As a new MMORPG to the PC space, New World already had a difficult path ahead of it, but recent events have presented it with yet another unenviable hill to climb: escaping the stink of Crucible's still-warm corpse. That latter title was supposed to be Amazon Game Studios' other first major release since consolidating itself in 2014, but it was hastily launched, un-launched, and then shut down over the course of the summer, with its team forced to abandon the project entirely.
It's not a great start for the retail giant's nascent games publishing arm, and has left many onlookers suspicious about its commitment to the industry itself. If Amazon is happy to pull the plug on its debut IP just four months after release, how can we trust its promises to support an online role-playing game that will require years of post-launch curation to truly prosper?
Thankfully, our hands-on with a fresh slice of New World's late-game content suggests this recently delayed MMO is promising enough to hit the ground running when it launches next year, even with those ongoing concerns about its long-term viability looming in the background.
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My hour-long session with New World took place in Reekwater, a high-level zone characterized by its swampy bayous and eerie, miasmic atmosphere. After speccing my character with a generous helping of Attribute and Weapon Mastery points available in the preview build, I was thus able to get a good approximation of the game's combat flow across its full suite of weapons and playstyles.
Contrary to other MMOs, which often have you pressing a series of number keys that leave fights feeling floaty and formless, blows in New World land with tangible impact in fast, real-time, skill-based skirmishes. Hit an enemy with a two-handed hammer, and they'll be sent flying in the other direction. Fire an explosive round from your musket, and the target will wince amidst the pyrotechnics.
As a result, you should expect enemies to put up a decent fight. Combat requires keen mastery of positioning and timing, with blocking and dodging incoming attacks just as important as landing them yourself. You can switch between up to three separate weapons on the fly, too, and you'll need to make use of that mechanic for mid-battle improvisation, ensuring you always have the right tool for any encounter. Don't expect death to come exclusively from high-level enemies you were too arrogant to ignore; lose focus, and just about anything in New World can send you to an early grave.
That sense of tactility extends to all of New World in general, and particularly your interaction with its diverse biosphere of zones. Inspired by its 17th century colonial conceit (you're part of an expedition looking to uncover the secrets of Aeturnum, a newly discovered isle steeped in magical power), almost every part of the environment can be exploited for your own gain in one way or the other.
Trees can be cut down for timber, rocks can be mined for flint, bushes can be scavenged for food, and – as part of an incoming update to its ongoing beta – players can now cast their rods into New World's waters to catch a subaquatic kingdom's worth of fish.
So long as you have a fishing pole handy, you can sit back and wait (or, rather, play its unique minigame) for a bite at any water source around Aeturnum, though certain "hot spots" will offer greater chances of finding rarer fish. Given that there's no class system in New World, fishing is just one of many tradecrafts open to all players from the get-go, so long as you put in the time and effort into learning its ropes.
New World is a huge game, with far-reaching social structures, dynamic, player-run economies, massive PvP battlegrounds, and more. It's one of the most ambitious MMORPGs I've seen in a long, long time, which is both impressive and a tad worrying, with Amazon's design mantra so far seemingly summed up by that ever-prescient quixotic maxim "too big to fail."
As a result, there's moments in New World which suggest Amazon Game Studios is biting off more than it needs to, in a bid to tick almost every box associated with the MMO genre, and then some. That size can also be a little daunting for new players, especially those unfamiliar with the quirks and idiosyncrasies of the genre itself.
New World's inventory UI, to give one example, takes up the entire screen with tiles and text when activated, so overwhelming in its depth and breadth that I can easily see it being a quick turn-off for many without some serious streamlining. Thankfully, Amazon Game Studios is continually listening to player feedback from its beta testing, and that aforementioned delay means the team now has even more time to polish up New World before it releases worldwide next year.
With the game scheduled to launch in Spring 2021, New World is also no longer vulnerable to World of Warcraft's Shadowlands expansion potentially stealing any prospective players from under its nose, with that typically barren release window marking a good time for it land, free from any sizable competition.
The team has talked about a ten year roadmap for New World in multiple interviews, and its continued beta sessions have proved popular, suggesting there's an appetite for the time-worn genre even at the start of this new decade.
Whether that appetite translates into a strong, sustainable playerbase from the get go remains uncertain, but given what I've played so far, I'm hoping that New World is at least given the chance it deserves by those with even the slightest interest in conquering Aeturnum's riches.