Anyone following MMOs knows that there has been talk of Vigil Games's Warhammer 40k MMO for some time. The game has remained shrouded in mystery and few have seen any real concrete news about its development. Then, a few weeks ago, THQ mentions the game in their investor call and how important the game will be for revenue. With that we learn that the game will be shown at E3 this year, and 40K fans suddenly looked up from their gaming tables and heard the call.
In theorizing about the game there are certain elements that Vigil has to consider when making a 40K MMO. We thought it would be fun to put a list together of five areas that are critical to the game in table top form and what makes the IP so popular around the world. Here is a list of areas we feel need to be handled well for the game to appeal to 40k fans whether you play Space Marines or Orks.
One of the most important parts of normal MMOs, PvP will be critical for Warhammer 40k. The entire game is based around alien faction warfare. Eldar, Necrons, The Empire, Orks, Tau, the list goes on. These armies battle it out on countless planets in the galaxy in an endless struggle. Faction warfare will be very important to the game. In Warhammer Online, the fantasy version, different factions were grouped together to form two sides. This was seen as a mistake by players because the options were limited. Although a bad choice in the players eyes, it is a necessary evil among developers to offer factions that give players the best ability to fight each other. If there are too many factions it will split up the player base and cause a problem. So how does 40K solve this problem? Make the faction choices reasonible. Obviously, the Imperium is one with its Space Marines, Imperial Guard, and Sisters of Battle. The other side should include the Orks and Chaos Marines. The third might be some combination of the Eldar and Tau. I know this goes completely against the lore, but it may make sense if they want to combine races into factions. Having only two factions will limit things greatly, and should be the last choice in our opinion. Overall, we hope there will be multiple factions for PvP warfare to choose from, however they divide the races up.
The big question here is does the First Person Shooter mentality apply? With the Assault Phase of Warhammer 40k being a big part of the game, how do we balance the combat interface? Will it fall into something similar that we saw with Tabula Rasa or Gears of War? Will we get the over the shoulder view? The bottom line here is make it fun. An FPS interface may not keep players involved long enough to put in the hours on an MMO. Everyone also likes seeing their MMO character running around, especially in that new suit of Power Armor. The shooting of weapons, the damage they do, and the hand to hand combat all become very important elements of combat. The fighting has to be fast and furious, but not so quick that players die instantly. This part of any MMO or any video game for that matter is always critical. If the game play is not fun, the game fails. Given some of the history of 40K games, they have a great template to work with here.
Squads, Chapters, Kults, and Lore
Okay, we understand that is four elements rolled into one, but they are all important. Will player guilds be able to create their own Space Marine Chapters? That is a huge question with regards to customization. Or will they be able to join the ranks of the Blood Angels, Dark Angels, Space Wolves etc? Will Orks be able to form up and create a Kult of Speed? How will vehicles be handled? Especially with the continued emergance of mech armies. Part of the great thing about building these armies is customizing the tank and vehicles that troops can use to get around. Can a guild purchase a Land Raider to drive around in with multiple players in the vehicle?
In many ways the faction breakdown we discussed in PvP also plays a big part here. If the faction breakdown works and satisfies the player base then the player guild creation should work as well. It all depends on the choices the developers make to give players the closest feel they can to the 40K universe. The other part of lore is which races does a player get to choose? Sorry Tyranid fans, but that one seems like the first to go. Most game companies do not make giant alien bugs a playable race, it is sad. The universe is so deep and endless that these options should be available. Editing will be critical, and not much really can get cut.
Weapons, Armor, and Vehicles
Bolters, chainswords, choppas, zapp guns, shokk attack guns, the list goes on and on. What weapons will be available to players and how can they customize them? How do you balance power fists with chain axes and power weapons? These are the questions facing devs in terms of weapons. There are many, they are all deadly, and some are just plain crazy. Gearing up your Space Marine, Eldar, or Tau is a big deal. Choosing to fight in the assault phase or firing from range is a big choice. So what steps do the developers take? As in 40K itself, characters should have both options. Everyone should have ranged and melee capability. There should be no one sided approach to this in the MMO. Now, the players can choose to equip their Terminator armor with a pair of lightning claws for melee insanity, but that should be the choice of the player, not the game.
Armor is another matter. How does a player go from Power Armor on thier standard Space Marine to Terminator Armor? One idea is to have multiple suits of armor for different type of battlegrounds and assaults. A locker aboard a ship might be a great place to store gear before you drop pod down to a planet and start blasting. As discussed above, vehicles are another matter entirely. Will the game play similar to WWII Online where you can run around the battlefield and jump into a Predator or Leman Russ and drive around shooting? It is a good option, but maybe a personalized tank would be an amazing achievement for the player to reach.
Any MMO has this mountain to climb in terms of gameplay. How do players grow and mature in the game? Some games use level systems, but we are seeing a return to skill systems in many of the new MMOs coming out. There are many ways to bend the lore here. Perhaps you start as a scout and get genetically enhanced after a few missions. Once enhanced you earn your power armor and now join a squad. This can be an option in the Imperium, but what about the rest of the universe? Will Orks rise to Nob status and eventually Bosshood? Perhaps having Eldar advance into one of the Howling Banshees or Striking Scorpions will prove a good option. Overall character advancement is a tough nut to crack. Players need motivation, and unlike the normal fantasy MMO, 40K not only offers futuristic combat, it offers troop types and battle formations. These hurdles can really make it tough for developers to give a single player experience some merit when trying to level up in the unforgiving future of war.
So there you have it. We know many of you will have other major concerns about the game. We cannot catch everything in a short list like this. Overall, the number one issue plaguing MMOs like Nurgle Rot on a Sunday is the lack of fun gameplay. The grind still exists in MMOs and has slowly been getting more managable, but still remains a major barrier in breaking into the console audience who just want a few hours of fun. The Warhammer 40k MMO has a lot on its plate to choose from, it is a Chinese Buffet of lore. With that level of variety there are a lot of tough choices to make to appeal to every fan of the game. We will just have to wait until E3 to see the first glimpses of this game that could bring futuristic ground fighting MMOs to the fore front.