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New World review-in-progress: Promising PvP and dismal dungeons

Flexing
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Amazon's New World is a bit on the large side, as you might expect from an MMO, so instead of keeping you wondering if it's worth your time for weeks and weeks, I'm gathering my thoughts in this review-in-progress so you can get an idea of what my impressions are while I work my way towards final judgement. 

I've split it up into sections for each update, and you can use the navigation bar on the side to jump between them. So far, you can check out my first impressions, as well as my thoughts on PvP, dungeons and buying my first house. Check back later for my exploration of New World's endgame, followed by my full review.

New World first impressions

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I've spent so much time in New World since it launched on Tuesday that I can't close my eyes without seeing a parade of musketeer hats, wolves and trees. I'll be entrenched in Amazon's MMO for a while yet, but I'm ready to take a quick break from my job as a stylish, wolf-hunting lumberjack to return to my other calling, writing too many words about videogames. It's review-in-progress time!

There's nothing quite like a big MMO launch. The scale alone is absurd. Hundreds of thousands of people suddenly popping into existence inside countless parallel worlds, which keep growing in number to accommodate yet more people, all questing and hunting and arguing 24-hours a day. And since it's been a while since we had one, this launch is all wrapped up in an extra level of anticipation.

Full house

With everyone exploring the world for the first time together, it's the most an MMO ever gets to feel like a proper adventure, and all this potential and anticipation creates a buzz of excitement that echoes through the starting zones, the hubs and the crowds waiting around for bosses to spawn. Even the dullest stuff becomes slightly more palatable because the bustle of a fresh MMO is weirdly energising. 

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If you can get through the queues you'll find New World heaving with life. I've been playing some older MMOs lately, and it's a real trip to go from ghost towns to watching hordes of players charging out of towns or groups trying to figure out a queuing system so everyone can eventually skin a unique creature. This liveliness is evident even when you think you're alone. Thousands of players mining, chopping down trees and shooting helpless woodland critters creates a constant cacophony that cuts through everything.

With everyone exploring the world for the first time together, it's the most an MMO ever gets to feel like a proper adventure.

Very little of what I've encountered so far requires a group, and you can solo nearly everything up until you start getting access to dungeons at level 25. Other players can still be a boon, however, helping you out of a jam and getting experience for it even if they aren't in your group. There's a lot of competition for resources, too, which adds a dose of excitement to the humdrum tasks of gathering and hunting, but can also lead to frustration when you kill an animal and watch helplessly as another player skins it and scarpers. It's a real pain in the arse.

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I've mostly been busying myself with the task of finding larger and fancier headgear for 20-odd levels, but other players have bigger ideas, and it looks like I'll be embroiled in a war by the end of the week. New World has three factions vying for control over the island, you see, and on my server the churchy Covenant quickly became the dominant outfit. I'm in the Syndicate, which is cool and purple and maybe does crimes. We don't get along with the Covenant, and it doesn't look like we're going to end things diplomatically.

PvP is entirely optional, but those seeking brawls will find themselves well supported. You can ignore it entirely, or turn it on while in a sanctuary and then head out into the world to start crushing some skulls. It's open, but centred around forts, which can be besieged and taken by opposing factions. There are PvP quests, too, which players have to perform on behalf of their faction to build up to a war declaration. 

Two tribes

I've not fought many players yet, but even now the faction rivalry is a big presence. Every town can be controlled by a guild, known as companies in New World, which benefits both the players in said company and the faction the company is part of. You're constantly reminded whose territory you're in, and boy does that do a good job of fostering resentment. 

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My server's chat is now full of inter-faction smack-talk and would-be generals trying to marshal the troops. Two zones were claimed for the Syndicate yesterday. Things were looking up. We got bold. We started squaring up to the Covenant. We fought a few big battles, and we did not come out of it with our dignity. I say we, but during most of this I was hunting boar. I watched some of it from a safe distance. Anyway, now we're in trouble. The Covenant has declared war on one of our zones, and shit is kicking off on Friday.

What I'm up to in the present is running my arse off doing the most basic, bottom-of-the-barrel MMO quests.

I'm excited! I've already signed up for it. It's a very polite way to conduct a war, giving everyone time to get ready and invite their mates. I will be there as a reporter, naturally, but also as someone who has developed a strong desire to stab some Covenant goons.

We're in the honeymoon period where everything is new and ahead of us are all sorts of possibilities. I've got to fight a war, buy a house, carve furniture for that house with my own two hands—there's a lot to look forward to. I'm going to build such a great table. What I'm up to in the present is running my arse off doing the most basic, bottom-of-the-barrel MMO quests.

