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Amazon’s New World boasts a massive, 100-player ‘War’ with magic and muskets

The MMO’s 50-on-50 fights look as chaotic as they sound

Archers mounted on a fortress wall ready their shots
Concept art for New World, Amazon’s MMO due to launch in spring 2021.
Image: Amazon Game Studios
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

My preview of New World, Amazon Game Studios’ forthcoming massively multiplayer online PC game, would be limited to eyes-on, thanks to my stone-age potato of a gaming laptop. This is a game that touts 50-on-50 smackdowns, after all. Even if a new MMO sounds like as much of a 2012 enterprise as my rig, New World is trying to meet 2021 expectations of gameplay and environment.

In the private livestream I watched, everything seemed to go off smoothly, despite a siege encounter that looked chaotic and only nominally organized. There were no staggering overloads, even as the combatants unloaded heavy melee strikes with long animations, aimed down sights with a musket, or even actively blocked an incoming attack, which seems like a first even for an action-MMO.

The siege, a showpiece that comes sometime after the midpoint on the way to New World’s level cap of 60, is sort of the capstone to the game’s larger story of territory control among rival guilds, called companies.

And yeah, that’s what I had my eyes open for, too — not only anything problematic, but also anything that hamfistedly distances itself from problematic topics that popped up last year, after Amazon previewed it. For example, the colonizing of the New World, during the time period when this game is set. The game’s title art is a guy in a Spanish morion, after all.

Verdict: New World is fine. Importantly, the War event shown on Tuesday was between two sides of human players representing colonizers from the same vaguely European locale. Though I didn’t see it, Amazon’s developers have said before that any forces native to the island are supernatural and nonhuman. This choice of the time and fictional, fantastical setting seemed purposeful, rather than retrofitted.

Plus sticking everyone on a mysterious island in the 1700s delivers an MMO setting (and costuming) that isn’t high fantasy or futuristic sci-fi, for a change. It also allows for the use of firearms alongside magic and traditional melee weapons, diversifying the combat.

No huge advantage for the defenders

New World’s PvP siege still looked like morning rush hour on the Union Square platform to this observer. It had at least as much grunting and groaning (the noises for blocking or being hit by an attack), anyway. Tactically, bearing in mind this was a demonstration involving a couple dozen writers who had likely never seen the game before, there seemed to be little more to it than try to kill everyone, or hold position under one of several buff domes maintained by a teammate.

The attacking side of 25 were trying to breach a fortress with five gates and take the flag inside. Each of those gates had three control points; all three points had to be under attacker control before they could begin busting down the door. Both sides had siege weapons, ranging from ballistae to cannons (even repeating cannons) and, of course, boiling oil for those on the wall. Sieges are given 30 minutes to work themselves out. If the defenders can hang on that long, they win.

The fight I saw ended in 20 minutes, in favor of the attackers. I didn’t expect this, as 10 minutes in all the gates were still up, and the worst off was showing half-damage on its health bar. Because of the active defense players may employ (as well as the health and armor buffs they can consume — one of which looked like a guy inhaling snuff off the back of his wrist) — I saw lengthy time-to-kill in the PvP combat, even with a player going to town with a musket.

Personal firearms appeared to have a rate of fire and reload speed consistent with, if not faster than, a single-shot sniper rifle in other titles. Players with firearms go into a close-up third-person mode, and despite a dozen bullseyes I don’t think I saw one rifle kill. It suggested to me that the Amazon developers are still trying to find a meaningful balance with the weapon, and it is by no means a game changer on the battlefield.

Because of the 20 sub-objectives (control points and gates) leading into the one big objective for the attackers, I expected the defenders to have an overwhelming advantage. I was surprised and I can’t explain why they crumbled in the latter 10 minutes. Another thing that would have been more apparent to a player than an observer is how the game’s lack of character classes opens up the combat for them. Players are encouraged to pick whatever weapons they wish to use, then spec five attributes to get the most out of them.

In an intro video preceding the War (as the mode is called) Amazon developers said players would need to play traditional MMO roles — tanks, DPS, healers, etc. — but the class-less character system means players can, theoretically, perform more than one function. It also means casters/controllers and healers can defend themselves, or attack, with equivalent weapons — they just might not have as much oomph behind the strikes, depending on how they’re specced.

War isn’t just some throwdown for the hell of it, it has an outcome applicable to New World’s longer-term gameplay, we were told. The side that wins a war can levy taxes on places where other players dwell. Losing these battles, or not paying the taxes, will knock the town’s infrastructure — like a blacksmith crafting station — down a rank. It seemed to me like a sensible way to allow one group of human players to fight for and own a place where other human players necessarily build and customize their homes, and go about other tasks.

In the world beyond the fortress walls, players will encounter magical beasts and natural forces that are none too happy with the new neighbors. That’s the PvE layer, which I saw none of. We also didn’t see any of the game’s 16 trade skills at work. Developers said the gather-refine-craft trade skill layer will provide a very long context for role-players to sink their teeth into. The skills have a 1-to-500 level cap, any player may pursue one or all of them, and the items they craft may be sold or traded in a town’s marketplace.

New World’s preview event — which is open to those who have pre-ordered the game, or signed up for the beta prior to July 9 — gets going Tuesday at noon ET. Progression from this beta (and prior alphas) will be wiped prior to the game’s launch. That is coming sometime in spring 2021; it was delayed (for a second time) last month. In July, the developers said they wanted to respond to player feedback from the game’s alpha tests, and develop more mid- and end-game content, which the War represents.