It wasn't long ago that Mythic's Warhammer Online was crowned as a potential "messiah" for online gamers sick of the WoW phenomenon. We had a lot of coverage on WAR leading up to its launch, but none are perhaps as indicative of how the game eventually turned out as our First Impressions by Jon Wood back in August of 2008. Really, it's first impressions that wind up holding the most sway on a player, and this preview is a good example of how WAR was seeming so strong a title from the outset. What happened that caused the title to fall from its lofty and highly hyped perch could be discussed for pages and pages (and we certainly have seen our own share of forum topics here on the subject). But it's nice to read Jon's preview to remember how WAR was shaping up in beta, and serves as a nice reminder of some of the innovations the title offered and the bright spots it still carries today even if it didn't cure cancer like we had hoped.
Well, the time is upon us and it seems as though that pesky NDA has been lifted. While my time in WAR has been short due to other commitments and circumstances beyond my control, I do have some observations about the game and the functions that I have experienced thus far:
While I have to be honest and say that I haven’t really had a chance to do any extensive testing, but I have dipped my feet into the world enough that I can offer some initial insights to those of you out there who may not have had the opportunity to get your hands on it.
First of all, I’m going to take a minute to talk about the art style of the game. There are critics out there who say that Warhammer looks like WoW. While the stylistic concepts may share some elements, the reality of the visual gameplay is quite different. WoW, in maintaining the look of previous incarnations of the franchise, is a more animated-looking take on the visual design whereas Warhammer take a grittier, more realistic-looking approach.
Ok, now that I’m done flogging a horse that I only now realized has been dead for a while, I can move on to talk about some of the other elements of the game:
In the Beginning:
The first thing that I noticed upon joining the WAR was that you don’t start, as I’m used to, in the middle of a bustling city. Instead, you begin your career somewhere near the front lines of a battle. I’ve come across places that feel like they resemble standard cities, but it’s all much grittier. Don’t get me wrong, all of the quest folk, vendors, trainers and the like are still in place, it’s just the setting that’s changed slightly. I guess the best way to describe the starting location for my Chaos character is to say that my Magus started her career in a war camp built on a cemetery.
Speaking of my Magus… she is, as promised, moving around not by using her legs like some kind of sucker, but on a floating disc. I remember in one of the early presentations given by Paul Barnett, he talked about the Magus and their Disks of Tzeech. How do they move around? “On the Disk,” he would reply. What about when they’re talking to vendors? “On the disk“, he would reply. Basically, he over-emphasised in his own Paul way that this class would always be perched on top of a disk, for everything from looting to combat to travel. “On the Disk”.
At the time, I wasn’t sure how to properly picture my character floating around on a disk. Turns out, it’s actually pretty natural. Not only does it hearken back to the days of playing Warhammer miniatures games, but I’m one of those people who has never really seen character movement done the right way. The way characters run always looks… un-realistic. The Disk totally removes that issue. I’m not saying it’s a game-making feature. I’m just saying that it helped me.
Since we’re on the topic of careers, my brief time in the game has allowed me to notice that Mythic has done a pretty good job of making you feel like every career you try is significantly different from each of the other ones. Not just mechanically, but in the way they look and handle and the strategies that you have to use. The Disks are a perfect example of that. No other class travels the way mine does. Let’s look at the War Priest. The War Priest has to perform in melee combat in order to rejuvenate his healing powers. The Witch Hunter builds power for pistol shots by attacking with his rapier and so on.
I found that these little differences took what could have been a very formulaic, static combat and made it a little bit more interesting. Personally, I would have like to have seen something a little more innovative on the side of combat, but I also realize that’s just a matter of taste.
We’ve all read about them, but now they’re here and live. I was curious how I would feel about this system once it was implemented into the game. To be honest I was concerned that PQs were one of those features where the devs talk about them, and they look great in demos, but once you get into the world, they’re so scarce they may as well not exist. Well, no worries. You’d be hard pressed, even in the early stages, not to stumble blindly across one while going about your regular business.
Honestly, I think they’re great fun. They give you the raid / grouping feel without actually having to go through the hassle of finding a compatible group for a short time. In the end, not only will PQs promote cooperation later in the game, but they also do a fine job of setting the stage for the RvR nature of the game. That’s the core difference between calling something RvR and PvP. While they both end up the same way, with killing other players, RvR almost requires that team-based mentality that is fostered by elements like the Public Quests.
Don’t get me wrong, PQs have their flaws. For instance: if you happen to stumble across a public quest that’s already in action, you can take part and even gain some pretty good XP, but you’re not going to score as high as others might when the end come along and treasure is handed out. The good news is that if you have the patience for it, they restart with decent frequency.
All in all I give the Public Quest mechanic a 4 out of 5 on the innovation scale that I just now made up. While there are occasions of small frustration, overall the experience is extremely enjoyable and accomplishes what Mythic intended it to.
I know that scenarios are a topic that can create some pretty heated debates. I know that some players feel like they break the immersion of the game, and don’t really make a lot of sense. On the other side of the coin are players who feel that they add to the game, giving them something to do that contributes to the overall war.
Personally, I’m more of the latter opinion. Scenarios give players a chance to engage in some pretty intense, short-term PvP as Order fights Destruction in an RvR free-for-all that so far ahs seen my characters fight to protect control points until either a timer runs down, or 500 points are reached (anyone who has ever played Battlefield or similar games knows what to expect).
Scenarios are a short term commitment that provides some quick action.
The down side of these is that you occasionally have queue up to play. Essentially, you hit the scenario icon, it asks you to select a scenario and then you wait until a new one begins. Fortunately, you can still putter around doing this quest or that while waiting. When the scenario is ready, you have the option to go now, go, but wait or don’t go. If you’re mid-combat or in a dangerous region and you escape into a scenario, you’re only prolonging the inevitable. You’ll be dumped right back into the same situation you left, so it’s better to get free before you join up.
So far, my overall experience has been a positive one. I’m impressed with the feeling and construction of Warhammer. I honestly like the way that it looks and I think that they are implementing a lot of great ideas, either fresh of adapted, and will have a game that should entertain RvR fans. I think that even people that normally shy away from PvP games might actually enjoy it in WAR.
In the end, reading this first look at WAR, it's rather easy to see where the game's strong points lie. It's criticized for having a lengthy and somewhat pointless PvE level grind, and Jon's initial impressions reflect however that the starting zones were one of the title's finest points. The Public Quest system is something we see used in almost every major title since WAR, refined greatly in Trion's Rift namely. Scenarios are still WAR's bread and butter, and while RVR should have taken center stage, this old article reminds me of those early days in WAR when the fun was in just getting together with your guild and clashing on the battlefield. Notice we didn't claim Mythic's game would wash away our sins and deliver us to some MMO promised land. Jon simply called it like he saw it: WAR was going to be a fun PvP game that had the potential to attract many who might shy away from that game in the past. And you know what? Whatever happened to the title after launch, I think it's still safe to say that he was right.