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r1ft Gaming Blog

A mirror of my gaming blog at r1ft.com. The jaded game designer turned corporate lackey. Feedback is always welcome.

Author: Daedren

The Inevitable "Meh" of Warhammer Online

Posted by Daedren Wednesday October 8 2008 at 8:34AM
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Hi, I'm Daedren. You might remember me from other articles like "Squig Vicious: When Herding Goes Wrong" and "Fatality: My Age of Conan DVD in the Microwave." I know, I know - it's hard to write something where you know you're going to alienate or piss off a good portion of your readers with just the title, but it's just how I feel. To summarize, my thoughts are basically this: Warhammer Online is a mediocre remake of everything we've already seen in the industry. It lacks passion, it lacks real creativity, and at the end of the day, it doesn't provide a unique or memorable experience. Or yeah, something like that.

The first few weeks after an MMO comes out are always bustling with activity. People just can't seem to shut up about a game. I suppose it's all about that new and exciting feeling, the same sort of feeling you get when you're waiting for your test results back from the lab after hooking up with the tattooed girl at work. I can honestly say I really wanted to like Warhammer. That said, I don't. Just a warning: there will be an immense string of negativity hurled Mythic's way in this rant of an article. These are my personal thoughts on the game, and how I feel about it. Some will agree with me. Many will not. Keep this in mind before you get all stabby with the comments.

Warhammer Online, on paper, seems to be a good, solid game. On paper, it's a nicely designed game that at least tries to take some baby steps to advance our MMO industry. On paper, it's not so bad. Unfortunately we don't play the game on paper, so let's focus on one thing: why does Warhammer make me say "meh?"

The "MEH"

What the hell does "meh" mean anyway? Well, to me, it's this feeling of "blah" or apathy that can roughly be summarized as not caring too much about whatever it is you're talking about. For example: "How do you feel today?" - The "meh" answer here would portray a sense of uncaring blandness that isn't quite good, and isn't quite bad. Upon further questioning, the purported sayer of "meh" will be somewhat uncertain of the exact cause of this: they can't pinpoint something that is outright bad, but they know something is amiss.

That's my feeling towards Warhammer Online. The inevitable "meh." I can't get worked up to actually care about fighting Faction X because I'm Faction Z. I feel distanced from my character in game because it feels like I've been there before. I don't feel for the Elf or Empire or Dwarf cause. I don't care that Chaos people and Greenskins go burning virtual buildings and killing NPC's or players that magically respawn back into existence. And quite frankly, I've done enough "Ten Kill Rats", "Talk to Joe" and "Collect Item X" quests in my life to never see one again and be happy.

I just don't care about playing. Some people might say "Daedren you need a guild!" - well, I have a guild. A damn fine one at that. Never a shortage of people to do things with. Sadly, my guild can't make the game fun to play. They can't take that apathetic feeling away that makes it feel like a chore just to log in and progress. I just can't convince myself that the game is fun enough to spend my time playing. Perhaps I'm getting picky, but I really just think the game is "meh". Unchallenging, uninspiring, and lacking passion. They've solidified an already existing game dynamic, adding a few bells and whistles, and expect people to spend a good portion of their free time in their unoriginal cookie cutter world. I just can't do it.

Playing Bad Guys, Factional Combat and RVR

A few months ago, when people started saying that Destruction to have the most people playing it, I had my own ideas why. Mainly it's because I thought that most people playing Destruction would be some emo/goth hybrid, torn between listening to death metal or Evanescence whilst painting teardrops on the corners of their eyes or writing poetry about how the world doesn't understand them. Now, though, I understand that it's really because Mythic spent about 75% of their development time working on Destruction classes and areas. Thanks to that, we now have everyone and their kitten running around playing naked Witch Elves or hulking Greenskins. They've gone and made being bad popular, and what does that mean?

