Diving into New World’s expedition, instanced dungeons bringing more PvE content to Amazon’s upcoming MMO, was a mixed affair. On one hand, the content brings some of the traditional MMO content I’ve been hoping to see from New World, even if my press group was woefully undermanned for the affair. On the other, combat still feels like something is missing to give it some real impact overall.
The expedition we were able to check out during a press event held last week was the Amrine Excavation. This expedition sees a team of five adventurers trying to find out the fate of a lost expedition party, though along the way they discover more about the world and doings in the Eternal Isle.
First off, the visual design of the expedition is, simply put, fantastic. The cavernous temple is full of hulking stone works, complete with the additions of the Aeternum settlers exploring and excavating the temple itself. Wood pillars dot the walls, seemingly holding up the corridors you’ll pass through, leading to open caverns complete with winches, cranes and more meant to secure and hoist the spoils from the dig.
Players are tasked with discovering what happened to archeologist Simon Grey and his team, who have turned up missing. I was finding myself in awe of some of the art design at play here, the mixture of dig site blending with the ancient temple the excavators were exploring.
As we readied ourselves to explore the temple, I should note my team was two people short, which meant during my press preview we were a three-man team taking on a five-person instance. This does color my experience a bit as some of the encounters were likely a bit more challenging had they been accomplished with a full team. Couple this with the fact that while I’ve played New World multiple times, there is still a lot to learn with the combat in the MMO.
New World is, if you’ll recall, a class-less MMO, with the weapon and armor builds you turn to effectively creating your class for you. However, despite not having a class, it still relies quite a bit on that traditional “Holy Trinity of MMOs:” tank, DPS, and heals. As such, my team started out with our guide acting as our healer, but both myself and the press member who joined us playing DPS, partly to test out the new weapon additions since our last time in Aeternum.
Recently, Rapiers and the new Ice Gauntlet were added to the alpha, with both weapons available to check out. The Spear, which has also been added since last year’s open test in August, was also available to check out. The new weapons add even more variety to the combat, with the Rapier feeling both fast and nimble when cutting down spirits and more in front of me. I really appreciated the two distinct skill trees, with one focusing on damage and cutting down enemies, while the other focused on parrying and playing a bit more defensively, counter attacking with a successful parry.
I actually enjoyed the defensive line a bit more. The parry/counter skill made me feel awesome as I repelled attacks back at my foes with a properly timed counter (no joke - I felt like Marth in Super Smash Bros. at times). The Rapier also causes some bleed DoT effects with skills, and provides a little bit of breathing room with a skill that sends a small wave at enemies in front of you. I can see myself using the Rapier much more when I get into the upcoming pre-launch test in July.
The Ice Gauntlet itself, we were informed, had some performance bugs when using it, though it was playable during our test. The crowd control aspect of the gauntlet would have come in handy during the multiple waves of enemies coming at us in the dungeon, though I didn’t tinker too much with the gauntlet myself, as it became clear pretty early on if we were going to progress this dungeon at all with just three of us, we would need to be pretty strict with the “Holy Trinity.” As such, I found myself taking on the role of the tank, going sword and shield with a musket to back up for those ranged attacks.
While the world of New World is a pretty open affair, Amrine Excavation is pretty linear. There are corridors leading into large, open rooms, but it’s here where I felt like I was playing an MMO for the first time since first playing New World last year. The encounters, coupled with our smaller team size, caused my group to be a bit more cautious when approaching combat. We were planning pulls, trying to take down the large, hulking Star Excavation Ravagers, trying to keep the spirits and smaller zombie-esque creatures from swarming us. Focusing fire on a single target to take them down was core to our strategy, with our healer keeping us all alive as best he could.
It’s not all great though. One of the major annoyances I found with the Excavation was the fact that the smaller creatures had respawners we had to also destroy. Figuring this out took a bit (as our guide wasn’t telling us), and coupled with the fact that we were fighting off waves of enemies meant for 5-person content with just three added to the annoyance. It's not a huge gripe, but it was annoying to clear an area only to have a steady stream of smaller enemies quickly refill that room.
One of the new enemies I encountered were these incredible looking spirits, though it definitely highlighted one of the problems I’ve felt with New World since last year: its floating combat. Trying to hit one of these spirits who moved a little unpredictably was tough enough with a sword or shield, but combat still has a floaty feeling to it, nothing feels completely impactful. I’m also still not a real fan of the action combat skills having such long cooldown timers, something that felt was constraining me even more when trying to learn how to tank on the fly in this dungeon.
However, the enemy design fits beautifully with the aesthetic the team is going for in this expedition. The creatures look and feel like they’ve been trapped there for thousands of years, and the movement of the floating spirits definitely gave them an ethereal feel. Getting knocked around by the Ravager while I tried to stand my ground and, more importantly keep its attention off the healer, was never not fun. It highlighted the skill-based nature of the combat at its core: dodge and block properly and you’ll stay alive.
In all honesty, running through Amrine Excavation gave me Final Fantasy XIV Duty Finder vibes. The linear nature of the encounter (though we still had some puzzles to do in order to unlock deeper areas of the dungeon), the fact that bosses will reset if you pull them too far - and even the boss room locking down if you don’t get in there in time all gave it a proper MMO dungeon feel. And that feeling is something that I’ve felt the content in New World has lacked overall. It’s always striven to be considered a proper MMO, and while I want new and interesting ideas in the genre, I also crave the content that feels rooted in the genre’s legacy. This expedition definitely gave me those vibes.
It’s just a shame we couldn’t finish it. My diminished team was able to advance to the final boss, but as the big bad of the Temple started summoning waves of enemies, we just could not contend with the sheer numbers being thrown at us. As I strove to tank the boss itself, my healer and DPS friends were keeping on the adds. However, after two runs we came to the realization that we just were not going to be able to finish the run with our small group.
That’s not necessarily a knock on the game, though. The combat was challenging and showed why having a well coordinated, kitted group was important. I’m sure as players level and find the best the meta has to offer once launch happens, three-person runs of the expeditions will be the norm. But it showed that while a class-less system provides a ton of variety to the individual, it’s still necessary to make sure you have the right group make-up around you to succeed.
In every test I’ve done, I’ve enjoyed what I’ve played for the most part, though I’ve always wondered how New World’s developers would address the lack of real content in the MMO. Amazon’s Expeditions are, at least after checking out one of the few they are working on for launch, a great step in the right direction. When the team delayed the MMO last year to focus more on mid to end-game PvE content, they caught some flak from the community. However, with the release of two major end-game zones in the Alpha and now the expeditions which lean into the types of encounters that make MMOs enjoyable to many - myself included - it’s definitely something that gave me a bit more faith in the product as we lead into the July 20th Beta test.
New World is slated to be released by Amazon Game Studios on August 31st.