New World developers are serious about the upcoming MMO’s future. Is Amazon?

Amazon’s foray into gaming hasn’t quite gone according to plan. Back in 2014, the tech giant announced that it would start developing PC titles under its Amazon Game Studios label (which has since been shortened to Amazon Games). Seven years and five canceled projects later, Amazon doesn’t have a lot to show for its efforts.

That’ll change this summer when its ambitious title New World finally releases. For a while, the massively multiplayer online game seemed like it could be next on the chopping block. It experience several delays, but continued to live on while titles like Crucible were shut down. With no other announced projects on Amazon’s upcoming game slate, New World may be carrying the fate of Amazon Games on its shoulders.

Judging by a recent demo for the game, it seems like the developers are ready for that challenge — it’s just not clear if Amazon is taking it seriously enough.

A whole new world

New World is a pretty standard online role-playing game. Players create a character and then slowly build them over time, collecting better gear and increasing a slew of stats. It’s a “numbers go up” game with a lot of systems to keep track of. In the demo session, I ended up holding my group’s journey up as I tried to grasp its daunting menus.

New World

There’s a lot to do in New World, but the focus of this session was one of its latest expeditions. These are essentially the game’s equivalent of raids and feature up to five players coming together to tackle a large mission. It’s a player-versus-environment (PVE) experience where players chew through monsters, pick up as much loot as they can carry, and slay a massive boss.

One nice thing about New World is that it doesn’t have strict class systems. To play the role of healer, I simply had to collect a staff and upgrade a tree in my menu to set some spells. Since players can equip two weapons and ability points aren’t locked to one class, a character can play two roles in one. When using a staff, I had a set of healing spells I could cast. If I switched to my ax, I had an entirely different set of abilities that let me do some actual damage. That versatility makes the game feel less restrictive than more traditional RPGs.

The expedition itself was a somewhat run-of-the-mill dungeon crawl. My team traversed through some dark, drab ruins, killing waves of monsters and picking up rewards. At one point, we had to coordinate to stand on some plates at the same time, but that was about the extent of the communication needed.

Like a lot of modern games, New World’s developers drew inspiration from the Dark Souls series for combat. Fights are physical, requiring players to get up close and personal with enemies. There’s a stamina meter to manage and a dodge roll for evasion. For the most part, fights aren’t too difficult. Through most of the expedition, my teammates and I cut down enemies with ease. It only really ramped up with the bosses, one of which flattened mewith one hit after I greedily tried to inflict some extra damage.

New World

While that particular adventure felt like average MMO fare, there will be a lot more to the final game. The demo didn’t touch on the game’s more slice-of-life mechanics, where it seems like the real hook will lie. Activities like fishing could give it a little more personality and make it more of a long-term proposition for those who just want to live in a digital world. We’ve already seen that there’s a hunger for that with indie sensations like Valheim.

The good news is that the developers are committed to the experience. They emphasize that the day one version will just be the start and that there are lots of plans for years to come. At the moment, it doesn’t feel like New World will wow many at launch, but we’ve repeatedly seen how staying the course can change the future of online games like this.

Will it last?

The only hurdle New World has to get over is Amazon itself. Considering how many of its titles have been canceled already, it’s hard to imagine New World getting the chance to survive if it isn’t a moneymaker out the gate.

Look at the company’s previous effort, Crucible. The free-to-play shooter initially launched last May, but had a somewhat unprecedented release. Amazon moved it back into closed beta two months after launch before canceling the game outright in October. It’s not often you see a studio unrelease a game.

That’s only one troubling story for Amazon’s games division. In 2019, Amazon Games reportedly laid off dozens of employees, canceling several games in the process. Just last month, it shut down production on a planned Lord of the Rings MMO, its most high-profile project to date. In a Q&A session following the demo, New World’s developers admitted that they were personally disappointed by the news. If Amazon is willing to shutter a project like that, will it really stick by New World long enough for it to grow?

New World

It ultimately boils down to a question of how seriously Amazon is taking video games. New World’s developers have an ambitious, sprawling vision for the project, but its production value isn’t quite what one might expect when they hear the name Amazon. Its visuals look muddy next to an online game like Final Fantasy XIV (New World is still months away from launch, so it’ll likely look more polished by August). This is a company with all the money in the world, but I walked away from the demo wondering how much is actually being allocated to the game’s development.

We do know that Amazon has put a fair amount of faith in New World. Throughout all the cancellations, the company has funneled more and more staff and resources into the project. At this point, Amazon is al- in on it. What’s left to be seen is if it has the patience to let the game grow. It’s hard to blame anyone for being skeptical about the answer based on history.

New World launches on August 31 and a closed beta will be available starting July 20.

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