A Brave New World (Not The Novel)

Two weeks ago now, Amazon Games finally launched their first project – the MMORPG New World. Launched on Steam to near-million player concurrency, the game has been a certified hit and was hotly anticipated as the first major Western MMO launch since Elder Scrolls Online nearly 7 years ago, not counting expansions to existing properties.

I have to be honest, I was…not particularly interested in New World. In fact, I dropped a teaser for a post of this very shape that I was going to write without having played the game, just explaining why I wasn’t really feeling it.

But…birthday gift cards made an opportunity for a guilt-free purchase, and so I bought it two days ago, and now, 8 hours in, I…will share my opinion of it here. Not a review, not a pre-review, not a pre-review-review, just some thoughts. I’ll segment it into two sections – why I wasn’t going to get it and the thought process there, and then what I’ve thought about it since buying and playing it.

Part 1: “Aggresively Generic”

I’d followed some of the hype around New World, albeit not that closely. A lot of the Blaugust crew were clearly excited for it, and a lot of the blogs I follow were writing about it as a result. I’d seen some information from closed beta, then open beta, and I’d heard about it exploding EVGA Geforce RTX 3090 graphics cards (okay, the cards were poorly soldered and it’s not on the game, but the headlines were punchy). The way the gameplay was described always kind of came out…weird, in a way? Reading people describe it made it somewhat difficult to find something to latch onto.

Launch day came and I ended up asking openly in guild Discord if anyone was playing, just out of sheer curiosity. My friend Joe, who in the “WoW-killer” era had played damn near every MMO that came out (okay, I don’t think he ever bought Auto Assault) had the damning line for me – “it looks aggressively generic.” We aren’t necessarily alike in game tastes, but generally, if even he is skipping on an MMO, that usually signals to me that I will hate it. So I was content to sit on the sidelines at launch, a decision that was buttressed by the launch day woes and reports – server issues, long queue times, and a general lack of clarity on the path forward out of these issues. Some more people reported bricking their GPUs (same issues, but now Gigabyte cards were in the mix, which, to be fair, is fine because Gigabyte loves making PC components that go up in smoke), and so I was watching with contentment in my decision.

But then something interesting happened. More of my guildies were getting into it, and while that alone does not an interest make, it seemed like the game was gaining momentum. Even as some of the bloggers I follow were wondering aloud about the future of the game, with potential issues from the early details of the server transfer service, it seemed like New World might be worth at least a look.

Otherwise, my personal impression of the game from the early stages was this: it looks pretty but has a bog-standard high-detail realism artstyle with not enough breaks from reality to create interest, only being able to play humans with fairly standard customizations felt limiting, and I’d heard tell of the questing being largely repeatable fare that would cycle through a set of quests you’d become far too familiar with after a cycle or two of playing. I was also concerned that real-time combat with dodges and blocks would be clunky in an MMO and that a 3-ability loadout would feel too limiting. I also hadn’t heard a lot about PvE content, dungeons, or the like, and so I wasn’t really clear on what would grab me.

But on October 9th, a Visa gift card in hand for having gotten older (thanks, in-laws!), I had nothing else on my list to buy, no smarter priorities for a basic gift card as my wife and I are quite good at budgeting, I decided to take a plunge on the game. If it was bad, I could recoup my cost writing about it, and if it was good – well, the first thing would still be true but then I would also have a game I enjoyed!

So I downloaded and installed the game to my PCIE 4.0 NVME SSD, and off I went into Aeternum.

Part 2: I Actually Like New World, Uh-Oh

Getting into the game was easy enough. A guildie of mine had rolled on Quanlu in US West, so I went there, just because I wanted an easy in for a Company invite to see how the systems of the game interacted. I watched the opening cutscene and rolled my character, an easy process that focuses solely on aesthetics, and off into the tutorial I went.

The presence of a very on-rails tutorial was interesting, as most MMOs use watered-down, basic quests in this role with help messages popping up. The action-y gameplay was kind of interesting, but I didn’t like the way the character control felt – especially, as a chronic jumper in MMOs, the jumping. I know it’s realistic, but…I want mega jumps sometimes!

The tutorial was over quick enough, and with the Captain re-slain, I was awash at First Light Tower, ready to begin my adventure.