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New World's quests are a slog that have so far maintained a consistent level of trite tedium. I wish they were terrible in a more interesting way, but sadly they're just vacuous tasks that fill up time. There's almost no difference between the generic, repeatable quests, regular quests and important story quests, aside from some brief bits of dialogue, and so far all I've done is kill things, skin things and pick things up. A common refrain is that all MMOs suffer from rubbish quests, but that hasn't been true for a long time.

In World of Warcraft you can become a quest giver or demolish entire armies while riding a dragon; Guild Wars 2 is full of dynamic public events, sprawling jumping puzzles and races; and Star Wars: The Old Republic litters its quests with ethical dilemmas and character-building opportunities. Loads of MMOs have found ways to give their quests texture and alleviate some of the repetitiveness that is inherent in any game this size. New World has not.

Perfect match 

Fighting, at least, I'm coming around to. The fact that it's action-based rather than hotbar-obsessed makes me very happy, but I had a lot of trouble getting into it during the betas. It felt stiff and imprecise, and I just couldn't get its rhythm. It feels identical now, but there's one difference: I've swapped my musket for a staff, and now I'm playing with magic. Switching between my speedy rapier and a stick that can summon a meteor storm has really spiced up my scraps, and now that I've got quite a few abilities to choose from I've been able to find my flow.

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I'm a big fan of tying abilities to weapons, too. New World doesn't have classes or restrictions on gear. You can deck yourself out in heavy armour and magical weapons and become a tanky battlemage, or make a ranger out of leather armour, a bow and a spear. Armour class determines its weight, and thus the impact on your stamina and how much defence it offers, so you probably don't want to drape your nimble archer in metal, but you can if you want.

Your weapon skills level up as you get kills, and at a pace that encourages experimentation with different loadouts. After a couple of hours with my new staff I'd earned plenty of experience and was able to unlock three abilities and some passives, so changing my weapon didn't put me at much of a disadvantage. It's like a buffet—I'm trying hammers next. 

New World is very good at tickling the part of the brain that gets giddy at the thought of numbers increasing and meters filling up. You'll constantly be earning experience, weapon experience, tradeskill experience, faction reputation, faction currency, territory standing and, of course, a mountain of resources. God, the amount of ore you will carry. Harvesting nodes are typically generous, and a quick loop around an abundant area will fill your inventory and get you ready for a bunch of crafting projects.

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Importantly, these big numbers aren't illusory. You won't hit up a crafting station and find steep crafting requirements that negate the size of your haul. The same goes for all that experience. Making the bars go up usually gives you a new ability or a meaningful boost. And this does more than make levelling empowering. When you level up your standing in a territory, you get to pick permanent buffs that increase your experience gain in the area, give you more storage space or speed up gathering. All this stuff is incredibly handy, but its smartest trick is the way it nurtures loyalty towards specific locations.

Loyalty card 

I'm a Windsward lad. That's where I arrived when my ship sank—there are a few different starting locations, which you're dumped in randomly—and it's where I've done most of my questing and hunting since. I know all the NPCs—even if I don't really like any of them—and I can tell you where all the best gathering spots are. Thanks to my standing level, I'm the best version of myself when I'm in Windward. My loyalty has paid off. This is also why I'm enraged by the fact that it's controlled by the Covenant. It'll be flying purple colours one day. 

Though I've grown fond of Windsward, I can't say the same of Aeternum as a whole. Aside from the colonial aesthetic, there's little sense of place, or anything that suggests it has an identity beyond being an MMO. So far the main quest has mostly sent me running around a bunch of ruins. There's a curse of immortality, a bunch of magical "ancients" who are important probably, and just a whole lot of generic fantasy rubbish, which is utterly incongruous with the rest of the otherwise very grounded game.

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It's trying to have its cake and eat it too, but it's making a terrible mess of it. One minute, you're a pioneer hunting for deer, searching for ore and helping your settlement flourish; then you go back to the main quest where you're a prophesied hero who has to stop the Corrupted—yes, the Corrupted—from taking over Aeternum. Look, I'm a lumberjack, I ain't got time to go looking for old gods and magical seeds and arcane artefacts. 

Given the amount of exasperated comments I've made in our virtual office, I thought this review-in-progress was mostly going to be a big moan. I've been frustrated by the grind of fighting an endless array of animals and zombies, and bored by the marathons through endless forests, wishing horses had been invented. But what stands out just as much, now that I've taken a much-needed break, are the faction rivalries, the friendly crafting system and my anticipation about getting stuck into my first war. 

