There are so many reasons to be suspicious about New World. This is the flagship title from Amazon, a company that has thoroughly bungled its interactive division thus far, leaving multiple botches and cancellations in the wake of its efforts. In fact, the most high-profile gaming initiative that's come from the Bezos estate is an extremely inauspicious adaptation of the Jeremy Clarkson-starring Prime series, The Grand Tour. (It racked up a 52 on Metacritic (opens in new tab).)
New World developer Double Helix Games hasn't done much to shore up the faith. The MMO has been delayed repeatedly over the past two years, including one that came down less than a month before its last scheduled release. Our impressions have been lukewarm since we started playing the beta. New World clearly has an interesting foundation—a meld of traditional MMO questing and dungeoneering and a sandbox-style crafting and territory control infrastructure—but even after all of the false starts and pushbacks, the game still looks rough around the edges.
Fraser almost had a nervous breakdown as he navigated the Kafka-esque web of resources necessary to forge a single bullet for his musket—an editorial assignment that deserved its own hazard pay. MMO aficionado Sarah also came away pretty muted and bored, which is one of the worst sensations an expansive new overworld can evoke. "I'm fully aware that it's too early to judge the game as a whole, but I usually find some excitement to push me through the early stages of most MMOs," she wrote. "So far, New World just feels incredibly grindy and frustrating, made worse by certain weapons seemingly locked behind level requirements."
These sort of foreboding beta reports usually have a withering effect on a game's hype index. (And we don't seem to be alone in our impression of New World.) And yet, every time I log onto Steam, I see pre-orders for New World rocketing up the sales charts. YouTube is billowing up with guides and walkthroughs dissecting the MMO's oblique flourishes, which is always a sure sign that fresh hype is boiling through the algorithm. There are currently 96,000 subscribers to the New World subreddit. It's not quite Elder Scrolls Online's 355,000, but this is a game that isn't out yet. At one point during the beta, 40,000 more people were watching New World streams on Twitch than streams of retail World of Warcraft.
The gaming nation is ready for New World, even if the game might not be ready for us.
Why are so many people so excited about a game that just looks OK? Here's my theory: The PC contingency is absolutely starved for a new MMO. And I mean, like, a real MMO. I know we live in a time when every videogame has to be connected to the internet forever, and the youth of today has been fed the sacrilegious falsehood that an "MMO" is a game in which you hang out in an antiseptic hubworld before spiriting off to an instanced dungeon with four other players. (Looking at you, Destiny.) I know companies like Ubisoft have agonized to mutate even their singleplayer games into quasi-multiplayer monstrosities, where nobody can enjoy Assassin's Creed in peace without envying their next door neighbor's Ravensthorpe. We're not talking about that. God no. Millennials are a generation in crisis, and they wish to return to their roots.
I want to walk into a region that's pleated off by a strict level threshold, quest through it, and fly off to a neighboring, slightly scarier corner of the map. I want to kill 20 boars for a man, and collect 10 kobold paws for a woman. I want to conquer a dragon's lair and give everyone in the capital city a buff. There is nothing quite like hovering behind a toon at a cozy wide-lens angle, grinding interminably through the low-stakes drama of the local populace. ("Golly! The wolves sure have been angry lately!")
New World isn't designed to scratch those precise itches. The emphasis on crafting makes it more Valheim than Final Fantasy XIV, and who knows what will become of its laissez-faire virtual economy, territory system, and PvP warfare. But it's clearly not a "shared world" game like Destiny, nor has it gone completely in the direction of all those crowdfunded MMOs that profess to be the next EVE Online, such as Crowfall.
New World's survival systems were sanded down during development, and it was bulked up with PvE dungeons and world events. There is no question that it is more steeped in the mid-2000s MMO boom design than the niche social experiments and sleek hybrids we typically see today. It's not an MMO that demands extra words to describe its genre: It's just an MMO, and nobody is going to mistake it for The Division or the ambitious but defunct Worlds Adrift.
It's so weird how long it's been since a true MMO zeitgeist gripped the gaming public: those salad days, when everyone started at level one and took months to reach the cap. I mean, the de facto leader of the pack is the aforementioned Final Fantasy XIV, which was released in its first incarnation all the way back in 2010, and ascended to the throne due to a miracle reboot and the heaving, terminal bloat of World of Warcraft.
I've been playing some Elder Scrolls Online lately, and while the team at ZeniMax has done a brilliant job of creating a vibrant Tamriel adventure that mirrors (and even exceeds) the mainline games, I was taken aback by how gluttonous it's become with its fervent, pervasive microtransactions. A text box in the corner is constantly trying to sell you furniture for your house, as if Black Friday has come to Vvardenfell. It remains to be seen if any developer can avoid those predatory instincts in our insatiable, cosmetics-gorged, free-to-play digital economy.
Like so many trends in this hobby, I think all of this can be blamed on a fickle, inarticulable nostalgia. I am 30 years old, which means I came of age at the absolute white-hot pinnacle of the MMO boom. World of Warcraft was my game, but I watched so many other triple-A studios promise to spirit me away from the bleary drudgeries of high school, so long as my PC could handle the latency. Star Trek Online! Warhammer Online! Tabula Rasa! The Old Republic! There was something so devilishly seductive about a videogame that promised to conquer your life, to keep you up until four in the morning, dark rings under your eyes, flagging down another group of explorers for one final raid before collapsing.
New World has a chance to innervate those lost passions all over again. A return to glory; a return to Westfall. I understand why the public can't wait, I just hope that Amazon doesn't let us down.