New World review: Brighter days ahead

Amazon's New World is an impressive MMO that still has some work to do.

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To say that there was a lot riding on the release of New World would be an understatement. Following several delays and the monumental failure that was Crucible in 2020, skepticism was at an all-time high going into Amazon Games’ MMORPG. With all of that in mind, you can imagine my surprise when I found myself enamored with the environment, systems, and characters of New World.

A dangerous expedition

When players first jump into New World, they’ll create their adventurer. As far as customization options go, New World is incredibly average. It’s got your generic hairstyles, with a couple wacky ones thrown in, as well as options for color, scars, blemishes, and face tattoos. You can’t do much customization to your actual body, outside of taking a more masculine or feminine figure. I was initially bummed that everybody has to play as a human character, but it makes sense for the story being told.

In the game’s opening, players are aboard a ship that’s caught in a rough storm. The ship crashes, the player characters blackout, later waking up on the shores of a mysterious land. We soon learn that this land is an island named Aeternum, which possesses supernatural properties. The people and creatures of this land don’t permanently die, but are returned back to the physical plane just minutes later; it’s the game’s way of explaining why NPCs, monsters, and characters respawn. In the land of Aeternum, players will learn more about their past, while also forging a new destiny.

Freeform progression

Where New World sets itself apart from a lot of MMOs is in its classless approach to progression. In the beginning, players won’t select a class, which would then in turn determine what weapons, abilities, and armors they have access to. Instead, any player is free to use any weapon or gear, and changing your “class” is as simple as putting away the sword and pulling out a magical staff.

Not only does it take off a lot of the pressure during the early hours, it also encourages players to experiment and try out playstyles they typically wouldn’t. I always lean towards archery in RPGs and MMOs, but I spent several hours in new world running around with a fire staff. Although it ultimately wasn’t the way I wanted to play, it was great that I could take it for a spin without having to make any long-term commitments.

Although there aren’t any classes, the traditional MMO roles of DPS (damage per-second), tank, healer, and ranger are still very much present. When players level up, they earn skill points, which can be assigned to one of five character attributes: Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, Focus, and Constitution. The first four attributes correspond to different weapons, and will increase a player’s effectiveness when using each one respectively.. While Dexterity boosts proficiency with a bow, Strength makes axes and warhammers more effective. Constitution determines a character’s maximum health. These attributes can be trained in a way that reflects the role you want to play.

Even with this, players still have an abundance of choices at their fingertips. Up until level 20, you can respec all of your character attributes for free. If you put 15 hours into the game and decide that the wizard life isn’t for you, there isn’t much stopping you from reassigning your skill points and then deciding to be a hammer-wielding tank. After hitting level 20, it’ll only cost 20 Coins to respec your stats.

There’s also ability progression through weapons themselves. In the Weapon Mastery menu, players can access skill branches from 11 different weapon types in New World. As players defeat enemies with weapons, they’ll earn upgrades for them, which they can use to unlock new abilities, or statistical boosts. Even within a single weapon’s skill tree, there are a handful of options on how to design your build. Will you focus on being a tanky hammer-user that can soak up damage and dish it back, or will you invest more points into Crowd Control, arming yourself with abilities that have a wide hit range and can deal damage to several enemies at once?

Again, players are able to respec weapons and reassign those points if/when they change their minds. Unlike character abilities, players respec their weapons with Azoth, a magical liquid that’s used as a currency. As someone who can feel a bit overwhelmed with a lot of the long-term decisions players are forced to make early on in MMOs, New World’s approach to progression felt like a breath of fresh air.

Making a life for yourself

Outside of combat, there's plenty of things to sink hours upon hours into in New World. There are 17 different Trade Skills that fall under the umbrella categories of Crafting, Refining, and Gathering. As players perform and improve these skills, they’ll be able to harvest and construct better materials, either using them to make high-level gear, or selling them for a profit.

