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New World Hands On-Preview - Amazon's MMO Definitely Leaves An Impression

Feels like a whole new world

Brian Armstrong Updated: Posted:
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I fired off several shots with my bow, knocking back and eventually killing a Ione charging opponent. Running across the keep wall to a different tower and tried to do the same to another player, but they deftly dodged my arrows and kept rushing towards the gate. In a desperate effort to save my teammates, I leaped from the wall all the while quickly switched to my sword. Using a couple of my skills, I blocked once, dodged underneath an attack, and then once more went back to my bow. I used a skill that allowed me to jump backwards and, while in mid-air, fire off an arrow (Legolas style), striking her right in the head, killing her. It felt incredible, but then I realized that only a few feet to my left,  our enemies had just breached our gate. They were flooding in and threatening to take over our stronghold.

This is war in New World, the open world MMO from Amazon Games. Recently, MMORPG was invited to AGS’ Irvine studio for a chance to meet the team and see the progress the game has made since we last saw it. We played an alpha build of the game, which is due to release in May this year.

Amazon set us loose in their open world for a three hour gameplay session, and later in the day we got to play a 50-vs-50 PVP battle with max level characters. I played my usual RPG playstyle of exploring every nook and cranny, and I was pleased to find the experience rewarding. While some of the other players rushed ahead to chew up as much content as possible, I was content taking my time to explore. I discovered a new armor piece that some of my fellow players did not find. I leveled up and acquired some new skills sooner than others, meaning I was better equipped to take on some of the later encounters. That said, AGS is hoping no matter how you want to play, no matter what your past MMO experience, you’ll feel at home in their world.

The team is comprised of people who have worked on a wide variety of games, from World of Warcraft to DayZ, to Killer Instinct and even Madden football. So when the team talked about the kind of game they wanted to build, they decided to build the kind of game they wanted to play. They aren’t worried about fitting their game into the “rules” that exist in specific genres; rather they just want to make a fun game.

“I don't want to pretend like we're in a vacuum because we certainly aren’t, and we also aren’t focused on, ‘let's do things differently’,” Richard Lawrence, Studio Director, told MMORPG. “We're just focused on, ‘What would be cool? What would be the coolest output for us right now?’ is how a lot of our conversations started.”

New World’s combat is fast-paced and requires you to react to the situation and approach each fight differently. For example, if you shoot someone in the legs, they do react, but their run speed is not affected.

Crucially when playing in PVP, it means that even if you are under-leveled, if you’re a better player than your opponent, you can still win the fight. It’s a departure from the tab target-based combat of many traditional MMOs, but it works here. MMO purists may feel like they have less control initially, but the action-based combat was intuitive and felt good. There are a lot of options for leveling up your character, although not every option was populated in the build we got to play. But essentially, the more you use a particular weapon type, the more skill points you’ll earn, which can unlock new abilities. Each weapon has two skill trees you can progress through. For example, with axes, you can invest heavily in melee skills making you a powerful up-close warrior. Or you can choose to learn skills that allow you to throw your axe, making you a dangerous ranged combatant. Or you can do a bit of both. It’s truly up to you.

Your playstyle will depend on how you want to play the game. You can switch up your weapons quickly and easily at any time, allowing for some fun combinations.

“I'm having a blast right now with the throwing axe on the throwing tree, and then the shield and sword on the shield tree,” said Scot Lane, New World’s Game Director mentioned. “So I will throw the hatchet to hit people and try to hit them in the head because it's really cool. And they come running at you. And then you use your shield bash and shield rush and hit them up close. It's super fun. And so you'll find other combinations of weapons where you start mixing the different trees and combinations. It just makes everything feel, ‘Oh, wow, I feel like a DPS guy in an MMO and then all of a sudden I become a tank. Oh, and then I'm going to pull up my healing staff and become a healer. And I can do all those. It's just a matter of my gear is going to tell which ones I can be a little better at."

Encounters with enemies were pretty easy at my low level, but it was a great introduction to the combat. Once I got the hang of it, I was able to better prepare my blocking, dodging, and parrying. Strikes with swords feel rewarding and forceful. Throwing an axe and then switching to your bow is quick and easy. And it’s a thrill to see your weapon sticking out of an enemy’s head while you finish them off.

Weapon swapping is not a skill you have to unlock, it’s just there from the beginning. AGS wants you to experience their action-based combat, so weapon swapping was key to that. And there will be enough opportunities in the game to max out every weapon, meaning you can change your playstyle based on who you’re grouped with, what boss you’re facing, or just to try something different. 

But combat isn’t all there is to New World. The land of Aeternum has so much to explore, see, and do. The team emphasized they didn't want to create a large map (40 square kilometers) just for the sake of it. They wanted to fill it with meaningful encounters and discoveries to ensure your time in-game is not wasted. It’s hard to walk for more than a few seconds in one direction without finding enemies, chests, or long-collapsed relics of a time gone by. Aeternum is the home of a mysterious mineral called Azoth, which amplifies things and can make its users immortal. The world is beautifully designed, with stark contrasts from area to area. And with four enemy families to keep you busy, you’re going to have your hands full.