The first thing I noticed is that while I am still not a fan of a lot of the aesthetic choices with regards to characters, the world is more vibrant and colorful than the artstyle for characters implies. The bright greens dotted with pink, red, and blues drew me in, as did exploring the shipwrecks in the early questing. The despawn animation and respawn animation were nice touches that I really quite like. The controls were different than my normal tab-target fare, so I brought my wireless keyboard to the edge of my desk for pain-free WASDing and found it easy enough to adjust, and even choices that first seemed clunky made sense in moments (putting main consumables on 3 and 4 was weird until I realized that you could load up two weapon sets and switch those with 1 and 2). I was leveling longswords, and then I decided to go heavy axes. Nothing posed any serious threat yet (pretty standard for early MMO leveling, to be fair) and the combat felt a bit repetitive, but fun enough. The low-APM play I had assumed would be the case with only 3 active abilities was brought up to par by the action gameplay requiring clicking for each attack and learning to read enemies for blocking.

Then I learned about gathering, and that started to make each quest leg longer, at my choosing. I was stopping to gather everything. I didn’t know how inventory worked, and I wasn’t too worried about it yet, but I did find it interesting that the game had either not explained it, or I had completely missed it. One of the things I found fascinating is that despite how different the game is from the bog-standard tab-target MMO, it uses a lot of the same verbiage and ideas and thus the experience is a lot easier if you’ve played an MMO before. I found myself wanting the game to explain itself slightly more than it was, but my MMO education had given me enough to fumble my way through the early stages. I didn’t end up encumbered until I was in-town shuffling items out of storage to craft (the inventory is weight-based, it turns out). There’s a tier system for crafting components that isn’t altogether clear yet (can I do something to improve my gathering quality?).

But for all the rough edges I encountered, they were momentary and fleeting, and I was having fun.

I switched back to longsword and went with a tank build, which at level 17 has made me nigh-undefeatable with just under 2,000 health. My off-weapon is a Life Staff, needed for healing, which baffles me as I can see that the game has a ton of UI options that are just for healers, and I will probably try to level a life staff far enough to see what those options do. For now, all I did with it was some open world combat, which is incredibly clunky on the life staff as you can miss, each puff of energy from the staff costs mana against a very-limited pool, and the only actual healing I can do is lining up my crosshairs with the feet of an ally and hitting my Q ability (the button Q, not a batshit crazy conspiracy button that your racist uncle posts about on Facebook).

I joined the Marauders, joined two guildmates in a Company, and now, 8 hours deep, I have a preliminary set of opinions about the game that I think are rightly justified through experience.

It’s a hard game to describe in some ways: Guildies that were playing it early tried saying it was like WoW Classic meets Runescape, but I don’t get a lot of WoW Classic out of it and I never played any version of Runescape (I know, it’s a touchstone, sorry), so I just had nothing to grab onto from those descriptions. For me, it feels a lot like a more rigid and locked down version of FFXIV’s jobs – your weapon dictates class, you can swap at will (although you don’t have gear sets here like you do in FFXIV, just a weapon swap, and your stat loadout is fixed at the character level with Mastery points at the weapon level). In a lot of ways, it feels like a survival game with MMO mechanics bolted on in a logical way – you have action combat, a lot of gathering and crafting, and everything contributes to advancing your character. A part of why I couldn’t see myself getting into it, though, is that it was hard to parse the ways in which people tried to shorthand explain it.

The game is visually stunning, but…: The visuals of the game are impressive in fidelity, and I do like the environment art quite a lot. I have the privilege of being able to run the game maxed out with no dynamic resolution scaling and it looks gorgeous for it. My one thing that hinders that is simple – the character art and armor. I want it to be more fantasy than it is, to have something more eyecatching. Characters all being human with a (fairly-expansive) set of shared customization choices helps a bit, but that aspect of the presentation still, even after playing for a while, feels overly bland to me. The armor is fine enough, but there’s little to catch your eye in the early stages of the game and even when I’ve seen higher-level players roaming around, or screenshots of other bloggers’ characters, they look like mine but maybe like 5% nicer? They get shinier armor with the same basic layering, plate overlays, and basic cloth appearance mapped to them. Speaking of characters…

I wish there were more races or variety to character choices: Being able to roll a corruption-touched character would be nice, if only because it would be different. I know that the game is a grounded take on the colonialism that built the United States in a vague fantasy island (and I’ll get back to that) so I don’t necessarily know that it would fit, and I am definitely asking for myself alone here, but a little bit of variety would be nice.

Cash shop woes: There’s a lot of cool-looking skins for armor and weapons in the cash shop. I know the game is buy to play and that Guild Wars 2 does the same, and I don’t necessarily fault the developers for it knowing that they have the watchful, money-hungry eye of Bezos on them, but it feels like a lot of games of this sort do – the coolest looks cost the realest money. Oof.

