What is it? Amazon's attempt at building an MMO.
Expect to pay £35/$40
Developer Amazon Games
Publisher Amazon Games
Release Out now
Reviewed on GTX 1080 Ti, Intel i7-8086K, 16GB RAM
Link Official site (opens in new tab)
New World feels like it's been algorithmically designed to ensnare anyone craving a big MMO. It ticks all the boxes and, as a bonus, smartly takes advantage of the seemingly inexhaustible desire for new crafting and survival games. It ensorcels with its many progression systems and has this impressive ability to make chopping down 100 trees at 2 am seem like a reasonable, even entertaining, prospect.
This is true of the early days, at least, when everything is new and the island of Aeternum stretches out before you, beckoning you to explore it. But this is a game of diminishing returns that obstinately refuses to evolve, and with the honeymoon period well and truly over, I'm looking for an exit.
With its beefy crafting system, open PvP, player-led wars and dynamic economy, it does so much right on paper, but the reality is a lot less scintillating: hour after hour of running through forests you've long grown sick of seeing, facing the same enemies over and over for most of those 60 levels, praying for any kind of novelty to liberate the experience from the doldrums.
Even though so little has changed after hundreds of hours of grinding, I still can't say I know New World. It is an MMO in desperate need of an identity. There's a colonial aesthetic and old world pioneers exploring a magical island that looks like a big North American forest, but the themes of colonialism aren't really explored at all. It's just cosmetic. And the PvE quests and quest-givers that normally do the crucial work of fleshing out an MMO setting do nothing of the sort.
New World's quests are dire. It's the same handful of mindless objectives and just as few enemy types repeated ad nauseum, with a structure that invites exasperation. Instead of popping into a settlement and grabbing loads of quests for a specific area, you'll grab a couple, run all the way across the territory to kill ten bison, and then run all the way back. As a reward, maybe you'll be treated to another quest, sending you back to that area once again.
With no mounts and a fast travel system that charges you currency with a fixed cap, you'll be doing an absurd amount of running around. If Aeternum was the kind of place that inspired exploration, this might be less of a pain in the arse, but these journeys are devoid of interesting diversions. Aeternum is a pretty place, certainly, and for a long time I was happy to slowly saunter through its forests and swamps, admiring the natural world and the occasional ruin, but there just isn't much variety. It's very plain, too, absent the kind of spectacles or surprises that make areas memorable.
Combat is in a similar situation, where the choice to use an action-based system instead of rows of hotbars is initially very welcome, but quickly runs out of steam. Things do get a bit more challenging as you approach the endgame, encouraging you to engage with the system more, but for hundreds of hours you'll see little growth. When you level up you get more points to put into your strength, dexterity and so on, but each weapon type also has an experience bar, as well as two progression trees with three abilities each. You'll unlock all your weapon abilities very quickly, however, and if you find a pair of weapons you're comfortable with—I stuck to rapiers and muskets for most of the game—you're looking at hundreds of hours where you're just getting the odd passive bonus and not much else.
Fights do at least benefit from the dose of tactical nuance. You've got an active block and dodge, positioning to worry about, and you can read your opponents to predict their next move. Unfortunately it's also extremely stiff. When you throw a few more enemies and players into the mix it becomes impossible to really tell what's going on, and so you just spam your measly three abilities.
With five players and so many monsters, dungeons—called expeditions in New World—are where the fights are their messiest. The first trio of dungeons are bland trips into underground ruins filled with things you've already killed so many times before, but things do pick up, with more distinct settings and tricky boss encounters that require a bit of planning and communication. The majority of the fights still just put you in a big pile of players and mobs where you can hardly see what's going on, but you can expect a few more thoughtful scraps with unique enemies.
New World's real appeal, and the closest it gets to a focal point, is the faction rivalry. Three factions are looking to take control of Aeternum, with companies—New World's guilds—representing them by fighting wars and claiming settlements. When a company claims a settlement, it gets to tax players using its services, like crafting and player housing, as well as providing company and faction-wide benefits. These settlements are the hubs for each territory, so there's plenty of foot traffic, and a lot of competition.
Where the PvE quests yammer on about magic and prophecies and pit you against a generic evil force known as the Corrupted, which is completely incongruous to the grounded pioneer MMO New World is trying to be, the faction rivalry feels a lot more at home, with strong connections to crafting, the economy and PvP.
I've found myself setting up different operations in different settlements depending on who owns them and what the local economy is like. Windsward, for instance, has a vibrant economy and a trading post—where all the items and prices are determined by players—full of basic resources going cheap because it's one of the first settlements players encounter. This is where I spent a lot of time doing low-level crafting and continue to do much of my shopping. But the company that controls Windsward hasn't upgraded certain crafting stations that I use a lot, meaning I have to visit another settlement if I want to embark on high-level crafting projects.
