Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning has been out for almost 7 months now, and for whatever reason we haven't gotten around to reviewing it yet! Alas, it was probably for the better. The launch of Warhammer Online was marred by myriad issues that you've likely heard about by now. In the past few months, we've watched Warhammer Online go from a hotly anticipated launch to a hemorrhaging of the player base that would most closely resemble rats fleeing a sinking ship. Is the ship still sinking, or is WAR now the game everyone expected it to be?
Warhammer Online is an MMORPG that focuses heavily on Player vs. Player combat, or more specifically, on Mythic Entertainment's brand of PvP referred to as Realm vs. Realm combat or RvR. A key feature of the game is the inclusion of multiple leveling tracks. In addition to your typical PvE grind, you can shake things up by gaining levels through RvR as well. Also unique to WAR is the RvR Campaign. The entire game follows a linear path spread across four tiers, with the campaign finally ending in sacking the enemy's capital city.
While the PvE aspect of Warhammer Online doesn't really hold a candle to say, World of WarCraft, WAR does spice up the PvE gameplay with the addition of a new system called Public Quests. Public Quests are quests that anyone can take part in by simply walking into the area of the game world in which they are located. Once a player steps into the public quest area, the objectives for the current stage are shown on the UI and the player need only assist in completing them to contribute.
Public Quests are typically broken up into several stages, and often culminate in a Hero fight which will require a party to tackle. As you participate, the system tracks your contribution, and at the quest's completion, several loot bags of various rarity (epic, rare, uncommon, etc) will drop. These loot bags are rolled on by those who participated, with each participant receiving a bonus to their roll based on their contribution. The bags contain gear dependent on their rarity, handy crafting materials, and even money. A player who wins a bag can choose whichever reward they wish. In addition, participation in public quests net you influence (think of it as Public Quest XP) for that particular quest's chapter. As you fill the influence bar, you can select from additional rewards at the chapter's corresponding Rally Master.
The public quest system is used in many areas of the game, including several dungeons and in keep captures. Mythic has updated its Open RvR lakes to make use of an influence system similar to those in Public Quests as well.
Public quests also come in various levels of difficulty so that small parties or even solo players can partake in them if no one else is around to assist. Of course, there are also harder public quests that require more people; these public quests often drop more bags and bags of higher rarity more frequently.
Many public quests are quite interesting, even funny, and often include a bit of voice work. The public quest system is easily one of my favorite features of Warhammer Online, and while grinding Influence out to get all the goodies can be repetitive, doing each one once is often a fun affair.
The Tome of Knowledge:
The Tome of Knowledge is a unique feature of Warhammer Online, and is basically a book that keeps track of your exploits. The interface is slick and easy to use; you simply flip through the many tabs to find all sorts of information on your character. The Tome also contains a bestiary which tracks all the creatures you've killed, how many of them you've killed, and even contains neat art and background information on them. Along with the bestiary, the Tome also tracks your RvR kills, your PvE kills, how many quests you've completed, all of your Public Quest information, including the story that each chapter follows, as well as all the goodies you've earned through them along the way. I could probably go on about the Tome all day, but suffice it to say it is an incredible compendium of your character's journey, and watching it fill in as your character progresses gives you some real perspective on your achievements within the game.
The Campaign / RvR:
What really sets Warhammer Online apart from most MMOGs is the focus on PvP. Many games offer various flavors of PvP but few embrace throwing down with your fellow player as much as WAR does. No, that does not mean WAR is a hardcore PvP game of yore, full of griefing, and full player looting, but to me that isn't a disqualifier for a good PvP game.
Realm vs. Realm combat in Warhammer Online is organized around an overall campaign that eventually leads to your opponent's capital city. Each race is paired off with another that is its sworn enemy: Dwarfs vs. Greenskins, Chaos vs. Empire, and High Elves vs. Dark Elves. These pairings share opposite sides of the same zones instead of having zones entirely to themselves.
Each of these zones contains what is known as an RvR Lake (which gets its name from the colored outline that denotes their location on the map, often in the shape of a lake.) On Core servers, this is basically where most of the PvP goes down. When you step into these RvR Lakes you are flagged for PvP, and this is where you compete for Battlefield Objectives, and later, Keeps, as you vie for control of the zone.
In addition to zones being split up into racial pairings, the campaign is also split into tiers. There are four tiers, each with anywhere from one to two zones representing a racial pairing within that tier. These zones must be fought over to control that pairing's tier in the campaign. Control of a zone confers various zone-wide benefits to the controlling side ranging from discounts at merchants, to Renown (we'll get into what that is in a bit) buffs, and even buffs to incoming healing and armor rating.