The game runs exceptionally well, with an asterisk: I am probably not the one to tell you that New World performs well, given that I have a Ryzen 9 5900x with 64 GB of RAM, an RTX 3080, and the game on a 7 GB/s read PCIE 4.0 NVME SSD, it better damn well run fast – but it does for me. The game loads very quickly off the drive I have it on (and given that drives performance, it should!) and I’ve had mostly silky smooth 100 FPS capped gameplay at 3440×1440 on my high-refresh ultrawide. I’m running everything very high settings and I turned off the Dynamic Resolution Scaling, so I get some slowdowns in town down to 60 FPS, which is nothing to cry about and I’m rather happy with the performance. I will call out three things – one, the game makes my hardware hotter than anything. I don’t tend to run HWINFO64 anymore to keep tabs while gaming, but my custom watercooling loop has a temperature readout for the liquid temps in the loop, and New World is the only game that can make the loop break into the 40 degrees Celsius range, settling in right under 41 C liquid temps after about an hour of play. I’ve worried about it a bit but only because I’ve not yet had a long-play game push that high, as both WoW and FFXIV usually settle in around 37-39 C even after hours of play (with FFXIV understandably being the higher one and WoW running a bit cooler). Secondly, and of more broad interest, there is an option for Bandwidth mode in the game’s settings, and the default was a more conservative use of internet connectivity. I set to allow it unlimited use of my connection and the combat got noticeably smoother and less janky, as early on I had enemies sort of teleporting around a bit and some weird rubberbanding and moments of clear stutter due to network connectivity despite having a 960 Mbps downstream connection. Setting it to max dropped my ping by 10-25ms on average and has made a huge difference on playability (anecdotally), so if you aren’t bandwidth-capped, I’d suggest doing the same. Lastly, the game has some real struggles with level of detail range settings. I’ve approached the smelting station in First Light about a dozen times, and nearly all of them, it shows the low-detail, you-must-be-miles-away version of the model in all its blocky awfulness until I am literally on top of it ready to smelt some ore.

I really enjoy the core gameplay loop: I think the comparison to WoW Classic that makes the most sense is an easy one – the gameplay really pushes you to self-direct. There’s a main story quest to follow, but most of your progress comes from taking quests at the town hall boards and the faction representative, and the gameplay that flows from that. The survival game aspect feels strongest in these moments, as you scurry from point to point, picking up resources in your path, killing game animals to skin them and take their meat, setting up camp to give yourself an easier time respawning if you end up dying (I have not yet died!), and then chasing after landmarks that pop in your compass with little question marks. The quests do get repetitive (I’ve killed Chef Giroux for around 5 different quests now that all just ask me to take a different item from him or his tent) but the self-direction aspect of gameplay numbs that a bit, in that each approach to the camp is different, you have new skills and gameplay feel, and things generally flow very well early on.

What I especially like is the self-determination of it. Short of the MSQ, there’s no real need to take any quests if you don’t want to – although you’ll wind up short of regional standing for things like house purchases and the regional progression that gives you helpful bonuses, you can choose to be a strict grinder, running through the landscape murdering all foes, picking all plants, chopping all trees, and mining all the rocks and ore, and the game doesn’t really penalize that much either, as these activities also grant you Standing. There’s no real vendor short of your faction vendor, so armor and weapons – hope for drops or make your own. Tools? I had tools earlier than the other noobs playing around me, so I was mining and harvesting on the shores near First Light Tower while they could only pick bushes, because I had noticed the crafting options at camp right away. You can map out your own way forward and follow it, and it will generally work unless you’ve made an abysmally-bad plan. Quest rewards help pad things out, but by and large, I’m wearing mostly armor I’ve made and weapons I made, and that feels kind of cool.

Lastly, the experience shower when you get back to town, near to encumbrance with your haul, is pretty satisfying. I always hit the material refinement stations first, then the kitchen and the fitters in order to empty my bags and see what new things I can make, and that process starts an avalanche of experience points that is capped off when I hit the town hall board and my faction rep to turn in their quests and pick up the next batch. Short of that, though, you get moments like that throughout your gameplay, as in the field, you’ll be picking up weapon mastery points and Territory points to keep the flow of progression steady. In fact, this is a part that worries me – since weapons cap at level 20, I wonder how the flow is going to feel late in the level curve, as character level approaches 60 and my weapon choices are capped out.

For now though, the flow of progression is immensely satisfying!

