Last year, we here at WorthPlaying were invited out to preview Mythic Entertainment's upcoming MMORPG Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, and we were able to conduct one-on-one interviews with the development team and get in some playtime as the Dwarves and the Orcs. Last week, we were invited back to the newly renamed EA Mythic offices to see the more representative RvR aspect of the game and get in some more playtime with the newer PvE areas (the Empire and Chaos starting areas). In this first part of a two-part article, we'll preview the RvR aspect of Warhammer Online, explain why it is unique and incredibly important, and why it looks poised to make other popular MMORPG PvP systems seem rather pale in comparison.
Warhammer, a popular tabletop game with over 25 years' standing and with branches in nearly every imaginable form of media, is coming to the PC as an MMORPG. There are surely better explanations of Warhammer for those who are completely in the dark on the subject, but to the casual observer, Warhammer is essentially what you would get if you took the general fantasy idea of Orcs, Dwarves, human beings (as well as other races of beings), and 15th century warfare, and laced it with some hate-fueled violence and dark humor here and there. In other words, it's a somewhat fresh approach to take in comparison to the more traditional fantasy fare of other MMORPGs to date.
The biggest standout feature of Warhammer Online is not limited to its source material, however, as it is one of the few MMOs that keeps its PvP (RvR or Realm versus Realm) as a central part of its gameplay. Indeed, one of the things mentioned during our visit is that the game, races, and their classes are all first balanced for RvR, and then the PvE environment in turn is balanced accordingly, rather than the other way around, as seen in World of Warcraft. Thusly, not only is RvR a major component in Warhammer Online's gameplay, but for possibly the first time in a fantasy MMORPG, the RvR gameplay shares equal importance with its PvE counterpart, and players can choose to engage in either PvE or RvR and obtain the same amount and quality of loot, experience points, and level gains.
Warhammer Online's RvR component is also much more layered and engaging than previous attempts in the genre. There are four types of RvR in the title: incidental, battleground, scenario, and campaign. Incidental RvR is simply described as two players of opposing factions meeting in one of the many RvR-enabled areas of the map and engaging in combat. Battleground RvR is a slightly more formalized version of RvR, and while little is known about this type at this point, it is basically composed of players on each side attempting to take objectives from the other while still occurring in the general world environment. The scenario RvR type is poised to take up the majority of the RvR action in Warhammer Online once it goes live, and while similar in concept to World of Warcraft's battlegrounds system, the similarities end fairly quickly.
In Warhammer Online, there are three racial pairings in the overall conflict: Empire versus Chaos, Dwarves versus Orcs, and High Elves versus Dark Elves. Each pairing has a certain amount of zones separating each side's capital city. Every zone in Warhammer Online will have around three unique scenario-style instances to engage in combat, with over 40 spread out across all of the zones. The conflict will essentially start in the middle of each pairing, and each side must do its best to gain points (explained later) to swing control of the zone to its side; advancing into the next zone will bring them one step closer to the enemy's capital city. Consequently, at any given time, a player of either side can engage in combat in one of many different scenarios across any of the racial pairings. There are many different types of gameplay to which a scenario might be tied, such as a variant of Capture the Flag, capturing and holding zones, or a sort of Murderball-esque game of taking and holding onto an ancient artifact to gain points for your team.
We played two different RvR scenarios in our hands-on time: the Gates of Ekrund and the Marsh Temple. The Marsh Temple is essentially based around the concept that each team rushes toward the temple in the middle of the map with the goal of somebody on your side grabbing and running off with the artifact found there. While holding the artifact, you slowly gain points for your team, and while any player can gain points for his team by simply killing members of the opposition, the person who holds the artifact gets more points per kill. Conversely, if the player holding the artifact gets killed, the opposing team gains quite a few points and, more often than not, a decent chance at grabbing the artifact for themselves.
In The Gates of Ekrund, each team is fighting for control of three zones around a massive wall in the middle of a war-torn battleground. Capturing a zone for your team is completed by standing in the zone when no enemies are present, and the more teammates you have in the zone, the more quickly zones are captured. Once the zone is in your team's control, your team gets a one-time point bonus added to its score, and while holding a zone doesn't constantly add points to your side, it's a good idea to keep a hold on them so that the other team doesn't get a bonus for capture as well.
