I'd written a long, detailed post on Warhammer: Age of Reckoning (WAR) and a number of questionable decisions Mythic has made in reference to this title. But then I went off searching for an article to link to in the wrong browser tab and lost it all. So I'm redoing this as the abridged version (which is probably a good thing in retrospect :-).
WAR has a number of really good ideas and design features in it and, even at launch, has managed quite a reasonable PvP option for players. However, Mythic has also made some absolutely bewildering decisions that seem to undermine their intentions and player enjoyment of their title. Let's go through these weird and / or limited things that Mythic has done:
- An incredibly weak chat system. WAR is one of the quietest MMOs I've seen, which includes titles where you can't actually type chat comments to other players. WAR's chat system appears to ignore MMO developments in this area since 2003, meaning you can't right-click on names or drag items into chat or accurately filter tabs to the kind of text you want to see. While I don't think everyone wants to see the outright stupidity of Barrens chat, global chat at least lets you see that the game is alive with players. No global chat means that WAR appears as dead as a doornail in terms of active players in the open world.
- No easy way of dealing with gold spam at launch. So Mark Jacobs HATES gold spammers. If that's the case, why is there no easy way of blocking them? While you can /ignore the gold spammers, apparently that ignore status is only remembered until the spammer logs off, meaning they can log back in and get around ignore very simply. Now, Mythic did implement a new way of reporting spammers that requires you to enter the spammer name, distribution channel and ENTIRE SPAM TEXT. This is a game where you can't copy and paste from chat (remember: weak chat system) into the relevant window, so you'll have to type it out. Other titles allow you to just right click gold spam away (or at least report it easily). If Mark Jacobs hates gold spam so much, why are WAR's anti-gold spam systems so bad?
- On the subject of gold spam, the window dressing of public banning notices and the Banhammer counter. Yes, it is a great idea to be visible when banning gold spammers. However, there is incredible irony in ban spamming your players about gold spammers. Having a box pop up in the middle of the screen for everyone on the server might be great the first time, but the tenth time? The hundredth time? Yeah, not so fun. I'm sure this announcement feature isn't going to be lasting too long, or announcing all bannings. Having a Banhammer counter is a nice idea too... but it's just window dressing. So, WAR's banned over 9000 gold spammers? So what? It hasn't stopped the constant flood of gold spam messages I keep getting (ironically the chat system seems most actively used by gold spammers rather than players). I wonder what is going to happen to that counter when 90 000 gold spammers have been banned, or at what point it loops back to zero or starts going into alphabetical integers. Here's a bigger question: how many gold buyers have been banned? Maybe the unnannounced changes in Game Update 1.0.2 will help stem the tide, but I don't hold out much hope.
The Banhammer counter: Pure window dressing.
- No system in place to deal with side imbalance. If there is any MMO development studio that has experience with PvP side (read: realm) imbalance, it's Mythic. Dark Age of Camelot (DAoC) famously had a number of issues stemming from side imbalance. However, rather than taking what they'd learned from their previous title, Mythic appears to have taken the 'head in the sand' approach. Destruction had a higher player population in beta which Mythic apparently put down to beta testers being naturally evil. On launch, Destruction has a higher player population, which leaves Destruction players waiting in queues and Order players outnumbered in PvP. There are a number of reasons why Destruction is more popular - they look cooler, they were more hyped, Destruction suits PvP players, they have Female Elves in Lingerie (rather than Male Elves in Dresses), the in-game lore seems strongly hinting that Chaos will win - but none of that addresses why Mythic didn't put something in place in case either side had a population imbalance. "Some realms on some servers" getting an arbitary bonus to reknown and experience seems like an underdone attempt at an incentive mechanic - why are realms given dynamic rewards / bonuses in the case of population levels falling outside of certain ranges?
Female Dark Elves in skimpy clothes vs Male High Elves in dresses: guess which side gets picked more often?
- Public Quests fail due to lack of public interest. Public Quests (PQs) are a fantastic evolution of MMO mechanics. A player enters a certain area and is automatically open to taking part in a larger event with other players in the area. This falls down, however, when there are no other players in the area. Public quests don't scale based on the number of players in them, so it is a bit of pot luck how far the solo player (or even a small group) can get in them. Most solo players can probably pass the first stage of a PQ if they have the patience because it involves killing a certain number of enemies. However, it is trial and error if the second phase can be completed because there is no indication of what might happen next - a large ambush may appear, a Champion-class mob may pop up, you might have to protect particular objects. As such, it is much better to be part of a team in a PQ. However, given the number of PQs in each game chapter, players are often too spread out to take part in them, and perhaps only one PQ gets selected as the 'right one' per chapter. But that assumes enough people are on to actually do them - it is a lot harder to get a PQ done during off-peak times when population is lower. Having a notable and sizeable piece of content made completely undoable because there aren't enough people around is an exercise in frustration.
- WAR's beta was great at testing the small picture, but didn't see how everything hung together. I wasn't in beta, but I see a common complaint about it was that, although very well run, it just tested ranges of content at a time without letting players naturally get into them. So, if high level content was to be tested, everyone got bumped to high level. This is a good way to test such things in isolation, but not enough time was left to see how the game played naturally from beginning to end. This means that Tier 3 currently is seen as a horrible, grinding area of gameplay because 1) experience requirements for this Tier were raised just before launch and 2) players didn't get to play through it at a natural pace to bring up this issue prior to launch.
- WAR's key mechanics are undermined by its own server population limits. WAR is about, well, war. It's about PvP between two different sides / realms. For this kind of gameplay, you need large numbers of players per server so that enough characters exist at each level range so that everyone can compete in a vaguely fair manner. The world of WAR is massive, so you need more players to fill it. However, it appears that the overall server population cap isn't particularly high - I haven't seen any formal numbers, only forum rumours of between 3000 to 5000 players per server. However, those numbers are split in half because WAR has population limits on realms so that Order and Destruction can remain balanced (hah!). Taking a best case scenario, 2500 players per side isn't a small number initially, but then you have to divide that by three (to split it over the Empire vs Chaos, Dwarf vs Greenskin and High Elf vs Dark Elf), the different level ranges / chapters, and then by the different locations players can be within those ranges / chapters and their purpose (i.e. PQs, scenarios, Realm vs Realm combat, etc). In short, it doesn't take long for a larger number to get subdivided into a much smaller number of players you might run into / play with. Scenarios work best in bringing players together since you can join them from any place (within the valid Tier) in the world and get teleported to them when they start. A number of WAR's key selling points in RvR and PQs are diluted by spreading players out so thinly, which in turn makes the game less fun.
I'll leave it there - believe it or not, the first version of this article was longer! I don't think WAR is doomed by any of the above issues, but they are areas that really make me wonder about the decision processes that went on. WAR has a large world full of content for players to enjoy and a number of interesting game play styles, but then botch things up by apparently not having any insight into how players will behave / react when they enter that world.