Warhammer Online: 12 Hour Impressions
Warhammer Online is the latest MMO on the market, produced by Mythic Entertainment (Headquartered in Fairfax, VA….VA in the HOUSE!) and published by Evil Assho…er…Electronic Arts. It’s a PvP-centric game centered in the Warhammer universe of Games Workshop and the stereotypical conflict between good and evil.
In the interests of full disclosure, I am a Games Workshop fan. Not quite a fanboy, but I do own enough GW products that I could probably recreate Warhammer Online on the tabletop. So remember to bring your grain of salt.
The Warhammer world is a very colorful one, and Mythic has done a fairly good job of bringing it to life. The Dark Elves are very pointy, the Empire is very medieval looking and Chaos is just the right amount of “WTF?!” when you see a guy running by with a massive claw instead of an arm. The visuals in the game are very good, rivaling the moments in WoW like seeing the gates of Ironforge for the first time. Again, a Warhammer geek, but running up a hill and seeing a gigantic black castle (or Black Ark, to use its official name) pumping out soldiers is just cool. The races hold true to their archetypes as well…the Destruction side is unabashedly evil, not just morally ambiguous.
The title systems adds to the Warhammer feel which has always been about conflict and dark humor, as certain achievements unlock different titles. These range from the serious like “The Crucial Crusher” or “The Influential” or “Raider” to outright silly ones like “The Validated” (granted for validating your account’s email address) and “Ow My Eye” (granted for clicking on your own character 100 times). That there are titles unlocked by random exploration is also neat, as it gives you a reason to explore so that you too can be known as “The Lumberjack” (and you’re ok…).
Gameplay-wise, it really seems like they sat down to look at all the mechanics that MMOs use and asked “Is it fun for the players? No? Screw it then.” An illustration of this would be the infamous quest drop. Anyone who has played WoW is familiar with the headless murlocs of Hillsbrad where you need to kill 100 murlocs to get 20 heads. In WAR, if you are tasked with collecting some body part or other, EVERY mob has them. It’s a shocking world, really, where all the humans have hands. Inventory sees a similar adjustment wherein quest items have their own slots separate from your real inventory so you don’t have to remember to keep X slots free to pick up the latest thing you’ve been sent out to gather by Guy Picking His Nose at the Quest Hub. The map is also of actual use as it will draw a red circle around an area with a quest objective in it. It’s not GPS accurate, but you don’t have to go look up on a website where Mankirk’s wife is either. Again, they figured out that blundering around the countryside looking for a quest objective wasn’t very fun, so they omitted it.
In terms of the game itself, it is unabashedly PvP-oriented. Mythic, producers of Dark Age of Camelot which was widely regarded as “the PvP MMO”, has never disguised the fact that if you don’t like smashing someone upside the head, this probably isn’t the game for you. With that said, however, the PvE aspect of the game is fairly well-done and enjoyable. There are a number of interesting things to do that don’t involve the aforementioned player skull-bashing, and they’re all decently fun.
Public quests are basically areas with objectives that must be met to advance to the next phase. Anyone on the faction can complete these tasks and when finished they progress to the next phase culminating in a “mini-boss” fight and loot. Players contributions to the quest (measured by the number of objectives completed) are weighed and top contributors and repeat players get bonuses to their rolls. Plus completing the objectives gives you “Influence” (read: Reputation) with the area, eventually allowing you to gain new gear. They’re fun, if a bit contrived and give people a ready XP grind if they want it that will also produce gear.
If you prefer grinding non-stop though, there are also Kill Collectors…and you should seek mental help for that grinding compulsion. In a nutshell, these are guys who don’t like a particular type of mob in the area. You kill that mob and they’ll give you bonus XP when you “turn in” the quest. The more mobs you kill, the more XP you get. You don’t need to talk to them to start up a quest or anything…just kill the mobs they don’t like. Obviously it works a bit better to talk to them to find out which mobs they want impaled on a spike, but if you already know or just happen to stumble across the targets it’ll work anyway. A minor feature, but free XP is always nice.
