New World Review in Progress

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Update #3 – October 12, 2021: New World has been out for about two weeks as of today, and the crowds have finally settled down quite a bit. As a result, there are no longer any queues! When you want to play New World, you can actually play New World! Imagine that. Even the lag issues I’d seen earlier have now disappeared altogether – I haven’t seen anything like the rubberbanding that plagued me in the early days since this past Sunday. Since then, I’ve enjoyed two whole days of smooth sailing and absolutely no queues, and my experience thereafter was markedly improved.

To be fair, it’s worth noting that I’d followed real-world friends onto Minda – an East Coast server – even though I’m a West Coast player. In my experience in other MMOs, especially FFXIV (where I have a lot of very recent experience), this is rarely an issue – I can reliably make that sort of leap without connection issues, so it was strange to see issues in New World. But it’s great that all of those woes seem to be gone now, because New World is far more predictable – and enjoyable – when you’re able to play it without any interruptions.

However, being able to play smoothly hasn’t addressed my underlying complaints: every task is still just as mindlessly grindy, and the story has yet to pick up – and I’m now over the halfway point, at level 35. With only 25 levels left to go, I don’t foresee it growing into much more than a thinly veiled excuse to prod me to continue logging, mining, and harvesting my way across Aeternum.

Have you played New World?

It was roughly comparable to any early dungeon from The Elder Scrolls Online.

Since last week’s updates, I’ve begun to dig into New World’s dungeons – or expeditions – which are just fine for a distraction away from the ultimately much more interconnected gathering and crafting. I have to say, when I previewed the Amrine Excavation back in May, I had no clue how short the whole thing would be if I’d brought along a party who knew how to play their role. When I did, my party completed the whole thing (without anybody dying) in about 23 minutes, and it was roughly comparable to any early dungeon from The Elder Scrolls Online: fun and easy enough to get through with a little bit of communication, but not challenging enough to get the juices flowing or stick out as a memorable conquest. I previously commented on how novel it was that the penultimate boss, Foreman Nakashima, uses bullet hell-style attacks; that seemed like a curveball at the time, but they’re far easier to anticipate now that I’ve spent tens of hours playing with my tank character, whose mechanics I’m used to.

I’ve also settled into the housing system. It’s great that owning a house in First Light lets me recall there every four hours – quicker, if I’m willing to spend a little Azoth, which has actually become much easier to obtain (by following main quests and side stories) than I first thought it’d be – but I wish the houses themselves were more visually interesting and spacious. I don’t feel all that compelled to decorate my house, but it’s cool that I can add in special trophies that give me a global bonus to certain stats. As long as my faction – the Syndicate – holds ownership over the First Light settlement, I can also get a few added benefits, like finding rare items more frequently in common resource nodes, which is a great motivator to support my faction as we vie for control over that particular region.

That’s all that’s new for this week. I’ll be playing all the way to the max level (60), complete the main questline, participate in some of the Faction War events, and go through each of these six expeditions at least once before I’m ready to reach a verdict. But for all the time I’ve spent with it thus far, I already feel comfortable saying that it’s a relaxing experience (for better or worse) – when it works.

Update #2 – October 5, 2021: It’s now been a full week since New World’s launch, and conditions are only just beginning to improve. If you’ve been following updates, you might have heard all kinds of stories about server login queues backed up for several hours at a time. I’m here to tell you that, at least in my experience, virtually none of them have been exaggerated. I’ve run into several instances where I’d sit in a queue for four hours and get in, only to have New World crash-to-desktop. Then it’s back to the end of the four-hour-long queue before I could get back in once more. So, if you’re wondering why this review isn’t done yet, that’s a big part of the reason. The other part is that this is a big MMORPG!

On top of that, I experienced far worse cases of lag and rubberbanding this past weekend than I’d experienced during the week prior. There was a point where, while fighting a group of enemies, New World rubberbanded so hard that I completely missed the fight; the next frame I saw was the death screen. “Frustrating” doesn’t even begin to describe what that experience was like, given that when it’s working correctly New World’s quests can be gleefully inconvenient at times, forcing you to travel to distant parts of the map without the assistance of mounts. On that note, at least it’s cool that you can build campfires practically anywhere, giving you a mobile respawn point if you remember to set them up.

When I’m actually able to play New World unimpeded and make consistent progress – which has only been the case for the last day or so – it’s only because queue times have significantly improved on my server. I’m still finding enjoyment in each of its crafting and harvesting systems. New World’s entirely player-run economy is especially interesting when you start to get a feel for how it plays into the always-on faction PVP conquests between the Marauders, Covenant, and Syndicate – each of whom are constantly vying for control over Aeternum’s 11 claimable territories.

I’m still finding enjoyment in each of its crafting and harvesting systems.

The crux of this system is that you get serious benefits when trading and crafting in a town owned and operated by your faction. This, in turn, pads your wallet faster, allowing you to afford to craft better stuff and purchase a bigger and better house – translating to a more powerful character overall. There are other salient benefits too, like sharply decreased fast travel costs and accelerated harvesting speeds. It’s an inconvenience not to own as many territories as you can.

