Warhammer Beta Impressions
Let’s start with this fact: Warhammer Online is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game.
That should befairly obvious to anyone who has at all followed the game, but it bears explicitly stating because there seems to be a constant complaint from some corners that massively multiplayer games have the irritating tendency of playing like massively multiplayer games. If you are expecting Warhammer to shatter the mold and perhaps offer real-time, gesture based combat where advancement is determined not by experience but by the number of dance emotes you can string together, then save yourself the disappointment. If you’ve played other popular MMOs then you’re going to be right at home with Warhammer, and if you hate playing these kinds of games then stop now, think no further on the topic and move along to other verdant pastures of gaming grazing goodness.
Personally, I’m an MMO addict. I’ve played more than I care to enumerate at length, from the staples like EverQuest and World of WarCraft with their iconic tropes and odd capitalizations, to games the world left behind like Horizons, Auto Assault and Asheron’s Call 2. I am weak for the opportunity to delve into at least the shallow tide pools of these games, though I am usually adept at discerning which stand a reasonable chance of success and which will fall by the dusty wayside. So, it is not without some authority that I say Warhammer Online is shaping up to be a success.
Now, let’s not go crazy and talk about competing with WoW; there’s no value in the debate. But, developer Mythic, formerly EA Mythic, formerly Mythic, has its own reputation to worry about, this being their first major follow-up since the surprisingly excellent Dark Age of Camelot. You may also remember Mythic as the company that sued Microsoft for the title of that company's MMO Mythica, which was never released, as well as being the developer of Imperator, which was never released.
But, I digress.
Warhammer walks along a path paved by great games before it. It begins by getting the fundamentals of play right, and then builds new experiences on top of that. This may not be a game that’s going to fit the popular buzzwords of marketing language that speak of paradigm shifting, perception altering and genre busting. No, there will be quests where you will be asked to kill varying number of things for flimsy reasons, where you will press the number 2 to unleash some attack skill on an enemy, where you gather experience so you can level up so you can gather more experience.
What separates Warhammer, however, is in its new explorations within that familiar framework. This is a game where the ultimate goal is player versus player conflicts, where the ultimate raid is not some instanced puzzle of just the right classes in just the right configurations, but the organized assault of hundreds on an enemy city or the desperate defense of your own crumbling city walls. This is an MMO that manages to make a die-hard solo player like myself somehow feel invested into the world and the people around me, and without shoe-horning me into a mandated playstyle. I can both be the hero of my own story and a character actor in a sweeping epic. Best of all, I can change to and from roles at will, without difficulty and without downtime. This game should be a study in smooth transition for future developers.
Let me break it down, so to speak. The things that I enjoyed most in the game as it has been presented so far include:
• Being able to access player versus player content from level 1 and being able to gain experience and level progression strictly through those battles.
• The idea, if not always the implementation, of public quests that very much encourage and reward a kind of impromptu collecting of a few players toward a fairly brief and organized goal.
• The layout of the zones, so that from the very start you share areas with your enemies and move naturally toward contested player versus player (PvP) areas very quickly.
• The early and effective inclusion of siege weapons into PvP combat.
• The wide and varied opportunities to advance in this game, whether through quests, instanced PvP battles, public quests, traditional methods and less structure PvP world content.
• Story and lore that is woven seamlessly into the game.
• The fact that Warhammer doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel or that it doesn’t live and die by a single unrealized gimmick.
That’s not to say the presentation was flawless. There were pathfinding issues, class balance problems, what I suspect was a pesky memory leak, questions about the long term viability of the public quests in later areas and so on. And, what I’m going to do right now is pretty much gloss over those concerns, partly because they didn’t really cloud my overall experience, and partly because none of them are gamebreakers. I am among the camp that understands a launched MMO is an unfinished product; a fact that despite the dreams of idealists remains an inescapable truth in virtually every case.
So, it’s a game destined to see some balance and performance patches in the early days. What is important to me is the question of the underlying core, and if there’s enough meat there to sustain long term commitment. There's a world of difference between a game that needs some tweaks and adjustments as it populates its world, and a game with core issues. I feel confident that this game shows remarkable promise and a strong potential for longevity. It will still require excellent support and adaptability to the changing needs of its population, and can use Age of Conan as a nice base model for what not to do after you release a successful MMO, but Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning begins its potentially long run with the wind at its back.
Warhammer ultimately feels like the game you might have hoped Mythic would present to succeed Dark Age of Camelot. It is infused with a certain sense of confidence and shows the benefits of putting veteran developers onto a prized project. It is a maturation, a logical next step for MMOs and the kind of game that offers compelling answers to at least a few of the questions that have nagged the genre. And, it may just end up being among the better MMOGs released in the last few years