On my way to Mythic Entertainment's preview event for its upcoming title Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, there was plenty of time to think about it. Is it just going to be an attempt at using a popular license that looks like "that WoW game" to cash in on the MMORPG market? If it isn't, then how could someone who's oblivious to the Warhammer world possibly be drawn into such a deep and well-grounded IP? With an unpredictable mix of surprise and delight, it turns out both of those worries are without merit. Warhammer Online is not only a title that is forging its own direction, but it also brings a few new ideas to a largely copycat genre, while being accessible to someone as Warhammer-ignorant as myself, who doesn't know his greenskins from his stunties.
For those who are in that category, Warhammer began life around 24 years ago as a tabletop game produced by Games Workshop. By all accounts, the game quickly gained and maintained its popularity, and over the years, the Warhammer universe has seen expansions, spin-offs, books, and games, the last of which has been probably the most varying in terms of quality and authenticity. Climax Entertainment was originally the developer behind Warhammer Online until Mythic Entertainment took over the helm, and it's pretty easy to say that the decision was a good one. Mythic has firmly based the title on the existing universe while also adding to its tapestry, and it's clear that they know what they're doing.
So, Warhammer Online. Firstly, in order to appreciate things to the fullest extent, get World of Warcraft out of your head. Rinse. The similarities between the two titles end right about the point where they both have orcs, dwarves, and elves. The Warhammer universe is gritty and violent, interspersed with bits of humor and a heaping helping of surrealism. Orcs are all green, and there's no such thing as a female orc; it's just how the Warhammer universe is. (How are orcs spawned? Something about mushrooms and outer space. See why I told you to rinse?)
Above all, the Warhammer universe used in game is not directly pulled from any one source but woven out of all of them. When elements needed to be created that had no precedent, such as the interior of Dwarven houses, Mythic created them, and Games Workshop approved them to ensure their authenticity. This leads to Warhammer Online being very faithful to the existing Warhammer universe, but it also adds authentic bits to the universe of its own creation. For instance, fans of the universe will pick up on the fact that the Morcane tower is now fully represented in-game, or how flags, while pretty and waving to the layman, use authentic icons, colors, and markers.
Initially, there will be six playable races to choose from: humans, chaos, orcs, dwarves, high elves, and dark elves. This is further split up into the pairings of human versus chaos, orcs versus dwarves, and high elves versus dark elves, with each pairing waging war in a different but connected section of the same planet. There will be 33 individual zones, with each pair waging war over their set of 11. That's not to say that the orcs can't decimate eight or nine of their zones and then hop over and help out the dark elves. It's still one big war with two sides; it's just a layered war with individual hatred between pairs of races.
Every race has between three and five career paths, and they adhere to the three rules that Mythic has for each race. For starters, every race has some sort of healer class. Additionally, every race has classes that love to hit stuff really, really hard (fighters, etc.) and classes that are more academic (mages, engineers, etc.). Each class in turn allows the player to create his own career path, such as picking up the ability to use pistols, deal more damage, be a better spellcaster, or simply blow stuff up in a more awe-inspiring fashion.
If Warhammer Online sounds like a title that contains a large amount of PvP, well, it does. In fact, the game is such that a player could foreseeably play the entire game in a PvP fashion while still gaining a respectable amount of money, items, and experience. PvP is based on the epicenter system, where players actually have to be in a specific area to engage or be engaged in PvP combat. On the other hand, to wash away those who are already thinking that PvP is limited to out-of-the-way areas, every city in the game will be mostly PvP areas.
Indeed, in the overall scheme of things, it is the goal to take over the enemy capital city, so cities are definitely not the safe zones to which MMORPG players may be accustomed. Quest givers cannot die, so the most basic operation of a city will still function for those players who are PvP-averse, but past that, expect to see a sizable war party at the city gates on occasion, in addition to your fellow players asking for your help in thwarting them.
Transport between zones hasn't been nailed down yet, and the presenter was threatened with throat-slitting motions before an exact answer could be extracted about it. While instant teleportation has been ruled out to get you from zone to zone, some sort of fast transport will undoubtedly be available. For instance, orcs might simply catapult themselves across the land, while dwarves might utilize gyrocopters.
There will be four main types of PvP combat in Warhammer Online. Incidental combat is when two or more players on opposing sides incidentally find themselves in a PvP zone and duke it out. Battlefield combat is objective-based, where each side is engaged in a big tug-of-war battle, trying to take over points on the map. Scenario-based is instanced combat between the two sides so the number of participants will remain the same and unaffected by others, and can be either point or objective based. Additionally, if one side outnumbers the other, AI combatants, known as Dogs of War, will join you to make up the difference.
It is unknown, however, if you can give any sort of rudimentary orders to these AI units, such as to defending an objective or trying to take another. Finally, the largest in scope of the PvP types is the campaign mode, which literally takes place among the entire world. The goal is to take over the enemy capital city, and to do that, you must first leapfrog from zone to zone, taking one over before moving on to the next, constantly pushing the other side back. The zones are split up so that starting players fight over just a couple of zones, as do the two higher tiers of players, while the top tier wages war across five zones.
