"You lucky bastard!" was what I was called when I told some friends I was going to get a chance to play Warhammer Online in person at the Mythic press event. In hindsight, they were right. Before I go into all the warm and fuzzy factual details that were learnt about the game at the conference, allow me to give some background information.
Until now, I have been an avid MMO player, and although I have tried out numerous games, I have only really played WoWarcraft and Everquest for an extended amount of time. Why? Well, the reasons are many. Character control - such as how movement plays out, how your abilities play out in the actual game world, camera control and angles all are part of the first impression of a game. To be honest, I find that if the very first game play impression is bad, then my interest in the game seriously dabs off and it would take a lot of secondary positive impressions to get me to keep playing the game.
So how does this relate directly to Warhammer Online, you might ask. Well, I got my first hands on impression of WAR this past week. Let's cut straight to the subjective stuff. Warhammer Online, as it stands per today, is an amazingly good game. Besides the fact that the event that Mythic had set up was very well done and their presentations top notch, besides the fact that Paul Barnett is by far one of the best game presenters I have met, and besides the fact that the already existing Warhammer universe is so rich with lore and storyline, the actual design of the game, in lack of a better term " owns. It is in fact so good that I did not hear a single negative comment on the game in any form by any of the other 40 media outlets who were present neither during the breaks or after the event was over.
Warhammer Online is the second big MMO Mythic have created, the first being Dark Age of Camelot. And do you know what? You can tell. A lot of experience has been pulled from the DAoC development and deployment and put into making WAR one of the best implementations of PvP and fun in an MMO to date.
I could rave about all of this forever, however unfortunately for me, that is not what you are here to read about. What you came for, this is what Warhammer is like today:
First on the agenda of the presentation: Empire. Just about all MMOs have this race as a playable option, so coming up with a unique and interesting implementation of them is a tough one to pull off. In Warhammer, humans are at the social stage of what you would compare to as the Middle Ages psychologically, and technologically at the stage of what seems to be the 1800's mixed with our all time favorite: magic. Humans are under the belief that the end of the world could come any day in the form of fires, comets falling from the sky, famine and disease or the ever threatening annihilation by forces of Chaos.
A video of Paul Barnett introducing the Empire can be found here, right-click/save as (22mb).
And that is what is presented to you when you start the game as a human. After loading the game as a level 1 Human Bright Wizard I found myself in a small human village surrounded by the other players in the room. The interface reminded me distinctly of at least half a dozen other MMO's, all borrowing what clearly works from none other than the industry giant itself: World of Warcraft. Apart from a few differences, this was familiar territory for me so immersing myself in the game play rather than the UI was to be my first focus. Brilliant!
Over the past several months and throughout the entire presentation there is a key phrase that has been repeated endlessly: In Warhammer, war is everywhere. The first piece of the world that I was presented with was just that, an Empire village which was in the process of being attacked by a mass amount of Chaos soldiers. Around me there were tons of NPC's offering quests and purpose for the game play. I could hear that in the distance there were cannons being fired, and there was smoke in the sky from something that was burning. One of my first quests took hold of this quite firmly. Simply, "go east and recruit some farmers to help you fight off the forces of chaos".
"Very well", I thought and set out to perform the task given to me. Without much hassle I found the farmers spread around in the crops and went to talk to them. The first two farmers agreed to my request and ran off in the direction of where I had come from whilst I got a message that I had completed persuaded 2 of the 5 required farmers to help the cause. The third farmer, however, refused to come to our aid and it was revealed that he was a sympathizer with the forces of Chaos. Naturally, I had to end his life in a swift, fiery and brutal manner: Death by flames!
Several quests and 3 levels later I found myself in the middle of the first public quest (PQ) for the Empire. As I entered the area, my UI informed me that I had joined a public quest, and a small UI window popped up in the side of my screen indicating current progress/status of the public quest. As the other players showed up and participated in the PQ, the progress updated nicely and before we knew it we had killed a bunch of NPCs and gotten to the final stage of the PQ: the spawning/killing of a Chaos giant. Everyone jumped on the boss and although no one in the area was grouped, everyone ended up working together and the defeat of the monster was an easy task. At the end of it all we were rewarded with some "Influence" and experience.
