New World is an upcoming MMO developed by Amazon Studios. I need to mention this right up front, because New World is also the name for a thousand other things, from a disappointing Terrence Malick film to a sizable chunk of the Western hemisphere. It’s kind of a vague name, so perhaps it’s fitting, then, that it’s hard to pin down the specifics of what New World hopes to achieve.
Tom’s Guide recently had an opportunity to see an extended hands-off press demo of New World. On the one hand, it looks like a competent MMO, which will let you team up with friends and tackle tough foes in difficult dungeons. On the other hand, it has a generic quality that doomed earlier Amazon Games projects. New World could be the title that breaks the trend, of course, but it will have to do something very special between now and its launch on August 31 to lure players away from more popular MMOs, such as World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV.
New World hands-on, minus the hands-on
My time with New World got off to an unpromising start when I joined the press briefing and learned that I didn’t have a spot on any of the teams that would be tackling the demo dungeon: an underground cavern and temple complex known as the Amrine Excavation.
To simplify a complex issue, Amazon had split the briefing between press members who wanted to go hands-on with the game, and those who wanted to watch a guided demo. I had requested hands-on access, but never received a code. When I asked what had gone wrong, the Amazon team said there was nothing they could do, and that I’d have to watch the guided tour instead.
I bring this up only because it’s absolutely shocking that a big company like Amazon could make such a clumsy mistake. With all the resources at its disposal, it botched a simple press briefing. I can only hope that the process of developing New World itself has been smoother.
In any case, the “guided demo” was a bit of a misnomer. In actuality, it was a handful of developers and one other press member running through the Amrine Excavation dungeon, having the kind of banter any MMO group would have in a dungeon. They discussed how they planned to fight enemies, solve puzzles and advance through the environment, but didn’t give much insight into New World’s unique features as they went.
Still, I was able to pick up a few things. The Amrine Excavation itself has a pretty interesting setup. For those who haven’t been following New World, the general premise is that it’s the Age of Exploration in a world somewhat like our own, but with magic and monsters. One explorer named Simon Grey led an expedition into the mysterious Amrine Excavation site, and promptly disappeared. You and your team venture in after him.
There, you fight three different kinds of foes: hulking Ravagers, ethereal Ghosts and batlike Grunts. There are also some light puzzles to solve and bosses to overcome. Parties consist of five players, and ideally, everyone’s skills will complement each other’s. According to the developers, New World employs the typical DPS/tank/healer philosophy from other MMOs, but players can mix and match some of the roles, depending on their skills.
I say “skills” and not “class,” because New World is a classless game. Your skills, and your subsequent role in the party, is determined entirely by what weapon you equip: rapier, staff, ice gauntlet, etc. The ice gauntlet sounded especially cool, although the players in our demo couldn’t use it, because its freezing effects slowed down the game too much. Hopefully, that will get ironed out before August 31.
From there, it’s simply a matter of players using their skills to complement each other, and learning each enemy’s attack pattern. What sets New World apart from most other MMOs is that the combat doesn’t use tab-targeting and skill rotations. Instead, it plays more like an action game, where players have to target and attack foes in real time. Each player has only three active skills, with varying cooldowns, and finding the right time to use them is part of the challenge.
If you’ve played an MMO dungeon before, you can probably guess how the rest of the Amrine Excavation went. The party worked its way through a surprisingly dull series of gray-brown caverns, stopping to fight enemies in almost every new room. The whole experience took almost two hours, which seemed too long, given the limited enemy variety. At the end, they fought a monstrous version of Simon Gray himself and resolved the plot thread.
According to New World’s developers, these big dungeon expeditions will occur about once every ten levels; the game is mostly overworld exploration, with much more freedom and much less direction.
Amazon Games history
While my demo mix-up left a bad taste in my mouth, there’s nothing really wrong with New World, as far as I can tell. It has a stronger focus on real-time action than most MMOs, and it has a creative concept, compared to the high fantasy fare that dominates the market right now. The Amrine Excavation seemed to overstay its welcome a bit, but with a group of friends (or garrulous strangers), I see how it could be fun.
However, I do wonder how New World plans to succeed when most other Amazon Games projects have fizzled out. I reviewed the publisher’s first major game, Sev Zero, way back on the original Amazon Fire TV, and it was one of the most forgettable titles I’d ever played. Amazon’s multiplayer shooter Crucible went from “full release” to “taken off the market” in less than five months. Like New World, there wasn’t anything really wrong with the games. But it’s a crowded, competitive market out there, and just having an Amazon pedigree isn’t enough to stand out. (Remember: Amazon Studios, which produces content for the Amazon Prime video streaming service, has more misses than hits.)
I asked the developers what in particular distinguishes New World from WoW, FFXIV and other popular MMOs.
“The action/RPG combat sets us apart from other games,” said Scott Lane, the head game designer. “We’re bringing physical-based combat where your location matters.” He also brought up the weapon-based progression system, the deep crafting mechanics, the multiplayer siege battles and the ability to claim outposts in the wilderness.
“It’s very cool,” he said. “We’re very proud of it.”
Other members of the team commented on the game’s real-world-meets-magic setting, as well as the fact that the developers have been very receptive to customer feedback.
“We’ve deeply engaged with our customers, especially since the preview event,” said Lane. “In-game, playing with customers, reading forums, listening to influencers, [we’re] constantly paying attention.”
Now that Amazon has canceled its ambitious Lord of the Rings MMO, New World represents the company’s only foray into the genre. The game seems to work well enough so far; whether it will finally put Amazon Games on the map remains to be seen.
New World will have a closed beta beginning on July 20, with a full launch on August 31. The game costs $50 on either Amazon or Steam, and there’s no monthly subscription fee.