things up and break players out of their rhythms.
These gripes are less noticeable when exploring Aeternum with friends, or even with a podcast on in the background. I’ve had a blast leveling up alongside pals, showing off our pirate chic and conquistador-looking loot drops, but there are just a few too many blemishes keeping New World from greatness.
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