"Influence" is a sort of "secondary faction" system that is in place for rewarding people who participate in public quests. Barnett explained it like this: "Suppose you have a person in the area who really, really hates giants. By killing lots of giants, this person will like you more and more, and based on your influence level with him, reward you with items that match the level of influence you have gained". Due to the fact that public quests are infinitely repeatable, it is therefore possible to gain all the rewards from this person, depending on how much work you wish to put into it.
Although we were limited to playing nearly identical Bright Wizards, there are several other classes available to the humans. The following four classes are available to play as humans:
Knight of the Blazing Sun
This class is a melee / tanking class.
This is a melee / dps class.
Watch Paul Barnett talk about the Witch Hunter here! Right click/save as (6.5mb).
This is a melee / healer class.
Watch Paul Barnett talk about the Warrior Priest here! Right click/save as (4mb).
This is a caster / dps class.
Watch Paul Barnett Talk about the Bright Wizard here! Right click/save as (8.5mb).
After a short break, it was time for more Warhammer " this time the subject of choice was the forces of Chaos. With a kick start into the subject, Barnett brought up the common misconception that Chaos is often compared with hell, satan, fire and such. That is, however, not what Chaos is about. Chaos is, well, anything chaotic. It is about rivers of glass, eyeballs growing on the ground, rain falling upwards, mutations and crab claws to mention a few. The forces of Chaos all worship one of the four gods of chaos, namely Tzeentsch. Mythic have actually gotten a lot of questions about their particular choice of god.
In short, Khorne only allowed brute melee characters with no magic or healing, Nurgle would make all the player characters into fat blistering jabbas sprouting slime everywhere and Slaanesh would mean having a bunch of hot naked female characters covered in slime and whatnot. With the choice being Tzeentsch, it was possible to incorporate magic, healing and melee classes into the storyline while remaining loyal to the lore.
A slightly longer and more detailed summary of Chaos and the god choices may be found here, Right click/save as (35 mb).
The forces of Chaos also are divided into the four different classes as follows:
This class is a melee / tanking class.
This is a magic / healer class.
This is a magic / dps class.
??? Un-announced ???
This is a melee / dps class.
And so began the hands-on presentation of the Chaos forces. Once again, thrown into the game with a Chaos Magus, the first sight that awaited me was awe-inspiring. I found myself right outside an empire village, much like the one I had played in just an hour before. This time, however, everything was, well, chaotic. Behind my character was a magical portal from where my character had "originated" for this assault on the Empire village. Around it was flying rocks, pink/purple trees, eyeballs popping in and out of the ground and the sky was a sort of vortex spiral of clouds as if it was being sucked into what would remind you of a black hole.
Again, the familiarity of previous MMOs and my formerly spent 45 minutes as an Empire player allowed me to quickly get into playing my Chaos Magus and the questing began. Fighting through skeletons and wraiths for experience and pieces of bone, the quests quickly brought me through the area and into the Empire village which destruction was our ultimate goal. Through burning of village houses and slaughter of Empire forces, I ended up in a public quest area with all the other representatives working together to complete the objectives at hand.
I must say though, while the similarities of the starting areas of Empire and Chaos were there, playing as Chaos truly gave me a feeling of being much more evil and corrupt. Thus far, Mythic has done an amazing job at "themeing" their starting areas in a fashion that fits the lore, background history and general feel of each race really well. Something else to note is that although the Magus and the Bright Wizard are both spell caster classes, they played out completely different and actually had quite a unique feel to them. After playing Chaos for a while, I could not help but think about how awesome it is going to be to play a Dark Elf and the various classes that are available there.
