A Week with Warhammer

Recommendation:
If you would like a sequel to World of Warcraft with a team-PvP focus, buy Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. If you are waiting for something new and original, keep waiting.

Take note: that is “buy it” not “buy it after the major bugs are fixed.” This is my fifth re-write, and it was only yesterday that it changed from “wait” to “now.” Once the new bugs from Thursday’s patch are fixed, the game is ready to go live.

I do not think I have ever said that about an MMO. There could be massive bugs and a lack of content hidden beyond the open beta level cap, but as far as I can see, they are almost good to go. Servers are solid, with only one crash to desktop and one server flop, and it is a fully competent implementation of DikuMUD with graphics. If you like MMO gameplay, the classes are good takes on it, and they are fun.

If you do not like standard MMO gameplay, had hoped for something new, or are waiting for something better, pass on it. Mythic added a couple of cards but did not shuffle the deck much. This could be a very large expansion pack to your current game, except for that “start anew” thing.

Literally yesterday I had a nice store of snark about how I originally titled the review “not quite ready for prime time” before seeing that Mark Jacobs said the same thing. It was a mediocre release with a poor ratio of new:meh:bugged; today, with one patch, I can recommend it. “When the facts change, I change my mind.”

The game is not perfectly polished. I can accept that. It is more ready for release than any game I have seen. To take my last big games, I would not have recommended buying The Lord of the Rings Online™: Shadows of Angmar™ until Book 12, and neither City of Heroes nor Villains had its last 10 levels at release. Cyndre reminds us about WoW’s early server issues. It is possible that there is no Warhammer endgame at present, but you could still get your month’s worth of entertainment from taking the various classes through the first two tiers of content.

If you need the full review explaining the game, ask in the comments and I will write a follow-up post. I have it 80% written, but I realized that you would not read this if you did not have at least a rough idea of the game. Good vs. evil, war is everywhere, etc.

The gameplay is exactly what you are used to. Exactly. 20 classes are all explicitly variations on tank, healer, melee DPS, and ranged DPS. Levels, health bars, auto-attacks, minimaps: all the standard MMO bits are there. Yet Another Fantasy MMORPG. You know elves versus orcs.

The fun change is that each class uses one of a dozen mechanics as its basis. The greenskin and high elf healers buff their damage by healing and vice versa. The dwarf and chaos ranged DPSers have turret pets. The dwarf tank builds up defensive grudges.

I enjoyed playing around my class themes. Throw down the Engineer’s turret and start shooting things. Alternate heals and hammer whacks with the Warrior Priest. It is fun to get together with a bunch of people and whack the enemy.

That is the nice gameplay change: it feels more like a team effort. You can be alone in the crowd, but the game encourages you to be a part of your army. Public quests direct everyone towards the same objective. RvR scenarios put you on a team. There are NPCs on your side fighting. I feel less like a lone warrior in the woods, more like a part of something. We are a joyous rabble.

RvR can be satisfying or frustrating based on who comes to the table, open world or in scenarios. Open world RvR has the problem of differing numbers and levels. You can do better or worse, but who wins is more or less pre-determined by the initial conditions. The same applies to player levels in scenarios: you can get all your levels from RvR, but a level 1 has two attacks and no equipment, so he is a leech on your team, an easy target for opponents, and a placeholder keeping someone more useful off your team. You can predict who is going to win 75+% of scenarios by looking at the levels of the characters on each team. If you get relatively even teams, it can be competitive rather than a blowout.

This problem probably diminishes at higher levels. The difference between 2 and 10 is larger than that between 12 and 20. Still, this is what the open beta featured, and I cannot hope that the less-tested part works far better than the heavily tested part. Perhaps a third of the scenarios I have done have been close fights, and I have yet to find an evenly matched open world RvR fight.

I wanted to be excited about the Tome of Knowledge. I am not. It collects data, spams you with unlocks throughout the early levels, and otherwise just collects the various menus like quests, badges, and lore under several tabs rather than several menus. I am fond of data collection.

