I've spent so much time in New World since it launched on Tuesday that I can't close my eyes without seeing a parade of musketeer hats, wolves and trees. I'll be entrenched in Amazon's MMO for a while yet, but I'm ready to take a quick break from my job as a stylish, wolf-hunting lumberjack to return to my other calling, writing too many words about videogames. It's review-in-progress time!
There's nothing quite like a big MMO launch. The scale alone is absurd. Hundreds of thousands of people suddenly popping into existence inside countless parallel worlds, which keep growing in number to accommodate yet more people, all questing and hunting and arguing 24-hours a day. And since it's been a while since we had one, this launch is all wrapped up in an extra level of anticipation.
With everyone exploring the world for the first time together, it's the most an MMO ever gets to feel like a proper adventure, and all this potential and anticipation creates a buzz of excitement that echoes through the starting zones, the hubs and the crowds waiting around for bosses to spawn. Even the dullest stuff becomes slightly more palatable because the bustle of a fresh MMO is weirdly energising.
If you can get through the queues you'll find New World heaving with life. I've been playing some older MMOs lately, and it's a real trip to go from ghost towns to watching hordes of players charging out of towns or groups trying to figure out a queuing system so everyone can eventually skin a unique creature. This liveliness is evident even when you think you're alone. Thousands of players mining, chopping down trees and shooting helpless woodland critters creates a constant cacophony that cuts through everything.
Very little of what I've encountered so far requires a group, and you can solo nearly everything up until you start getting access to dungeons at level 25. Other players can still be a boon, however, helping you out of a jam and getting experience for it even if they aren't in your group. There's a lot of competition for resources, too, which adds a dose of excitement to the humdrum tasks of gathering and hunting, but can also lead to frustration when you kill an animal and watch helplessly as another player skins it and scarpers. It's a real pain in the arse.
I've mostly been busying myself with the task of finding larger and fancier headgear for 20-odd levels, but other players have bigger ideas, and it looks like I'll be embroiled in a war by the end of the week. New World has three factions vying for control over the island, you see, and on my server the churchy Covenant quickly became the dominant outfit. I'm in the Syndicate, which is cool and purple and maybe does crimes. We don't get along with the Covenant, and it doesn't look like we're going to end things diplomatically.
PvP is entirely optional, but those seeking brawls will find themselves well supported. You can ignore it entirely, or turn it on while in a sanctuary and then head out into the world to start crushing some skulls. It's open, but centred around forts, which can be besieged and taken by opposing factions. There are PvP quests, too, which players have to perform on behalf of their faction to build up to a war declaration.
I've not fought many players yet, but even now the faction rivalry is a big presence. Every town can be controlled by a guild, known as companies in New World, which benefits both the players in said company and the faction the company is part of. You're constantly reminded whose territory you're in, and boy does that do a good job of fostering resentment.
My server's chat is now full of inter-faction smack-talk and would-be generals trying to marshal the troops. Two zones were claimed for the Syndicate yesterday. Things were looking up. We got bold. We started squaring up to the Covenant. We fought a few big battles, and we did not come out of it with our dignity. I say we, but during most of this I was hunting boar. I watched some of it from a safe distance. Anyway, now we're in trouble. The Covenant has declared war on one of our zones, and shit is kicking off on Friday.
I'm excited! I've already signed up for it. It's a very polite way to conduct a war, giving everyone time to get ready and invite their mates. I will be there as a reporter, naturally, but also as someone who has developed a strong desire to stab some Covenant goons.
We're in the honeymoon period where everything is new and ahead of us are all sorts of possibilities. I've got to fight a war, buy a house, carve furniture for that house with my own two hands—there's a lot to look forward to. I'm going to build such a great table. What I'm up to in the present is running my arse off doing the most basic, bottom-of-the-barrel MMO quests.
New World's quests are a slog that have so far maintained a consistent level of trite tedium. I wish they were terrible in a more interesting way, but sadly they're just vacuous tasks that fill up time. There's almost no difference between the generic, repeatable quests, regular quests and important story quests, aside from some brief bits of dialogue, and so far all I've done is kill things, skin things and pick things up. A common refrain is that all MMOs suffer from rubbish quests, but that hasn't been true for a long time.
