>Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning brings RvR MMO to the masses. Where Everquest lead the nerds online, WoW lead the rest of gamers. Mythic entertainment isn’t a newcomer to the MMO field: they took the EQ formula and added in a great new mechanic in their MMO, Dark Age of Camelot.
As a pretty hardcore gamer and especially a hardcore MMORPGer, I tend to hang out online with a lot of tough critics that never fail to belittle World of Warcraft for its ‘kiddy appeal.’ But where they see a game aimed at kids, I see a game aimed at a huge casual market, primarily older gamers without the time or energy to invest in the vast undertakings that are some of the more hardcore MMOs out there. The numbers certainly back me up: with over ten million subscribers worldwide, WoW is an online game phenomenon.
It should come as no surprise, then, that it has become the de-facto standard to imitate. Where Everquest lead the nerds online, WoW lead the rest of gamers. Mythic entertainment isn’t a newcomer to the MMO field: they took the EQ formula and added in a great new mechanic in their MMO, Dark Age of Camelot. Realm versus realm combat, which pitted players against each other according to which of three factions they join, made DAoC something special, and also set a new standard to imitate: even WoW copied the faction war concept Mythic introduced.
But DAoC was also a fairly hardcore MMORPG, requiring hours of grinding with like-minded XP hungry players. Quests were few and far between, and soloable content was limited. Dark Age of Camelot, while it had its dedicated following, was no more approachable than the other MMOs of the “Golden Era.” WoW taught us that MMOs could be polished, look like they weren’t in a perpetual beta test, and appeal to casual gamers. Unfortunately, WoW’s casual appeal rings more like a massive single player game with a chatroom.
Once again, Mythic stepped up to the plate and redesigned the core concepts of MMORPG for the new casual market. Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning brings together the casual approachability and “jump-in-and-play” presentation of WoW with some great game design ideas that actually bring players together and make it feel like you’re in a multiplayer game.
Warhammer Online is built on the Warhammer franchise from Games Workshop, a hugely successful miniatures game system with extensively rich back story. The miniatures game features numerous armies that do battle with each other, but WAR brings six of these armies together in two factions: the forces of Order and Destruction. Order ranks are filled with the human empire, the high elves, and the dwarves, whilst Destruction features the armies of chaos, the dark elves, and the greenskins. Your first choice when you start the game is to pick which side you’ll play on: all your characters on that server must be on the same side. (Though you’re always free to pick a new server and start again with the other faction.)
Your next step is to pick your class. WAR boils classes down to three archetypes: tanks, healers, and damage dealers, with the latter archetype coming in a variety of flavors. Each class also has a special mechanic that makes it unique; and this mechanic is often borrowed from a different archetype. My favorite example of this is the Disciple of Khaine, the dark elf healer, whose mechanic, soul reaping, requires the player to engage in melee combat and shred foes with dual swords to build up soul essence, the power used to cast healing magic. Each class has a unique and interesting mechanic that makes playing the class more than just mindlessly filling one archetypal role.
The game itself plays in the same manner as most MMOs: you move your character around with the keyboard, target things with the mouse, and use the various skills on your command bar. New players are immediately greeted with a handful of inaugural quests which, upon completion, guide players to the next area of quest givers. The world is set up in a rather linear manner, with a single main road winding from the starting spot to the final frontier where the highest level players do battle with one another. Players will always receive a quest in each town, after completing the quests in that area, which leads them to the next town, so the questing can continue. These quests can be, for the most part, completed solo, and, as such, provide the casual ‘jump in and play’ backbone of the game.
But simply questing on your own wouldn’t make for much of a multiplayer game, now would it. This is where Warhammer Online breaks from the old mould and sets itself apart as a casual MMORPG done right. Firstly, WAR features public quests. PQs are special quest-like scenarios in which players can participate without having to get a quest, do a pre-requisite, or even join a party. All players that participate get a chance to roll on the loot at the end, with the greater participants getting a bonus to their roll. You even get a bonus if you don’t get any loot, for the next time you do that PQ.
