Why New World Is the Most Divisive Game of 2021

Amazon's New World is destined to become one of the most debated games in recent memory.

New World
Photo: Amazon Games

While New World‘s tumultuous development, numerous delays, and widely debated betas strongly suggested that the game was destined to be divisive, nothing could have quite prepared us for its sudden onslaught of record successes and immediate controversies.

While there are certainly some (myself included) who still have mixed feeling about New World, it’s becoming clear that millions of gamers have already decided that they love or hate this game and likely won’t be swayed from their views anytime soon. We’re used to seeing major games inspire one reaction or the other, but it’s truly rare to get a modern Triple-A title that inspires both from such a wide array of people.

So why is New World so divisive? Well, there’s certainly no shortage of opinions about this game floating around the internet wilds at the moment, but these are a few of the major talking points that have inspired most of the New World debates so far.

The Amazon Connection

The fact is that New World’s association with Amazon (the game’s publisher and developer) was always going to be controversial. Not only have Amazon’s previous games largely been met with scorn or indifference, but the company’s numerous ongoing controversies (many of which involve allegations of employee abuse and predatory business practices) mean that pretty much everything they do is guaranteed to face an extra level of (not unwarranted) scrutiny. 

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While the baggage that comes with the Amazon name is certainly a big part of the ongoing New World debate, it’s been interesting to see how a lot of the debate about Amazon’s involvement so far is less about the company’s reputation and is more about the ways that New World doesn’t necessarily feel like it was made by a company with Amazon’s resources.

We’ll dive into this more in a bit, but when a trillion-dollar company decides to start making video games, it’s only natural for people to have certain expectations regarding the quality of those video games. At the moment, a lot of debate about New World is focused on whether or not it lives up to those expectations and what it tells us about whether or not Amazon is “ready” to enter this space for reasons other than profit potential.

New World’s Colonialism Themes

Truth be told, there’s been a debate about New World’s colonialism themes and visual design elements since the game was first revealed. Not only does the game’s core concept invoke the fundamentals of that controversial topic (its gameplay and narrative are based on colonizing an island), but some of New World’s character design and world-building decisions clearly invoke famous historical periods of colonization (especially the colonization of the Americas).

New World even begins with a prominent message that reads “New World is a work of supernatural fiction about cultures from around the world banding together to fight for the fate of humanity,” which can certainly be seen as a reference to, and dismissal of, the colonization controversy. Even still, there wouldn’t be this much smoke around this topic if there wasn’t some kind of fire, and this is certainly one of those instances where Amazon’s involvement only fuels the debate regarding this game’s imperialistic themes and possible agendas.

At the same time, it must be said that it feels like New World’s developers were well aware of this controversy and perhaps even went out of their way to ensure that the final game’s lore, quests, characters, and world design avoid directly referencing this subject whenever possible. I’d hesitate to say that the game actively exploits the subject, though it certainly leaves plenty of room for debate so far as that goes. Actually, there are quite a few New World players who have been quick to praise this game for its theme and the ways it distinguishes the experience from the fantasy/sci-fi traditions we typically see from this genre. 

New World Embraces the “Grind” With Its Slow, Survival-Based Gameplay

There’s a degree to which “grinding” is an inevitable part of any MMO. There are few titles in this genre that don’t require you to level up a character, slowly gain skills/resources, and work your way up to late-game content. It’s a style that comes with the territory, though more and more developers in recent years have tried to find ways to speed up the process.

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New World, on the other hand, embraces the grind like few major titles in recent memory. Leveling your character in New World is an incredibly slow process that will require you to constantly acquire resources and complete a large number of fairly simple quests and assignments. There are many who will be naturally turned off by the speed of the whole process, and even some of those who defend the game’s pacing argue about whether or not it requires you to spend too much time traveling between objectives and staring at menus.

Yet, there are some fans who actually love (or at least really like) New World’s speed and say that it reminds them of classic MMOs that were more about the journey than the destination. Indeed, New World’s pacing and emphasis on “monotony” feel like deliberate design decisions in a lot of ways. You could even argue this is more of a hybrid experience meant to combine ideas from classic MMO titles like World of Warcraft with gameplay concepts seen in modern survival titles such as Valheim.

New World’s PvP Gameplay Sometimes Comes at the Expense of Its PvE Content

New World is hardly the first PvP-focused MMO in the history of the genre, but this is the first time in a long time that we’ve seen a Triple-A version of that concept which, quite frankly, has historically been incredibly difficult to balance/manage.

Putting aside concerns regarding New World’s future for the moment, though, it has to be said that the game’s focus on PvP gameplay was destined to be divisive. Yes, there is a PvE side to New World, but if you’re not willing to participate in the game’s factions vs. factions competitive scene in some way, you’re going to miss out on a significant chunk of the intended experience. That also means that New World’s naturally “grindy” gameplay and the ways that grind is designed to slowly enhance the depth of the PvP scene is going to be even less appealing to anyone who just wants to play the game’s fairly basic PvE content.

Of course, a big part of the reason why New World’s PvP focus is so divisive is less about the game’s mechanics and more about its community…

New World’s Social Gameplay Brings Out the Best and Worst of Its Players

While New World avoids and alters a lot of traditional MMO elements, the one classic MMO idea the game wholeheartedly embraces is an emphasis on social gameplay experiences. There are numerous aspects of New World’s gameplay that practically demand you work with (and against) others, and you’re constantly reminded of the presence of other players during the game.

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The results of this approach have been a bit of a mixed bag so far. There are certainly times when it’s refreshing to see New World embrace one of the core components of the genre by asking you to actually interact with other players. Many modern MMOs (especially modern WoW expansions) have been criticized for de-emphasizing the social experience by making concessions for solo players, and New World certainly doesn’t have that problem.

At the same time, the New World community can be a rough place. The New World servers I’ve played on so far have been filled with instances of immature (often toxic and downright hateful) chat feeds, player griefing, and people already eager to insult and disown other players for not mastering what is essentially a four-day-old game. While some embrace that side of the genre, it’s easy enough to see why others simply want no part of it. 

New World’s Server Problems and Technical Issues Raise Concerns About the Game’s Present and Future

It’s hardly a surprise that so much of the New World talk so far has been dominated by discussions regarding the game’s technical problems and server issues. Actually, a big part of the reason why New World has been “review bombed” on Steam so far is simply that there are so many people who bought the game who weren’t even able to play it initially.

While some fans are countering those negative reviews by saying this is all pretty standard for a popular MMO at launch and that New World isn’t even the most egregious example of a bad launch in recent memory, others are pointing out that those server issues are just one of the ways that New World feels rushed to release. There’s already a debate about modern publishers releasing a game before it’s “ready” and simply updating it as people buy/play it, and that debate doesn’t get any less intense when said game is published by Amazon: the aforementioned trillion-dollar company with a shady reputation.

While we’re on that topic, though, it has to be said that the New World team has already pointed out a few of the mistakes they’ve made in this area and have committed to quickly addressing some of the game’s biggest queue issues by expanding server capacity, opening new servers, and allowing for free server transfers. Of course, the debate over whether or not this is another case of a major company releasing a game too early and letting its early adopters pay for the privilege of testing it will go on.

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