Combat feels really good, actually: I was worried that 3 skills would be limiting, but in fact, a lot of the gameplay of combat comes down to tactical use of the choices you have, which makes things more interesting in a way. You have to push the attack, and make smart choices about when to go all in and when to block, dodge, or use an ability. As a tank build, I get a lot of shield play, which is cool because smart play leads to rewards with these. If an enemy is winding up a longer attack, I can shield rush them to effectively interrupt the ability and create an opening for a melee combo, and I can do the same with shield bash as well. I can pop Defiant Stance to weather a fierce amount of incoming damage, and just getting a single block in gives me a defensive buff that allows me to push the attack harder without blocking. That buff only lasts for seconds, so the incentive is to keep blocking at regular intervals in order to create openings for myself to do damage. I can tell that in later PvE content, this knowledge will create power for me – knowing to use shield attacks to interrupt (instead of just hitting the button labeled as an interrupt) means there is a skill progression for you as a player, and a player learning how to play can create a lot of power outside of character progression in-game. However, this is balanced by higher level enemies having notably more health and dealing noticeably more damage. I ran into a level 24 landmark at level 16 and, having had some success moments earlier with level 19 mobs, decided to challenge the level 24 wolf that was nipping at my heels. He hit me hard, dealing almost 1,000 damage in around 10 seconds against my health pool of 1,600ish, so I did the sensible thing and ran away like a giant coward.

I’ll call out a few exceptions – I haven’t played a magic class long enough to have an impression, though Life Staff play felt kind of bad for open world content. I did see a Fire Staff player melting enemies during a quest chain and we teamed up for a bit to burn through some mobs on the way to quest targets. I did try some ranged with a longbow and that felt pretty bad, at least early on – I know they have skill trees and I’m sure you can get somewhere with them, but I couldn’t imagine wanting to level them in content that is on-par with your character level, because the whole thing felt a bit bad. Mostly, it’s that you have to aim and have a good shot to hit something while fighting against a limited ammo supply, and sure, you can make more arrows relatively easily (musket ammo requires Iron, which I’ve struggled to get enough of for my desires!) but that is a fairly big limiter early on.

Story? What’s that?: Okay, the game has a story thread running through it, but the game contextualizes much of its setting and story arc through quest explainers and little notes you can find around the world (they glow and are worth XP, so pick them up!). The story feels like an afterthought to me so far, which meshes with the original expectation of a PvP-heavy game built around factions, and the story hasn’t done anything to grab me at all yet. The lore elements I do like build up the MMO gameplay, like explaining why quest targets are rekillable and thus constantly a threat, but otherwise, it’s pretty non-existent thus far. There are a couple of obvious plot threads being woven for later, and I won’t say the story is bad yet based on where I am being so early into the experience, but it doesn’t seem like it was a priority.

I’ll bundle in an adjacent criticism and say that while I appreciate that many quests have voice-over to tell the tale, the voice acting is pretty bad, and as someone who made a bizarre gasping noise when trying to DM a Pathfinder game, I know bad voice acting! I’d put that down more to direction than anything – it seems like the talent on-hand gave it a shot, but the characters just don’t have a wealth of character building to explain them and so there’s little you could give an actor to punch that up. The good thing is that the game isn’t beating me over the head with a bad story trying to pretend it’s good (I’ve got my eyes on you, Sylvanas Windrunner) but the downside is that I feel like a smidge more context and direct storytelling could build the game world out even more. That being said, that is my preference and I imagine a lot of gameplay-first, lore-over-story types probably love the scavenger hunt for notes, and the blog posts I’ve read across the community indicate that my read on it tracks, anecdotally at least from a small sample size.

Overall

I went in to New World expecting to not like it very much, but open to the prospect it could catch for me. I’m very particular about games and MMOs especially and even the ones I play all the time now took multiple efforts to hook me.

New World isn’t perfect, far from it. It has noticeable moments of janky gameplay, repetitive quest loops, and a core design philosophy that straddles between its PvP-centered origins and the PvE pivot when people didn’t seem too thrilled with those early previews. Yet, in spite of all that, the game weaves enough supporting gameplay, strong tactical action combat, and a real sense of progression and growth into those things such that it overcomes them for the most part.

In a way, it’s the polar opposite of what I expected. $50 gone and down the drain was what I had anticipated (I sprung for the collector’s edition on Steam without even knowing what it contained because that’s just how I roll), and early on, I found myself almost wanting to not like it. But minute by minute, it chipped away at my cynicism and I found myself liking it more and more, to the point where I am now here, encouraging you to try it if you are on the fence about it.

I don’t know if I’ll get to level 60 or if it will become a regular part of my MMO rotation yet, but the game has made a strong early play to get there, and that is far more than I expected. That, perhaps more than anything else in this post, is the strongest endorsement I can currently give the game.

