After all this time, MMO players still crave the “next World of Warcraft”
There are so many reasons to be wary of the New World. It is the flagship title of Amazon, a company that has so far completely messed up its interactive division, leaving multiple botches and cancellations as a result of its efforts. In fact, the most publicized gaming initiative that came out of the Bezos estate is an extremely inept adaptation of the The Prime series with Jeremy Clarkson, The Grand Tour. (He accumulated a 52 on metacritics.)
New World developer Double Helix Games hasn’t done much to build faith. The MMO has been delayed several times over the past two years, including one that dropped less than a month before its last scheduled release. Our impressions have been mixed since we started playing the beta. New World clearly has an interesting foundation – a mix of traditional MMO quests and dungeons and sandbox-style territory-making and control infrastructure – but even after all the false starts and push-backs, the game still feels rough around the edges.
Fraser nearly suffered a nervous breakdown as he scoured the network of Kafka-esque resources needed to forge a single bullet for his musket – an editorial task that deserved its own risk premium. MMO fan Sarah also left quite mute and bored, which is one of the worst feelings a new expansive overworld can conjure up. “I’m fully aware that it’s too early to judge the game as a whole, but I generally find some excitement to push myself through the early stages of most MMOs,” she wrote. “So far New World feels incredibly cranky and frustrating, made worse by some weapons seemingly blocked by level requirements.”
These types of disturbing beta reports usually have a withered effect on a game’s hype rating. (And we don’t seem to be alone in our impression New World.) And yet, every time I log into Steam, I see pre-orders for New World skyrocket in sales. YouTube is swollen with guides and walkthroughs dissecting the oblique flourishes of the MMO, which is always a sure sign that new hype is bubbling up in the algorithm. There are currently 96,000 subscribers to the New World subreddit. It’s not quite the 355,000 in Elder Scrolls Online, but it’s a game that hasn’t been released yet. At some point during the beta, 40,000 more people watched New World streams on Twitch as World of Warcraft’s retail streams.
The nation of the game is ready for the New World, although the game may not be ready for us.
Why are so many people so excited about a game that looks good? Here’s my theory: PC contingency is absolutely starved for a new MMO. And I mean, like, a real MMO. I know we live in an age where every video game has to be connected to the internet forever, and today’s youth have been fed the sacrilegious lie that an “MMO” is a game you hang out in a world. antiseptic before you fly. to an instanced dungeon with four other players. (I’m looking at you, Destiny.) I know companies like Ubisoft have been agonizing over even mutating their single-player games into near-multiplayer monstrosities, where no one can enjoy Assassin’s Creed in peace without envy their neighbor’s Ravensthorpe next door. We’re not talking about that. God no. Millennials are a generation in crisis, and they want to go back to their roots.
I want to enter a region folded by a strict level threshold, hike through it, and fly to a nearby slightly spookier corner of the map. I want to kill 20 boars for a man and get 10 kobold legs for a woman. I want to conquer a dragon’s lair and give everyone in the capital a buff. There’s nothing quite like hovering behind a toon at a comfortable wide angle, grinding endlessly through the low-stakes drama of the locals. (“Damn! Wolves got really mad lately!”)
New World is not designed to scratch that specific itch. The emphasis on crafting makes him more Valheim than Final Fantasy XIV, and who knows what will happen to his virtual laissez-faire economy, territory system, and PvP warfare. But it’s clearly not a “shared world” game like Destiny, nor has it been completely in line with all those crowdfunded MMOs that claim to be the next EVE Online, like Crowfall.
New World’s survival systems were sanded down during development, and it was bolstered with PvE dungeons and world events. There’s no doubt that it’s more grounded in the design of the mid-2000s MMO boom than the niche social experiments and sleek hybrids we typically see today. It’s not an MMO that takes extra words to describe its genre: it’s just an MMO, and no one is going to confuse it with The Division or the ambitious but defunct Worlds Adrift.
It’s so bizarre how long a true zeitgeist MMO has taken over gaming audiences: those salad days, when everyone started at level one and took months to hit the ceiling. I mean, the de facto leader of the pack is the aforementioned Final Fantasy XIV, which came out in its first incarnation in 2010 and ascended to the throne due to a miracle reboot and the terminal swelling of World of Warcraft.
I’ve been playing Elder Scrolls Online lately, and while the team at ZeniMax have done a brilliant job of creating a vibrant Tamriel adventure that mirrors (and even surpasses) the mainstream games, I was surprised to see how gluttonous it has become with its fervent and ubiquitous microtransactions. A text box in the corner is constantly trying to sell you furniture for your home, like Black Friday has arrived at Vvardenfell. It remains to be seen if a developer can avoid these predatory instincts in our insatiable, cosmetics-stuffed, free digital economy.
Like so many trends in this hobby, I think it can all be blamed on a whimsical and inarticulable nostalgia. I’m 30, which means I hit the absolute peak of the MMO boom. World of Warcraft was my game, but I’ve seen so many other triple A studios promise to get away from the dreary chores of high school, as long as my PC can handle the latency. Star Trek Online! Warhammer Online! Tabula Rasa! The Old Republic! There was something so devilishly alluring about a video game that promised to take over your life, to keep you awake until four in the morning, dark circles under your eyes, signaling another group of explorers for one final raid ahead. to collapse.
New World has a chance to reignite these lost passions again. A return to glory; a return to Westfall. I understand why the public can’t wait, just hope Amazon doesn’t let us down.