You can see how long you have played and how many imaginary monsters you have slain with a keystroke. It gives you perspective on how you are spending your life. If the game begins to pall, I may give up MMOs entirely on the grounds of “nothing new under the sun” and “dear god, how many hours?!”

Crafting is an afterthought. On a scale of 1 to “hey, maybe we better include something like that,” it rates a “eh, we’ll get to it in a few months.” Criticizing it would be pointless since I cannot believe they care.

It has been a stable, relatively low-bug MMORPG beta. I can point to assorted irritations, but they are minor, assuming nothing else breaks with fixing the last major problems. The game is not finely polished, but it is above the industry median. (It is my understanding that the European account management system has been a debacle. Sorry to hear that, but my only account management problem was getting a bad beta key.) I had no graphics-based lag in the largest fights, one crash, one server crash, and I heard one other zone crash on Ventrilo. Okay, that sounds a little bad now that I am thinking about it, but I play in long binges and they get a wee bit of “hey it’s beta” credit. A wee bit. Still, more solid that many live games.

There is a continual problem of introducing new bugs when fixing the old ones. The size of the bugs seems to be on a downward spiral, but they are still obvious and annoying. The current one is a database error of some sort that mis-identifies people. If you /guildinvite Bob, it might tell you that Carl is already in a guild or that you cannot invite enemies to your guild. This happens even if you click on the person rather than using slash commands. If you try to join an open group, it might tell you that the leader does not exist. I was not on a healer last night, but I hope you can at least heal or buff teammates without the same error message. That’s pretty bad, and it causes the WarDB data-gathering plug-in to spam errors, but we still managed to invite people to Casualties with some relogs and cursing.

I cannot comment much on the setting. I started as a greenskin, and while the phonetic spelling is dead-on for the source material, it annoys me after too many years of dealing with people who really write like that online. After several pages of text that needed to be actively subvocalized to derive essentially “orks smashum gud,” and pages of it appearing constantly with Tome unlocks, I began skimming or skipping the flavor text. “Whachu wan me ta smash?” This habit metastasized beyond the orcs, as by then I had rationalized that I was testing the gameplay not the lore. Gresham’s Law applies to speech too.

Some of it looks good, as I get back into reading it outside the greenskin lands, but I am still in “gameplay” not “lore” mode. This is not Middle Earth, and I did not sign up for YAFMMORPG because I was swept away by their clever and original take on elves.

I recommend the game for people who like WoW-style play but are tired of playing WoW; I have no idea if it turns into raiding in the late game. It could be a great winner for The Lord of the Rings Online™: Shadows of Angmar™ creeps or people who were disappointed with Age of Conan. Crafters need not apply.

The low levels go by quickly, very quickly, so quickly that it could be a problem. I was trying out a new beginner area every night and hitting level 7 in each. That is a small binge of play. People will be hitting the level cap within a week, and they probably have enough time during the head start. I know, realm rank 80 is the real level cap, but either the leveling game is very short or the experience curve is very sharp. I know, WoW is even faster these days, but I think WoW has more or less officially abandoned the pre-60 game.

I maintain concerns that the high-level game is insufficiently tested. I maintain concerns that it is easy to bork PvP balance. But what we can see is solid, and it is a fun way to play a familiar game.

This should perhaps worry Mythic. I have stated quite a few times that if my preferences and opinions have any correlation to the actual MMO market, it is a negative one. You will make more money working against me. Conveniently, there are millions of people who would love a sequel World of Warcraft, with or without a bit more PvP. I predict that Mark Jacobs will buy a new boat.

: Zubon

Review based on the following open beta characters:

  • Greenskin Squig Herder: rank 7, realm rank 6
  • Dwarf Engineer: rank 8, realm rank 6
  • Empire Warrior Priest: rank 7, realm rank 6
  • Dark Elf Witch Elf: rank 4, realm rank 1
  • High Elf Archmage scheduled for sometime this weekend with my wife. I guess that means I’ll try the Chaos tank to get the whole circuit.

