New World preview: an eternity on Aeternum might not be so bad

Amazon's new MMORPG teaches you not to bring a musket to a sword fight

My New World story begins on the high seas, as I assume control of a green-haired Nigel Thornberry-esque sailor on a voyage to the eternal island of Aeternum – the setting of Amazon Games’ new MMORPG game. Commanded by Captain Thorpe – an armour-clad man who is clearly of great importance to the plot – we make for that promised land. However, disaster strikes, as a great red storm takes hold of the ship, tearing it asunder, and seasoning the sea with splinters and seafarers. By some miracle or convenient plot device, I alone wash ashore on Aeternum.

Immediately after regaining my senses, I find Captain Thorpe dying on the beach. With the good captain cursing his poor fortune before kicking the bucket, he is subsequently taken by the reddening corruption – a powerful, evil force which exists on Aeternum. I am left to wonder its beaches, which themselves have been littered with the numerous wrecks of doomed voyages that came before my own.

In this time, I take up a sword and shield, before being ceremoniously ganked by one of the Drowned – undead reanimations of sailors who didn’t quite make it to the island alive. This prompts a quick combat tutorial, introducing me to not only the intricacies of its swordplay, but also to the weight of it. Combat feels fairly slow, but in a surprisingly satisfying way – every swing of the blade feels like there’s some real oomph behind it, making it all the sweeter when it meets its target.

Upon battling my way up the shore, I find myself momentarily submerged in the local flora – a sneak peek at another of Aeternum’s numerous biomes. However, this brief reprieve from the fighting cannot be appreciated for long, as I subsequently descend into a corrupted woodland area where I am reintroduced to Captain Thorpe – though this time he’s a little more red in the, well, everything.

My first boss encounter with the corrupted captain tests everything I have learned so far through tackling the Drowned. Having levelled my weapon skill during this time, I am offered the choice of heading down either the Swordmaster or Defender skill tree. Naturally my goblin brain gravitates towards the option that would offer the most DPS to quickly end the fight: ‘Whirling Blade’. An AoE pirouette that can be neatly married into a basic attack combo, Whirling Blade deals 145% weapon damage to all foes hit – delicious.

A ruined church-like structure, surrounded by floating rocks

In hindsight, though, the addition of a knockback from the Defender branch would have also been useful for fending off the captain while I tried to regain stamina spent from blocking and dodging. Indeed, I find that both trees are equally viable in this situation, with this first impression appearing to line up with combat lead David Hall’s vision for New World’s combat system. As Hall tells The Loadout, he wants weapons to be “visceral and impactful”, while encouraging creativity with deep, balanced build paths.

After spending the first 15 minutes of my new life on Aeternum fighting for it, I finally find a safe haven at a nearby camp. It seems that I’m not the only one who survived, either, as a number of other zany-looking folk begin to rock up. It is there I meet Tahir Fayed, Watcher of Windsward, who offers me fresh clothing in return for completing tasks for him.

Fayed’s tasks offer me an insight into the different systems I must engage with to survive in Aeternum – nothing out of the ordinary for the fledgling stages of any MMO. One task sees me swiftly take down a particularly pissed-off boar with an ability-woven combo, before taking my time to harvest its riches to cook food that will heal me in battle – meat’s back on the menu, boys. Another has me and my party of fellow survivors hunt down ship records from the wreckages that decorate the shoreline, as the Windsward settlement likes to keep a track of them for some lore-related reason.

While we’re out scavenging, I find myself a musket, which I foolishly assume will allow me to blast the water out from between the eyes of the Drowned with a well-placed shot. However, despite landing critical hits – another major proponent of New World’s skill-based combat system – it takes multiple rounds to fell a target. And believe me when I say that the Drowned mobs aren’t happy to take a musket shot to the face, as they quickly hone in on me.

A man with a frozen gauntlet, blasting an undead enemy with it

Even the basic enemies in Aeternum require me to think carefully about which weapons will serve me best. Without my sword and shield equipped, I take substantial damage after expending my stamina avoiding hits. It goes from bad to worse, as I run dry of ammunition, leaving fleeing as my only option – though this, as it turns out, is impossible as multiple mobs follow me. Fortunately I am saved by my party, though there are lessons well-learned from this near-death experience.

After completing Fayed’s tasks, we head onwards to Windsward itself. There, my party becomes acquainted with its inhabitants, before setting out to gather wood and stone to help improve our new home. Gathering is slow, arduous work, and requires us to chip away for a fair amount of time to procure the goods. But this is offset by the fact that we can gain a lot of materials from a single tree or rock.