From a design perspective, Mythic has allowed players to play a bad or "evil" faction. The problem here is that they allow players to play the role of an evil-doer, yet infer no material or moral consequence for their actions. Universally, there is nearly no difference in playing Order or Destruction other than some weakly implied moral bias. Every player knows that you don't really kill another player in RvR - as they are magically reappearing seconds later because of the joke of a death system - but the real problem is that deep down, players know that they can never really win. You can't vanquish evil, you can't slaughter the forces of good - all you can do is work at inconveniencing them for a couple minutes. It's a never ending game with no side being able to actually win or claim a real victory, so it blends into a meaningless label of Good/Evil or Order/Destruction with a lack of substance behind any faction or player.

It's depressing from a player perspective: no matter what you do in the game, you cannot change anything. Sure, burn Altdorf down. It resets in a week or whatever. The Order players are still there. You can never get rid of them. You can maybe evict them and their stupid Keep Lords from their temporary residences, but they'll be back. They have places to go where you can't, making the Warhammer Online universe no more than a staged battlefield, a Valhalla of sorts, where nothing can ever really change.

Factional WAR

This subject has the potential to be the most disturbing and controversial subject of them all. Warhammer isn't the first to implement it, though, but they do use it as the main selling point of their game. RVR combat - Order vs. Destruction. Or, as I like to call it, Spock vs. Evil Spock. You know, with the goatee.

I don't subscribe to the "It's WAR! Kill them!" pamphlet that makes me a robot soldier in an army killing an opposing robot soldier for Generic Reason X. This sort of mentality is exactly what is wrong with the world - killing other "people" because they are a certain race or faction. Are there no Goblins in the Warhammer world that are happy growing food and tending their squigs? No Dwarves or Humans that would betray their faction for the right price? No Dark Elves that are born with purple eyes and happen to be morally at war with everything their people does? Oh, if only life were this black and white. They've eliminated any sense of a "grey area" and have overly simplified objective right and wrong. The fact that Orks and Dark Elves can't kill each other is almost as laughable as Elves and Dwarves fighting alongside each other. So much for embracing game lore.

So, basically all we are in Warhammer are Battle Droids. The leaders tell us what to shoot, and we shoot it, no questions asked. Or maybe we're Stormtroopers. Who knows. Either way, we seem to be stuck in the role of "Don't think, we'll do that for you" to the supreme Warhammer overlords. It sounds like a mentality that a typical government would love for it's people to have: unquestioning and unthinking. Sign me up for the war, sir.

Preventing this is something very hard to do from a design perspective. It definitely makes things harder, throwing grey into the world. Perhaps people like the ease of determining good vs. evil - perhaps the fact that it doesn't mirror reality is what makes it comfortable - it is, after all, fantasy. I'll admit that the thought of a real and visceral evil is a bit romantic and provokes thoughts of real heroism and chivalry. Warhammer hasn't captured that in any sense, though, at least to me.

Whatever happened to Heroes?

Another stream of logic that Mythic has embraced is downplaying of your character in the game. They aren't alone in this aspect: the only MMO to really capture the true "Hero" aspect is probably City of Heroes/Villians. However, they've taken the high-fantasy world of Warhammer and allowed players to make characters in this world. These characters are not heroes. They're more like errand boys and shock troops. At most you could be considered a red shirt wearing Ensign of Star Trek. Go, zerg that keep like the good minion you are. Us heroes will be safely waiting here in the Warcamp as you do our bidding.

The real heroes of this game are the Keep Lords and the terribly powerful guards you see standing around. The insane power of these guys make you wonder why they don't get on a damn horse and try to go mobile. Hell, half of the guards at a Tier 4 Warcamp could probably take the opposing faction city with little problem. And here we are, the players, running around delivering notes to them and letting them direct us. We're their minions. Whatever happened to making a player feel like they are a hero? Why can't we have minions and troops to command? Where are the armies that we can direct and lead? The reason that D&D and Warhammer tabletop games were popular is because the story revolved around the players; they could noticeably affect and change the world based on their decisions. This main aspect and magic of the game is lost in a sea of inane, repetitive and fun killing "Quests". Yay, fun!

