Despite recent events at Blizzard, there's no denying that World of Warcraft has held the crown as the world's most successful MMO for many years. Plenty of games have tried to replicate its success and failed, to varying degrees. But New World, in particular, feels like it's taken note of what many players tout as the reason old-school WoW is far better than its modern counterpart.
Early WoW is constantly held up as a bastion of the MMO's greatness. I've lost count of the number of times I've been told that it was a more brutal experience overall. Or about the endless grind and the fact that you didn't have a collection of hearthstones or handy portals to transport you to where you needed to go. If you were a casual player, you weren't going to get very far in original WoW, and having slogged my way to level 35 in Classic, I can see why.
New World doesn't fully inhabit the 'go hard or go home' mentality that was endemic in early WoW. But there are a couple of design choices in Amazon's MMO that make it hard to ignore the similarities between the two games.
There are no mounts in New World—along with a silly in-game lore reason for it—so it's unlikely that's going to change any time soon. And while there are fast travel shrines dotted around the map, and an Inn Recall ability on a one-hour cooldown, you're going to spend a lot of your time walking in Aeternum. WoW has always had mounts, granted, but it was notoriously difficult to afford both the training and the mount unless you found some other source of income. And even then, you didn't get your first one until you reached level 40.
It's a hot topic for many, and I can see it from both sides of the argument. On the one hand, mounts are a meaningful milestone, a rite of passage, and a fun collectible. But they can become a problem if they break immersion. Final Fantasy 14's Regalia car mount is at least in keeping with the overall lore of the games, while Tera is probably the worst offender I can think of when it introduced brightly coloured cars into its fantasy world. Honk if you want a 'classic' Tera server.
If you want to do dungeons in New World, you'll have to find people to group up with you. If you're playing with friends, problem solved. Likewise, if you're part of an active company. The other alternative is to use the in-game chat to find players to party up with. Old-school WoW had a similar system, adding a sense of community among players. It was much easier to get into groups if you made friends or joined a guild, and your individual reputation went a long way to determine whether or not you would be invited back.
It doesn't feel like there's quite the same sense of community present in New World, though admittedly I've only done a couple of expeditions. Both of those felt quite clinical, with very little chatter, though that's to be expected with lower-level content. It wasn't difficult to find groups either, and the faction-specific chat helped with that. It certainly has promise and that sense of community will hopefully mature as the server populations settle down.
Back to the grind
I've previously mentioned how grindy New World felt during the open beta, and that feeling is still present in the live game. There are points where you'll find a shortage of regular quests to complete, though you do have access to the Town Project missions—I just wish the objectives were a little more varied. There is nothing exciting about running to an area, looting X number of chests, and running back again. Or killing wolves, or sheep (if you can find them) or Lost.
Vanilla WoW is also known for not having enough quests to get to max level, especially before patches introduced more. But even then, most quests follow the same formula of killing X number of enemies, running halfway across the zone to hand it in, only to get sent back to the same area for the next objective.
It's an MMO, though, and there's no getting away from the fact that all MMOs are grindy to a certain extent. While WoW's quest diversity has improved over the years, there's still the endgame grind where you have to farm one resource or another to keep up with the power creep. To use another example, Final Fantasy 14's quests aren't particularly exciting either, especially early on—and can even get quite tedious when you're constantly running back and forth carrying messages or delivering stuff.
New World tips: Get started in Aeternum
New World crafting: How it works
New World leveling guide: How to get ahead
New World weapons: Which to use
New World servers: Find the one for you
New World factions: Which to choose
New World gems: How to enhance your gear
New World AFK timer: How long you've got
New World endgame: What's waiting for you
New World's take on action combat is another area of contention for a lot of people—some love it, some don't. And while I've got used to it to a certain extent, it still doesn't feel at all smooth or intuitive to me at all. I've got no issue with the class-less system at all and I generally love action combat (see: 1000+ hours in Tera). I can appreciate the fact that you can mix and match weapons to make cool builds and that part is pretty exciting. But it doesn't feel responsive enough to make me feel confident of the outcome of most encounters. It reminds me a little of Elder Scrolls Online, and sadly that game didn't click with me either.
WoW, on the other hand, has always had pretty interesting class identities, so you know what you're getting into when you make your character. Of course, you can't just switch halfway through leveling if you decide you don't like the playstyle, and the classic tab-targeting combat system is perhaps less exciting than New World's, but it's reliable and it works.
As beautiful as New World's Aeternum can be, it somehow feels flat and generic. The terrain doesn't really change much and it just doesn't feel alive or excite me enough to want to explore every corner of the map. There are loads of other players running around and NPCs populate the towns, but Aeternum still manages to feel like an empty shell.
WoW's Azeroth—and beyond—was pulled from the original Warcraft RTS series and gave players a chance to explore an already much-loved universe. And FF14's Eorzea might be exclusive to the MMO, but the comfort of seeing familiar jobs and races and the engaging story is reminiscent of any other main Final Fantasy game. Both of these games exist in worlds with a rich history and established lore. Neither is perfect, but both have something that makes you push on through those moments of tedium.
I can overlook pretty significant flaws if there's something that grabs my interest. I often talk about Tera with a lot of fondness, and that was far from what many people would call a good MMO. But it was the combat that kept me playing for over a year, back in 2013, despite the overall story and quests being pretty abysmal.
On the other hand, New World has most of the ingredients of what makes a successful MMO, but it almost feels like it's 16 years too late. The framework for a great game is there, but it's lacking that spark of excitement that makes me want to stay up playing until 4am. But it's clearly resonating with some people—Steven certainly seems to be having a blast with it.
It's still early days, though, and I'll watch how New World tackles the challenges it faces with interest—even WoW had to wait for Burning Crusade to smooth out some of its rougher edges.