"Warhammer Online has some of the most potential of any RPG game and is the best title in the emerging RvR-MMO game genre."-Judgent

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

An Afterthought: WAR: AoR Review

Title: Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning
Genre: MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game)
Platform: PC

      Warhammer Online or WAR is an online roleplaying game published by Bioware (part of Electronic Arts) and developed by Mythic in September of 2008. It is set in a fantasy setting predefined by the Warhammer lore created by Mythic, who is originally known for Warhammer, the tabletop game. In the online version, there is an ongoing war between the forces of Order and Destruction. The world is torn as the races align and prepare for battle. Join the Dark Elves, Chaos, and Greenskin as they fight for the Realm of Destruction, or the High Elves, Empire, and Dwarfs in the Realm of Order. The game features Player versus Environment (PvE) and Player versus Player (PvP). It’s basic features are similar to generic MMO’s core concepts, but it stands apart through incredible customizability for your character and naturally rewarding and engaging gameplay in Realm versus Realm combat (RvR). There are twenty four total classes to play that fall into four general archetype categories. Each realm has 12 classes, four per race, which fall into one of four archetypes, resulting in 24 total classes. The four archetypes are Tanks, Melee Damage, Ranged Damage, and Healers. There are up to 40 levels for players to progress through as they gain more skill, gear, and riches. There also 100 renown ranks which are gained through killing players in Realm versus Realm combat.

Game Rules:

      The rules of engagement between the two realms are extremely lengthy and complex but I am going to elaborate on the most prominent features that make the game work. The RvR is only one half of the game, but it is the most defining feature. First, the players are only able to engage in conflict amongst online users in a set locations with very specific and varying rules. There are four total tiers that players will participate in, each adding more complexity, gear, and areas for discovery. Each tier corresponds to a level bracket, to ensure that powerful players are not able to wreak havoc on new players. Tier 1 is for players level 1 - 15, Tier 2 is for levels 16 - 25, Tier 3 is for levels 26 - 39, and Tier 4 is for players level 40. The game used to have brackets for every 10 levels but that changed a few years after release. There are rules to when a player is able to engage in realm versus realm combat. There are RvR "lakes" where players flock to in order to be able to attack the other realm's players. In these lakes there are Battle Objectives to fight over and, in later levels, keeps to attack and defend. Another way to ensure players are facing up against enemies of similar difficulty is by raising all player’s level to the top for the bracket that they are in (ie. level 15 for tier 1). This way players can contribute to the battle even at level 1, without any prerequisites to jump into an RvR lake or queue up for a scenario (instanced RvR battles).
      The actual combat is based upon location of the player as well as the use of skills and talent trees. Throughout the game, players level up and gain access to new skills, morale abilities, and talents as well as become stronger. Each class has unique abilities and armor to use in battle. Mythic tries to balance the classes as much as possible but the large amount of classes and skills provide a very difficult challenge. Most MMOS have less than 8 classes which many times share armor, skills, and appearances. In Warhammer, every class has a unique appearance and gameplay mechanics. The game also features the "Tome of Knowledge" which contains achievements, lore, titles, and information about the game. It also displays statistics on activities such as scenarios, crafting, and combat. This allows players to track their performance and display their achievements to the world. Another interesting feedback system is the Realm versus Realm ranking system. Players gain ranks in addition to levels through realm versus realm activity only. This rank allows the player to purchase and equip RvR gear which improves strength and other attributes. As stated above, there are 100 renown ranks that yield stunning armor and weapons with beautiful graphics. These renown ranks let players see how well they are doing against the opposing faction and how strong their enemy is. In online combat, players can find these items from random drops or loot them from treasure chests. This gives the player the feeling of uncertainty which encourages repeated completion of tasks in order to obtain necessary items and rank. In addition to armor and weapons, players also receive currency from killing, which can be spent on better items and or additional amenities (mounts, potions, vanity pets). This reward system keeps players coming back to increase the power and appearance of their characters.
      The actual Realm versus Realm battles are visually stunning and incredibly fun to participate in. Imagine protecting a keep from the hordes of evil players while fighting alongside your friends. Playing against real people provides endless possibilities for gameplay situations which decreases repetition and boredom. Knowing when to use certain skills and avoiding death are the main goals of combat. In order to become skilled at Warhammer, it is essential to understand each class and work with other players to defeat the enemy legions. The community has developed strategies to succeed in online play; some of which are unfair and could be considered an exploit. Many times in RvR gameplay, large groups of players will roam around killing any smaller groups they can find. This is called zerging and is defined by the act of using sheer numbers to defeat the enemy. This is not illegal but is considered unfair and a shameful strategy to deploy on the lesser populated faction. In order to combat this issue, Mythic has three different RvR pairings which split up the action so players can always find a fair battle to fight in. The three pairings are Empire versus Chaos, High Elves versus Dark Elves, and the Dwarfs versus Greenskin. Each pairing has two zones for each tier and an additional 4 zones for Tier 4. There are also two capital cities which can be captured in the instance of a city siege.

