A Weekend of WAAAGH!
I had the opportunity to play in the Warhammer preview weekend and I have to say I was impressed, with some reservations. So please, sit back, relax and read a beta preview from an unpaid, unaffiliated blogger, and be enlightened. :)
The atmosphere was the first thing that hit me when I got past the (kind of clunky) character creation. Mythic has done a good job in making the starting areas feel like they are embroiled in a war. This is primarily due to heavy NPC activity and the driving war-beat soundtrack - RvR and Public Quests don't hurt either. From the get-go, WAR feels like war.
The graphics are what I would expect from a current MMOG that is interested in keeping framerates high. The visuals are colorful enough to avoid the mud-hued dullness of EQ2 or some Conan zones while not being cartoony. Each race and class has a distinct style and flair. Shadows and lighting help ground your character to the world, but don't expect Age of Conan levels of technical fussiness. Some faces and hairstyles are really ugly, but overall, the visual quality of WAR is high enough to be pleasing while not crippling your machine and forcing you to play with all the options turned down.
The design of the game world is also very strong. Big landmarks, like a burning windmill, to small details, like books and bottles in an out of the way tent, help make the game world feel complete. The Public Quest areas are always special - one PQ features a giant who swats aside trees before attacking the players. Another has NPC raiders landing on a beach via longboats. And another still takes place in a ruined fort-like area, complete with broken towers and walls - all three of those are in one area! There is always something interesting to see in WAR (at least in the starting areas) and Mythic has done a good job of directing you via quests and content to their points of interest.
Once you look past the eye-candy, however, the core gameplay of WAR is not so new. That doesn't mean that it is BAD, but once you get beyond the fun Public Quests, occasional RvR, and interesting locations, you'll eventually realize that you're still fighting your foes by pressing a few key abilities. You get new abilities early and often, and that helps, it's just not the revolutionary step that some gamers may have wanted.
However, the visual flair of combat helps to keep it interesting. Animations are nice and some particle effects are really cool - Mythic did an EXCELLENT job with the fire effects. But, this could just be MMO-honeymoon syndrome for me. We'll see how much I like it after a few months.
The interface is also really good. It feels cluttered at first - there are all kinds of bars, buttons, and indicators - but the game does a decent job of slowly introducing them. The three things that I like the most are:
Quest indicator - the mini map and the world map shows where you need to go to finish a quest. Areas are outlined in red and NPCs are marked with waypoints. It cuts down on the run-around. Don't worry about missing something because the game tells you where to go. Again, the superb world design ensures that you always see the interesting areas.
Group options - WAR has made grouping easy. You see open groups when you enter an area. You can set your party so that it can auto-accept anyone who wants to join - or you can lock it up. And since you are gently introduced to group quests and RvR from the start, it becomes very natural to just join a group. There is a lot less of the weird broadcast-send-a-tell-wait-for-an-invite kind of thing.
Tome of Knowledge - if you've read about WAR then you've read about this. It really is that good. It tracks everything. It lets you review where your character has been and what they've done. It helps fight the disconnected feeling you get from most MMOGs - the feeling that YOUR character is just a grunt in an army of clones. With the Tome, your character has a history.
There is always something to do in WAR. You can run PvE quests while waiting for an RvR scenario. You can break up your kill tasks by joining a Public Quest - it really is just that easy - just walk into the area and you're involved. You can explore the zone to uncover all the Tome of Knowledge entries. Or you can forego the PvE game all together and just level up solely through RvR.
There is one thing I wanted to mention about RvR, something I was guilty of at first. At first blush, I though WAR was going to be too PvP-focused for me; I'm not a huge fan of PvP. But I have found that the PvE game is just as developed as you'd want it to be...and that I kind of enjoy the RvR aspect of WAR. Its just so natural. It flows well with the rest of the game. No waiting at an NPC or scheduling a match. Just go fight the WAAAGH!
No, WAR isn't a perfect unique little flower - like all MMOGs it borrows what works and tweaks the rest.
No, I have not played the game all that much, but so far, I've liked what I've seen.
No, WAR isn't totally polished. Monster pathing is currently off and some animations and textures are just plain bad.
But, yes, I'll be playing Warhammer Online.