5 thoughts on “A Brave New World (Not The Novel)

  1. Very fair first impressions, I’d say. I think you’re spot on about the type of player the narrative approach they’ve taken will work for, since I’m in that group and it’s very much working for me. I can completely see why it’s missing most people. The closest thing I can compare it to is something like B.S. Johnson’s famous/infamous experimental novel The Unfortunates, which came in a box as a set of loose pages that could be read in any order. It’s an approach that has much more to do with literature than gaming – I see elements of Nabokov (Pale Fire, specifically), Pynchon and especially the modernists in there, with very little in the way of a bone thrown to gamers who’re used to a linear narrative heavy with exposition and with all the beats firmly emphasized.

    The lack of an overt story structure should suit gamers who just don’t care about story at all (there are plenty of those), the the survival/sandbox elements should please that demographic and the territorial PvP looks to be at least as well done as it has been anywhere else – a low bar, I know, but there’s a big crowd always looking for something in that area. Add those together and I think there’s a big enough audience to allow the game to succeed. The players who aren’t going to get it or want it or stick around to see if changes later are the story-led people who like to treat mmorpgs as though they were TV shows. I can’t see many people who think the MSQ in FFXIV is great writing lasting more than a few sessions and even the ESO fans, who like all the bombast and breast-beating in the blockbuster fantasy version of questing over there, probably won’t be interested.

    As for the looks,- it is relatively “realistic” or bland, if you prefer, right now but a lot of mmorogs start out that way. I’d enjoy it while it lasts. Give it a few cash shop cycles and it’ll end up as cartoony and garish as the rest, I’m sure. As for the lack of fantasy races for player-characters, there I’m definitely with you. Maybe later it’ll come although I doubt it. That’s the single reason most likely to make my time with New World fairly short. I really don’t like playing humans much.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I like playing New World when I’m in the game. Things work well and feel polished. I do wonder if that polish is what is reminding folks of Vanilla Wow. Yes, there are some bugs, but the systems seem to fit together and work in harmony. When was the last time we had an MMO launch that was this smooth. I’ll give them a pass on the server queues as that’s an issue for everyone, even the big names, when something launches.

    I don’t think this will be a game for me, but I do hope it is an MMO for a lot of other people. I think the genre needs these splashy & big successes to expand / move the needle. New World feels a half-step away from the existing model of PvE / story / endgame-focus theme-park MMOs which have dominated for the past 15+ years. While those are the ones I really enjoy I have seen the genre slowly become a niche market in the wider gaming world due to the lack of diversity. I hope that in 6 months, a year down the road we still see New World with these numbers of players. That might just get more AAA studios to invest in polished MMOs again. While these things aren’t fast to make, it would be nice to see a steady, if slow, stream of them coming out and trying different things.

    Yes, there’s always Kickstarter, but Kickstarter is a crap shoot by its nature. Add to that Kickstarter projects seem to be more oriented to an enthusiast and/or niche market. I want to see more MMOs that aim for a long term mass market. After all, we have sports games and shooter such as Call of Duty which tap into that yearly purchasing mass market. Why not have more MMOs which try to tap into a similar mass market? (Not every expansion needs to be a Wow-style ‘kitchen sink’ expansion to be successful.)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Once you get a few points in to the life staff and pick the right passive, then it no longer costs mana to shoot with it. You also enable a passive heal on your shots, so shooting at a character’s feet (or at the mob he/she/it is fighting) will splash a small AoE heal for 20% of your weapon’s attack stat. Beacon and Sacred Ground also place relatively large healing circles on the ground and anyone standing in one or both will heal up very rapidly. Biggest thing though …. the life staff needs to Focus stat exclusively, so if you want to have decent heals you want to put all of your attributes into Focus. This means that your sword that needs strength won’t do as much damage, until you can either buy a faction sword or find/buy a sword with a gem slot (lowest level I’ve seen for that is 21) and put an Amber gem into it that converts a portion of the sword’s damage to Nature (like the life staff) and then makes that damage scale from your Focus stat also.

    But anyway, it means that prior to level 21-23 ish you either need to focus on 1 weapon or the other, really. Same goes for fire staff or ice gauntlet — they need Intelligence, but everything else needs Strength or Dexterity (well, except rapier or musket, but if you’re using a musket, why are you using a magic weapon too? And the rapier is a “high skill floor” weapon that I think is garbage, so… eh), so until you can get a gem that converts that to INT at 21-23 ish…. same dealie. Plus to me the magic weapons feel a bit underpowered until you can get to 150 INT which requires about level 25 anyway, so…. Yeah.

    Like

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