New World is an upcoming massively multiplayer RPG from Amazon Game Studios which we played a bit of earlier this year. Set in the 17th century during "the twilight of the Age of Exploration", the game loosely mixes aspects of real-world history with fantasy, with thousands of players battling and working together to make a home on the dangerous, monster-ridden island of Aeternum.
A new cinematic trailer (above) was shown off today at The Game Awards, where New World's May 2020 release date was revealed. Before that, I had a chance to speak to director Scot Lane about the game.
The idea of an MMO feels almost old-fashioned in this age of shared-world shooters and battle royales, so first up I ask Lane why he thinks now is the right time for a new MMORPG.
"Well, it sounded cool," he says. "But also because MMO development has slowed down. It's kind of interesting when everyone goes in one direction and you go in a different direction, right? We didn't want to follow."
"We also wanted to create a world that players can really get lost in," he adds. "That, to me, is one of the top goals for this game. We want something you can play with friends, uncover mysteries, experience a world. I personally love playing MMOs because I can disappear into the fiction."
So how will players actually interact in New World? I ask Lane for examples of activities the game will offer, both large and small. "Well, we have these massive battles," he says. "Fifty on fifty, protecting huge forts, attacking them, and warring over territory. But the world hits back too. The monsters don't want you here and as you start to move into their land, they will push back."
"They invade your territory," he says. "Slowly at first, but then more quickly, and you have to step in and defend yourself. Hundreds of AI will move in and try and take over territory, which creates cool social experiences."
But Lane says there will be less dramatic things to do in New World too, including owning a own house that you can decorate and invite players into. And if you're the type of player who prefers adventuring alone, or playing with small groups, Lane says the game will have you covered as well.
"We call that 'alone in a crowd' and a lot of MMO players are like that," he says. "They just want to play by themselves, but like knowing there are other people around, who they can maybe ask for help if they're struggling. We've actually put mechanics in to make it easier to get help if you're in trouble."
"If you're in the world and you're struggling with an encounter and someone's walking by, they can just jump in and help you. They don't have to join your group or anything like that, and you'll both get the credit for the victory."
"We've also put a lot of quests in that cater to the single player, to the PvE player. And when I talked earlier about the AI trying to take back territory, some of this has been set up so that a single player can get involved. One person can make a difference in the world, which is really important to us."
Lane also says that, through crafting, some enterprising players might be able to make a name for themselves on their server. "We have a whole deep crafting system," he says. "And a solo player could perhaps become the best blacksmith on the server, sell their stuff, and become popular that way."
I ask Lane about the world itself—Aeternum, an island with supernatural properties—and what impact players will have on it. "Our world is something you can change dramatically," he says. "Pretty much every tree can be chopped down, every bush can be harvested, every boulder can be mined. If you see oil you can harvest it. If you see an animal you can kill it and skin it. And all of these materials can be used to make stuff."
"There will be areas of the world where you're going to want to be a higher level, but there's no hard gating. There are parts where if you're a level 20 and you want to get to a certain region of the world, you better have some 50s with you. You could sneak there, maybe. We're playing around with that at the moment. But we think the exploration is better in pieces."
Combat is something Lane thinks will set New World apart from other games in the genre. "Most MMOs have a mouse cursor," he says. "You tab to highlight a target, then you manage cooldowns and percentages. That's cool, and I play those games. But our take is bringing action RPG combat in. It's physical-based. When I swing my sword, it has collision. My position in the world matters. I have to be the right distance from you."
"And every player has collision, so spacing matters. People in a battle can't just stand on top of each other," he adds. "You can't just walk through each other. You actually have to think about where you stand, which creates a lot of different types of gameplay—especially in those big battles."
"It's a different kind of skill-based combat. It's more visceral, more responsive. In a lot of MMOs, if someone's five levels ahead of you, you have no chance of defeating them. But in our game there is a chance. Levels absolutely give you power, but people who are good at action games will still have a shot. You can beat someone five-to-ten levels above you in a fight if you play really, really well and they play really badly."
A lot of MMOs, whether it's World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, or Guild Wars have years of lore to dip into, but Amazon is having to start from scratch with New World. "We've had several writers over time," says Lane. "And they've all written for videogames and done a pretty good job."
"We've had people who have written for World of Warcraft, people from Black Isle, and people from EverQuest. We've been writing the lore and iterating on it for a couple of years now, and I think it's pretty powerful. As we watch people test the game, we find that they want to know more about it."
New World is set for a May 2020 launch, but if you pre-order the game (you can do so on the game's official website) you'll get access to a closed beta in April. After something of a lull for the genre, it's nice to see someone making a new MMO. But do people still have an appetite for them? I guess we'll find out next year when players set sail for Aeternum.