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Why New World is one of the year's most anticipated MMOs

When I played an alpha version of New World last year, I was impressed by the clean UI and the ease at which I began harvesting materials and crafting useful things. Everything made immediate sense, which isn't true in every online survival game—though New World is better described as a hybrid of survival and MMO conventions. There's both character leveling and tree chopping, solo adventuring and collaborative fort building. If it's as cohesive and accessible as it appeared to be in my early demo, Amazon Game Studios could have a hit.

Like a variety of multiplayer sandbox projects, the big promise of New World is social collaboration and conflict. Players can band together to build forts, and siege the forts of player enemies. That's always a tricky design problem, as the bulk of players have real-life schedules that complicate PvP territory capture. Somewhat like EVE Online, New World will give defenders forewarning of an attack and the opportunity to pick a time to defend their property.

When I participated in a staged fort assault last year (which is in the video above, but note that the game has surely changed since then), I wasn't blown away by strategic depth or the intricacy of melee combat. We shimmied over a hill on our stomachs—this hid our name tags from our opponents—and then sneaked up to the fort walls and lined a section with powder kegs. After blasting apart the defenses, players clumped up and lunged at each other with big attack animations, or chased each other around chucking spears. To win, we had to demolish a central protection sigil without being driven off by the respawning defenders. 

(Image credit: Amazon)

If it sounds a little unambitious—after all, Dual Universe promises a "fully editable universe" in which players build entire civilizations—that's partially what attracts me to New World. I didn't need a wiki open on a separate monitor to craft an axe, and after quickly grasping the combat, I was eager to find somewhere dangerous to explore. I look forward to learning some blacksmithing and building a little home for myself when New World releases in May, and based on what I know so far, I won't need to die a thousand times or navigate six layers of buggy menus to achieve that goal—hopefully I'm right about that.

On a purely aesthetic level, I strain to imagine myself excitedly crafting a tricorn hat.

Rather than aim for unlimited scope or pure sandbox hardship, my impression of New World is that it seeks balance: PvE for some, PvP for others, and plenty of crafting, trading, and adventuring to do in the shallow end for those who don't want to dive into city building.

For now, the most disappointing aspect of New World to me is the setting, an Atlantic island—El Dorado but North American—where an ancient corrupting evil has turned 17th century treasure hunters into yet another subtype of zombie. Any fantasy world could've been fashioned into a framework for PvP building and adventuring, so I can't understand why New World leans into European colonization of the Americas as its backdrop. We're just trying to play fort, not Joseph Conrad.

On a purely aesthetic level, I strain to imagine myself excitedly crafting a tricorne hat, or gleaming proudly at my dour colonial stockade while burnishing my conquistador armor. So-so games can succeed through charm, with characters and costumes and locations that draw players in and stick in the memory, but I don't think New World will cut it in that respect. Like ultrabland survival game Rust, it'll have to rely on the stories players generate to give it character—or at least any character that's not depressing.

(Image credit: Amazon Game Studios)

In that respect, though, I see potential. The basics of New World were easy for me to pick up in one session, suggesting that there isn't an encyclopedia of arcana to study before getting into what I want to do: whacking things with swords, crafting new stuff, and seeking out meaningful interactions with other players (and hopefully some funny ones, as the game needs some levity). On a more basic level, I didn't have to battle the jankiness associated with online survival games to get things done. That's a plus.

We've of course heard New World's promises before: You can become a famous blacksmith, or battle monsters alone, or raise an army to siege other player's settlements, but whatever you're doing will change the world. Meanwhile, though, the most popular MMOs today still rely primarily on built-in storytelling, raids, and other World of Warcraft standards. A notable exception, EVE Online, requires so much commitment that many find reading about it preferable to playing it. And despite all the newcomers, Old Man Runescape has stuck around, illustrating how tough it is to break into the sandbox MMO space.

Dual Universe and Crowfall are just a couple of the other ambitious sandbox MMOs on the horizon, and both promise exciting variations on the 'player-driven' buzzword. For now, New World is the game I'm most interested in, because while it hasn't promised never-done-before complexity, it's got all the elements that draw me to MMOs—a player-driven economy, PvP wars, and hopefully some amusing stories walk away with—with a tidiness and accessibility that both MMOs and survival games tend to lack. An attractive and satisfying UI plays a massive part in making a game enjoyable, and that's an aspect New World nails.

New World releases in May, at which point we'll put my initial impressions to the test—I'll be disappointed if I'm off target, but at least there are numerous other sandboxes in development. For a deeper look, check out my New World impressions from last year, as well as Andy's more recent interview, which goes into more detail about some of my observations here. 

Tyler has spent over 900 hours playing Rocket League, and slightly fewer nitpicking the PC Gamer style guide. His primary news beat is game stores: Steam, Epic, and whatever launcher squeezes into our taskbars next.