ZAM cruises into the final "stress test" beta phase of the Need for Speed World racing MMO to preview the early gameplay features
Scheduled for release on July 27, Need for Speed World (NFSW) is an ambitious racing-sim MMO developed by EA Black Box and published by Electronic Arts, based on the company's popular Need for Speed video game franchise. It's not the first to join the ranks of "massively multiplayer online racing games," or MMORGs as they're referred to in the MMO industry. The Trackmania series and Test Drive Unlimited are both successful titles in the MMORG arena, published across multiple platforms, from Windows to the PlayStation Portable.
Earlier this month EA hosted an open beta test for players, which ended last week. On July 13 and 14, the developers briefly revived the open beta for a final stress test and gave participants about $20 worth of "SpeedBoost" (the free-to-play MMO's version of RMT currency) to mess around with. We at ZAM thought this would be the perfect time to jump in-game and provide readers with an early preview of the MMORG's beta gameplay. In our first look at Need for Speed World, we cruise around the streets and find some familiar MMO staples and "level up" after winning a handful of solo and multiplayer races. We also get a little frisky with the police; it turns out that barreling through roadblocks and ramming cop cars off the road is just as much fun as it sounds.
[Note: You can click the images below to view the high-res, uncropped versions.]
After creating their first driver profile in Need for Speed World, players can choose among a small assortment of "Tier 1" vehicles to purchase as their first car; the options might seem a little limited at first, but a much wider variety opens up later in the game. Thankfully, NFSW follows the theme of the Need for Speed series by using real makes and models. Out of the $35,000 in virtual cash we began with, ZAM bought a nifty Toyota Corolla GT-S for $20,000 to begin with.
There are two main types of currency in NFSW; players mostly earn regular ol' money from completing objectives and races, while "SpeedBoost" represents a more valuable currency that drives the MMO's free-to-play, micro-transaction revenue model. Players can use both forms of currency on most items, power-ups and cars, although the SpeedBoost currency obviously holds more weight, as in many free-to-play MMOs. Items sold exclusively for SpeedBoost seem to be geared toward convenience and enhancement, at least from our initial impressions during the beta.
Players aren't given many customization options from the get-go, which is unusual for an MMO. A player's "driver" isn't represented by an in-game avatar; they're basically just profiles that save your game data. You won't get to customize your car very much until later in the game, either. Players begin with the option of choosing between several paint schemes; as they progress through levels and tiers, they do have the ability to buy custom body kits for their cars, which also enhance performance. Players can also decorate their cars with an assortment of vinyl prints, from muscle-themed designs to pure Fast and the Furious gaudiness.
To get a sampling of the gameplay modes available during the beta, we rolled out of the garage with our plain-black Corolla GT-S and drove around the persistent-world streets, populated with real player cars, NPC cars and plenty of cops cruising in police-edition Dodge Chargers. Players begin in Palmont, the city from Need for Speed Carbon. The city of Rockport from Need for Speed: Most Wanted is also in the game, and all areas feature a day-to-night cycle.
The controls are dead-simple for an MMO, yet many players—especially hardcore racing-sim fans—will appreciate the support for external gamepad controllers. Players who opt to use the keyboard use either the familiar [WASD] setup, or the arrow keys. Use [Space] to handbrake and number keys  to  to initiate various power-up abilities.
The tutorial explains how to initiate your first race; just pull up to one of the blue-colored glowing beacons and a menu pops up, inviting you to join a multiplayer, grouped or single player race. There are two types of races in the beta; "sprints" and "circuits." A sprint is a quick race with just one lap, while circuits feature multiple laps. More racing modes may be on the way, either at launch or in future patches.
- Ryan Bohmann, President