In the past I’ve given some pretty harsh criticism to other MMO games. They deserved it. Today I’m going to do something I’ve never done before – recommend a MMO.
Warhammer Online (WAR) is the kind of game that your wife or girlfriend will make fun of you for playing. It’s a D&D style dorkfest that is as much a guilty pleasure as it is addictive to play. WAR puts you in the tried and true medieval era world that MMO fans have come to love and feel comfortable in. Elves and knights are here, and so are witches and dwarves. Orcs are present and there still aren’t enough people playing as healers. As for the story and enviroment, there is very little here that you haven’t seen before. The difference is that it is all done as well or a little better than before, and it just works.
Unlike other recent MMO titles (Tabula Rasa, I’m talking about you), there are more than enough quests to keep anyone busy for quite some time. I have to stop here and say that I only played through level 11 on two different characters (each presented me with a different quest line), but part of the reason I only made it to level 11 is because there was so much to do and it was varied enough that I actually wanted to complete the quests. The quests aren’t anything special – just your typical bring-me-five-of-these or kill-ten-of-those affairs, but they all work as advertised and the handy indicators on the map mean you spend less time wandering around and more time progressing through the game. WAR has one of the best map interfaces I’ve ever seen.
I’d bet that with the release of WAR, most of the people playing the pitiful Age of Conan (AoC) will be making a switch. AoC is an inferior game by every measure, save graphics, and unlike AoC, WAR doesn’t require a beast of a machine to run. It’s not that the graphics in WAR aren’t good, they are just average. In the end, this is logical considering the fact that MMO’s need to be more accessable than other titles. Still, a few more textures wouldn’t have hurt.
Also, WAR suffers from the general feeling of “been there, done that”. I already mentioned that the quests are pretty much standard fare, but the environment is nothing new either. Castles and keeps, farms and fields are abundant in WAR. There are plenty of new creatures to kill, but none of them are very creatively designed – usually variations from enemies you’ve seen in past titles. What keeps WAR from feeling redundant are the little things. The NPC who for no apparent reason states “I don’t like kittens”. The variation of enemies and quests even from the start – there is maybe one “kill 10 wolves” quest in the first 5-10 levels, and you’ll see a relitively small amount of animal enemies, unlike similar games that rely heavily on rabid dogs, evil bears, and angry bats. WAR is just barely different enough to keep you from walking away, and once you’ve gotten in to it, you see what is truly different about WAR – player versus player (PvP).
WAR has taken PvP to a new level. Most MMO’s give players a special server for PvP or special areas in servers. Some allow you to elect when you are eligable for PvP. All of those solutions make those worlds feel less like reality and more like a game. People play MMO titles for the alternative universes that they can immerse themselves in – not to feel like they are playing a computer game. WAR gets PvP right with its realm versus realm (RvR) system. The two factions in WAR go at it full force in special areas which can be found on every map in WAR. Want to kill a real player? Just run up to the RvR area and get it on! RvR areas even adjust player ranks to give lower level characters a small boost so they can compete, although this is a very small boost (usually a level up while in the RvR area, which doesn’t mean much when a guy who is three levels above you comes charging). In addition to RvR areas in every map, there are also RvR “scenarios”, which allow players to jump into a purely RvR area for a little mindless PvP. These areas are all about laying waste to the enemy players, and provide a nice respite from the normal quests. PvP also gives you experience and Renown points. Renown points are like a second experience bar that gives you access to special items when you gain Renown. This helps to encourage play in RvR areas, which could generally be avoided otherwise.
A third way of gaining experience is in the Public Quest (PQ) areas. These areas are wide open quests that all players participate in just by running into the area. They generally work in three to four stages, each becoming progressively more difficult. The first stage is usually completed by killing off a few dozen regular enemies. They second by doing in a smaller number of higher level baddies, and the third and fourth by facing down champions and heroes. Heroes can be extremely difficult and must be faced by a large group of players to be defeated. Each kill gives you PQ experience points, which allows you to receive special items. Usually potions at the first level and useful gear at the higher two. Based on your contribution to the kill of the hero in the last stage of the PQ and a roll of the dice, you will recieve a loot bag that usually contains some nice items to choose from. WAR always lets you choose from several things, rather than force you to accept some helmet you don’t need – a nice touch.
There are some problems in WAR, however. The is no market place system, which means that all of the items you craft you’ll either have to use yourself, sell to an NPC, or tediously trade manually with other players. Hopefully this feature will be added soon after release. There aren’t enough potions in the game, and there is no way to buy them. You can craft them, but that takes some time. This makes having a healer in your party even more important, and there are never enough healers in MMO’s. It also means you end up fleeing a lot, which takes away from the fun.
Thankfully stability is not a problem in WAR. I only had one crash in my time playing the BETA, and that is better than any other modern MMO I’ve played. Performance is pretty good except for in very busy RvR areas – hopefully that will be ironed out in the coming weeks as well.
RvR and PQ are what set Warhammer Online apart from the pack. They keep you playing and excited, eager to get that next level and that new skill. It’s that eagerness that MMO game developers bank on – it’s what keeps you subscribed. Add in various crafting abilities, job skills and the best PvP out there and you have a lot of game on your hands.