I chose to spend a large chunk of my time raising my Tracking & Skinning level. Since I was already maining a bow, it made sense that I also used it to hunt wildlife and harvest their parts. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed doing mundane tasks in New World. Chopping down trees, mining ores, and killing deer can become tedious and boring in a lot of MMOs, but in New World, I rarely ever got tired of it. The circular meter that indicated your progression in gathering resources almost became hypnotic to me.

Not only did hunting wildlife prove to be efficient for gathering the necessary materials to craft arrows and make better armor, but it also made me a decent chunk of coin.

The major towns and villages in New World are called Settlements. In a settlement, players can visit Trade Posts, where they can exchange items with other players. The process is quite simple - either search for an item that’s listed and pay the designated price, or put your own items up for sale. After a long session of gathering hides, I would head over to a local settlement, and post them for sale. I always made sure that my items were being listed for a lesser price than everybody else’s, so that buyers would want to purchase from me. It was incredibly satisfying to be out doing quests, and just seeing my Coin total raise every now and then as other players purchased my items from the trade post.

Something cool about Trade Posts in New World is that each one is unique to each settlement. If I’m in Everfall, I can only buy from and sell items to other players that are in Everfall. This creates a natural disparity among different settlements' economies. Sometimes 100 health potions in Everfall would be much more expensive than 100 potions in Windsward. I often found myself fast-traveling to different settlements and checking prices to ensure that I got the best bang for my buck.

Getting into faction action

Factions are a major MMO staple, and have a significant role in how player’s experience New World. Once you hit level 10, you can join one of the game’s three factions - The Marauders, The Covenant, or The Syndicate. Each of the three factions have their own philosophies that will influence the player’s decision. The Marauders are a band of barbaric fighters that are willing to die for their honor, whereas The Covenant is made up of spiritual fighters that are looking to cleanse the world of heretics. The Syndicate is a group of intellectual individuals that look down at those who they deem unitelligent.

Within factions are companies. Companies are essentially guilds, player-made groups that typically work together on quests, and dungeons. Aeternum is split into several different regions, each claimable by one of the major factions via companies. When a company has control over a faction, it can set tax rates on purchases, and enjoy a wealth of other bonuses and boosts.

Other factions can attempt to take over a region, but they’ll have to do a lot of work to pull it off. First, they’ll need to raise their “influence” by completing PvP Faction Quests. These quests come in a lot of forms, but essentially boil down to killing enemy players in specific areas of a region. Once an enemy faction has a high enough influence, a company can wage war against the current ruling company.

War is a large-scale 50 v 50 battle that takes place between players from opposing factions, with one side defending while the other attacks. The attacking team will have 30 minutes to successfully capture 3 Rally Points from the defending team. Wars are without a doubt some of the most exciting things to do in New World.

Wars are always scheduled in advance, with both sides usually having a couple (real world) days to prepare. Members of my faction, The Syndicate, were constantly discussing strategy, deciding what 50 players would give us the best chance to win. Each town has a War Board, where you can get a live look at the existing rosters for both sides of the impending battle.

The best aspect about the faction dynamic in New World is that it creates organic narratives and storylines that develop over time. My faction failed our first attempt to take Everfall from The Covenant. Members of The Covenant jacked up taxes, and we were constantly getting an earful about our loss in chat. It made it that much sweeter when we were able to secure some of the other valuable territories for ourselves.

I also became familiar with several of the major players on my server. The leaders of the biggest factions, and even members of rival factions became people that I would bump into at different settlements, in dungeons, and out in the wilds. It was really immersive to feel like I was a part of a constantly-growing world.

While Wars are PvP assaults on a territory, Sieges are a PvE equivalent. In a Siege, monsters will descend upon a settlement, and factions will need to assemble an army to defend it. If a faction fails to defend a territory during a Siege, it will retain ownership of it, but will suffer downgrades to its forts and various crafting stations. While Sieges can be fun, they felt like more of a burden than a natural part of the game. In the early days following the game’s release, it wasn’t easy to defend a territory against the overwhelming hordes of creatures, and a lot of progression was stifled because of it. Sieges would work a bit better if the AI behind when and what caused them was sharper.

