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The Devil's Advocate: Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning Was No Failure

Column By Drew Wood on August 03, 2011

Disclaimer: The Devil's Advocate is a place where the MMO-Loving world can go to hear the unpopular opinion. Please note that this article does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of MMORPG.com, columnist Drew Wood, or any of the game companies that may be discussed. The Devil's Advocate is an opportunity for the oft-shunned and little discussed “Other Side of the Story” to be heard, promoting open discussion on a heavily contested subject.

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EA Mythic's Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning was an unmitigated disaster, a failure and a disappointment. With floundering subscription numbers right out of the gate, Warhammer Online was a misguided attempt to capitalize on an IP that they never quite succeeded in living up to.

On the contrary.

Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning is an MMORPG from EA Mythic that brought the world of Games Workshop's popular table-top roleplaying game, Warhammer, to the MMO world. The game offered a rich mythos with, at launch, two factions (order and destruction) and six playable races, with three in each faction. Four of the six races were represented by four classes, while Dwarves and Greenskins launched with three, with fourth classes being added after launch. Anyone familiar with the IP will be quick to say that six races within the two factions doesn't encompass all of the races in the original IP, not even close in fact. That being said, they are the six that are perhaps the most closely intertwined within the lore. In 2008, Josh Drescher was quoted as saying as much in a story over at Joystiq.com: “We tried to target the races that we thought were most appropriate for the type of game that we're making. They help to establish a core element of the world, forming a coherent view”.

Six races, each one containing four classes within two separate factions is far from being a game that lacks choice. Most games launch with far less choice than we saw from the EA Mythic title and very recently. DC Universe Online from SOE launched with only six 'Class' choices earlier this year and many of its peers share a similar level of options. That's not anything to scoff at either, some games don't require a huge amount of selection, but some games actually tend to suffer from too much choice, which was a trap that Warhammer Online could have very easily fallen into during development, but Mythic was very direct in stating what they were going to be doing. Since then, the Skaven race has been added for Tier 4 play only.

When the game originally launched in September of 2008, it received rave reviews throughout the industry. When we reviewed the game in April of 2009 (seven months after its launch), it scored an impressive 8.4 out of 10 and received deep praise for its focus on RvR (or PvP for anyone who doesn't remember that old argument) and its unique User Interface and the Tome of Knowledge. Problems did persist, even after 7 months of live gameplay, but ultimately the features of the game outweighed the sometimes fishy performance. We weren't the only ones, either. On the Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning Official Website, they display a fairly comprehensive list of reviewers from the industry that supports the claims that Warhammer Online is a first-class game, many of those very same reviews praising a solid, balanced experience for all players, whether they were in it for the PvE or the PvP (RvR).

Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning rose to high subscription numbers at break-neck speed upon its release, seeing 750,000 active subscribers within its first month, immediately setting itself up to be one of the best selling video games of the year. Admittedly, by the end of its first year of active release, Warhammer saw those numbers fall significantly to the 300,000 ballpark and no official numbers have been released, or even thoroughly hinted at, in almost two years. That being said, a game that has maintained a dedicated user-base over the past three years and, according to some in the industry, was profitable from its release (though, this has never been officially confirmed) should cause you to pause before you label it a failure.

Working under that logic, the game had a good financial turnaround. The gameplay was solid but a little buggy, though no more buggy than many games that have launched since. The RvR was near-revolutionary and brought some exciting changes to the industry. Finally, the IP was done as much justice as could have been done for a video game. Any Warhammer player will tell you that they would've loved to have seen their own armies represented in the game (*coughWoodElves&Undeadcough*), but the choices of Empire, Dwarves & High Elves in the Order Faction and Greenskins, Chaos & Dark Elves in the Destruction Faction made the most story sense for the property itself.

Perhaps Warhammer Online should have opted to launch with a third faction to its system. This could have potentially stimulated longterm health whilst simultaneously silencing those who criticized their choices vis-a-vis the factions, armies and classes that were chosen for the game. The game has since gone into “Endless Trial”, which allows to you play your Tier 1 character as long as you'd like and there's been whisperings (for months, seemingly) of the game finally biting the bullet and going F2P. Would this help the game? Does the game really need the help? A Lord of the Rings Online or DDO like resugance would be very possible under a F2P regime. But that's another article for another day and we'll just have to wait and see.

While I still maintain that a third faction comprised of Skaven, Lizardmen and the Undead would bring me scrambling back to the game, even just in writing this article I've been tempted to trundle down to the basement and open up my “old games” tupperware bin to grab the box, renew my subscription for a month or two to take that walk back into Games Workshop's fantastical world.

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