It hardly feels like much time has passed between now and last October when I dropped over 170 hours of my life into a new pirate-themed MMORPG with a suspiciously colonial-inspired backdrop. When it was still relatively new (pun intended), Amazon Games Studios’ New World promised to be a whole bunch of things that a “modern” MMORPG like Final Fantasy 14 or World of Warcraft usually isn’t. It combined gameplay loops often seen in survival sandboxes — for example, foraging herbs and crafting your own potions — with a perpetual PVP battleground that determined the quality of life for all players on a server. It also promised many “old school” sensibilities like minimal fast travel and punishing combat where simple trips across the map were both expensive and treacherous.
Granted, New World really struggled to make any of these individual systems work well, and very little of the game was that much fun to play. Its combat system was thoroughly limited and repetitive, with very little changing between levels one through 60. What made the experience enjoyable was also often what made it feel so disjointed — namely, the player-vs.-player contest for the map, which influenced elements as basic as how much it would cost to repair gear after a battle. Some people really love that sort of bare-bones, down-to-the-wire experience, but frankly, I couldn’t get past how unintuitive it felt. I walked away from New World feeling like it was mostly just OK — a decent experiment with some pretty cool ideas that ultimately succumbed to its own emphasis on grind.
When it was first released in late September 2021, New World peaked at about 913,027 consecutive players before steadily dropping to a consistent range between 20,000 and 40,000 active players at any given time. Curious about what’s kept so many dedicated players hooked since launch, I decided to redownload it and check out what’s been added in the first full year of patches. It’s currently going through an anniversary event, but if you’re expecting to return home to a completely different game, you may be displeased (or excited!) to discover it’s still more of the same. It is certainly better in a number of ways, but it’s not about to turn any heads.
One year later, New World is going through something of an identity crisis. It has since dropped many of the challenges that made it feel impossible to play at launch: fast travel costs are negligible, storage is shared across zones, and it supposedly costs much less XP to level up. At least on my server, the population seemed pretty active over this past weekend. And that’s probably great for the heavily player-intensive economy that ties each of the crafting, gathering, and PVP systems together into a cohesive whole.
Amazon has clearly done a lot to improve and expand upon its existing content. I recall being pretty turned off by the lack of a party finder for its dungeon-like expeditions, and now that seems to be remedied. Expeditions themselves can be mutated for increased challenge and better rewards, and it does seem like there are a couple of new progression tracks to keep you occupied past level 60,0 such as the Expertise system that can continue pushing your numbers up.
These are all great additions on paper, but my core issue with New World is really tied to its format as a game. It is, fundamentally, a game about making numbers go up. There’s nothing to pad this out. Quests, for example, only serve to send you across the map to kill something or fetch something, which is normal in the MMORPG genre, but there’s really nothing interesting inside of New World’s setting to buffer it. Its fantasy is ultimately very dry.
By comparison, Final Fantasy 14 masks its fetch quests with plenty of drama and moral quandaries, leading to some genuinely shocking and moving scenes — especially in the latter expansions. New World never manages to reach anything close to that level of gravity in its story delivery, and in some ways, its more lax approach to gameplay turns down the tension that once dominated its interlocking PVP and survival sandbox systems.
Don’t get me wrong; New World is perfectly fine. But it has yet to prove that it can be much more than that.
In October 2021, Digital Trends writer Andrew Zucosky called New World a “gorgeous mountain with nothing on top.” Nowadays, there is more to find on top of that mountain — the new Tempest’s Heart expedition is literally located on top of the Shattered Mountain endgame zone, and there are new Blunderbuss and Void Gauntlet weapons to play with, the previously mentioned progression systems, and a half-decent 3v3 arena mode to boot. It’s still a little slim overall, but the quality of life changes may make this the best time to come back to the never-changing island of Aeternum. Or, it may be time to make peace with its true nature … and put your pirating days behind you for good.
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