Two races were discussed during the press event: Empire and Chaos. For those who aren't familiar with the proper Warhammer lore, the Empire race is essentially made up of human beings who are fighting a desperate war for survival. Those who comprise the Empire truly believe that they are fighting during the brink of their extinction, so nearly every aspect of their lives is geared toward the war effort and the survival of the species. It's essentially mankind fighting at the most basic level of a war - breed and fight; expand or die.
The Empire, as well as every other race, will have four classes to choose from when you create your character. The Knight of the Blazing Sun is a melee/ tanking class suitable for going toe-to-toe with just about any opponent in the field, while the Witch Hunter is also a melee class but more geared toward dealing large amounts of damage per second, or DPS, as the proper terminology goes. The Warrior Priest is a melee/ healing class which, although it is the only healer class the Empire has, is equally adept at skillfully restoring the hit points of party members and bashing in enemy skulls with a massive hammer. One thing that was made very clear was that in Mythic's scope for the game and the Warhammer lore, there's no room for a healer to simply be the guy way back in the squeaky clean robe. All healer classes in the game for any race will be adept at some form of combat, albeit maybe not quite as adept as the straight combat-oriented classes.
The fourth and final class an Empire character can choose to play in Warhammer Online is the Bright Wizard, a magic DPS class which is essentially what you would get if you were to combine a pyromaniac with someone very in touch with his inner mage. Bright Wizards are decked out in flame-colored apparel and even add torches to their ensemble at higher-level equipment sets, so they're a fairly unmistakable presence. The abilities of Bright Wizards are based on their use of fire magic; they also don't have any buffs to speak of, but they're geared toward offensive combat such as engulfing enemies in flame, hurling fireballs, and generally causing things to explode.
During our first bout of hands-on time, we got to play as the Bright Wizard class in the Empire starting area, which is set in a scenic and once-peaceful locale that's home to a series of farmhouses and a small town. Naturally, the town has found itself under attack by a band of marauders who are murdering the townsfolk and burning down buildings. After being recruited by the first quest-giver, it is the player's task to help out however he can by killing marauders, healing injured soldiers, and firing ridge-top cannons at the advancing raiders. While there is a definite sense of urgency to the matters at hand, the player can still relax and take his time in learning how to play the new character.
The above-noted time will be appreciated by most players to some extent, as Warhammer Online does throw a few curveballs into your standard MMORPG gameplay. First up, as your experience grows, you gain points in four areas such as tactics and abilities. In each area, there are a variety of options from which you can choose to spend your points; in tactics, you may gain advantages such as a higher chance to deal critical damage or a lower cast time for certain spells, while in the abilities area, you can spend points to unlock new skills. To make a direct comparison, it is not unlike World of Warcraft's talent system - it's just split up into distinct categories.
Another curve that Warhammer Online has in its mix is the public quests system, which are essentially quests in which any of your faction can partake, as long as they're within a certain radius of the quest area. As soon as your character enters the quest area, pertinent information is displayed at the top of the screen; quest objectives can be anything from killing a certain number of a specific enemy to gathering items in the area. Public quests are usually made up of multiple stages, of which only the first one is not on a time limit. In the Empire starting area, there is a public quest to fend off waves of attackers advancing from the forests until the final stage, where players must band together to take down a Chaos-stricken giant.
The payoff for performing and completing public quests comes in the form of influence and loot. Public quests have three tiers of loot, and you must gain influence to access each tier. Players can get multiple items of loot by performing a public quest repeatedly to gain influence and access the highest loot tier, but they can also only choose one item per tier. The balancing of public quests was only touched on briefly, but it was noted that the players who do the lion's share of the work will get the most influence, while those who just happened to walk into the area as a quest nears completion will add little, if any, influence to their name.
During our time fiddling with Warhammer Online's PvE aspect, we also got to play as the Chaos race. The Chaos classes consist of the Chosen, which aptly fills out the role of the melee/ tanking class; the bird-like Zealot class which is a magic/ healer class; and an as-yet unannounced melee DPS class. The fourth Chaos class is the Mage, which excels at magic DPS because they've tuned into the manipulative energies of Chaos and tapped its destructive power. Though not yet apparent in the preview builds, Mages will eventually have hoverboard-like discs on which they'll ride around, and they will contend with mutations to their physical forms while trying to prevent the Chaos energy from ripping apart their bodies.
The Chaos starting area is a somewhat fresh take on what most people would consider the normal content to be, as when you create a Chaos character, your first overall goal in life is to attack an Empire village under siege by your fellow comrades. While doing so, players will set fire to houses, kill legions of Empire spearmen and tower guards, ransack the town's supplies, and murder named leaders of the defense effort. We got to take part in a public quest that first involved killing spearmen en masse, gathering their souls, and finally summoning and killing a powerful enemy who called forth and controlled a gigantic demon which was capable of killing individual players fairly quickly.
There are other facets of Warhammer Online that were interesting but are only indirectly related to the gameplay. There is a feature called the Tome of Knowledge, which is essentially a book that contains information on both your character and or other important things such as enemies, NPCs, and areas of interest. When you first encounter a new enemy type, its information becomes available in the Tome, which you can then read to learn about its lore, strengths, and weaknesses. Scrolling through the Tome sounds and looks just like flipping through an old and massive book should, and it's an interesting and enjoyable take on presenting the player with information.
Additionally, Warhammer Online supports a wide range of user interface mods which are created using the LUA scripting language. In essentially the same and popular fashion as World of Warcraft mods, authors can customize the default Warhammer Online interface all the way to creating full new interfaces and functionality entirely. While safeguards will be in place to prevent exploits or mods that would make the game play itself for you (such as automating skill use or making looping macros), the title is otherwise wide open to let mod authors edit the interface to their will.
Even though World of Warcraft is the current top dog, Warhammer Online is definitely looking to capture a significant chunk of the pie. The title has a massive pool of IP to pull from, spanning more than 25 years of deep lore, which will give the PvE gameplay a solid backing in terms of content. Additionally, it seems that the Mythic developers have no qualms with staking out new gameplay for the MMORPG genre, specifically with their RvR content and the interesting additions to their PvE gameplay. Between the two, it seems that Warhammer Online is poised to shake up the current stranglehold on the MMORPG genre and deliver something different that will appeal to casual PvE players, hardcore RvR participants, and every gradient in between. Look for more information and screenshots for Warhammer Online as it approaches its Fall 2007 release date.
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