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Land of the Dead Hands-On Preview

Dana Massey Posted:
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It’s rare, but every so often, an established developer walks into what should otherwise be just another press demo and surprises everyone in the room. Mythic Entertainment did just that this weekend when they unveiled Land of the Dead to a group of journalists at Baltimore Games Day.

The goal, according to Creative Director Paul Barnett, was simply to “add more game to the game.” From the presentation and hands-on demo they provided, they definitely succeeded, at least with the new content.

Land of the Dead is a free upgrade to Warhammer Online, due in early July. It adds an entirely new area to the game, modeled on the gameplay found in Dark Age of Camelot’s Darkness Falls dungeon. It’s a new high level PvE area that is contested between the two realms, who must fight for control and then within the zone in order to enjoy its content and harvest the rewards.

To enter the Land of the Dead, the realm must win a tug-o-war with their opponent. This is decided through RvR, most specifically zone conquest and individual kills. Mythic hopes to see the zone swap control a couple times a night. Once it’s changed, the controlling realm gains the sole ability to enter the zone and respawn if killed within it. Naturally, when it flips, the people already inside won’t just be booted out. Instead, the invading realm will need to purge them through a series of missions.

More Game In The Game

What makes Land of the Dead new and fun, though, is not this concept. It’s the way Mythic ingeniously tweaked each of the quests and missions within the zone.

The vast desert/Egyptian inspired area is littered with 18 Public Quests, combinations of which must be completed by groups of players in order to gain access to a final epic pyramid.

In a move that is likely to thrill some, and exasperate others, each of these quests is not just the typical staged open kill quest from the regular lands of Warhammer Online. Each has its own unique “console-like” element to it. That’s not to say WAR has become an FPS game, but clearly the designers have done their homework and crafted challenges that test not only the level of the character, but also the abilities of the person behind the keyboard.

Here are a few examples of this new take on public quests:

  • Carrion Eggs: It begins like any other. Players must smash a few eggs of Carrion birds. But, as players run in to begin attacking the birds, they’re lifted off the ground and dropped up at the top of a large cliff face full of nests. To complete the quest, the player must strategically hop from ledge to ledge down the mountain and plan their descent to maximize the number of ledges they land on (and thus eggs they smash). Players cannot climb the mountain and the quest is on a timer, so while the birds happily bring players who fall off back to the top to try again, time is of the essence. Sound familiar? It should, this harkens back to classic platformer games like Mario.  
  • Sealed Tombs: In another PQ, players begin again with a typical kill quest. After the first stage though, players must run into a series of tombs. At the top, they take on a blessing and then must quickly fight their way to the bottom of the mini dungeon to close off a sarcophagus. The blessing they take at the top has a shelf life, so to be successful each player better hurry. In order to do it with a reasonable group before the timer expires, it’s also important to spread out and do multiple tombs at once. Then, as monsters pour into the area, a series of skeletons wanders in to unlock the tombs. Again, players must intercept these skeletons before they can unlatch their hard work. Finally, once defended, there is a final epic mob fight... with a twist. This time, in between each stage as the monster is beaten down, he turns into a of couple fast moving clouds that, if they touch the player, teleports them to the bottom of one of the tombs. If a group isn’t careful and the wrong guy gets sent downstairs, the results can be disastrous.  
  • Defend The Docks: In a moment straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean or The Mummy, this PQ integrates siege equipment right into the game. Players must defend the docks against first an onslaught of ships from the sea and then a hoard of skeletons shuffle over land and the rolling dunes, just begging to be mowed down. The PQ culminates with a fight against a rather piratey Ship Captain.  
  • Dig For The Door: The final of the 18 PQs asks players to play some combination of Minesweeper and Simon Says to open up the final door and unseal the pyramid for the entire zone for 15 minutes. Inspired by actual historical accounts, where the Egyptians would slaughter the workers and architects of the pyramids and bury them outside, this mission asks players to dig up architects, each of whom will give a clue to how to unlock the door. Players must hit a dig button to try and with each attempt, they get on screen feedback about how close they were to an architect (“a few steps,” “a few feet,” or “a few yards”). If the player doesn’t get an architect, they get a worker, who they must kill. To effectively find architects, players must spread out and coordinate their messages to find them. After they get enough architects, each of whom has illuminated a symbol on the wall of the cave, the group must then carefully spread out and stand on the matching symbols carved into stones on the walkway. Be careful though, if even one member jumps on the wrong stone during this phase, not only does the door not open, but they’re instantly struck down. Once players coordinate and stand in the right spots, the door is unlocked.

Other innovations include roaming PQs that literally wander around the zone and can be activated wherever they’re met and much more. Each of the 18 PQs outside of the pyramid has a distinct mini-game tied to it.

Mythic also said that they worked hard to make sure that players wouldn’t get frozen out of the public quest once it reached a certain level if they were in too small of a group or even alone. The quests definitely seemed to be more friendly to small groups, but many still had an epic encounter at the end that required a large and well coordinated party to have any hope against.

Nonetheless, even if the contribution is not huge, each person who participates unlocks a symbol. These symbols must be collected to finally enter the pyramid at the end, so theoretically, even with a modest contribution, a single player could unlock all he or she needs to go into the last stage. That said, once inside, they best not be alone. Some baddies await.

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Dana Massey