New World gameplay video: 10 minutes in Amazon's sandbox MMO

Above: 10 minutes of New World gameplay. Also on YouTube.

This isn't a theme park, it's a PvP sandbox with hundreds of players to a server, and no one knows how the story will go. That's Amazon's promise with New World, and it's something MMOs have promised again and again: a systems-driven game where holding E to gather flint isn't just about crafting flint-based objects, but an entire flint economy. Flint wars, maybe? 

While open-ended, New World isn't structureless. Guilds will have leaders who can set permissions for members, and as a group they can claim and develop specific plots of land with walls, crafting stations, storage buildings, farms, and other infrastructure. Food and water aren't necessary to live, but they are necessary to fight well, because they boost health and stamina. The best food, which can only be prepared by a skilled player chef, imbues buffs that I'm told can decide the outcome of a PvP battle. The best weapons and gear must also be crafted, and the best crafting stations will only be available in player-run settlements. The best materials, meanwhile, will require group expeditions into dangerous territories. In other words: work together, and you can become powerful, both as an individual and a guild.

Player wars are structured similarly to EVE Online's wars. Guild settlements must be maintained with a stream of resources or they become defenseless. If a guild saves enough cash to declare war on another settlement, even if that settlement is protected, the defenders must choose a time for a fight. At the allotted time, the attackers attempt to breach the defender's walls and blow up a protection sigil with powder kegs—or whatever other siege weapons end up in the game. Destroy it, and they can lay claim to the plot. 

During a guided demo earlier this week, I joined a handful of other players in one of these sieges, which you can see in the latter half of the video at the top of this article. First, though, we learned the basics: how to set a campfire which acts as a respawn point, how to gather resources, and how to craft new tools and weapons.

Arts and crafts and war

I like the simplicity of New World. It borrows from modern survival games, but doesn't make your first steps life or death. I was able to place a campsite immediately to give myself a local respawn point. If I were to die, I'd lose the resources on my person, but not my equipped items or tools (unless I died as a criminal, but I wasn't in a murdering mood). As I walked away from the beach, up to the bluffs, attractively crisp circles marked resources I could gather. I picked up flint and wood, and then returned to my campsite to craft a hatchet and a pick. The crafting menu is slick and dense without being overwhelming. 

I tested out the combat against turkeys. Right mouse button blocks, left mouse button attacks with fists or a weapon, and two keys perform special attacks—big, unbreakable animations. It wasn't especially fun in my brief experience. The knockback on landed attacks is heavy, which means enemies slide around like checked hockey players in group fights, causing those big, slow attacks to miss often. There's certainly a skill to managing stamina and timing specials, and I could see players getting very good at fighting, but it didn't excite me the way Absolver, For Honor, and Nidhogg do. It felt clunky, the way MMOs often do. 

When we took part in a staged siege—Amazon had players ready to 'defend,' but I sensed we were never going to fail—I found everything aside from the combat fun. We began by grouping on a road near the target settlement. We dropped our camps so that we could respawn nearby in case a wolf or something ate us before we could make it to the target. Then, we crouched or went prone (I especially enjoyed rolling around while prone) to hide our nameplates from the enemy—an MMO's idea of stealth. 

In the future, we'll be able to build something that qualifies as a city.

On a hill above the target settlement, we again dropped camps, and were warned by the devs that the defenders could spot our campfires and may attack. I like that little wrinkle: do you telegraph your position with nearby campfires, or risk a longer respawn run by placing them on the other side of a hill?  

We rushed in. Some defenders harassed us from the ramparts, while others hopped out of the fort to engage up close. But before they did much, we lined up powder kegs next to a wall (the devs gave us an infinite supply, but normally we'd have to make them ourselves). I had the privilege of lighting the first batch while the rest of my party took cover—so long as you have a safety on, your direct attacks can't harm your guildmates, but explosions still can. Boom.

After a few rounds of barrel exploding, we breached a section of wall—every structure has hitpoints—and then used even more kegs to blow up the protective monument and claim the settlement for ourselves, while also fending off respawning defenders. It wasn't much more exciting than picking up flint—methodical and quiet, not exactly a Game of Thrones bloodbath—but also didn't feel like how a siege would really go in a live run of the game. I had no real stake in it, and the defenders weren't really players desperate to defend their hard work. They were just showing us how New World worked.

City builder

Even if my experience wasn't quite representative of the game, within an hour I understood what I gather are the central ideas of New World. I should join a guild—I'm told lone wolfing it is viable, but it doesn't feel like the spirit of the game—and I should specialize in something, be it crafting, cooking, or combat. Together, my guildmates and I will adventure into dangerous neutral territory for resources. On our claims, we'll build towns and craft exceptional gear. When we're powerful enough, we'll assault and capture the settlements of neighboring guilds. 

The devs told me that, in the future, we'll be able to build something that qualifies as a city, and that we could open our gates to lone wanderers and other guilds. So long as our settlement is protected, buildings will be immune to damage, though we may have to chase away murderers, essentially becoming the NPC guards of more structured MMOs.

Building and protecting cities as part of a guild sounds exciting, though I wonder how exciting each role will be on its own. If combat is meh, how's it going to feel being a chef? I want to go on a quest to discover an ancient pumpernickel recipe, not tie myself to a crafting station in the fantasy version of EVE Online everyone's been trying to make. Flying spaceships and playing interstellar markets is just more intrinsically fun than a cooking menu, in my view, even with the spreadsheets. Helping my guild with nice meals sounds pleasant, but what'll make the cooking itself fun? That I couldn't tell you yet.

Maybe a chef can save the world with a brilliant casserole?

Some help may come from New World's non-player-made story. It does have one, or at least the setup for one: the remains of an ancient civilization, a corruption turning early settlers into zombie-like creatures, magic. After the part we were allowed to record, I explored a snowy, mountainous area full of corrupted settlers, and they kicked my ass. I hope Amazon plays with its world at least a little, distracting us from the crafting grind and guild scuffles with world events. I'd love to see multiple guilds ally (there isn't an alliance system yet) to fend off a non-player existential threat. Maybe a chef can save the world with a brilliant casserole?

I can only wonder for now. This was just a glimpse. My takeaway is that I could definitely get into the quiet satisfaction of crafting nice things in that attractive UI—the sound design is great, too—and while the combat didn't impress me, I only tried a few weapons and no magic, and I'm willing to admit that I needed practice. 

New World in alpha right now, and a beta is coming—check the official site for updates on that. I'm betting it's much different in a live environment, and I look forward to fighting some proper wars, which I'm sure feel much different with a hundred players on the battlefield, and the real threat of losing hours and hours of building. I'm still skeptical that New World's territory battles can match the drama of one of EVE's wars (maybe it needs lasers?), but it's definitely one of the more promising attempts. For more, check out Samuel's preview from Gamescom.