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Let There Be Warhammer!

Joseph Sanicky Posted:
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Have you ever had the desire for some genuine MMO PvP combat only to find despair as you login to your MMO of choice and wait in queue for untold amounts of time, only to end up struggling against a tide of strangers and incompetent allies for hours on end? Does the inaccessibility of leveling up a multitude of characters and decking them out in time-intensive gear feel more a chore than a gameplay experience?  If so then look no further than the upcoming game Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes

Recently I got the chance to visit the good men and women at BioWare Mythic studios and preview their new genre-bending game. They feel will be the answer to any desires for MMO-style PvP combat without the bore and grind of traditional MMOs PvP structure. The motto here is fast, fierce, and fun PvP combat, and I can personally attest that the game not only delivers on these tenets but also shows extreme promise for the future of the genre as well.

The premise is rather simple: put players together in an arena with varying objectives and ways to win while removing the tedium and commitment necessitated by traditional MMOs to enjoy such content.  The result isn’t as simple though, it is in fact a very promising new “MOBA” of sorts that results intraditional MMO combat which is accessible in short bursts (easily played over a lunch break, for instance) and has more excitement per square inch than any MMO could garner before.  Far from being a streamlined or dumbed-down conglomeration of the Warhammer PvP everyone knows and loves Wrath of Heroes distills the best qualities of its predecessor into an enticing gameplay cocktail that won’t be easily denied.

Wrath of Heroes (WoH from here on out) pits three teams of six heroes against one another with the goal of accomplishing a diverse set of objectives.  The combat in WoH is based on the combat system present in Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning and carries over many of the classes and archetypes present in that game along with the rich Warhammer lore itself.  Players pick a hero at the outset of the match and use this hero until they expire or win the match with the unique ability to change heroes on every death! Every hero has five abilities they can use in combat ranging from a basic spam skill (think autoattack) to an extremely powerful ability on a thirty second cooldown that is akin to ultimate abilities in other MOBAs. 

The trick here though is that there is no resource management besides watching cooldowns.  For example the Bright Wizard Felicia sports a ranged fireball as her basic attack, a knock-back nuke as her 5 second cooldown, an AoE slowing DoT as her ten second cooldown, an extremely powerful cone nuke as her twenty second cooldown, and her most powerful spell: a targeted four-second stun that does massive AoE damage to the target and anyone unfortunate enough to be nearby.  Furthermore players eventually gain the option swap out spells for alternative choices later on via Masteries, but more on those later.

The game will launch with three maps for players to wage war in, each with a distinctive goal to accomplish. Traditional deathmatch is present and accounted for in an arena that has power-ups such as invulnerability, triple damage, and haste that spawn periodically as the game proceeds while the other two maps have a very unique objective system in place.  Blackfire Pass sets players with the task of capturing three of the four runes on the map in order to rapidly gain points and win the match. 

The catch is that one rune spawns in the middle of the map while each team starts with one rune in their base: and three are necessary to gain points rapidly and win in a matter of seconds!  If no team manages to capture and hold three runes before the fifteen-minute time limit the team with the most kills (and subsequently points, as kills reward a small amount of points) wins the game.  Mourkain Temple on the other hand charges players with capturing at least one of three stationary flags around the map which in turn enable the capture of the artifact at the center of the map and the hasty acquisition of points. The dilemma here is that if a team loses control of an outer flag while they hold the artifact they lose control of the artifact!  Combine these hefty win-requirements with the fact that three teams are roaming around trying to sabotage one another the entire time and games become positively hectic!

WoH uses a system of currency that any MOBA player will be instantly familiar with but with another unique twist!  Every game players participate in grants them a row of slots to spin at the end that can grant varying amounts of gold (the in-game currency to unlock content) as well as chests that drop items!  However, each completed game only unlocks one of these six reels so players must complete “quests” (in-game objectives such as “kill x enemies” or “capture x points” or “win the match”) which allow extra reels to be spun along with reel unlocks for concurrent play from day to day.  If players do well enough and play often enough spinning all six reels at once is possible which will reward the greatest bounties!  What this means is that, unlike other games in the genre, player performance will be the deciding factor in how fast one gains currency and, essentially, content.