Realm versus Realm
The RvR portion in Warhammer Online is separated into two unique avenues of game play which may be experienced by the player, namely Player vs Player and Player vs Environment. Because RvR is implemented throughout every aspect of the game, even the PvE game play supports and aids the RvR warfare that is forever ongoing somehow. RvR is divided into 4 different "classes" of RvR warfare. What do these "classes" entail? - Let us look into this some.
In each zone of the game, there are places where you can PvP RvR or PvE RvR. PvP areas of these zones are called skirmish areas, and upon entering, your character is automatically flagged for RvR-PvP combat and can freely engage in combat with players of the opposing faction.
In some of the skirmish areas, there are PvP objectives set up where for example capturing and holding certain towers or other key points gains bonuses for your faction. In essence, these Battlefields may be defined as focal points for PvP combat in the area.
Scenarios are story points within the RvR skirmish areas which can be compared to current-day World of Warcraft Battlegrounds. Scenarios are fully instanced with equal number teams engaging in battle with one-another. While the objectives of each scenario will vary, there is one key element which they all retain. The absolute goal of the scenario is to kill all your opponents, over and over. Paul went to add: "There will be no dilly dallying about with running a flag from one point to another. Our scenarios is about PvP, Killing each other and proving that you really are better than the opposing team".
You may see two videos of Paul Barnett explaining scenarios here (right click/save as, 12mb) and here (right click/save as, 13 mb).
Campaigns build even further on the smaller scale RvR which is coherent throughout the world. Campaigns consist of fighting over the actual ownership of landmass in the game, and taking over control of areas even as far up as to capturing and destroying your opposing faction's Capitol cities. Campaigns are also where the most rewarding game-play is. If your team is good enough to seize control of your opponents Cities, you may capture their king and even escort him in captivity back to your own capitol and imprison him - thus impacting the game directly for everyone.
That said, there are "timers" in play where actually capturing and holding an enemy capitol over an extended period of time is going to be remarkably hard. Eventually, the realms will come back into balance and the War starts once again.
</blockquote> As the presentation came to an end, we were informed that last up was some hands-on inside two different scenarios - namely "Mourkain Temple" and "Gates of Ekrund". We were separated into four teams of 10 each, I believe, so there were two games going on in the press room at any given time. The first scenario was a form of the "Murderball" type instance. It played out like this. The map was a medium sized swamp, with two starting positions, one for each team. In the middle of the map, a temple was located, and in the middle of the temple was a statue. The goal of the map was to have your team gain 500 points before the enemy. Points were gained by killing enemies, and also bonus points for having the statue while killing enemies. In short, get the statue, keep it and obliterate the enemy.
"So what was it like?", you might ask. Well, it was new, it was fresh but most importantly - it was damned fun. That, my friends, is what PvP should be. That said, I did have some nostalgia from some of the first times I had visited battlegrounds in WoW, except this felt more like real PvP and less like a game with pvp as part of the tools used to win the main objective. For the Mourkain Temple I got to play a Goblin Squigherder. After about 5 minutes, I was convinced that the class was way too good. Overpowered, if you will. Why? Well, it was a combination of the abilities that I had at my disposal, one being a "rooting" shot with my bow, the power of my squig and the fact that I somehow managed to play the very first game PvP game in Warhammer completely without dieing while still holding the statue for the majority of the game. That said, I have to give some credits to the gentleman sitting next to me on the left - he did really well about healing me and keeping us in the lead, and since this is not even Beta I'm sure there is much tuning still left to do!
After two games in this zone, we changed "sides" and also scenarios. This time my row was to play the Dwarves and the row behind us were to play the Goblins and Orcs in "Gates of Ekrund". My class happened to be a Dwarf Hammerer. We were explained that the objective of this scenario was to capture and hold certain points while besieging the Gates of Ekrund. The winning team was to be determined by which team got to 500 points first, and much like the Murderball scenario, points were gained both by capturing and holding each of the 3 control points but also from killing one-another relentlessly.