14 thoughts on “A Week with Warhammer”

  1. I plan on doing a little write-up of the classes that I’ve really had a chance to play for more than a few minutes soon which is something I haven’t really seen too much of, but it was nice to read this. I have really enjoyed playing WAR so far, and am quite glad that I pre-ordered it after what I’ve seen. One BIG problem that I have right now, though, is that for whatever reason my graphics card is making over 50% of the ground look pure black. It is technically a supported card and I have updated drivers, but Mythic won’t help until the game is released. There is a difference between playing with poor graphics and playing a game through huge patches of darkness with a few trees and rocks. If they don’t fix this, I suppose I’ll just have to wait a few months before I can get a new PC, which would be a very big shame.

  2. Leveling does start slowing down in Tier 2, and if it holds even more in later Tiers. Good “impression.”

    With your deck of cards analogy, I will say this. They might have added only a few extra cards, but 1) those cards are great cards to stack your deck with (to the point, IMHO, where future MMOs might have to have similar cards), and 2) the whole deck is ready to play (no suite sorting). You just jump in the game and play, instead of praying for a group.

  3. I also heard that the end-game is lacking. I’m more of a raider than a PVPer so I’m not sure if I will try this game. Although getting 40-50 people together to take down a city might be more entertaining than getting the same amount together to take down a dragon…

    People getting to max level within a week is a little crazy. I mean it doesn’t need to be a grind-fest, but if you can level off of PVP, what makes it different than the ‘levelling’ system in, say CoD4?

  4. Leveling slows down BIG time once you hit Rank 10. Same with influence and PvP levels, both really slow down after the initial levels. I’m sure a few crazy people will make it to Rank 40 in a week or two, but I think we can expect a solid leveling curve in WAR.

  5. If you would like a sequel to World of Warcraft with a team-PvP focus, buy Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. If you are waiting for something new and original, keep waiting.

    This alone makes this the best review. I read that and 100% comply.
    The game does not suck actually, but for myself it was not fun..
    But, if you match the above leading comment to this post.

    WAR will ROCK your world.

  6. The reason why I ‘pingbacked’ an older article of mine is that while I don’t disagree with the assessment above by Zubs, I am just really curious what everyone honestly expected. Every single fantasy MMO to come out since EQ has been exactly the same. A few fluff items, different numbers, a lot of extra easy added on, but at the core of all the fantasy MMO titles (EQ, DAOC, EQII, WOW, LOTRO, AOC, and yes, WAR) they are all fundamentally the exact same game with the same perspective, the same UI, the same goals (questing, leveling, end games) and each just has a little lore/mechanic/graphic twist.

    Guess I am a little shocked that anyone at all is surprised at what we are getting and what the heck are our expectations? Do you not think the next fantasy MMO is going to be (again, at the core) the same thing in different skins?

  7. As for me, I’m okay with that… this is DAOC2, with sweet, creamy Games Workshop icing. It’s not fundamentally a raid game – tho’ city captures feature some serious raid-style content, the focus even there is on the RvR.

    The mechanics are solidly derived from DAOC, with some elements of WoW thrown in. Of course the intellectual DNA can be traced from there to EQ and further back to DIKU.

    I disagree with you about the crafting, but on the whole, a good writeup. :)

  8. Yeah, about the xp thing – at rank 19 I had exhausted every single quest on all three factions and ground out the elite rewards from all max chapters, yet had not broken 30% xp. To say it slows down is to say that lava is lukewarm…and while grinding scenarios can at times be excellent xp, at times it generates almost none, usually depending on which side fields a group or two of max ranked players with shiny guild tags.

  9. @Sinnach – that sounds really extreme- I got to level 21 in beta without leaving my pairing. I did all the quests, all the PQ’s to max inf (and sometimes more to try and get the top loot bag, constant scenarios and a healthy fun dose of Open RvR. Didn’t hit a single quest in other pairings. I did, of course, repeat the Scenario and Open RVR quests a bunch of time, since I was out there anyway (kill XX enemies in Rvr, complete XXXX scenario)

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