Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Mythic Entertainment
Release Date: September 18, 2008
I'm a Witch Hunter of the Empire. I hunt down the minions of Chaos wherever they are, cutting them down to prevent their evil from spreading. Lightly armored, I dual-wield a sword and a gun, using quick, close-range sword work to build up Accusations before finishing them with an Execution — more often than not, a point-blank blast to the head with my flintlock. Because of the lack of any real armor, my emphasis is on stealth; I work my way around to softer targets and finish them with blinding speed.
Of course, I'm also one of the Chosen of Chaos. In this guise, I'm a gigantic brute in huge, dark, blood-splattered armor that looks like sheets of iron roughly welded together, with some ornate pieces here and there. It's my job to wade into the front of the battle, deploying auras that help my allies and hinder my foes, which can stack for about 12 seconds at a time. With a two-handed axe, I form the frontline of any war.
Oh, and I'm also a High Elf Shadow Warrior. I control the battlefield, able to work well at long-range, close-range, or even anywhere in between, and with a vast array of debilitating effects with my bow and my sword, from lessening the effect of armor to snaring enemies. While I usually require allies to keep fire off me, I also have some knockback abilities to keep my enemies at the range I want them.
And let's not forget that I'm a Bright Wizard. Mana points are for sissies who can't control real magic; I just act out my pyromaniac fantasies and burn everyone to death. Sometimes I do this by blasting them with huge fireballs, and sometimes I actually ignite them. Occasionally I'll buff allies, and other times, I'll stop foes in their tracks. My range is immense, and my power is unparalleled, but even up close, I can just incinerate everything around me. Sadly, this is countered with a rather nasty chance of occasionally incinerating myself.
To be blunt, I'm just about everyone. The first problem you'll encounter with Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning is that every single class looks fun. It's astonishing that, by and large, they're all unique. While fitting into the standard templates of Tank, Melee DPS, Healer, Control and the like, every single class has one mechanic or another to differentiate it. When each class is unique to one race, and each of the six races has around four classes … well, I was sat staring at character creation for quite some time.
The second problem is that it's impossible not to compare it to World of Warcraft, so I'll get this out of the way now: When you get down to it, the two games are very different, but they also share a lot of similarities. Forgive me the amount of comparisons I'm going to make.
After character creation, your first glimpse of WAR is unlikely to be leave you impressed. The environments seem a little uninspired, and everything is eerily familiar in an "imperfect clone" way. The big glowing golden exclamation marks above characters' heads that denote quests in WoW are now flat green symbols. The interface looks fairly similar, only with the main buttons at the top, while your action bar is stationary at the bottom. Despite some rewording — hit points are Wounds, your rage/energy/mana is now Action Points — it's similar and creakily disappointing.
It's after playing for a little while that you start to understand exactly where WAR's real emphasis and uniqueness lie. PvE grinding, despite all of the streamlining, is not the focus. Yes, it's streamlined beyond belief; your map updates to show the areas where you can complete the quests, and the normally hateful drop-quests (collect, say, 15 wolf fangs, with each wolf having a 50% chance of dropping one) are guaranteed, with every single enemy dropping a required item. Any quests that require you to kill X amount of enemies keep track of how many of those enemies you've killed, even if you've never taken or seen the quest. In short, WAR does absolutely everything to make quests quick and easy. While this removes a lot of the frustration that they usually involve, it ironically turns them into even more of a grind; there's rarely anything special about them, and they just feel like one after another after another. This in turn adds an extra addictive quality to the game, though, with quests being so quick that you know that another 10 minutes could easily net you another couple of completions.
WAR also rewards you for absolutely everything. Every single level nets you at least one extra ability, as opposed to WoW (there we go with the comparisons again), which usually granted them every two. Aside from that, there are constant opportunities for better equipment, and plenty of achievements and titles; the latter are reserved for special events and completions in WoW, while here, you can get one for being killed by monsters 10 times. Some are serious — "The Wise," "The Adventurer" — while there are several acquired for doing things while naked (in-game, I hasten to add!). I'm presently wandering around as "The Pirate," for looting a certain amount of items. I could probably use something else to showcase more spectacular things I've done, but damnit, I like that title. Either way, it feels like absolutely everything you do rewards you in some way, and this is important in a game that's designed to keep you playing for years.
The other major PvE addition is that of Public Quests, which are a marvelous idea. These are small, three-stage group quests to which anyone in the area can contribute. The first stage can generally be done solo, while the second stage usually involves killing monsters that are slightly too difficult to solo, and the third involves a boss — something that requires a group, like a giant, or a powerful mage. Everyone in the area gets credit for anything they assist with, and downing the boss spawns a treasure chest, which all participants roll for. Those who contributed the most get a big bonus to their roll, and the top rolls get a choice of some powerful loot. These also add to your Influence for each Chapter, which you can, again, turn in for equipment.
Those Chapters are what make up the PvE game. By and large, they tell the continuing story as you progress through the game, detailing what's going on in each area and updating as you discover new Public Quests and PvP — or RvR, Realm vs. Realm, as it's known in WAR. You can completely ignore the story without consequence, but it adds a bit of much-needed character to the game. These plot pieces are found in the Tome of Knowledge, a book in the menu that contains all of the backstory, world information and flavor text, as well as all of your unlocked achievements, titles and quests. Here you can find the details on exactly what was going on in that Public Quest in which you burned a village to the ground, or simply look up information on what a Horror of Tzeentch is. It all builds up as you slaughter creatures and makes for an interesting read during downtime.