All of this talk without mention of the core of the game though, which is PvP, or more correctly, RvR (Realm versus Realm…true PvP implies you can fight anyone, not just the opposing faction). Overall, I’d rate the RvR as fairly well-done, as it damn well better be! The classes are roughly patterned around the same mechanic as WoW’s rogue class. You have “Action Points” which function exactly like energy in WoW. Your abilities require X amount of action points and they will replenish over time or via potions if you need that quick fix finisher. Each class has their own subtly different class mechanic as well, which will vary from class to class. For the Witch Elves, Bloodlust is pretty much identical to combo points. For the Sorceress (Dark Elves > *, by the way…), the pool of Dark Magic increases as you cast spells which will A) Increase your chance of a critical hit on your next spell and B) Increase the chance that your spells will cause damaging feedback to you. I find that to be a wonderfully tactical mechanic. Do you keep casting hoping that the crits will kill the enemy even though the feedback will likely make you easy to kill…or do you play it safe and hope the added health will help?
Healers also come out of the rear-lines for a few races, which is a welcome change. The Empire’s Warrior-Priest is an excellent illustration. You begin with an amount of “mana” for spells. To recover the energy to heal, you need to be at the front-lines whacking people in the face with your warhammer (natch). Dark Elf Disciples work much the same way, though based on my experiences there are also still “stand in the back like a poncy coward” type healers too (Yes, I’m looking at you High Elves…sissy poets to a she-male that you all are…did I mention Dark Elves > *?). Still, the ability to let a healer DO something other than play healthbar whack-a-mole is great.
There’s a variety of RvR types too, ranging from Scenarios (WAR’s version of BattleGrounds) which you can queue for just about anywhere to plain old open-field RvR to keep warfare of storming a castle to literally running through the streets of your opponent’s capital slaughtering everyone you can. Unfortunately, I’ve only been able to try the first two in my first 12 hours, but they’re fun if just as frustrating as PUG BGs in WoW are due to player stupidity. Key feature to mention is that in addition to “Renown” and money, you also gain XP. So if you hate PvE and never, ever want to waste time fighting stupid mobs, you really don’t have to. A nice touch, to say the least.
Speaking of capital cities though, they are huge and full of color. I don’t have a measuring device to compare, but I’d be willing to bet that the Inevitable City of Chaos is at least three times larger than any city in WoW. Good and bad, to be sure, as there are people who will be lost forever in those places, but they serve as an excellent backdrop for a battle. There are also quests in the city and mobs are everywhere if you want to hang out but still want to spoil for a fight and get XP. Running towards the arena and seeing two tribes of beastmen throw down and start wailing on each other really does give the impression of a real city as opposed to the mostly static world that defines other MMO cities. While I haven’t been to Altdorf since beta, it was of a similar scale and involvement. Both of them are fantastically done, and I spent at least a half hour just running around to see all the sights of the Inevitable City…and I still wasn’t done.
Since you will die, a lot, the death mechanic seems worth mentioning. Basically if you die, you will respawn at the nearest friendly camp. If you died in the open world, you will have a debuff that lowers your total health by a certain amount, and this debuff will stack. Don’t feel like waiting for it to go away? Every camp has a healer that will remove it for a scaling amount of money. In my experience, it’s been roughly two mob kills worth of cash, which is exceedingly mild overall. Terribly annoying when the nearest camp is forever away from where you were, but it does make asshole corpse-camping impossible.
Currently, the information on how the game works is terribad in terms of presentation. Sure, all MMO manuals are worthless, but the number of stats and how they impact what you do is not readily apparent. Is Spiritual Resistance better than Elemental Resistance? What about Corporeal Resistance? Should I go for more Toughness or Wounds? While you can muddle through with tooltips what each of them does, the lack of explanation up front can be a bit bewildering given that you will simply be offered items with these stats. How new class abilities relate to what you’re doing goes largely unexplained, and you’re left to your own devices to figure it out. Given the rate at which you acquire these abilities, it just feels like more effort could have been put into illustrating their utility.
The game also does not have all of its “core” content in for release. This is a major annoyance, to say the least. There are a number of classes missing and the race’s missing them feel the pinch. Sure, the factions as a whole have their full array of roles, but it does suck that instead of watching a Dark Elf Black Guard tank, you’re stuck with Chaos Chosen or Black Orcs. Granted, they both look badass like tanks should, but it does suck that certain races will have to “import” roles from their allies. No word on when the classes will be added, but there are signs that they were not “cut” from the game, merely delayed.
Similarly, there are only the two capitals currently rather than the intended six. Mythic’s rationale was that they could not do those other capitals “right” and still release on time, so they opted to push that content back. As good as the two they DID include are, I’m willing to extend the benefit of the doubt to them here. However, it is still bad to ship with 1/3 of the end-game intended. On the silver-lining side of that though, it should make the conflicts in the two capitals suitably epic.