The Dwarf Hammerer was really refreshing to play, being a melee class. My main character in WoW is a rogue, so "close-quarter" combat was something I was used to, however the abilities and combinational attacks of the Hammerer really made for some big killing sprees. We got to play 2 games in this scenario also, and at the end of the presentation the score between our team and our opposing team seated behind us was 2-2. In short, it was very fun, well developed and has a lot of potential.
You may see two videos from the Gates of Ekrund here, (RunePriest View - Right click/save as, 5.5mb) and here, (Goblin Squigherder View - Right click/save as, 6.5mb).
Questions / Answers
On Friday the 26th before leaving back to Curse HQ, I got a chance to meet up with Lance Robertson, the Producer of Warhammer Online for some one-on-one questionnaire.
Q: What kind of content in Warhammer do you believe will attract and keep the long term players in the game?
A: We believe that the RvR and the PvP will be the biggest part of the game that keeps people playing. That is just the nature of PvP.
Q: How does leveling through PvP compare to PvE exp/hour wise?
A: That is something we are constantly working on balancing. It really is something we are going to have to tune as we go in order to make it as equal as possible. The same goes for Item drops from PvP - we need to see how it pans out and change it as it is needed.
Q: What kind of system do you recommend in order to run Warhammer Online at max settings with a nice result?
A: While our current client is not optimized for performance yet I can't say anything specific, but it will be safe to assume that any reasonably decent system purchased sometime during the past year will be fine.
Editor's Note: The system we were playing on for the test was a Laptop system with an Intel Core 2 Duo 1.8 Ghz with 2Gb of Ram, Radeon x1600 Mobile gfx card and other standard goodies. The game was at almost max setting (no antialiasing) and was running perfectly fine with no performance issues at all.
Q: What kind of features/support is planned for interface modification or addons?
A: We are aiming for the game interface to be very modifiable. The actual method we have chosen for WAR is to have LUA addons. Extracting ingame information like item stats, character profiles, quest information and similiar will be possible.
Q: What is your plan to deal with secondary market vendors such as IGE?
A: EA Mythic is, and always will be against such a market. We are trying to design the game in such a manner that the act of gold farming by gold farmers will become pointless while still being very much valuable to a real player.
Q: Will it be possible to level from 1 to max solo for each class?
Q: How big of a difference will the "item power" between casual play and hardcore play be?
A: We have not decided on anything specific on this matter yet, but we do feel that a great time investment must yield great gear.
Q: Do you already have expansions planned and will you be releasing "free content" as you go?
A: While we currently are focusing on developing and releasing the game currently, we do have content / expansions planned for years to come. We will also be releasing "free" content in form of patches as we go.
Q: When Beta comes around, will you be doing "Guild Invitations" to well known established high-end guilds?
A: We don't have any specifics planned at current time, but this is something we will be looking into.
Q: Do you plan to release the game with a Digital Download / Online Purchase?
A: We have not decided on this yet, but we will be looking into all available distribution options.
Q: Will you be making a "Direct X 10" version of your game at some point?
A: We do not have any plans for making a DX10 specific client at current. Maybe down the line.
Q: What do you personally find the most fun in making an MMO?
A: For me, the testing and it really showing when it all comes together is the best. Watching you guys play and have fun yesterday was pretty high up there!
Q: What is your favorite part of the Warhammer Universe?
A: The dark humour.
Q: Will it be possible to "uber-twink" lower level characters once you have a high level character?
A: No, we have restrictions in place to make the power Curve of lower level characters remain relatively stable.
And there you have it. If Warhammer Online did not have enough hype already, it most certainly will after their press event. As I started this article out, Warhammer Online is, if it follows its current development routine, destined to become big. The combination of the experience at Mythic, the feedback from their player base and the unique world that Warhammer is set in only spells one thing: Success.
I will be looking forward to hearing more about Warhammer from the team over at EA Mythic, and even more to the Beta when it finally gets made available.