I'm ambivalent, then, and still waiting for it to show me something new, or something it excels at, but I'm genuinely looking forward to heading back in and seeing where New World goes from here. First, though, I've got a queue to get through. 

New World PvP, dungeons and home ownership

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In my New World first impressions, I expressed a lot of doubts but still found myself excited for what was next. Dungeons, PvP, home ownership—there was a lot whetting my appetite. That optimistic young man is dead. 

At the top of my to-do list was war. These structured sieges are the culmination of the engaging faction rivalry. To flip an area over to your faction, you need to essentially cause a ruckus, conducting PvP missions and killing your way across the territory. If you get a good group going, it can be a highly enjoyable murder train. 

War, what is it good for?

This is where the PvP is at its most playful and freewheeling. Maybe you're a solo hunter stalking low level players flagged for PvP. Maybe you're part of a horde of warriors running across the map and sowing chaos at every opportunity. And this isn't aimless fun. It's all contributing towards your faction's influence in a territory. Once you've got enough, war can be declared, and that's when things get tricky. 

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Companies, New World's guilds, really lie at the heart of the faction conflict. Every war has a vanguard, a company that's in charge, and they get direct control over the territory if they win. Technically there's a lottery to decide which company gets to be the vanguard, but in reality it's the already dominant ones—the lottery is weighted in favour of them. 

This means that, while you can still sign up for the war, your chances of getting to play are greatly diminished unless your company is in charge. That's who gets to decide who participates. And that's also why, after nearly two weeks, I've only experienced wars on YouTube. I've signed up to plenty, but the one time I was selected the war had to be cancelled due to extended server downtime. Aside from that one instance out of everyone's control, it's strangers in other companies getting to decide if I'm allowed to enjoy a crucial part of the game. 

Beyond creating a blockage in my journey to experience everything Aeternum has to offer, this system also coughs up another issue: the risk of making New World's endgame a fight between a handful of companies, with the rest of us becoming side characters or passive observers. Companies can control more than one territory, of which there are only 11 up for grabs, so it's easy to see how they can snowball and leave most players out in the cold. 

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Plenty of MMOs have features designed for the more active, hardcore players and guilds, and the whole point of these huge games is that they have so many activities that they can cater to a broad range of players. New World does this with its crafting, PvE and faction rivalries—there's a fair amount to get stuck into. But wars are not presented as these exclusive events for only the top players and dominant companies. They are ever-present and technically anyone can participate. Discovering that in practice this isn't the case feels like having the rug pulled out from under you. 

[I]t's strangers in other companies getting to decide if I'm allowed to enjoy a crucial part of the game.

Conceptually, though, there is still a lot to like about wars and PvP generally. This definitely feels like the realm in which New World is at its most comfortable and cohesive. It's a more confident PvP MMO than a PvE MMO, that's for sure. And these issues are absolutely salvageable. Hopefully Amazon is getting plenty of data from launch and will figure out a way to make wars more accessible, but right now you really have to pick the right company if you want to experience everything.

My jealousy over other companies getting to call all the shots is quickly forgotten whenever I start hunting other players. In the moment, all that matters is sticking it to the other factions and stealing their territory—I'm not really thinking about what company will actually get the territory. I'm far too busy attacking or defending forts, running PvP missions and searching for enemies.

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The other night, I spent nearly five hours running all over the world with dozens of players who were part of a larger initiative containing hundreds, all trying to throw as many territories into conflict as possible. A Discord channel was set up to organise everything, and the fight spread throughout Aeternum. It was exhilarating, even though much of what we were doing should have been deeply boring. The PvP missions somehow manage to be even more repetitive and less engaging than the regular ones, so you're really just running back and forth between the same spots, doing the same three missions, until you gain enough influence. If nobody is there to stop you it's rubbish, but the moment the opposition tries to get in the way, that's when things get exciting. 

For me, the high point was when I was called back to defend a fort we'd taken. When I turned a corner I was faced with a sea of yellow—an army of Covenant players, all legging it up a hill to the fort's walls. Of course I was spotted almost instantly, and I didn't have a hope in Hell of surviving a fight, so I ran, I dodged, I zigged and I zagged, causing a bunch of enemies to focus on me instead of joining the main battle. I was killed, obviously, but I like to think my sacrifice made a difference. At least I hope it did, because I attempted the same thing two more times. Unfortunately, this evening of fighting was for nothing, as bugs stopped anyone from declaring war. 