Being an MMORPG, there are obviously still regular PvE quests that don't involve PvP combat, though the line can blur somewhat between the two, and a few new ideas have been introduced. In addition to the regular type of quest which consists of you having to meet some sort of goal, whether it be killing a monster or collecting a certain amount of items, Mythic has shaken up things a bit with a few new interesting additions to the genre. For instance, there are now public PvE quests which are automatically granted to any player who enters a specific zone, such as someone needing a few hundred of a particular item. Anyone who contributes to the goal gains experience, so instead of situations like in other MMOs where players are fighting with one another to collect six tusks or whatnot all from one area, that same group of players is now working together, knowing that it's all the same as to who turns in the tusk, since they will all get the proper experience for the quest.
There are also quests where you may indirectly compete against the other faction. In one example, imagine a large amount of dwarves lay injured and immobile on the battlefield. The dwarves will try to heal other dwarves by giving them beer, while the orcs will be trying to kill them and take their beards. "Christmas" quests are small, easy quests that yield a large amount of experience or money but are unmarked and can only be found by wandering far off the beaten path. Finally, another new quest type is the branching quests, such as if you were to get into a situation where you steal the enemy war plans. Do you give them to your general for a good amount of experience but not much money, or do you give them to the shadowy goblin who pays exceedingly well but grants you very little experience?
Meanwhile, the graphics engine (and the rest of the game, really) was totally scrapped when it changed hands to Mythic. Warhammer Online now boasts great looking fire, smoke, haze, water, grass, and shadows to show off the detailed and exaggerated personality of the Warhammer license. Thanks to the game's large draw distance, you will get into situations where you will see the silhouette of a huge tower in the distance, while in the foreground, you may see a crow pecking at the body of a dead dwarf. Look over a little to the left, you may see a goblin sawmill's blade slicing up and down, sending bits of wood everywhere, while you watch the odd goblin or two having an industrial accident. It all blends together to form an almost charming representation of the Warhammer world that you can't help but be pulled into.
One of the most notable aspects of the Warhammer tabletop game is that the players would paint and customize their miniatures, and Mythic has definitely made a note of it somewhere. Characters in the game are customizable in the expected facets, such as faces, scars, and hair, but also in more advanced areas, such as armor coloring schemes. Even past that, players can choose to tack little items onto their character that show off their might and accomplishments. For instance, orcs can impale skulls on the spikes of their armor, hang dwarven beards on their belts, and other such items. Characters will actually get larger and more muscular as they gain levels, or dwarves will get longer and more elaborate beards. It makes it easy to see who's the top dog in a churning battlefield, a point that Mythic aimed to complete.
In an unprecedented advancement for the genre, all avatars, NPCs, and monsters have full facial animation, breathing a little more life into your standard animated quest giver. Players can set their mood, so if they want to spend their in-game time smiling and happy or brooding, they have the option to do either and more. All characters in the game are well detailed, thanks to the high-resolution textures, and even without the specular lighting that is promised to be implemented in a later build, they look pretty good.
A unique feature of Warhammer Online is the morale system, which deepens combat significantly. More morale is generated if you have more players in your group or fight for longer periods of time, which in turn enables five successive levels of morale actions. The first tier might be something like a cannon going off in the distance for a dwarf and taking out a small group of the enemy, while a fifth level morale action might be something more along the lines of Armageddon. Players can gain additional morale actions for each tier as they progress down their career paths. Of course, losing a fight or taking a large amount of damage will lower morale, making it more of a coup-de-grace than something that you can use as a last-ditch effort.
Another interesting feature is the tactics bar, which a player can use to tailor his abilities to a certain extent. A player's tactic bar is composed of a set number of slots, and you can fill up this bar with tactics that may take anywhere between one and all of your slots. These tactics range from adding fire damage or frost defense, to increasing your ranged abilities or shortening your spell recovery time. This is useful in that you can strengthen yourself towards a particular enemy or just tailor your abilities to your own play style. Tactics may be shrunken down so that they take up less space on the bar, but by and large, it's a matter of fitting the right tactics for the right situation.
Finally, there are many things that were impressive over the course of the press event. Borrowing a page from another successful MMO, Warhammer Online's UI will not only be fully customizable, but to some extent, it will also be configurable from within the game, eliminating a Cosmos-style add-on for the most basic functions. The game will sport a day and night cycle, though it is unknown if there will be any sort of weather effects. Instead of a static image that represents your character, you see an animated portrait of the character's face, which reacts accordingly to in-game events. There is collision detection between members of opposing sides, making combat a little less of the, "Hey, let's jump right through the other player to get behind them, even though I'm wearing 200 pounds of armor," and more of a tactical affair. Mythic also had the foresight to eliminate the drudgery that plague a lot of MMOs; at the outset, you won't be merely fighting rats and fish. As the orcs, you can expect to be repelling a beach landing of dwarves who are coming over a nearby waterfall using barrels.
Essentially, Mythic not only managed to only make Warhammer Online faithful to the existing universe and very, very deep in relation to players who know the material, but they also made it interesting enough to welcome newbies. As if to punctuate the point, a series of slides taped to Paul Barnett's door detail quite rigidly the "anvil that all aspects of the game are broken upon." A lot of effort has been put forth to make sure that Warhammer Online isn't just another cookie-cutter MMO title, and the game is really turning out to be what you would expect from an experienced MMO developer wielding a license that has over 24 years of rich content to pull from. Suffice it to say that even as a complete newcomer to the Warhammer license and a jaded MMOer almost by profession, I found Warhammer Online to be pretty impressive, and it's easy to look forward to more information on Warhammer Online as it continues along its development cycle.
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