A queue? I haven't queued to play an MMO since World of Warcraft in 2005. But earlier this week I had to wait half-an-hour to get into Amazon's New World closed beta because more than 300 people were ahead of me at 3pm. I know it's the school summer holiday but still. And that was just one European server - there are many.
I was surprised. I didn't think an MMO could create buzz like this in 2021. I thought battle royales like Fortnite had taken over for good. But there were more than 200,000 concurrent New World players last weekend. Perhaps I was wrong.
You can feel that popularity in the game, too. Queues mean full servers, which means there are lots of people in the game, so towns bustle with life, hunting spots are busy and chat is noisy. New World seems to be teeming with life, and there's an excited feeling because of it - a feeling that this could be the next big thing.
Could it? I don't think it has the wide, easy appeal of something like World of Warcraft, but that's also why I think it's causing a stir at the moment. There's something refreshingly old-school about New World, something a bit Ultima Online. There are no defined classes, there's a core focus on PvP, and there's a heavy reliance on twitchy skill. If you know what you're doing, glory in New World is there for the taking, and hardcore players love that.
To recap: you don't click to target people in New World as in other MMOs, and then unload your arpeggio of numbered abilities on them. You actually have to aim and hit them with things like arrows and spells, or axes and spears if you're throwing them, as well as actively block and dodge-roll and land your hits too.
Building your character is far more open as well. It's up to you what assortment of abilities you want, from any. You're not penned in by class. Abilities are linked to weapons, and you unlock them by using them, and you can switch between two weapons almost instantly in combat. What you pair becomes is the consideration.
When you see someone who knows what they're doing, it's great to watch. There are some impressive videos of clued-up players taking on many more opponents than they really ought to. They pepper them with arrows and then switch to rapier to get in close and stun and bleed, then they roll back out and leap up and pepper with arrows again. One enemy drops, then they focus on the next. They are the kinds of bragging rights competitive online game communities live for.
PvP level-scaling reinforces all of this. It means you have no drastic, automatic advantage because you're a higher level than someone else. Theoretically, a level 10 character can compete with a level 45 character, because stats are scaled to be equal. That doesn't mean you'll have all of the benefits of a level 45 character, like many more weapon abilities and as-strong equipment, but if you really know what you're doing, you can win.
It's not what people are used to, and it's getting on the nerves of some popular streamers (who are no doubt also driving attention to the game). They've had every advantage in levelling quickly but are still being beaten by players lower level than them - and they're not getting much sympathy from the game's community, I tell you.
PvP isn't entirely open, as you have to turn a flag on and off, but at every turn it feels like you're being encouraged to take part. Factional warfare plays a huge role in this. At level 10, you join one of three factions - the Marauders, the Covenant or the Syndicate - and when you do, a whole new pipeline of quests and rewards opens up. They're themed around helping your faction gain control of the game's many regions, and climax in huge wars. And they're very lucrative, much more so in terms of experience than regular quests. But to do them you have to turn your PvP flag on. So you see: it all comes back to PvP. That's the driving force.
Will the buzz last? MMO communities are renowned for burning through whatever content you put in front of them quickly and demanding more. Some players are alarmingly high level in the closed beta already. It's only been a week - I don't know how they do it! Levelling has already really slowed down for me. But here again, New World is in a good position in that its endgame content is other players. As long as fighting them over and over can remain entertaining, interest should stick.
Roll on 31st August. Let's see.