Dire dungeons

Between fighting other factions and waiting to be invited into wars, I've also been continuing my PvE misadventures. It's hard going. It's been a long time since I played an MMO that was such a slog to level up in. The early levels went by quickly, but now I'm in constant grinding mode, trying to milk every area for all the XP it can offer just so I can get to the next level and do it all over again. Exacerbating the issue is the quality of the quests, which turns solving NPC problems into a massive grind as well. The vacuous characters and areas might change—though it's hard to tell because Aeternum is just one big forest—but the objectives stay the same, even after 100 hours. 

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Dungeons, I'd hoped, would shake things up a bit. Nope! It's nice to step inside and leave the forest for a wee while, but otherwise they don't offer anything in the way of surprises or novelties. The first dungeon, Amrine Expedition, is just a cave with some generic ruins and enemies you've already spent the last 30 hours killing. Even the boss, despite unique attacks, is stuck looking like one of the big brutes you'll have already encountered.

The first dungeon, Amrine Expedition, is just a cave with some generic ruins and enemies you've already spent the last 30 hours killing.

It's followed up by Startone Barrows, which is another underground dungeon filled with generic ruins and familiar faces. There are some simple traps here, but otherwise it's just incredibly plain.

Working my way through these enemy-infested warrens, I also find myself becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the action. As I mentioned earlier in this review-in-progress, combat is stiff and imprecise, and while some weapons are more fun to play with than others, it never comes close to the action-RPGs that it apes. In more cramped conditions—with several players all beating up the same enemies—it's at its worst.

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In solo fights, you need to read your opponent, figuring out their pattern and positioning yourself to take advantage of vulnerable moments. It's slightly tactical and skill-based, even if it's not entirely enjoyable. In dungeons there's no room for this subtlety. Aside from the largest enemies, it's impossible to tell what they're doing because they're perpetually engulfed in magical effects and surrounded by your allies. In most confrontations, then, everyone just spams their abilities and keeps on hammering until the thing is dead. 

All the time I've spent trying to perfect the timing of my blocks and dodges is, for the most part, wasted on dungeons. Only the attacks that are telegraphed in the most obvious ways—like an ominous magical ring appearing around an enemy—can break through the noise, but that won't really matter if you've got at least one healer. It ends up feeling less engaging than hotbar MMOs, and has no other tricks to help its dungeon runs stand out.

Fixer upper

After a hard day of dungeoneering, it's nice to have somewhere to come back to, somewhere to put up your feet. When your territory standing reaches level 10, you can start buying property in that settlement. This is a slightly confusing milestone, because so far I've only been able to find houses that unlock at level 15 or higher. So for five levels I waited, and then I splashed out on my first abode. 

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It's fine, I guess. It has two floors, a pretty exterior, a couple of big fireplaces… but it's also pretty dang ugly when you step inside. The list of things you can craft for your house starts tragically small, letting you build some unattractive ash furniture and not much else. New schematics can be found, however, as well as props you can immediately plonk in your home. I hit up the trader and snatched some junk other players had put up for sale, and now I've got a bunch of pirate-themed crap. My house still looks awful, but at least it has some personality. 

Since you can't change the walls or floor, I'm never going to be completely happy, and it's a shame none of the items you fill it with can be interacted with, aside from animals, which you can pet. There are some benefits, however, like increased storage space and craftable trophies that give you helpful buffs. 

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While MMO housing has been done better, New World isn't a bad example of the system, but with its survival game vibes and a focus on crafting, I was hoping for something more flexible and interactive. It feels more like I'm decorating a house that I rent, not designing a home that I own. 

This is typical of New World. It ticks all the MMO boxes, has everything you'd expect, but then never goes further. I'm eager to get to the endgame, but I'm no longer excited about what's next. Indeed, aside from Outpost Rush, a level 60 PvP mode, and the hunt for the game's most powerful gear, it doesn't look like I'll be doing anything remarkably different from what I'm up to now. With all the crafting and myriad progression systems, it still has a seductive quality, and I continue to get a slight buzz when I see all those numbers going up. But I am also very tired. Tired of running great distances just to kill a couple of critters and then run back again. Tired of chopping down trees so I can chop down bigger trees. And very tired of spending hours trying to kick off a war, only to get left out of the climactic moment. 

Fraser Brown

Fraser is the UK online editor and has actually met The Internet in person. With over a decade of experience, he's been around the block a few times, serving as a freelancer, news editor and prolific reviewer. Strategy games have been a 30-year-long obsession, from tiny RTSs to sprawling political sims, and he never turns down the chance to rave about Total War or Crusader Kings. He's also been known to set up shop in the latest MMO and likes to wind down with an endlessly deep, systemic RPG. These days, when he's not editing, he can usually be found writing features that are 1,000 words too long. He thinks labradoodles are the best dogs but doesn't get to write about them much.