If increased rewards weren’t enough of an incentive to be a team-player and do well there is the ever-present lure of new masteries to encourage smart play.  Masteries are a progression system each hero has that is akin to a talent tree in most MMOs.  As players play the game their profile levels up and they unlock mastery points to, you guessed it, unlock masteries!  Each hero has a unique mastery tree and three mastery slots in which to equip perks, traits, or abilities.  Traits are passive stat boosts and procs such as “+3% movement speed, 5% chance on hit: gain 71 health, 5% chance on hit: knock the enemy away a small distance” that, while a bit mundane, can be the difference between life and death. 

Ability upgrades either alter the effects of a hero’s base spells or replace them with entirely new ones!  The best examples of how drastically these new abilities can alter a hero’s playstyle is Glowgob’s (the premier healer at launch) choice of switching out his healing ward for a damage ward-it completely changes the way he is played!  Every hero has an ability or two that can be swapped out in this manner and taking advantage of such a swap has direct consequences on playstyle and power in-game.  The last and most powerful unlock in the Mastery Trees are perks which are essentially kill or assist streak rewards that grant players an extremely powerful, possibly game-changing, ability if certain conditions are met. 

For example one 10-kill perk grants the entire team 100% dodge for ten seconds while another grants a team 100% crit chance for ten seconds if a player can heal teammates for 3,000 health in one life.  Furthermore powerful transformative perks are available like Power Unbound from Volrik the chaos warrior that grants players a few seconds as an unbelievably powerful Lord of Change if they can manage 20 assists without dying.  Needless to say perks are incredibly difficult to attain in combat but incentivize smart play with the ability to single-handedly change the pace of the match. Did I mention that perks and traits can be equipped to any hero once unlocked?  The possibilities are nearly endless and the more content players unlock the more insane stunts they can pull-off with unique mastery combinations!  Chests also have chances to drop these valuable masteries as I mentioned earlier so be sure to complete those in-game goals for your quests!

WoH doesn’t merely impress in-game, oh no, it has a few technical trickeries up its sleeves as well!  The entire game is less than a gigabyte large so download is swift and effortless to accommodate bandwidths of any size.  The game features 100% unique audio assets apart from the original Warhammer game which support full surround sounds in a very meaningful manner-when someone shoots a gout of flame from behind it will be sounded from the rear speakers if available along with any other directional noises.  If that tricky Skaven goes invisible you might just be lucky enough to hear him pop back into existence out of vision range, that is if you aren’t distracted by the superb audio cues, voice work, and music.  Nearly every in-game action, objective, and battle is accompanied by appropriate music that dynamically ebbs and flows as the game is played.  As teams approach objectives the bass might start booming and as an enemy team swoops in to defend a point the rest of the track will clash in to reinforce the action happening on screen.  Important objective captures will be sounded with resonating clangs and booms to announce the impending victory of one team over the other two, signaling it is time to stop fighting each other and work together!

The three-team system, as mentioned plenty of times already, is likely the most significant feature the game has to offer.  The existence of a third team in-game balances the scales in almost every scenario imaginable in terms of both game-balance as well as keeping things fun despite losing.  More than once my team (composed primarily of members of the press) was completely out-played by the team of testers at the studio, we had zero hope for victory, so instead of focusing on capturing objectives for ourselves we vowed to vanquish the orange team no matter the cost!  In doing so (slaughtering only the winning team) we allowed the third team to win a match that would have been impossible to win alone!  Regardless of the fact that we failed horribly at completing the main objective the match was incredibly fun because we were able to alter the odds in a meaningful manner.  The developers were very proud of what having three teams accomplishes for the game and it shines through by opening up exciting new possibilities for coordinated team-play.  Gameplay itself is incredibly dynamic compared to most games of the genre due to the ever present threat of an underdog changing the pace of the match with their decisions.

Bioware Mythic has quite a game on its hands, a game that might change the way MMO players look at PvP combat.  The fast-paced, frenetic action in bite-sized portions fits MMO combat much better than large plodding battlegrounds whose outcomes are often completely out of one player’s hands.  Everything else from the customization available to the “level-up” system to the ability to choose another hero on death creates a gaming package so powerful that only the most jaded MMO player will pass up this chance at Warhammer goodness.

Wrath of Heroes will be entering open beta soon, so keep your eyes peeled, shine your armor, and sharpen your blades for Warhammer is back in full swing!


Joseph Sanicky