In my first foray roaming the world of Amazon‘s New World, I came upon some animals. I chose to run away from the bear, and I chased after the wild turkey instead. That summed up how powerful I was feeling as a small creature in this vast space.
New World is a sandbox massively multiplayer online game set during the 17th century. I saw it at a preview event staged by Amazon. The studio, formerly known as Double Helix, has been working on the game for more than five years. And from what I saw of the world, it’s a big and ambitious project.
You start out as a settler arriving on the shore of a continent. But this place has supernatural elements and creatures that you might expect in a zombie or fantasy game. You have to gather resources, team up with other settlers, craft your survival gear, and go stake your claim in the New World. It’s a savage place, meant for thousands upon thousands to roam.
It feels like the colonial times, when Columbus sailed the Caribbean, but the continent that you find in the Atlantic Ocean is a supernatural place. Like in the Bermuda Triangle, ships and people go into it, but they never come back out, said Patrick Gilmore, studio director at Amazon Game Studios Orange County, based in Irvine, California.
In this world, dubbed Aeternum, you can pretty much do anything you want. You can craft hundreds of items, including magical elixirs, weapons, and fortifications. You have to fight for survival and deal with the brutal wilderness and the growing evil.
You start out on your own, but you can join powerful companies of craftspeople, mercenaries, prospectors, and architects. You can conquer dominions, build castles or blow them up, and progress through thousands of levels with your weapons, armor, perks, and buffs. Once you take over a plot of land, you can lay claim to your prize. I played the game on a Windows PC, and you can see more journey in the video.
Hands-on in the New World
The funny thing about the demo was that they told us we could do anything in the world. And then they proceeded to show us how we could do a particular something. I suppose a demo where you wander around aimlessly in a world would be pretty dull. So I appreciated the suggestion.
Upon arrival on the shore with nothing, except your clothes, you have to set up your campsite. At night, it looked pretty, glowing in the darkness on the beach. Then I had to go pick up some flints and wood from bushes, so I could start crafting some items. Once I had enough stuff from the nearby woods, I crafted a hatchet and a spear. I went out scavenging again and learned how to run, jump, inspect my inventory, and look my map.
Nearby, I found a village with storage sheds and little shops like a blacksmith. I followed a small horde of other people who were in my company. I rifled through the place and got things like a sword, a steel spear, gunpowder, armor, a helmet, and some food. Once we were fully equipped, the developers told us to march toward a fortress. Among the things I wish I had was a bow or a gun. Too late.
First, our company had to declare war on another company. When this happens, everybody tends to show up, Gilmore said.
“There’s going to be a ton of spoils,” he said.
We headed out to the fortress, but I was lagging a bit. You can press the “equal” key on a keyboard if you want your character to just keeping running. That saved me from having to hold down the “W” key all the time. When we arrived, the enemy was already aware of our presence. The non-player characters were shooting at us from the ramparts with bows.
Some of our warriors fired back, but I didn’t have a ranged weapon. We quietly approached a wooden wall and put down a bunch of gunpowder barrels. Someone lit one of them and we all moved back. It blew up and it was a pretty sight. The smoke dissipated and we found another stone wall behind it. So we put our barrels in place again.
The enemy sallied forth on either side and we took them down one by one. We blew the stone wall up, and charged through the hole. We attacked all the enemies. I found that timing was key in your blows. You had to evade an enemy strike, then move in and take a swing. This was hard to do when you were facing off against more than one enemy. But we prevailed. Then we collected our loot.
Then we found we had to blow up the central tower in the fort to stake our claim. So we put the barrels out again, blew up the stone, and then did that a couple of more times. Eventually, the claim was laid open, and we took possession of it. We then had a few hours of grace time to rebuild the fortress before another enemy could take it back.
My take on the New World
The game is built on Amazon Lumberyard, the game engine that was licensed from Crytek’s CryEngine. It uses Amazon’s cloud technology as a kind of backbone so that hundreds or thousands of players can inhabit the game world at the same time. And so, theoretically, an unlimited number of players could have participated in our attack on the fortress. That could be fun.
But after that, we were left to our own devices. I was told to run to another fortress, but on the way, I was waylaid by these weird ghosts and zombie creatures. I had to fight them and take them out with my spear. I hunted some turkeys, avoided the bears, and moved to the fortress. The landscape was beautiful, with some very pretty graphics and ambient life in the world. It made me feel like I was in Red Dead Redemption 2, except the world was graphically better looking but less alive.
I could have wandered off to build things, like objects that make it harder for someone else to take over your fortress.
“You don’t have to be the best fighter in the world,” said Gilmore. “You might be the best architect. It depends on what you want to do in the game and how you apply the skill points” that you earn.
Once I arrived at the place, I had to fight some guards and collect treasure. I did this for a while, but I felt like I had no direction or advice on what to do. That made me think about the down side of a sandbox MMO. It can be dreadfully dull.
So the directed part of the sandbox MMO seemed to be the most fun, but this is something that Gilmore said was not the highest priority for the studio. The developers made the world with interlocking systems so that you could do anything in it. But you have consequences to deal with. I would much rather have a list of tasks to choose from, so that I could feel like I was on a path through the world. Having a purpose, like finding the way to more turkeys and the way to avoid bears, would be a good thing to have in this world.
“Play the way you want to play,” Gilmore said. I sincerely hope that means with a lot more structure, if we want it.