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New World review in progress: a fresh, swashbuckling MMO that's still very grindy early on

O brave new world, that has such people in 't!

Even the name New World feels like a brash statement of intent, doesn't it? Amazon are shouldering their way into the market with a brand new MMORPG, a fresh digital playground that is, the name implies, unlike any you've seen before! In practise, of course, it is a lot like MMOs you've seen before, albeit with its own twists on the formula to get you hooked. New World understands that formula well, and I am a simple creature, so attaching a button marked Endorphin Release to my brain and pressing it every five minutes or so works as well on me as it does on a lab rat.

The world of Aeternum is a sort of pirate-themed, fantasy-adjacent place that you wouldn't be surprised to see as an area of a theme park, and straight away you discover that you're far from the first person to arrive. This is always the funny bit of MMORPGs: an NPC with an English regional accent telling you that you're the only one who can help, while dozens of other versions of you solemnly crab-crawl up and down a flight of stairs two feet away. But still, New World's beginning is more compelling than your average dump in media res. You arrive as one of the crew on a ship that was lost in a storm, and learn that Aeternum grants a lot of its residents a kind of immortality, i.e. if you die you res at your last designated inn or camp.

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It's legitmately quite thrilling at the very start. The character creation is cool, there are big weird vistas to look at, and towns where old tall ships have been made into buildings. The colours are inescapably vibrant, with trees and palms and grassy grass shining in a bright artifical green. The setting sun glints off the water in swamps, or filters through waving blossoms in the wide grasslands. NPCs are there to ease you in, and send you to kill drowned zombie sailors and corrupted farmhands who throw lumps of their own vomit at you. Collect 5 bags of this. Kill 8 of those. And so on. There is a story, but you will not care about or pay attention to it. Pity the writers of MMOs.

New World does make an effort to mix up the familiar pattern, though. Most notable is a Faction War system akin to the ongoing battle in Ubisoft's online fighty game For Honor. You can join one of three teams, Syndicate, Covenant and Marauders, who all technically have their own backstories, but are really only different on a vibes and colour scheme basis (I picked Syndicate because I like purple, though you can change your faction every four months).

New world, old problems
New World encountered the issue that all MMORPGs do on launch, which is too many players and not enough servers. The queue times were legendary, although for what it's worth I never had any problems on that front. I did have problems with the game sometimes not responding, crafting menus bugging out, and achievements not loading. New World also saw some siginifcant issues over the past couple of days, accidentally locking out a lot of players. Hopefully teething issues like this can be filed down over time.

If you opt in on PVP, rival factions can attack you. There are also wars for the control of the different map areas, big 50v50 battles with the victorious faction getting to set taxes on trades and crafting. Once you join a faction you get to see the faction-only chat, where there is always at least one member of your team complaining that not enough Syndicate players are doing PVP/on the discord/grumble grumble attack the fort, etc. I really like the faction system so far, because even when I'm not participating it does give me a sense of being part of something bigger.

And the New World community, as we might term it, seems to be a fairly chill one, at least in my server. People still sometimes drop to the floor to crawl as a little communal hello. There's a decent amount of implicit PVE, with players helping each other out if someone's in a tough fight by themselves. The chat has, so far, been shockingly free of abuse. I ran into one guy called Rohan Strider who was just quietly cosplaying being Aragorn by himself, crouched in some bushes. I regret that I am not that invested.

Day-to-day your life is more obviously affected by the combat, which feels more action-adventure than RPG. It isn't turn based, and you have to do all your dodging and blocking and attacking yourself, rather than clicking your row of favourite hotkey-assigned abilites. I can really feel myself get better at it, and it's more immediate and tense, but it's also chaotic and given to stickiness on the block button. And, crucially for part-timer players, it's much harder to get away with being mediocre at it.

There are no classes, New World again preferring a vibes-based system where you go with what you like the look of. Different weapon damages scale with different stats, and you can respec your stats build at any time (and for free, up to level 20). It's a great option for players still finding their way, and one I have availed myself of several times. The more you use any kind of weapon, the better you get at it, periodically earning mastery points that you can use to get a special attack or ability. If you use sword and board a lot you can get a defensive shield rush; if you use the life staff you get powerful healing spells. Despite the illusion of freedom, the builds are still all slanted in the direction of Healer, Tank, DPS, your standard MMO team roles. You can technically try being a rapier-wielding rogue who also carries a fire staff, but it probably won't go too well.

The more exciting PVE adventures are still a mystery to me, though. New World's version of dungeons are called Expeditions, and promise exciting battles, environmental puzzles, and serious teamwork for five players in a similar vein to Destiny's best work. But they're also for level 25 and up, almost half the current level cap of 60, and to which giddy heights I have not yet climbed. You level up quickly enough, but not as quickly as I'd like, taking into account that I can't dedicate 10 hours a day playing New World.

This comparatively late level gate (World Of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV both open their dungeons to you at level 15, which I've already more than passed in New World) does, I think, result in a possibly unintentional sleight of hand in those first 20 or so levels. You start off running around doing your quests or your PVP or whatever you fancy - and there's a lot to choose from, with fishing, fighting, leatherwork, smithing, mining, special items, trades to make, Faction Missions, area-specific quests, and soon. But in fact a pretty efficient way of levelling is by crafting. Every time you make a thing - armour, or weapons, or a fetching pair of curtains - you get some XP. Depending on your outlook or your build (especially if you're a squishy healer), going out and spending ages harvesting herbs to make potions might be your easiest route to dungeoning. I've found that I now, instead of being a brave and dashing adventurer, basically just have a job, and it feels more than usually grindy.

The thing is, though, that I don't exactly hate it. I've chosen to be a carpenter and spend a lot of my days in the forest, strip cutting the whole place with a song in my heart and the sun at my back. There are a truly dizzying number of achievements in New World, and I've got my sights set on the Master Carpenter one, partly out of spite at this point. And, you know, a good MMO should facilitate you playing how you want. It's just, I do also really want to do the dungeons.

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Alice Bell avatar

Alice Bell

Deputy Editor

Small person powered by tea and books; RPS's dep ed since 2018. Send her etymological facts and cool horror or puzzle games.