Azoth is a powerful resource, but it has the ability to corrupt and warp people's minds. Each enemy family has reason to want the resource, so none of them are going to be particularly kind to you. The Corrupted are an example of that, as they are violent and are devoted to gaining more azoth and more power.

As twisted and evil as azoth has made the Corrupted, the Angry Earth are the exact opposite. Described as "the pure expression of nature through azoth", this species exists to protect the world of Aeternum.

Around the world you'll see many old, broken down, yet starkly beautiful structures; all that's left of the long-passed society known as the Ancients. It is believed they were able to harness the power of azoth.

Finally, the Lost have been killed and revived so many times that they've become soulless wretches. They just exist in the world, continuing to go about doing whatever it was they were doing when they were alive. Oh, and they don't like you.

In addition to enemy types, there are also three factions throughout the world. While The Marauders are all about raw power and ruthless military force, The Syndicate are a secret organization full of guile and cunning. The Covenant, meanwhile, believe they have the divine right to Aeternum and want to cleanse the land of then heretics and defilers. You can do missions for factions to unlock gear and other rewards, and it determines what side of the PVP battle you’re on.

Speaking of PVP, you can opt in or out of the feature (you must be in a town to toggle your status), but there will be some benefits to being flagged for PVP. But even if you have no interest in the PVP wars, you can still contribute to your faction's success while also lining your own pockets. Through a variety of town projects you can help to improve your settlements and provide buffs and bonuses to you and the rest of your faction. It's a clever way to keep you engaged in what's going on in the world around you, but without having to directly get involved if you don't want to.

I should say here that I’m not normally a PVP guy. I’ve dabbled here and there, but I usually prefer to quest solo or group up with my friends for PVE content. But I really enjoyed the PVP we played during this preview. It was exciting watching the enemies charging towards us from across the field as we gathered our supplies and found our positions. I played as an archer, so I hung back on the keep wall, while a bunch of our hand-to-hand combat players ran out to greet the enemies. There’s an opportunity here for some great strategy and tactics if enough people on one side are communicating with each other.

PVP involves the attacking team rushing the keep and attempting to seize several zones outside the walls. This is accomplished by holding your ground over time within several large circles on the ground. Defenders have access to ballistas, vats of oil, and other fun defense weapons to keep them off those circles and beat back enemies who try to sneak into the fort. Once the enemies have captured all those points they will turn all their attention to getting inside your walls using their weapons to break down the gates. Once that happens, it becomes very difficult to fight them off.

There are also some PVE war-based encounters, where hordes of AI enemies flood towards your settlement in waves, and you and your fellow players will need to work together to fight them off. Amazon expects this to be a fun way to entice non PVP players to give PVP a shot. We didn’t get to test this mode as they’re still fine-tuning the experience.

There are five progression systems in New World. Weapon Mastery, Trade Skills, Faction Reputation, Territory Standing, and the PVP Elder Game.

Weapon Mastery involves you increasing your skills and stats with specific weapons simply by using them. Each weapon has 30 skill unlocks to choose from, so you can set up each weapon to your specific playstyle. Trade Skills offer more than a dozen different trades (details not finalized), and they expect this number to grow over time. 

You can gain Faction Reputation simply by playing the game. The more work you do for your faction, you’ll start to unlock new gear and consumables. Similarly, Territory Standing is increased simply by playing in one of the many territories across the map. This will lead to special bonuses and upgrades such as increased storage space, decreased taxes on trade, additional XP in that territory, and more. 

For the PVP Elder Game, participating in the castle sieges I’ve already discussed will earn your character XP and chances at better, higher-level loot. And while this will clearly be a big part of the “end game”, you don’t have to be max-level to participate in these wars. They stressed that any player can beat any player if their skill or tactics are better.

New World will also feature quite a bit for players to do outside of combat and exploration, including helping to build up cities, as well as buying and decorating houses (both the inside and outside). You unlock the ability to purchase your first house at level 20, and can purchase another one at level 40 and 60. Almost everything you do in the game benefits your faction, which Amazon hopes will help players develop a bond with their groups, and want to join the fight in PVP. You may have noticed that this concept of enticing players to join PVP has come up a lot, and that’s because they are really focusing on making this a fun, unique, and long-lasting PVP experience.

The initial quests I came across were pretty standard for an MMO. Kill boars, kill wolves, go to the main town, etc. But Amazon says it designed the game with this simplicity on purpose. Since they anticipate a lot of traditional MMO players coming over to try New World out, and because the combat is quite a bit different from most of the major MMOs, they decided to introduce new mechanics and abilities in a steady manner rather than all at once.

Specifics haven’t been decided regarding server populations, but they said it comes down to doing what’s best for the players. One of the benefits of being an Amazon game is direct access to one of the world’s largest cloud networks.

“We can support, with the world size that we're planning to launch, probably close to 2,000. But I don't think that's going to be fun for gameplay,” said Lane. “This is where we talk about customer obsession, right? We need to get players in and we're trying right now to figure out the density model that feels the best for players. Could be 2,000. Could be 1,000. It's really going to come down to what's the best experience. There are no real big technical limitations that we're worried about.”

Full Disclosure: Travel to and from this event was provided by Amazon Game Studios


Brian Armstrong