In a perfect world

While there’s a lot of great ideas in New World, it’s certainly not without its shortcomings. While Wars are a great deal of fun, you can really feel the game struggling to keep up. There’s a good deal of FPS drops and texture pop-ins when battles get intense.

I also grew annoyed with a phenomenon in which enemies would “retreat” during battle. If you’re engaged with an NPC enemy, and for whatever reason, it can’t physically reach you, it will retreat. It’s health replenishes, and it returns to where it initially spawned from. If you’re standing on a big boulder, enemies retreat. If you’re behind a structure that obstructs their path, they retreat. As a ranger, it was incredibly frustrating, as I would often look for high ground or other vantage points where I could safely fling arrows from a distance.

The land of secrets

There’s something incredibly charming about the world of Aeternum itself. The land is full of forested areas and mountainous regions, almost reminding me of Cyrodiil in Oblivion. I also really dug the colonial aesthetic to the towns and various structures. It was a nice change of pace from the overly dreary visual identity of similar games.

While I enjoyed taking in the land of Aeternum for all its beauty, it’s painfully clear that New World could have greatly benefitted from having mounts at launch. Several quests task you with traveling between great distances, relaying messages and delivering packages between settlements. If you’re not fast-traveling, it can take ages to jog large distances so frequently. There were instances where I would put off doing quests that were across the map if I didn’t have the Azoth to fast-travel. I’m sure that mounts will eventually arrive in New World, but their current absence is quite noticeable.

Another aspect that contributes to the environment and atmosphere in New World is its original soundtrack. The songs are ingrained into the game’s DNA, conveying feelings of hope, wonder, despair, and danger. There’s moments where certain tunes kick in, and the feeling is nothing short of epic. I found myself turning the soundtrack on and listening to it during the day as I worked or did chores around the house.

Work for the hardened adventurer

A lot of New World’s end game content centers around PvP, as players are pushed to go after rival factions and conquer territories. However, as players get closer to level 60, the game’s level-cap, they’ll be able to take on Expeditions for a supreme PvE challenge.

Expeditions are New World’s take on dungeons, with players assembling in groups of five to battle a series of tough enemies in hopes of scoring some rare loot. I had a good time with Expeditions, as they usually offered a pretty solid challenge, and the rewards made them feel worthwhile. There’s only six Expeditions currently in the game, so you may find yourself doing each of them several times, squeezing them for all the gear you possibly can. They’re balanced in such a way that there’s always an Expedition relatively close to your level after you start with Amrine at level 25.

What lies ahead

I was admittedly surprised with how thoroughly I enjoyed my time with New World. From the freeform character and weapon progression to the resource gathering and faction dynamics, there’s a lot to explore and experience. That said, New World very much feels like an MMO in a very early state. There’s not a ton of Expeditions, there’s no mounts, and there’s an obvious need for balancing with features like Siege. Luckily, MMOs often get better as they age, and if Amazon Games can build upon this great foundation, they’ll have a surefire hit on their hands.


This review is based on a digital download code provided by the publisher. New World is available now on Steam for $49.99 USD.

News Editor

Donovan is a young journalist from Maryland, who likes to game. His oldest gaming memory is playing Pajama Sam on his mom's desktop during weekends. Pokémon Emerald, Halo 2, and the original Star Wars Battlefront 2 were some of the most influential titles in awakening his love for video games. After interning for Shacknews throughout college, Donovan graduated from Bowie State University in 2020 with a major in broadcast journalism and joined the team full-time. He is a huge Star Wars nerd and film fanatic that will talk with you about movies and games all day. You can follow him on twitter @Donimals_

Review for
New World
7
Pros
  • Freeform Progression
  • Gorgeous environments
  • Challenging combat
  • Faction dynamic is exciting
  • Excellent original soundtrack
Cons
  • No mounts
  • Siege needs balancing
  • Strong FPS drops and pop-ins during War
  • Enemies retreating during combat
  • Needs more Expeditions
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