One pet peeve about the cities though is that there are hostile mobs there, and the game really doesn’t delineate which mobs are attackable but otherwise neutral and which want to carve you up like a Thanksgiving Turkey very well. The first group has orange name text while the second group is red, but at a glance it’s not obvious and for a newer player just aggroing one is pretty much a death sentence since they wail on you for a quarter of your life per hit. That’s annoyingly bad, even if death is a minor inconvenience overall.
Quests ended by an item. Holy cow is that annoying. You will pick up item X and need to open your inventory to “use” it and you finish the quest right then. Cool on paper, and when you remember which quests make you do it, it’s great. For those times when you were just picking up tons of quests and going “I’ll read them later” you can end up with a quest you forget about or can’t figure out where it turns in because you’re holding the turn-in point. That’s more of an issue between the chair and keyboard, because as I said, when you do remember they’re kind of nice, but again…some more effort in marking them as “hey dummy, open your inventory” would have been nice.
As you’d expect from a just-released MMO, there are bugs and glitches. Comparatively less than a lot of games have had, but still they’re there. Fortunately, most of them fall into the “annoyance” category instead of the “OMG WTF” category. Examples include: Character getting stuck in mid-animation (resolved by using that ability again to force the animation to complete), special overhead NPC markers like available quests disappearing (solved by exiting and coming back), errors in mob placement where the mob shows on your screen as next to you but is in fact farther away (resolved by moving away…when the mob moves it will be correctly placed for pwnage), public quest boss mobs unattackable by half the group (there’s still adds to kill people!), etc.. None of them are insurmountable, but they are annoying. Still, for these to be the most heinous issues in the first 12 hours on a game just pre-launched is pretty good.
Lag is a factor when there are swarms upon swarms of people in one area, as you’d expect. In the starting zone immediately after launch, the mobs were acting quite laggy and behaved oddly. That sorted itself out shortly after, and I think a certain amount of lag within the first 15 minutes of the game is to be expected. However, it does raise concerns about city sieges where that’s supposed to be what goes on. Was that lag induced by the scads of people logging in or by the amount of people in the area in general? Since camping mob spawn points produced the expected “I stab you, you die” however, I’ll remain hopeful that it was just the initial crush causing it. In most other areas of the game, lag wasn’t really noticeable.
Crafting is a similar bag where it seems like not everything is in. The limit of 1 crafting and 1 gathering profession is also a bit off-putting. The Cultivation profession is neat, if a bit odd (how the hell am I harvesting a plant during combat?) and they gain back some of the points they lose by not having everything around by eliminating recipes. If you know ingredient X + enhancer Y = Potion Z, then you can put those things together and make it. You don’t need to kill three hundred bears to learn what your own guildies can tell you in two seconds.
The Gryph Factor*
Overall, it’s a medium affair. The UI is customizable as far as layout (i.e. – you can put your XP bar wherever, move various frames around to where you want them, etc.) but there is no API for user-created addons. In a PvP-centric game, that makes sense since you want to keep the playing field level, but it does make for a sad Gryphon. The website does provide some interesting stats out of the box, though, being a rough equal to the Armory for character stats. The other black mark on their Gryph Factor is their use of English spellings (GW being a UK-based company) so that when you go to the Empire zones you’re surrounded by members of the Order of the Griffon. This too makes for a sad Gryph-panda.
informs me that there is an API, and Curse
appears to confirm he's not lying. So I suppose we can up it to "medium-high" (that's a lot of points off for "misspelling" Gryphon)
Again, MMOs are notoriously hard to rate as they’re simply too broad. If I had to rate my first 12 hours in the game though, I’d give it four out of five stars, with most of the missing star being the missing content. It was fun, there was always something I could be doing and I never felt like I was forced to be doing any of it. As a game idea and mechanics-wise, I’d rate it as better than WoW. From a technical execution (i.e. – putting those idea into computer code), the scope and amount of content available and the social platform 10 million people provides, WoW is still king. However, I don’t think anyone who enjoys PvP or simply wants to try something different would have an awful time in Warhammer. If they can get more of the content in, I think it will be a solid addition to the MMO market. This is not another WoW clone, it's a different game in a similar setting and I think Mythic overall has done a commendable job to this point.
* - The Gryph Factor is a measure of how much of the game can be interfaced with outside of the game. As an example, World of Warcraft with their Addon API, web-accessible Armory and other “geek” features would rank high on Gryph Factor while a game without any of the above, such as Solitaire or Pinball would rank poorly.