I finally finished my download from FilePlanet and I have to say that patching was relatively painless. So, once I got the younger children to bed, I could finally sit down and explore the latest contender for MMO messiah-hood, WAR. I played for probably 3 or 4 hours, managed to get to level 6 and participate in some PvE and PvP action.
My first impression of "mundane" (I will explain that distinction later) PvE is that it is much the same as most other MMOs I have played. You step into the newbie area, crawling with packs of XP sacks... I mean enemies... that swarm around relatively safe areas where mission kiosks... I mean NPCs... give you quests like "Go kill 10 [insert XP sack of the zone here] and bring me their [insert random piece of anatomy here] and I will give you [insert assortment of XP, crappy coinage and low-grade loot here]. I am not saying it is not fun, but I am saying that you have indeed played this game already. The mundane PvE game is pretty standard stuff and reminds me of EQ2 and WoW.
So then it sucked, right? Well... no, it didn't. There are a couple things that save WAR's mundane PvE. There are a lot of unlockables in WAR's PvE and as you fight different creatures, travel throughout the newbie zone and talk to various NPCs, you write entries into your character's Tome of Knowledge. Writing entries into the Tome gives you access to the gameworld's extensive lore and gives you XP, titles for your character and other stuff like Tactics I have not figured out yet.
For instance, the first time my dark elf encountered one of his sworn blood enemies, a high elf, I got a notification that I had written a new Tome entry (and got a small xp award). Looking at the entry gives me a little lore blurb and shows me if there are other entries to unlock about high elves. The first time I killed a sprite, I found that if I killed 25 of them, I would open a new entry and presumably get some reward. There are entries for killing creatures, exploring the maps, scoring critical hits... all kinds of stuff. It truly gave me the impression that there was a lot to see and do and that I had barely scratched the surface.
Another thing that made the mundane PvE worthwhile was the fact that in certain areas, the game gives the illusion that the world is active. There are regions in which NPCs of various factions are fighting each other. (Though I was disappointed to find that, like early NPC fights in CoX, the battles were meaningless dances in which neither NPC got hurt.) In one early camp, you are given a simple quest to open a corral so that a pack of giant lizards can rush out and slaughter a hapless group of high elves nearby. In another camp, I would occassionally see catapult stones impact nearby. These touches made the newbie zone interesting and gave a sense of danger and warfare that you generally don't find in an MMO.
One final point about the mundane PvE game is that it seems that every zone in the game is contested between the forces of Order and those of Destruction. Every quest completed tilts the balance ever so slightly in the favor of your chosen faction. As your faction gains control of the zone, you gain bonuses to reknown, experience gained and prices at the merchant. Much like the guild writs in EQ2, this idea of contributing to the greater cause makes even the most mundane "Kill X quest" much, much cooler.
That leads me to another aspect of PvE that I thought was anything but mundane, the public quest system. As you explore the zone, you will stumble onto areas in which there is a public quest. PQs are mini-raids where everyone is invited to participate. In the first PQ in the Dark Elf zone, there are three stages. In the first stage, players have to stem the tide of high elf soldiers that pour out of a tower. Once enough soldiers are killed, mystics start appearing from all sides. Once the mystics are dealt with, the players face a gigantic, but wounded dragon and have to defeat it before it can recover its strength.
Overall, this is a pretty cool system that has a lot of potential. The first time I ran this (they reset fairly quickly) PQ, there weren't that many people around and so the battle was frantic as each player had to deal with multiple mobs. In a later run, there were tons of us around and we were just zerging the hapless elves and I was frantically trying to run around just to get in two attacks before an enemy would die. Another time, I wandered back to the PQ area from completing a quest and the dragon had spawned and had been allowed to regain its strength and it was kicking dark elf butt... small groups of two and three players charged and died and it took a concerted effort by multiple groups to put the dragon down again.
So, it was perfect then? Well... no again.
There were a few glitches here and there. One huge one was when I invited a person to team and found that the invite had gone to someone else entirely. Another time, I invited someone only to be told that I could not invite enemy players to my team. The UI was ok (and is customizable, but I have not experimented yet), but there were some things that didn't seem intuitive... for instance to send a team invite, you have to choose the player and then right click his portrait in the upper left portion of the screen to get the menu. When fighting, I found it all too easy to click some random piece of UI that would bring up the Tome of Blindness.. I mean Knowledge.
I will get into more later in the day, but I have to get to work. Overall a good time and I hope to provide more impressions in future posts.