PQs usually have a number of stages: the first stage, which has no time limit, usually involves killing a large number of fairly simple foes. This lets players gather together in the public quest without having to sit around and spam chat asking for a party. You just go and start killing things, and as more people get there the killing goes faster and soon you’ll be done with stage one. The following stages are usually more difficult and require cooperation between the players, and they have a time limit. If players cannot work together within the time limit, the public quest resets and goes back to stage one, for players to gather together again.
I found the public quests to be an absolutely wonderful mechanic. I often wonder by one, see some players working on it, and join in. We don’t have to make a party, we don’t even have to talk to one another, but the healers heal the people taking damage, the tanks tank the monsters, and everyone just knows how to work together. Usually. It’s not that hard, really, with the archetypes directing the way characters are played.
The other way in which Warhammer Online brings MMORPG to the casual masses is scenarios. At any time, even at level one, you can join a PvP scenario. These scenarios pit two teams against each other in a separate battlefield with a unique objective. They run the whole gamut of PvP concepts: capture the flag, capture and hold, capture and kill… mostly capture and then do something. You gain experience points for killing other players just like killing monsters, and you also gain renown rank, the PvP rating mechanism in WAR. Once you’re done with the scenario, you’re dropped back right where you left, so you don’t have to miss a beat in your questing between scenario matches.
Scenarios are ranked by ‘pairing.’ Pairing is a somewhat obscure concept in WAR that makes a lot more sense when you look at the map. Every two zones are ‘paired’ and each ‘pair’ is roughly ten levels. So you do levels one to ten in the first two zones. The opposite army (eg: high elves and dark elves) do the same levels in the same zones, but backwards (one team starts on top and goes down, the other team starts on the bottom and goes up). Anyways, all this is to say that you’ll always face similarly-leveled foes, those in your current pairing. The scenarios are level-capped, once you’re too high you can’t participate anymore.
Finally, scenarios have one very nice feature: they buff up your level to a minimum standard, usually the 8th level of that pairing (level 8, level 18, etc.). This buff simply sets your hit points to the level they would be if you were that level, and adjusts the hit and damage ratios so you’re hitting and being hit as if you were that level, and adjusts your skills to be as effective as they would at that level, but doesn’t change the skills to which you have access. So at level 1, you can join a scenario, fight as if you had the stats of a level 8 player, but you still only have your level 1 skills.
All skills in Warhammer Online scale with level. You never have to train a new rank of the same skill. Your level 1 skill will still be with you at level 40 (the current cap) though, of course, it’ll probably be a lot more powerful. As a result, every skill in the game retains its usefulness, and players will often have to pick and choose between a number of similar alternatives to determine the best skill for the current situation. On the one hand, this ensures that, right through to level 40, you are getting a new interesting skill at nearly every level. On the other hand, until you reach level 40, certain skills to which you really want to have access are unavailable. I played a tank, for example, and I don’t get an area-effect taunt until level 20, making tanking the ever common swarms of monsters rather difficult through the teens.
There’s a great deal more depth to Warhammer Online, but there just isn’t enough room to talk about all of it. There’s the Tome of Knowledge, which is a lore book, quest tracker, and achievement check-list all wrapped up into one immense feature of the game. There’s the crafting (which is woefully inadequate at the moment) and the appearance customization options (dyeing armor and adding trophies) to also keep you occupied when you’re not slaying someone. There’s the open Realm vs Realm combat, the real core of the game, which forms the basis of the end-game experience. And there’s the entire comprehensive guild structure with features that unlock as the guild gains levels of its own. But this is just one review.
With so much there to see, I can only make one good recommendation: pick up Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, and see for yourself. We’ll be following up with our thoughts on the game as we progress through the levels, but we’ll never be able to cover every fascinating detail. I think, however, that I covered the most important part of the game: the idea that it’s a casual MMORPG done right. It’s got all the appeal of World of Warcraft with all the content that makes an MMORPG solid and enduring. In short, it’s the first viable contender to WoW. I’m very impressed with what Mythic’s put together, and I’m sure you will be too!