New World is getting its first major expansion in the form of Brimstone Sands, an arid endgame location for players to contest that comes bundled with a bunch of early game streamlining, and a brand-new weapon, too. I got hands-on with the expansion's first hour or so and had a chat with the game's creative director about it all. One year on, is it everything the game needs to satisfy long-time fans and attract newcomers? Yes! Well. Maybe...?
Amazon Games' MMO New World threw itself into saturated waters last year, stirring up a feeding frenzy of players desperate to get their hands on a shiny new timesink. Alice Bee thought it was a fresh, swashbuckling MMO in her review-in-progress and I was certainly taken by its early build, which had more in common with Valheim than it did World Of Warcraft.
But I fell off the game not long into its release, and earlier than I did other MMOs. Ultimately, I struggled to find the time to grind out the levels required to participate in the cool PVE or PVP stuff, as the level gate is less generous than my past flames Final Fantasy XIV or World Of Warcraft. It's a shame, as I like New World's vibes-based levelling as a whole, which gives you XP for cracking on with whatever takes your fancy, be that killing things or doing carpentry.
Enter Brimstone Sands, which hits the PTR on the 1st September. It adds a great big desert area, an all-new greatsword weapon, and attempts to revise the early game experience for new players. Maybe, just maybe, it could bring me back into the fold, but my early impressions are a touch mixed. The titular Brimstone Sands is simultaneously lovely on the eye, an endgame area, and not an example of how they're remixing the early game.
New World's creative director David Verfaille tells me that the expansion's early game re-think eliminates the disjointed faff of running between various areas to speed up the journey to endgame. He calls it a "linear path" and a more "streamlined experience", which they were comfortable implementing because there's a lot more endgame now than when it first launched.
Verfaille says that the expansion's second big goal is to introduce quest variety in both "the levels one through 25 experience", as well as throughout the new expansion area. "Now there's puzzles, there's wave events, there's traversals just to keep it more interesting," he explains. They've also introduced quest hubs throughout, as well as plenty of two-way portals so there's less backtracking in general, and it's much easier to get around.
When it comes to Brimstone Sands' questing, I didn't notice much of a change from previous offerings. I helped some NPCs gather insignias by entering a stronghold filled with reanimated roman skeletons and gathered flowers from some cacti – the usual kind of thing, you know. There was one quest where I did a spot of clambering up a stone structure to get to a chest, but it was a fairly simple affair. I suppose that's a bit harsh from me, as I can't expect New World to chuck out its easily completed MMO bread and butter for the involved caviar on toast of complicated RPG quests. And perhaps I simply hadn't reached the good stuff.
The early portions of Brimstone Sands I explored were beautiful spaces, not at all hindered by the constraints of, well, lots of sand. There was a great sense of scale when traversing scorpion-ridden sands and beelining towards an enormous acropolis carved out of colossal blocks. Look up to the sky and you might catch a glimpse of a hovering mega-structure, a bit like the sci-fi Toblerones you'd catch in Destiny 2's Egyptian-inspired Curse Of Osiris DLC. And bouncing between quests, I invaded little caverns tucked away on the fringes of the desert, or stumbled into little oases populated by cutesy armadillos and magical stags. Where New World's base areas were nice and all, with their woods and mountains, the Brimstone Sands seem like an exciting jaunt into an exotic land that's really upped the bar.
While the expansion's cool new locations offset much of the monotony of the quests, the greatsword also put in some work too. It's a honkin' great thing whose main gimmick – other than hitting extremely hard – is letting you mix-and-match between two different fighting stances: offensive and defensive. You're able to stick points into both aggressive and defensive trees, then swap between these styles on the fly when you're chopping enemies to pieces. For instance, I could do this big uppercut swing which empowered my next hits, then activate a defensive stab which topped up some of my health as a bonus.
Fan desire played a clear part in bringing the greatsword to the game, as well as just being a cool opportunity to mix things up a bit. "I think the only thing I hear more is we want mounts... but yeah, I mean, a lot of people were like, we want the great sword", Verfaille tells me. I leap at the chance of info on mounts, as I'm of the strong opinion that the game needs mounts, mate. "We're not allowed to talk about this. It's not on the near term future, so it's not something we're working on actively", he says, dashing my hopes in one stroke.
And with this new expansion rejigging the past and representing the future of New World, I ask Verfaille whether Amazon Games are happy with the trajectory the game's taken, seeing as it practically imploded Steam in its opening few weeks and has since stabilised over time.
"Yeah, I think so, you know, we were obviously ecstatic with the launch, it beat our expectations. Obviously, there was a low afterwards, you know, and we've never liked to see that. But I think that's natural with MMOs", Verfaille says. "And I think, you know, we're going to continue making updates of this size in the future." The team's goal is to keep the game's momentum pushing forwards slowly and to "build the game naturally over time", with a "slow, steady trajectory upwards".
Just like Verfaille says, MMOs eventually plateau, but it's not like New World's player base has petered out to nothing. There's still a healthy playerbase of over 10,000 (that's according to recent Steam Charts data) and this expansion hopes to retain those fans as well as become the perfect springboard for newcomers to reach all the good stuff, like the lovely desert and the game's PVP battles. From the brief bits I've played and heard, it sounds like it could succeed, but there are still major question marks over whether that early game has really changed significantly or not. And will that quest variety convert those who figured the game wasn't for them? A lot remains to be seen.