Now at level 27, I’ve discovered that there’s 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. I already feel myself getting into faction rivalries for this reason, and this is simply a much more interesting story than whatever is happening in the main quest.

Speaking of the main quest, thus far it’s the least-inspired part of my entire experience. I’m led to believe that I’m trying to become something called a “Soulwarden,” which is meant to be important in the context of all of Aeternum’s Corruption business, but the main process of doing so is traveling to far reaches of the map and picking some treasure out of a cave or fighting some skeletons. At its best, it’s a lazy series of fetch quests. At its worst, it’s an obvious coverup for what was originally meant to be a purely colonial-themed MMO that (rightfully) recharted its course in a hurry.

There seem to be very few NPCs out in the world to make Aeternum feel populated.

Another thing that’s been throwing me off is that there seem to be very few NPCs out in the world to make Aeternum feel populated. If it weren’t for all the harvestable materials and random enemies (and other players) popping up everywhere, these massive swaths of land would be empty. Admittedly, Aeternum’s natural resources are also what make it so pretty to look at, but it doesn’t help that each “unique” point of interest is just another cave or farm, without much more than a little tidbit of lore to differentiate it from the last one.

At least the emergent PVP-centric story that’s bubbling up between players on my server is more than entertaining enough to fill the void. The Marauders are slowly taking over our (Syndicate’s) claim in the upper-middle section of the map – loosening our grip on Everfall, Brightwood, and Weaver’s Fen – and that fills me with more anxiety than I anticipated it would, even though I’m too underleveled to do much beyond the stray scouting mission or two for the moment. For now, though, it’s time to don my pirate boots once more – I have a wheelbarrow full of potion ingredients that need carting to the next town, and (due to the strange lack of domesticable animals) they won’t be carting themselves anytime soon. Keep your eye on this space for more updates!

Update #1 – October 1, 2021: Amazon’s New World has been out for little over half a week, but its still-overpopulated server queues have shown no sign of waning. After several days of multiple-hour-long queues, I’ve finally managed to scratch together a level 20 sword-and-shield-wielder on the Minda server – Syndicate, if you’re curious – and I’m having a pretty good time overall, despite some laggy moments here and there. In my journey from level one to level 20, I’ve already witnessed everything from a full-blown hostile takeover of my starting zone (First Light, which was apparently grabbed out of the Syndicate’s hands by the troublesome green-tinted Marauders) to the threat of an upcoming invasion by the encroaching Corrupted horde.

I haven’t yet been directly participating in these large-scale battles for the fate of Aeternum, which are reserved for level 50 characters and above. Instead I’ve spent most of my time running around the map, filling my inventory with whatever isn’t nailed down, and turning in a series of repeatable but often drab Town Projects for XP and Territory Standing rewards. But even without getting my hands dirty (dirtier, given that I was already a pirate), I already get a strong feeling of camaraderie among my faction members. The world chat channel is constantly full of chatter from opposite faction members openly antagonizing one another, which definitely gives the impression that New World is already stoking plenty of long-term rivalries even in its early state. It reminds me a bit of 2002-era chat rooms – whether that’s a good thing or not depends on how competitive you are. If you don’t want to engage with it at all, it’s great that you can simply filter the chat out entirely.

All that said, I’m still in the early game. I’ve unlocked the ability to buy a house and obtain my first Azoth staff (which is key to closing those very ominous-looking Corrupted breaches that pop up everywhere), but I haven’t made it to the point where I’m able to actually afford a house, and I’m a bit too behind in my main quests – which so far seem quite basic and forgettable – to have actually earned an Azoth staff for myself. Until that happens, I’m effectively locked out of the bigger group challenges like Corrupted breaches and Expeditions, which from past experiences playing pre-launch I can already anticipate I’ll enjoy running my own custom-built character through. Fortunately, I still have a grace window – those things truly become accessible around level 25, which means I still have a little time to continue exploring this gorgeous map and hoarding everything I see between bouts of PVE combat, which has largely only occurred because I tried to make a beeline through a farm and accidentally stumbled into a swarm of identical red and gray zombies.

Until that happens, I’m effectively locked out of the bigger group challenges like Corrupted breaches and Expeditions.

Each of these enjoyable but mentally passive activities have amounted to around 14 hours spent in Aeternum with this specific character thus far – plenty of time to drink apple cider and catch up on podcasts. For now, it’s time to jump back into the queue so I can get ahead of the Friday night crowd, which I’m certainly afraid of falling behind, given my poor experiences attempting to log in at a reasonable hour this past week. As I mentioned before, you can find me on the Minda server under the uncreative name Gabrielmosspdx, so be sure to send me a shout – or a taunt, if you’re one of those filthy Marauders or Covenant – as my journey into Aeternum unravels ever further.

September 28, 2021: 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.

New World Open Beta Screenshots — One Night Live Gamescom 2021

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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