In World of Warcraft you can become a quest giver or demolish entire armies while riding a dragon; Guild Wars 2 is full of dynamic public events, sprawling jumping puzzles and races; and Star Wars: The Old Republic litters its quests with ethical dilemmas and character-building opportunities. Loads of MMOs have found ways to give their quests texture and alleviate some of the repetitiveness that is inherent in any game this size. New World has not.
Fighting, at least, I'm coming around to. The fact that it's action-based rather than hotbar-obsessed makes me very happy, but I had a lot of trouble getting into it during the betas. It felt stiff and imprecise, and I just couldn't get its rhythm. It feels identical now, but there's one difference: I've swapped my musket for a staff, and now I'm playing with magic. Switching between my speedy rapier and a stick that can summon a meteor storm has really spiced up my scraps, and now that I've got quite a few abilities to choose from I've been able to find my flow.
I'm a big fan of tying abilities to weapons, too. New World doesn't have classes or restrictions on gear. You can deck yourself out in heavy armour and magical weapons and become a tanky battlemage, or make a ranger out of leather armour, a bow and a spear. Armour class determines its weight, and thus the impact on your stamina and how much defence it offers, so you probably don't want to drape your nimble archer in metal, but you can if you want.
Your weapon skills level up as you get kills, and at a pace that encourages experimentation with different loadouts. After a couple of hours with my new staff I'd earned plenty of experience and was able to unlock three abilities and some passives, so changing my weapon choice didn't put me at much of a disadvantage. It's like a buffet—I'm trying hammers next.
New World is very good at tickling the part of the brain that gets giddy at the thought of numbers increasing and meters filling up. You'll constantly be earning experience, weapon experience, tradeskill experience, faction reputation, faction currency, territory influence and, of course, a mountain of resources. God, the amount of ore you will carry. Harvesting nodes are typically generous, and a quick loop around an abundant area will fill your inventory and get you ready for a bunch of crafting projects.
Importantly, these big numbers aren't illusory. You won't hit up a crafting station and find steep crafting requirements that negate the size of your haul. The same goes for all that experience. Making the bars go up usually gives you a new ability or a meaningful boost. And this does more than make levelling empowering. When you level up your influence in a territory, you get to pick permanent buffs that increase your experience gain in the area, give you more storage space or speed up gathering. All this stuff is incredibly handy, but its smartest trick is the way it nurtures loyalty towards specific locations.
I'm a Windward lad. That's where I arrived when my ship sank—there are a few different starting locations, which you're dumped in randomly—and it's where I've done most of my questing and hunting since. I know all the NPCs—even if I don't really like any of them—and I can tell you where all the best gathering spots are. Thanks to my influence level, I'm the best version of myself when I'm in Windward. My loyalty has paid off. This is also why I'm enraged by the fact that it's controlled by the Covenant. It'll be flying purple colours one day.
Though I've grown fond of Windward, I can't say the same of Aeternum as a whole. Aside from the colonial aesthetic, there's little sense of place, or anything that suggests it has an identity beyond being an MMO. So far the main quest has mostly sent me running around a bunch of ruins. There's a curse of immortality, a bunch of magical “ancients” who are important probably, and just a whole lot of generic fantasy rubbish, which is utterly incongruous with the rest of the otherwise very grounded game.
It's trying to have its cake and eat it too, but it's making a terrible mess of it. One minute, you're a pioneer hunting for deer, searching for ore and helping your settlement flourish; then you go back to the main quest where you're a prophesied hero who has to stop the Corrupted—yes, the Corrupted—from taking over Aeternum. Look, I'm a lumberjack, I ain't got time to go looking for old gods and magical seeds and arcane artefacts.
Given the amount of exasperated comments I've made in our virtual office, I thought this review-in-progress was mostly going to be a big moan. I've been frustrated by the grind of fighting an endless array of animals and zombies, and I've spent a lot of time being pretty bored, running through nothing but forests and wishing horses had been invented. But what stands out just as much, now that I've taken a much-needed break, are the faction rivalries, the friendly crafting system and my anticipation about getting stuck into my first war.
I'm ambivalent, then, and still waiting for it to show me something new, or something it excels at, but I'm genuinely looking forward to heading back in and seeing where New World goes from here. First, though, I've got a queue to get through.