So we come down to the real meat of the game: the RvR. While Battlegrounds were a side dish in WoW, you can do nothing but Scenarios (as they're called here) in WAR. You gain experience as well as renown — your third important tally bar, with influence (the one thing not acquired in RvR) being the second. Renown can, once again, be used to purchase equipment, but the corpses of your opponents can also be looted. Money is most common, but items and equipment crop up as well. Finding a rare weapon on a fallen foe's corpse for the first time was a defining moment for me. It's not necessarily a good idea to do nothing but RvR, as you'll level a lot more slowly, but it's certainly possible, and a lot of fun.
The PvP is, indeed, the game's real focus, pitting Order (made up of the human Empire, Dwarves, and High Elves) against Destruction (the hilariously evil Chaos, the orc and goblin Greenskins, and the Dark Elves), with each race generally focusing its war against one other race. Each area of the map has an RvR section, where players of each faction can kill each other indiscriminately on any server (RvR servers have no such restrictions, and players can slaughter each other in any region). There are normally control points to capture and a fair few quests, some revolving around capturing said points, while others task you to kill players or just adventure in these dangerous zones. For all I said about the banality of some of the quests, there are a few sparkling moments to be found. One quest tasked me with killing a player of the other faction, with the quest text reading that after all my work against them, a champion of their faction had called me out and was roaming the city. It didn't matter which player I killed, as long as one was judiciously murdered. It was a nice touch to a standard quest that gave it much more of an epic feel. It's just a shame that these touches are few and far between. In a nice touch, any quests that require you to capture a point aren't unbeatable if your faction already controls said point; merely visiting it is sufficient to complete the quest, as long as your side holds it.
The Scenarios themselves are very similar to WoW battlegrounds, only there are more of them. Lots more. They vary through most of the different game types that you'd expect to see in something like Unreal Tournament; there's team deathmatch, capture the flag, king of the hill, and various other types, like holding onto an item for as long as possible to score points for your team.
The PvP, in short, is a hit. The classes seem fairly well balanced amongst each other, although the addition of two new classes in a recent patch may change that up a bit, but it's still a remarkable accomplishment considering the sheer number of classes there are. Fights are chaotic and brutal, and feel a lot more visceral and fast-paced than those in WoW, perhaps aided by the number of abilities that are instant, or can be used on the move. The abilities themselves are fun to use, and fairly well animated. The usual march to death is counteracted by survival being rewarded; extended fights grant the participants Morale abilities, which are devastating attacks that can only be used once every minute. Better still, the art team has outdone itself with most of the character designs, as even when playing for the first time, it was fairly easy to guess which enemies were tanks and melee DPS, and which were the squishy casters that are the most fun to take out.
The addition of things that were previously lacking in WoW, like the ability to knock back opponents, and characters actually being solid and possessing collision detection, add a different tactical air. While you can have your tanks stand on a narrow cliff pass to stop enemies from pushing through to your casters, they're at risk of getting knocked off the edge. All of the world RvR builds up, eventually allowing factions, through control of areas, to siege the capital city of the other race (of which, so far, only two are implemented: Altdorf of the Empire and the Inevitable City of Chaos.)
Mentioning the art team leads to the character differentiation. This is slightly less interesting, unfortunately. While understandable with the amount of classes, a lot of items for each class look identical. They can be fixed up with trophies, and all items of clothing can by dyed to change color (although said colors are usually quite muted, so someone running around in bright pink isn't quite as disturbing or immersion-breaking as it should be), but it doesn't change the fact that swapping from one item to another, particularly in the early game, doesn't noticeably change the actual model. It's a bit disappointing, as is the limited number of items in each area. It's one thing to get a few pieces of equipment for other classes that need selling, but it's quite something to pick up the exact same sword three times in a row.
The internal customization of the characters is a bit more involved, though. Like WoW, after a certain level, you start accruing points which can be put into things, to boost certain abilities and grant new ones. In WoW, these were Talents, which functioned like trees. In WAR, they're Mastery points, and they're a direct flow. There are no choices except for which path, of three, you want to put them into, with each path usually focusing on a different aspect of the character's abilities. However, you also gain renown points from RvR combat (as mentioned before), which can be used to purchase bonus stats and Tactics, amongst other things. Tactics can be used four at a time, with various effects, a favorite being granting bonus experience for each opponent you kill in RvR.
And then, the other aspects of MMOs rear their heads. This is genuinely not a game for crafters; the crafting aspects are heavily diluted when compared to any other game on the market. Some are certainly useful — the potions made through the Apothecary type are helpful enough — but they're not as amazing as you would find in other games. Another point is the lack of cohesion in the world, which is slightly odd, considering the wealth of background detail available for the world, both in the game and outside of it, through rulebooks for the tabletop games. While WoW takes you across the entirety of Azeroth and beyond, WAR is focused on smaller areas, and it feels that way. There's still plenty to see and do, but the lack of variety means that things can get a bit onerous, depending on where you spend your time.
Lastly is one slightly worrying point, and this is the population of the servers. Some are heavily populated, with queues to enter, but others are nearly desolate. It's particularly noticeable in the early game, where few people are around to partake in the Public Quests, which tend to require groups, but the variety of classes involved, as well as the recent addition of two new classes, do mean that it's alleviated somewhat, and server merges are also assisting.
Despite all of this, it's perhaps telling that most of the negative points have been shunted into the last few paragraphs. As major as some sound, the superb RvR makes up for it. It's difficult to recommend Warhammer Online to anyone who isn't into player vs. player, as that's the real focus of the game, but for those who do, it's definitely an interesting take. The PvP is more accomplished than in any other standard MMO I've seen and keeps pulling me back into the game again and again. WAR is a genuine triumph and one of the best MMOs on the market at the moment, and although it's limited by the RvR focus, small world scale, and a little emptiness brought about by the weak crafting, it regularly brings about tight and thrilling engagements and reminds you, with its streamlining and different focus, of the improvements that can still be made to MMOs and the niches still available.
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