Every chink of the pick and chop of the hatchet rings out and reverberates around the environment – their sweet tones a reward in themselves for my efforts. I can also hear the labouring of my fellow lumberjacks and miners from afar, as we all work towards that common goal. The environmental sound really is impressive, and makes Windsward’s vast surrounding woodland all the more atmospheric.

As I begin to establish myself within the settlement, my territory standing improves. With each level gained, I’m allowed to pick a reward – from reducing the crafting fee or trading tax, to increasing the speed at which I gather resources. I can even earn the right to own a house once my standing reaches level ten. Like any normal person would, I spend my first points cutting down my taxes.

After procuring some uncommon loot – which boasts extra stats and even a bonus modifier against beasts – as a reward for our questing efforts, our party is geared enough to journey into murkier waters. It is on this venture that we discover that it isn’t just the environment that the devs have flexed their sound design chops on, but the weapons too.

Having poured all of my precious stat points into strength, there was only one weapon that was worthy of my might: the war hammer. With my big bonking stick in hand, I get to work mincing away at anything that dares enter my sightline. A satisfyingly-firm thud follows each swing, affirming that my target has been successfully tenderised.

Admittedly, I was hoping for something a bit more earth-shattering from the war hammer – that was until I unlocked the Shockwave ability. With each cast, Shockwave sends out a thunderous clap, stunning all enemies within a three meter radius as the earth itself is fractured – it is as if I had become Thor himself.

Having reached level five earlier, I also have access to the second weapon slot, which allows me to effortlessly switch between my hammer and a magical staff I had happened upon. After landing a devastating Shockwave on an enemy, I kite back, switch to my staff, and begin blasting the dazed Drowned with fireballs – each spell audibly hitting like a truck, even though my damage numbers don’t necessarily match (maybe I should’ve put some skill points into Intellect, after all).

Fortunately, respec’ing is free up until level 20 – something which the devs were eager to implement as to allow further experimentation. Perhaps on my next visit to Aeternum I will take a more balanced approach to my skill point distribution, especially considering New World’s impressive selection of equally-satisfying weapons to choose from.

Thanks to our successes out in the field, our party reaches level ten, opening up the option to join one of Aeternum’s three warring factions: Marauders, Syndicate, or Covenant. As it turns out, the island’s settlements are constantly changing hands, and you get to assist one of them in ensuring that they remain under our colours.

Before my brief time with New World ends, I get to try out some PvP, which is unlocked once a faction is joined. With my party going its separate ways, it’s only correct that I 360 no-scope my former ally for joining the filthy Syndicate. Once again, I make the mistake of bringing a musket to a sword fight, and am quickly dispatched before I can swap back into my elongated Mjolnir.

From New World’s earliest levels, I can already tell that its developers have put some serious effort into polishing its systems. Combat has a deceptive amount of variation, despite there only being up to three abilities on the bar for each weapon – Hall says this implementation “felt the best against our goals for time to kill.”

Although gathering initially feels like it takes an eternity, it thematically lines up with that ‘real-world’ experience – and of course that gathering time can be reduced through spending territory points to improve the efficiency. This is further offset by the fact that when it comes to crafting goods with your hard-laboured resources, items are produced instantly.

Crafting is also made easier to get to grips with thanks to how clean its menu UI is – something which can be said about New World’s menus in general. Clean lines and minimal clutter makes it easy to understand what I’m navigating through, though of course there’s some period flavour in its design to remind me that I’m actually in the 17th Century, not the 21st.

I can’t comment too much about enemy variation, as during my roughly one-hour playtest I only came face-to-face with boars, wolves, Drowned, and the zombie-like Brokebarrels who rudely kept trying to spew on me. Although these enemies were pretty basic and easily-cleavable, I would only expect as much from starting zone mobs. Though, as I previously mentioned, my foes were still more than capable of making my life very difficult indeed.

An archer aims their shot at a distant enemy by a brightly-glowing tree

If you couldn’t already tell, my overall first impressions of New World are largely positive. My one major grumble initially was about a desync between clicking to block and it actually registering, though it turns out that one cannot simply go from throwing out heavy attacks to blocking in an instant, which makes sense.

It’s little things like this which showcase the refinements the devs have put into making the logic of the Aeternum experience as authentic as possible, and it’s something I’m looking forward to experiencing more of when I next have an opportunity to make my way back to the island.

After pretty much rebuilding New World from scratch over the past year with player feedback in mind, Amazon Games looks to finally have a solid game on its hands. Time will only tell if the rest of what New World has to offer can continue and improve on what I saw in its earliest segments.

You can preorder New World here.