One aspect of RvR that stood out fairly starkly was that unlike other MMORPGs, there is collision detection between players, meaning that to get past that Black Orc standing in the hallway, you can't just jump through him like a ghost but must actually take him down. It wasn't too uncommon to see two beefy characters shielding weaker classes by placing themselves in the way of danger and opening up quite a few tactical avenues of thought, but one wonders if such a feature will prove to be popular or not, due to possible exploits. For example, a row of Black Orcs with a healer behind it would be nearly impenetrable, but it remains to be seen if the scenarios are designed with means around that potential tactic.
Every time you win a scenario for your side, you gain points in that zone, and the other side loses points. Higher-level scenario matches will swing the balance more quickly than will lower-level matches, but it all goes in the same pot, with the ultimate goal being that of taking every zone between you and the capital city of your race's mortal enemy. To help balance RvR scenario matches, Mythic has included the Battle Points system. Essentially, your character's level is not the only yardstick that measures relative strength in Warhammer Online; your strength (or battle points total) is based on a combination of your level, what gear you have, which abilities you have chosen as you leveled up, and your total renown (RvR experience points). When you join a scenario's queue, your battle points are added to the team's total, and the game tries its best to balance out the two sides in terms of similar battle point totals. One team might have eight level-12 players with really good gear and 12 level-nine players with lower-quality gear. The end result is a system that is far more balanced than relying on simply classifying scenarios based on level groupings alone.
If the game cannot balance the two sides and one is found lacking yet no suitable player is found to even the balance, a Dog of War is created as a last resort to get the game going. These A.I. combatants follow the party leader of their side and are set to whatever level, gear, and abilities would best balance out the two sides. They can be any class, but the class is specifically chosen by the game to fill out any gaps in the team's roster of players. Your team has a bunch of mages and melee classes? The Dog of War will be a healer and follow your party around to heal its teammates. All of these systems are in place to make the RvR scenario balanced and fun for people of any level, experience, or gear, and also to ensure that queues for such matches are ideally 30 seconds or less.
All of this brings us to the end result fourth type of RvR, the campaign mode. By definition, the scenario mode is part of the overall campaign mode in which you take over zones, with the end result being the sacking of the enemy capital city. Once you get to and successfully take control of the zone that contains the enemy's capital city, the city's massive gates open up, and the attackers can enter. Save for a small area of the city that contains spawn points and mass transit systems to other parts of the world, the entire city is opened up for two hours in a all-out RvR environment, and everyone from players to quest-giving NPCs, and bankers to auctioneers can all be killed. Attackers looking for the really good loot must cut through the obviously miffed enemy players to take down four sub-bosses found around the city, such as the master blacksmith or the captain of the guard. Once all four sub-bosses are down, the King himself becomes open to attack, the successful assault of whom lends to the greatest loot, in addition to the transport of the King back to your capital city's stockades.
At the beginning of the sacking, defending players must rely solely on their own – and each other's – abilities to repel the attackers, but every so often, the defenders get increasingly powerful buffs when fighting against members of the invading army. They gradually build in strength until the two-hour mark, when, simultaneously, the city gates are closed once again, and defenders will be buffed to the point that they can lay down the remaining attackers in a single blow. Once a city is sacked, the conflicted zone is reset to the middle of the pairing again, and though the city can technically be pushed back and sacked again, it takes a great deal of time before the city builds up enough loot and wealth to make it really worthwhile, which discourages the sacking of the same city over and over again.
We were quite impressed with the scope of how much the RvR gameplay affects the game at large, and how far Mythic seems to have advanced the simple idea of putting player versus player combat in an MMORPG. Our hands-on RvR experience left us hooting and hollering like a bunch of loons after winning a nail-bitingly close battle at the Marsh Temple and using true tactics to our advantage while fighting atop The Gates of Ekrund. Though we didn't get to experience the thrill of sacking our hated enemy's capital city, the team at Mythic has a pretty solid premise for making that aspect of RvR equally as enjoyable as the taste of the RvR that we received. PvP combat is far from a new concept in the MMORPG genre, but going by the time we had with the completed segments and the descriptions of the planned aspects, it's pretty easy to see that Warhammer Online is set to really raise the bar in terms of the implementation of PvP in an massively multiplayer online game.
PvP not your cup of tea? Look for our coverage on some of the more traditional PvE aspects of Warhammer Online, including our time in the Empire and Chaos starting areas in the second part of our two-part Warhammer Online series, to be posted later this week.
More articles about Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning