The Warhammer franchises have been receiving quite a lot of attention lately. Warhammer 40K recently saw releases for the twin-stick shooter Warhammer 40,000: Kill Team and third-person shooter Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine, while the Warhammer Fantasy setting is getting its own MOBA in the form of Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes. With all of the buzz around Games Workshop’s originally miniatures-based settings, we thought it would be a perfect time to dip back into Mythic Entertainment/Electronic Arts’ Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning.
As we mentioned in our Review and Re-Review, WAR didn’t have the best launch and experienced a mass exodus of players that resulted in several server merges, a streamlining of starter areas, and the general feeling that very few people are playing the game outside of the free trial area. Mythic has done excellently in responding to player feedback about the structure of the game’s World PvP, known as Open Realm vs. Realm (ORvR), added a bunch of new content, and made the Tier 1 starting area an endless free trial, doing a pretty bang-up job in trying to keep the existing population happy and bring in new players.
Plus, WAR still has some of the best PvP action out there, which is only diminished by a lack of players in the middle levels of the game. In our recent experience with Mythic’s MMO, we’ve found that WAR still has some of the same problems we’ve taken issue with, but is much improved and has a very active group of developers behind it that continue to push the MMORPG toward its original vision.
True to its Games Workshop source material, WAR has a refreshing, gritty take on the fantasy genre aesthetic. From the minute you load up the game, you’ll get the sense of constant warfare, either defending your Realm from waves of attackers or pressing forward on the offensive. Dilapidated buildings abound and the architecture, outfits, and designs have an appropriately military feel to them. Mythic has done a great job capturing both the Warhammer aesthetic and feeling of being constantly under siege or always on the attack.
However, WAR has always looked a little drab, and that hasn’t improved. What has changed is the game’s competition, and while WAR’s stylized approach holds up well enough, it doesn’t compare well to recently released MMOs or others coming down the pipe. This is especially true of the Order side of the game, which includes the Dwarf, Empire humans, and High Elf quest areas. The at-war mentality may be a defining characteristic for these regions, but they otherwise look like generic fantasy locales.
The Destruction side is a lot more interesting, as you get to play alongside a bunch of Greenskins, Chaos humans, and Dark Elves in much more stylized and humorous areas. The Cockney-speaking Greenskins can be hilarious and very close to the Warhammer fiction, while the Chaos human and Dark Elf quest areas are at least a little more colorful than most of the Order regions. The Greenskins in particular pack more personality into the game than most races in other MMOs, and if you like the horde mentality of swarming your enemies, you’ll love fighting with WAAAGH!
The sound and music in WAR are mostly unremarkable, except for the ring of your blades against those of your enemies, which you’ll be hearing a lot of. That’s something!
WAR’s core combat mechanic is pretty standard, and you’ll find yourself comfortably at home with hotbars, skill rotations, and the like. As you level, you can unlock new abilities at a career trainer and earn Career Mastery points to spend on further specializing your character, and receive “Morale” skills that you can activate after building up morale through combat. You can also earn “Tactics” through PvE and PvP, which are basically slottable bonuses that you can switch out at any time based on your needs in battle. The feel of the combat is pretty fast and fun, while characters feel a little weightless even though the game has collision detection.
The questing regions in WAR are split up into Tiers 1-4, which correspond to player levels (Tier 1 is level 1-10, Tier 2 is 11-20, etc.). Each area pits one of the races and their correlates against each other in a battle for control, and all of the quests relate in one way or another to that struggle. So, if you have a vendetta against Dwarves and pick a Greenskin character, you’re in for a treat. The quests themselves are very standard kill and fetch stuff, but being couched within the epic scale of Realm vs. Realm battle helps to keep them interesting.
Plus, everything – and we do mean everything – from quest tracking, rich lore-driven stories for each area, and information about notable figures that you come across, to a collection of the titles you’ve earned, your progress towards different achievements, and lore entries for every type of monster that you meet, are included in the Tome of Knowledge. The Tome is really very handy and a spectacular addition to what could have been a very mediocre PvE experience. Many MMOs have tried to implement something similar, to varying degrees of success, but WAR was the first to do it so cleanly and comprehensively. If you like lore, reading quest text, or even just having all of your achievements and titles in one place, the Tome of Knowledge will add a neat dimension to your gameplay.
Another interesting addition that WAR was first to promote well is the Public Quest system, which allows you to join other players to engage in gated, objective-based quests scattered throughout quest areas. They usually consist of killing a certain amount of mobs, which unlocks the next, harder phase of the quest, which in turn spawns a huge monster or some such to complete the series. All players can join or avoid them as much as they like, and participants are rewarded individually based on their contribution. Participating in PQ’s also works toward your overall “Influence” with the region’s faction, which has its own rewards for doing quest-related objectives. As cool as they are, the Public Quests have been much maligned because of their repetitive nature and the increasing difficulty for finding a group to take them on, with the rapidly diminishing player base. A lot of them have “easy” stages which can be soloed, but tend to be slogfests and don’t offer the same kind of rewards you’d expect from the real thing.
Keep in mind, everything we’ve discussed so far is the PvE content in WAR (except for the combat, which is the same throughout). On the flipside, PvP is the game’s main focus and where WAR truly shines. What good would all the war-like aesthetics be if you didn’t get to unleash your wrath against other noobs?! WAR’s PvP is some of the fastest, most furious, and satisfying player-versus-player combat in any type of game, and there’s a whole lot of it. Every Tier of leveling is supported by open world, Realm vs. Realm battles for region control, while you can also queue up for instanced scenarios anywhere, or participate in high-level campaigns to take over the opposing side’s Capital City. The action is tremendously fun and crunchy, and you get “Renown,” or PvP XP, as well as regular XP for doing pretty much anything, making PvP a viable leveling track and great way to get uber rewards and bragging rights. Plus, all of this is tracked and embellished in the Tome of Knowledge alongside the PvE content.
Our favorite PvP’ing has to be the quick-fix scenarios, but they exhibit the same issue that exists within all of the PvP in WAR, which is the lack of people to play with in Tiers 2 and 3. There’s understandably a bunch of face-punching going on in the free trial area, and top-level players seem to be active as well, but not enough people in the middling areas to give it a go. If you queue up for a scenario, be prepared to go questing, read up on your Tome of Knowledge or make a sandwich while you wait for a group to fill up. Open Realm vs. Realm is no better in this respect, as you can usually just jaunt up to a control point and click on it to claim it for your faction and move onto the next one without any resistance. Taking an enemy keep requires a little more coordination with a party but is still easy to do without any opposition. Plus, there are several quests that require you to fight enemy players, which will sit in your quest log until you find other people online.
Mythic has been really good about responding to player feedback and trying to work with the need for more players in PvP. Capturing zones in ORvR is now much more streamlined, only requiring one faction to grab the other side’s keep, rather than waiting for timers or depending on victory points. The devs have also added a “WAR Report,” which gives you information on different battlefield objectives and hotly contested areas, and lets you know which regions are experiencing a high population. The server merges have helped consolidate the player base as well, and you’re no longer required to split your Order and Destruction characters among servers, although you’ll have to wait to switch sides if you engage in ORvR.
Mythic is also always shuffling and balancing PvP scenarios and adding new content, such as the Skaven, which are a Tier 4 race that you can play with in RvR, and regular world-wide events. The endless free trial is certainly helping to bring people to the game, but not necessarily getting them to continue on past the Tier 1 content. We still think PvP is WAR’s strongest selling point, but in the middle levels the low player population leaves much to be desired.
The Tome of knowledge is a fantastic addition to WAR and adds a layer of personality that’s sometimes lacking in the game. Similarly, Public Quests, problematic though they may be, break up the monotony of questing and provide some fun opportunities for group content that is well-steeped in the Tome’s lore. We can’t help but compare both the Tome and PQ’s to similar features in more recent MMOs that implement them a bit more elegantly (hint: starts with “T” and ends with “rion Worlds’ Rift”) , but WAR opened the door in the MMO genre for these additions.
PvP in WAR is still some of the best available. Mythic’s approach to PvP, fashioned through their experience developing Dark Age of Camelot, results in very satisfying and fast-paced brawls between players that other MMOs have yet to catch up with. There are few games out there that offer as feature-rich of a PvP experience as WAR, or that do it as effectively.
Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning is much more polished than at launch. It’s much more stable and feels more like a complete product than it has in the past. Quests and NPCs work as they should, PvP isn’t perfect (depending on who you ask) but is continuously being tweaked, and the UI, while somewhat cluttered, is fully functional.
WAR has basic crafting and equipment dye systems, which work fine, but aren’t as full-featured as in other MMOs. The crafting system in particular is fun to play around with but otherwise not very compelling in the whole scheme of the game. We’re not of the mind that every MMO needs to have a huge emphasis on crafting, but we do think that if it’s included, it should be as detailed as the rest of the game, with clear incentives for participating in it.
There are 24 different careers to choose from (some of which were added post-launch), split between Order and Destruction, and four Tiers to play through if you like WAR’s content. The careers are pretty varied and have a lot of personality, and are worth checking out if you like making alts. Seriously, we have over 10 characters across both factions. If you have a few friends to play with, you can certainly have a blast plugging through the PvE areas and Public Quests, but you might have a hard time finding bigger groups.
As we’ve mentioned, PvP is a completely viable leveling track if you’re not interested in PvE, but it’s especially hard to find active scenarios and Open Realm vs. Realm groups in the middle level range, so your mileage may vary. PvP is also your best long-term option for endgame play, so if you’re the bloodthirsty type, you’ll be right at home.
It’s clear that WAR was originally designed for a lot of interaction between players, simply through the nature of Public Quests and the different PvP modes. It’s very easy to join public groups for questing and ORvR, and you can join scenario queues from anywhere in the world. There’s also a well-made guild finder, and joining a guild might be the way to go to tackle some of the harder content and coordinate PvP offensives. Otherwise, as we’ve mentioned, it can be very hard to find other people in the middle level range.
Mythic’s continuous efforts toward increasing the population and implementing player feedback is readily apparent, and goes a long way toward improving the general perception of the game. It feels as though WAR ‘s population is slowly growing, which is exactly what it needs to show off its best features. Although numbers are nowhere near what they were at launch, if Mythic continues to incentivize players to come to the game and make it easier for them to immediately get their PvP on, we could easily see WAR becoming more popular pretty quickly.
You can’t beat the endless free trial area, which allows you to play through Tier 1 of the Empire and Chaos human pairing, although restricting you from the Capital Cities or from sending in-game mail and using the Auction House or Bank. After getting a taste of the action, you’ll probably want more, but it’s a little hard to recommend the $14.99 subscription fee when the game experience changes drastically after Tier 1 because of the small population.
We can’t help but think a full free-to-play overhaul would help WAR’s population and success immeasurably. It makes a certain kind of sense to offer entry to each Tier through separate purchases so that you can pay as you go, or give some kind of discount for buying all of the content at once. Mythic is already using EA’s Origin store to sell packs that unlock Renown ranks, accelerated leveling, tokens to change your character’s look, vanity pets, and mounts. We have to think it would be relatively easy to implement a new revenue model, and well worth their – and your – time.
If all of this sounds like we’re being overly harsh on WAR, let’s get one thing straight: Mythic’s MMORPG is fun. It’s certainly still some of the best PvP on the market and the active developer updates and involvement with the community are a big plus. The core game is still there, and much more polished than at launch, and while the low population makes it harder to get into Open Realm vs. Realm and the scenarios, there’s still a lot to do in WAR and Mythic seems to be working hard to bring players to the game.
We’re also really excited to get our hands on Wrath of Heroes, which seems like it distills the fast and furious action from WAR while doing away with the PvE bits. Curiously, Mythic’s new MOBA will be F2P and is branded under the Warhammer Online name, which makes us think that Wrath of Heroes could be a great way to introduce gamers to the Warhammer Universe and act as a gateway to the MMORPG. We certainly hope that it’s great and that Mythic finds a way to tie it in easily with WAR, and uses its projected popularity to bring players to their MMO.
A switch to free-to-play for WAR itself would do wonders for the game’s population and improve the PvP experience immensely, although nothing has been announced along those lines. Wrath of Heroes could provide the exposure the MMORPG needs to revitalize its player base and realize its potential as one of the best PvP MMOs in the genre, which is certainly no less than it deserves.