Since August 25, alpha and beta testers, as well as the people who pre-ordered the game, have been able to dive into the world of Amazon Studios' upcoming MMORPG New World. The preview is currently running until September 4, so I spent some time in the game, plunged myself into battles, and found great joy in using the musket. My first two initial thoughts were: "It feels like I'm inside a singleplayer game" and "Finally a proper climbing system!". My joy of using the shift key to climb upon steep cliffs was only topped by the strong single-player aura I've been experiencing. Thanks to the visually stunning design of Aeternum (as well as the similarities in the interface design), my head immediately went to games such as Dragon Age, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and Greedfall.
New World resembles an alternate version of the 17th century, the age of explorers. We travel to the "eternal isle" Aeternum, which is the home of the so-called legions of The Corrupted - unfortunate explorers and warriors of past times which, corrupted by a mysterious mineral called Azoth, are now roaming around the regions of the isle. In addition to that, we have the undead and the faction of "Angry Earth", nature-based creatures who were in contact with Azoth for too long. Basically, everything on Aeternum has a problem with us arriving on the isle and wants to kill us.
Generally speaking, New World follows the common standards and procedures of an MMO: We do quests, participate in solo and multiplayer dungeons (which were not available in this preview), keep developing our character and spend copious amounts of time crafting a vast variety of items. One feature, however, stands out: New Worlds approach to class systems. Because there aren't any.
Instead of calling ourselves an "Alchemist", "Support" or "Gunslinger" we can access all of the game weapons at any given time. In addition to the usual weapons such as a longbow and a sword, we get a hatchet and musket, which charmingly fits into the whole 17th-century atmosphere (they were also my favorite weapons during my playtime). The more time you spend with a weapon and gather experience points with it, the faster you can unlock the skills of said weapon.
The abilities of a weapon are always divided into two skill trees, which offer us interesting choices. With the Life Staff, for example, I could either invest my points into healing abilities or the abilities that drain the life out of my enemies. Long gone are the times where we would have to decide between being a healer and a necromancer. With rather unconventional abilities such as laying traps or playing dead, Amazon Studios presents us with some interesting takes to the otherwise more bland approaches when it comes to the design of an MMO.
Players who reach level 10 have to decide which of the three factions they would like to join. The Marauders want to create a free nation, the Covenant presents themselves as a strictly religious order and the Syndicate is a secretive organization mostly interested in researching and unveiling the secrets around Aeternum. Once we've chosen a faction, the PvP-action begins: Each region of the game is in the hands of a faction. While doing quests and other activities within a hostile area, we increase the influence of our own faction in said region. As soon as we have reached a certain amount of influence in that area we can incite a war with the rivaling faction (the winner gains control over it). The result of inciting a war is a match between 100 players (this is 50 players for each side of the factions).
Attackers have to gain access to the three control points inside the fort. Defenders who have to secure their fort can use weapons such as canons on top of the walls to thin out the crowds of enemies outside the gates, but they also have to be aware of the condition of each gate. In order to win you have to split up both your time and team and do various tasks, such as repairing the fort. A lot of tactical thinking needs to be involved as well as good communication between your teammates in order to guarantee that either attacking or defending the fort works out. As part of the defenders, I shut down enemies with my musket from the top of the walls, planned an ambush with a couple of other players and used canons to separate enemies.
The battles feel exciting and diverse - so much that in fact, it fulfilled a dream I've had on my mind for a while: To find a game that channels the same epic aura as the Battle of Helms Deep from the Lord of the Rings universe. The extent of the PvP-experience is vast and takes up too much time explaining to properly present it within this sizable preview. However, it is sure to say that Amazon Studios is doing a phenomenal job adding depth and multiple layers into the game experience, which mostly made me excited because of the atmosphere.
In July, the studio published an update about the current status of New World. Within this update Studio Director, Rich Lawrence explained that, based on the feedback of alpha-players, the team decided to further work on the mid- as well as endgame content for the game. As Amazon Studios presented us the contents of the game at the start of the preview, Game Director, Scot Lange highlighted once again that the balance between PvP and PvE contents will be smoothed out. Previously, New World always presented itself as an MMO with a heavy focus on player-vs-player content. But what if Amazon Studios ends up diluting strong components of the game, just to speak to a broader player audience?
The PvE elements in the preview were meager, to say the least. It seems that the developers found joy giving us the exact same quests, over and over again: Kill X amount of enemies and dig around in 15 treasure chests to find item Y. After that, we return to the contractor and get a copy of the quest from another NPC. I indeed spent more time running around and fulfilling quests than having fun in the 50-vs-50 wars. The difference in quality between PvP and PvE content is very apparent even in this state.
The exact same order of quest sequences, however, got me (wishfully) thinking that this is merely a placeholder for upcoming, better-polished quests. A couple of notes I found in the game world as well as the overall premise of the mysterious isle leaves me hoping that Amazon Studios will expand heavily in that regard. If not, New World risks leaving the well-designed PvP elements inside a world players simply don't care about.
New World leaves me wanting more, but also gives me a bit of a headache. With the decision to focus more on the PvE elements the developers have set themselves a massive goal. We can't say if the said elements just weren't included in the preview or if they truly are not yet finished. However, New World already does a great job incorporating atmosphere and roleplay aspects into the design so that even someone like me (who is generally not a fan of PvP content) had a great time playing the game.
Besides, Aeternum presents itself as a beautiful game world with magnificent landscapes. Elements like the weapon mastery allow for some interesting gameplay approaches and give us a bit more room to explore. Amazon Studios has to make up their mind about the true identity of the game and realise what players actually want from it. The absence of narrative elements in the preview currently still clashes with the developer's comments. I'm hoping that Amazon Studios finds the right balance between all the game elements, so that I'm not just having fun acting out my deepest Helms Klamm fantasies, but also can enjoy the quests to learn more about the world and their inhabitants.