Most of what you can craft is extremely mundane—some new gear, some food, some furniture for your house—and you'll never encounter the meaty projects you can usually find in a dedicated crafty survival game. But I still find the actual act of crafting, and the gathering before that, deeply compelling. Unlike most MMOs, where you'll find a few gathering nodes here and there, Aeternum is filled to the brim with stuff to chop down, mine, pull out of the ground and skin. Even when things are quiet, you'll still usually hear the telltale sign that someone is at work—the crack of a pick axe striking iron, or the thud of an axe hitting wood.
Your crafting and gathering skills can level up, too, so you're always making progress. With higher levels you can start to see nodes and critters on your compass, get access to new resources and crafting projects, and even get bonuses that will help you in fights. With so many different meters and skills, it's easy to lose a day to the simple pleasures of being a rugged pioneer.
All this time you're helping other players, fulfilling orders that will develop a town, or filling the trading post with your surplus. If you're doing this in a territory controlled by your company, or another company in your faction, you'll receive both buffs and discounts, giving you more reasons to paint the map of Aeternum your colour. You'll also get these for just hanging out and doing stuff in specific territories, increasing your influence with them and getting to pick from a set of bonuses.
There are a few ways to support your faction. You can do town projects—craft this thing, hunt this thing—that contribute towards the growth of a settlement, allowing the company in charge to level up crafting stations and the like, in turn changing how the settlement actually looks. You can also embark on PvP quests that increase your faction's influence in a territory until you can declare war and flip it.
All the stuff these quests get you to do is rote and repetitive, but the reward for this busywork is a real sense that you're involved in something big. You're building up to a war, improving a town, and actually leaving a mark on the world. It's a small mark, sure, but combined with the efforts of your fellow players it can transform things dramatically. And the PvP quests, at least, are elevated whenever other players flagged for PvP show up. Gathering 100 wood isn't much of a quest, but gathering 100 wood while 20 players try to murder you? That's a bit more exciting.
My faction, the Syndicate, is the underdog of the server, with a real grudge against the dominant faction, the Covenant. Our conflicts with them have been so one-sided that there's now a conspiracy—which I'm sadly thoroughly invested in—suggesting that we've got a mole infestation. There's intrigue and paranoia, and it's the closest New World has come to feeling like a living world.
It's a shame, then, that the culmination of these conflicts, wars, are only for the privileged few. See, when your faction has enough influence in a territory, every company in the faction has an opportunity to declare war, with the winner chosen by a lottery system. The company that gets to declare war also gets to take the settlement for themselves, and gets to choose who actually gets to fight in the big siege and when. Since the lottery is weighted towards companies that contribute the most, it's always going to be the biggest and most active companies getting to decide who plays. And if you're not in that company, your chances of participating are greatly diminished. Even if you are picked, you can be kicked at any time, all based on the whims of strangers.
This threatens to turn the compelling faction rivalry into a fight between a few different companies—there are only 11 territories up for grabs, and companies can claim more than one—leaving everyone else on the outside begging for scraps. The other PvP mode, Outpost Rush, doesn't need to be scheduled by a company and anyone can play, but only once they've hit level 60. It's a long time to wait. At the time of writing, the mode has actually been disabled due to a queue bug, and thus has been inaccessible for over a week.
At least the world PvP has almost no restrictions, and it's where the most fun can be had. My most memorable experience in New World was a 5-hour PvP session that saw me jumping all over the world trying to throw territories into conflict, accompanied by hordes of Syndicate pals. It's genuinely a thrill to see a quiet grove thrown into disarray as a murderous train of bloodthirsty players charge into it on a PvP quest. And you can even get a taste of the war mode's sieges. Every territory has a fort with dense fortifications and even some defensive structures for attackers to hide behind as they exchange musket fire.
But even during these large-scale scraps there are frustrations. The fights are an absolute clusterfuck with this many players, so you just jump in and hope for the best, but the game might decide that, actually, there are too many players trying to have fun right now. Half of my attempts to fight in forts have met with failure because there's a limit to the number of players not just inside a fort, but around it. If you charge in, you're given 10 seconds to leave the zone or you'll be unceremoniously teleported all the way back to the nearest settlement.
While reaching the endgame rewards you with some new dungeons and territories to quest in, I'm so tired of New World's half-hearted PvE that I'm only really interested in continuing the conflict between the factions. Unfortunately, even that's not currently enough to make me stick around. It's been fun to be an underdog for a while, but that enjoyment starts to wither when you realise there are so few opportunities to improve your faction's position. With fewer territories and new players not wanting to join the losing side, all you get is a slow decline. There's just a sense of hopelessness, with the main companies now planning on jumping to another server.
New World's attempt to tick all the boxes has left it feeling scattershot and underbaked. The PvE is the main victim, which seems to exist purely out of obligation. But the sandbox, with its competing factions and hypnotic crafting loop, kept me logging back in, at least for a couple of hundred hours. There's still enjoyment to be had, then, and the busy servers make this the best time to experience what New World actually does well, but now that I've seen all it has to offer, I don't feel a compulsion to continue.