Amazon Game Studios has had a rough time to date. There was some fanfare that surrounded the 2016 announcement of three PC games: Breakaway, Crucible, and New World. But since then, Breakaway was reworked and shuttered completely, while Crucible has been entirely incognito. Making games is hard, but establishing a whole studio system is harder.
That leaves New World, a colonial-themed survival MMO. New World is in development at Amazon Game Studios Orange County, formerly known as Double Helix Games. Following a brief look at the game earlier this year, the studio took New World into private alpha. Now New World has survived contact with actual players and is ready for its second shot.
Prior to the alpha, New World was intended as an MMO with a stronger survival and PvP bent. While the latter remains a part of the current game, with factions and large-scale warfare, Amazon Orange County found that there was too much freedom. There were things to do, but players didn't really know where they wanted to go.
"We had an alpha for New World for about eight to nine months. We got a lot of feedback from players during that time," New World Player Experience Lead David Verfaillie tells USgamer. "The alpha was a very open-world experience where players charted their own course and there was very little direction. It's almost like decision paralysis: there's too many things to do. People need a little bit of guidance. The path we've chosen to take here is that the start of the game has these onboarding objectives. It's a relatively linear path through the first ten levels of the game. It gets you to your first big settlement inside of a territory. From there, the world branches out a bit."
With New World, the studios wants players to have the chance to pursue their own path without becoming hopelessly lost. As part of the new onboarding process, Amazon has added a whole new set of missions that takes players through the first ten levels and establishes a number of important gameplay concepts. Players will wash ashore on Aeternum, the mystical island that New World takes place on. These early missions will guide players toward a major settlement in one of the game's territories. These territories are player-controlled, so this is your introduction to the larger PvP conflict in New World.
This more guided experience is one of the three major lessons that Amazon learned from the alpha, according to Verfaillie. It also learned that what it had in alpha was lacking in variety; even if players did know where to go, they found themselves doing the same thing over and over. To address that, Amazon Orange County has added more single-player and small-group PvE missions to New World, allowing players to focus on something other than building forts and fighting other factions.
"There just wasn't enough variety of things to do. We had been working on the game for a while, but we needed more time to build out that breadth of things that players can do. Adding more PvP content, the questing, the crafting; all the stuff we've added over the past year has really broadened the experience," says Verfaillie.
Crafting has been completely overhauled too. In the alpha, New World's crafting system was centered around points you gained as you leveled, which could be spent on new recipes and specializations. Amazon found that while the system had advantages, "it limited people's ability to experience the whole crafting system". Now, crafting is what the team calls a "use to improve" system. As you perform a certain gathering or crafting task, you'll get better at it. You'll become faster at gathering, or begin to harvest better resources. For weapon and armorsmiths, you'll be able to specialize in different weapon and armor types, such as becoming a master in making shields.
This all feeds into New World's player-led economy. You can trade with other players, work together with your company—New World's version of guilds—to corner a market, or sell items on the Trading Post. Verfaillie says players can "absolutely" focus on crafting instead of combat.
"It's something that we're very excited about. The best crafters can make more powerful potions and weapons, and make a profit doing so. One of the great things with moving crafting to 'use to improve' is you can become the greatest blacksmith or tailor on the server without ever killing a single enemy in the game," he says.
That said, if you did want to focus on combat, that is also being improved. New World has an active skill-based combat system, as opposed to the stand-and-slash combat of World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy 14. Amazon Orange County has developed a new weapon mastery system in order to add "a lot more strategic depth to the combat." Within a specific weapon, players can choose whether they want to, say, improve the damage or support capabilities of that weapon. If you're using the sword and shield combo, weapon mastery is the difference between a supportive tank and a frontline vanguard fighter.
The final lesson that the team learned involved New World's difficulty. Verfaillie acknowledges that the original version of the game was "probably a little too punishing." This is the case with many survival games or sandbox MMOs; having a lot of freedom means also having greater potential dangers.
"One of the pieces of feedback that we got was loss is something players did not like to experience. That risk of losing what they worked for. We've worked a lot on that during the time since then. What we've tried to do is really let players opt into the amount of risk they want to take," he explains.
As an example, New World has an extensive system for building camps, settlements, and forts. In other survival games like Rust or Ark: Survival Evolved, building things can sometimes be a fool's errand, because when you log back in, your carefully constructed home will be in ruins, picked apart by other players on the server. But Amazon has a solution to this common issue with a system called the War Window. With this, communities can choose when wars happen on their territory—so you don't have to worry about those 3 a.m. raids anymore.
Territories should be changing hands over time though. I ask Verfaillie if players could run into a situation where one group becomes so dominant on a server that others can't compete. He says that parts of the faction system should keep one company from reaching this point, though he declined to offer specifics.
New World's servers are persistent, like World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy 14, instead of temporary like a survival game. (There are not separate servers for PvE and PvP, you merely flag yourself for one or the other.) Amazon hopes this means that players will build stronger communities at various levels. While you can play alone, there's also five-player group content to challenge you. And regardless, your efforts will feed back into your chosen territory. Amazon hopes that you'll begin to notice frequent players within a territory, forming a sort of unconnected community. That said, there will also be 50-person companies for more permanent connections within the larger player base. "Right now, we're at over a thousand people per server. We're continually trying to improve that," says Verfaillie.
At the larger scale, New World is hoping that players will enjoy siege battles between factions, or invasions from the monstrous, mysterious corruption that's slowly covering the island. "We have these wonderful 50v50 wars where players fight for territory. Going into one of these experiences and seeing the siege around you, I think it's something that people will really enjoy. A pinnacle moment in New World. For people who aren't as PvP-oriented, we also have invasions. The corrupted forces take the fight to the player. That's a super-fun, PvE experience, trying to defend against hundreds of AI breaching your walls," says Verfaillie.
One sticking point that I've personally had over New World is the lack of more expansive fantasy. Aeternum is a magical place unconnected with the real world, but all the game art to date has been mostly colonial in flavor: Swashbuckling hats, muskets, forests, streams, and rather normal wildlife. Verfaillie insists that there are more interesting fantasy settings within New World. We just haven't seen them yet.
"Aeternum, the Eternal Isle; one of the reasons it's a unique and special place is this substance called Azoth that has these magical powers," he says. "Some of the newer zones that you're going to experience, like the Ancient Crater—this is an area where Azoth has spilled out into the world. It affects the biome with bright colors and vivid arrays of magic in the air. We've got the corrupted area up North, which is this bleak landscape. A winter world where the corruption is oozing up from the ground in this black tar-like substance with red veins in it. For us, we want to create a supernatural world that is full of horror and wonder."
That sort of artistic license should also expand to later content for New World. The team is busy working on the game for its launch, but any live service title also has to have an eye on the future. Amazon Orange County is prepared to expand New World.
"We will definitely be adding new content, new weapons, new enemies, new features, and new landmasses over time," says Verfaillie. "The specifics of how we're doing that? We're not really diving into yet."
Amazon Game Studios has yet to launch a game, so its first being an MMO feels like a high wall to climb. Still, following the alpha, the team has firmed up some of the game's foundations. Now New World is preparing to head into Closed Beta in April 2020, hoping to build out an MMO that can compete with the likes of World of Warcraft and Destiny. Perhaps with a new aesthetic, enhanced survival aspects, and the chance to take part in huge battles, New World might just be able to claim its own territory in a crowded space. New World is coming to PC on May 2020.