Creative Vision

I suppose what Mythic really missed here was the Creative Vision. Now, that's not to say there is nothing creative in Warhammer Online: we have nifty things like Public Quests, an advanced RvR system, flags and statues in cities, nifty little easter eggs floating around, etc. In the big picture, though, it's all small beans. All the repetitive "content" will be explored and done. People will hit max level and RvR for a while. Keeps will be captured and Capital Cities captured, ad infinitum, like some sort of pointless tug-of-war. As sad as it is to say it, Warhammer just doesn't have that "epic" feel to it. Polishing brass on the Titanic is more like it.

It's clear that Warhammer Online was designed with World of Warcraft as its working business model - and this is probably the biggest weakness of the game. I can understand the logic of "Hey, let's make WoW - but with an actual PVP and RVR system!" - yet it's failing to do anything for me. The good thing about WoW was that it was new and exciting at the time, even if it was just a rehash of Everquest and DAoC with a bigger development budget. WoW was a logical evolution in the MMO industry, and it helped mainstream MMO's and brought in a boatload of new people from outside the industry. And now, it's all about the three step process to mediocrity:

  • Use WoW as a business model
  • Make a game almost exactly like WoW but improve it a little bit and make it a bit different
  • Try and profit

Yay, recycling is fun! Ok, it's not that the game won't make profit. Sure, I suppose it will. It sold enough, has enough "content", and its got enough raving fanbois to keep a healthy population for a long time. Then we'll have Vanguard and Age of Conan on one side, and LOTRO and Warhammer on another.

4 Games. Over 250 Million USD in production costs. And almost absolutely nothing new to the MMO industry.

What about the end game of Warhammer Online? I haven't experienced it yet, that's true enough. Not many people have. The end game is all about RVR. Keep Takes. City Sieges. Renown Grinding. People always need to have the best stuff. What's the best way to get to RR 80? Why, it's playing the same scenario, over and over again. Think of Warsong Gulch 75,000 times. So, the majority of my end game will be grinding up to max RR level, with sparse breaks for actual open world PVP and keep takes? Thanks but no thanks. As always, it'll come down to the time = currency formula in MMO's, though I suppose it was silly to try and think that would change anyway.

Burnout

I've been told by a few friends of mine that my disillusion with the game is probably due to MMO burnout, and I agree. I stopped playing WoW a year ago. Tried EVE, wanted to love it, but couldn't. Age of Conan was a disaster. Warhammer was supposed to shake things up, but I got bored of Warhammer quicker than AoC, which isn't how it should be. Warhammer, on paper, sounds like it should be great game for an old-school PVP hound like I am, but in execution it leaves me overwhelmingly dissatisfied.

Maybe it's just age. I've felt more drawn to games like King's Bountyand even replaying Bioshock than grinding yet another character up to max level in MMO "X". For some good PVP I'm apt to go play Team Fortress 2, DOTA or Call of Duty 4. Perhaps the appeal of PVP in a MMORPG has just worn off. I've yet to see any MMO implement a system where actual skill mattered in a PVP fight - it usually just comes down to who has the most time to play or who has the most people to roll with them. This thought especially weighs down upcoming releases like Darkfall which not only embraces the "shoot me in the head it's another high fantasy MMO" aspect but also seem to have a PVP formula similar to Shadowbane and Age of Conan.

I've often wondered how the MMO industry can recapture the minds and hearts of MMO veterans like myself. A good portion of the player base started off with Ultima Online or Everquest - meaning that it's safe to say we've seen and done nearly everything Warhammer has to offer, albeit in a different light. The magic, we wants it back. The draw to the genre was that it was massive and new. It felt like things were created with heart and passion, not based on a working business model. I suppose it'll take another company or another game to really break out of the mold to get a lot of the old players back.

So that's it, folks. Warhammer has failed to impress me. I'm not the only one to have this happen, but on the other side, there are plenty of people enjoying the game still. Anyone else feel unimpressed and unmotivated to play? Do tell.

Original article is here.