Very few things give me cause to get up at 5:00am, but this year's Games Day put on by Games Workshop in Baltimore, MD was just such a day. Games Day is an annual event where players of Games Workshop's various miniatures based table top games compete for fun and prizes. This year, Electronic Arts was present with a booth devoted to the EA Mythic developed game; Warhammer Online, Age of Reckoning, and boy am I glad I was there!
Earlier in the day, MMORPG.com contributor Joseph Iuliani and I were lucky enough to have a chance to speak privately with Senior Producer Jeff Hickman and Design Manager, Paul Barnett. The details of that interview will be covered by Joseph. However, coming away from that interview, I can say that these two guys are both excited about and devoted to this game. Shortly afterwards they were both busy hosting an hour (plus) long conference about the game, attended by several hundred fans. I can tell they both love Warhammer and are striving to translate the table top game as best they can into a unique and fun MMO. To sum up their feelings on the game quickly Jeff says, "War is everywhere" and Paul says, "If you don't like war and killing, this game won't be for you". I really enjoyed meeting this comical pair who were more than willing to discuss their aspirations for the game.
With Warhammer's beta test surpassing 200,000 interested testers, I knew there would be a great deal of interest in the game. In fact, as of this article's printing, it ranks on MMORPG.com as the number one most anticipated upcoming release. Eager fans were in constant supply at this event, standing in a line stretching around the corner for most of the day, waiting for a chance to play the game. The EA booth consisted of two distinct areas, one with twenty computers set up for ten on ten Player verses Player scenarios and another with about five computers allowing people to quest in the initial starting areas of the game. All of the characters were pre-generated on the sweet Alienware machines that were provided, so we just had to pick the race and class desired.
The starting area generated a level one character, while in PvP, we were given level twenty characters to play with. At this point, the Dwarves and Empire were playable for the side of Order while Orcs (Greenskins) and Chaos were playable for the Destruction side. In the end, there will be four basic class types: a damage dealer, a damage absorber (he can shield other players and attack) a ranged attacker, and a healer/buff class which can also fight. Everyone Fights! Not all classes within each race were playable at this point, such as Chaos' Chosen and Empire's Knight of the Blazing Sun, which are still in development. There was still plenty to choose from, and so little time to play.
First, I went to the starting area computers to get a quick feel for the game. I chose the Empire's Bright Wizard to learn with. Upon start up, my impression was one of pleasure. The game looks great with detailed graphics, smooth movement and ease of use. Seasoned MMO players will have no trouble understanding Warhammer's interface, and will be able to spot the first quest-giver, standing with a familiar gold exclamation point above his head. It didn't take long before I was out and playing Warhammer.
I easily grouped with the player standing next to me and we went out and completed several quests. A red circle on the game map clearly indicates the nearest questing area, while quest trackers on the side of the screen are available for quick reference. Jeff and Paul, however, assured me earlier that this game would not be about grueling grinding and boring quests, no, this game is about war! After having my first look at the game, I have to say that I believe them. The Player vs. Environment part of the game seems enjoyable enough based on the 15 or so minutes I played. The Bright Wizard's fire spells are easily launched from the taskbar, and provide a satisfying effect as they incinerate your target. Experience seems to be earned quickly (as is usual for early levels), and I did learn new skills in that time, keeping it interesting. PvE players can also rejoice that their efforts contribute to the overall war effort without having to engage in PvP if they so choose.
Ok, but Warhammer is about... War! So let's get to the PvP computers. My first attempt at this style was playing the Orc Shaman character. Luckily, my level 20 character's skills taskbar was already set up. The Shaman has a mix of skills including buffs, de-buffs, healing and attacks. From what I understand, players will be able to choose to advance one skill set to its maximum, or develop a balance of power approach. My stint with the Shaman included a 15 minute instance type scenario, set up by the Mythic team. I'll be honest in that I didn't know what the overall objective was, but there was a castle in front of us, and it was obvious what was to be done.
We rushed the castle and beat the snot out of the Order who were coming in from the other side. Each time we killed a player on the opposite team, we earned points. The side with the most points at the end is the winner and earns extra points towards the overall war. You can go to the Warhammer official site and find out all about points and the overall war effort. I have to admit it was a blast playing the Shaman class. There was no shortage action, and the teams were well balanced. Destruction actually won that battle, which made me smile since I had heard that the Dwarves had been handing it to them earlier.
An interesting point to note is that players get experience for PvP. I was able to gain a new skill in the middle of the scenario, which struck me as innovative. PvP is an integral part of the Warhammer game, but it's not required. Each zone in the game has its own PvP area with objectives and instanced scenarios. These allow players to level up their characters without doing any PvE quests, if they don't want too. Other players also drop loot when killed, but not their own, it appears that this system could effectively stifle some of the "griefing" that is present in other PvP games.
Later, I had a chance to play on the Order team and was the Bright Wizard again. Actually, I didn't get to choose since I was the last player on and that's what was left. Hey, I figured, at least I know a little about playing this class. This time we played a different scenario, and I paid a little more attention. Besides just killing the other team (which is a blast) we were supposed to hold objectives. Players standing near each objective would eventually "capture" it and begin earning extra points for the scenario, enemy players nearby slow down or reverse the capture process. Each scenario instance will have its own unique objectives, appropriate for that area. Playing the Bright Wizard at level twenty was also very enjoyable. Instead of just button mashing, you need to plan your attacks wisely. A short root spell was available now along with "combo" spells that feed off of each other and a damage over time spell. Fifteen minutes was over in a flash, and Order won this battle (to the dismay of a crowd of onlookers, hmmm), I had a great time.
I can see why the hype surrounds this game. Even though I had only around 45 minutes of hands on time, I was hooked and wanted more. Both the Order and Destruction sides have compelling character classes that I wished I could try, yet the choices are simple and straightforward. Each side is well balanced with skills and the motive is to go out and fight (hear that healer types). Little or no drudgery is promised by the creators, and so far I see none. Yes Jeff and Paul you are right, this game is about war, and that's what the original Games Workshop table top was about also.