Game Play:

      The core mechanic behind the different classes in Warhammer is essentially the same. Using varied types of magic and weapons, players must destroy the opposing enemies and avoid death. Skills are arranged at the bottom of the user interface in a horizontal fashion. Each class will unlock around thirty different abilities which have various effects, cooldown timers, and energy cost. It is vital to constantly keep the characters health up while depleting the enemies health pool until death at 0%. Characters may be resurrected by any of the Healer classes but most characters are able to protect themselves with personal healing and helpful boons. The goal of the game is to level up to the highest level and obtain the best weapons and armor in order to become as strong as possible and lead the realm to victory. No realm ever really wins, because once a faction has been wiped out, it resets after a certain amount of hours. Players fight over towns and quest hubs in order to ultimately defend their capital city. No one ever really reaches the end of the game because, in most MMO's, there is always a new goal, or a need to improve. In order to level up, players may kill NPC's (Non-Player Characters), battle real online people, or participate in quests and instanced dungeons. Rewards for these activities include gold, various currencies, crafting materials, gear, consumables, titles, achievements, trophies, vanity pets, and new transportation methods. In order to obtain these rewards, players must complete predetermined tasks that require various levels of skill and certain amounts of players. These tasks condition players to participate in daily activities to claim these rewards for character improvement. Repetitive and slow progression is an important element in MMO's that keep players addicted to the game.
      Aside from the general lore, the overall plot in Warhammer Online is pretty terrible. There are many quests and dungeons to complete that provide short term storyline elements, but the general game is based around the improvement of the players character and abilities in RvR combat. The lore sets the basis for all conflict in game through the use of a never ending battle between enemy factions. Players fight for their side in order to prove their dominance in this never ending struggle. The game world is treacherous and filled with amazing discoveries and powerful enemies. The Order is devoted to protecting the citizens and the land from the clutches of the realm of Destruction, bent on destroying everything. Players find themselves in various environments such as the desert, snow capped mountains, and lush countryside. Each faction has towns and outposts in each zone which provide services to the player and offer quests for completion. These towns have many descriptors which keep the theme of the world consistent. The game is set in the stone ages, with basically no technology except for guns and inventions created by the ingenious Dwarfs. Certain classes even reference various time periods in actual history. For example, the Empire is steampunk themed with religious elements thrown in there. Additionally, dwarfs reference Irish culture through their accent, interest in beer, and fun loving demeanor. These types of descriptors and fictional environments keep the player immersed in the setting and storyline and focus on the core gameplay. The game leads the player through the fictional world and slowly introduces them to new concepts which add complexity. Leveling and ranking up can become a slow grind, especially when getting close to the level cap. This causes many players who become bored with this repetition to stop playing. Aside from this, the game flows well, but forces players to remain in the same place for too long in the later levels.


      I started playing Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning at release in September of 2008, and fell in love with the game. Aside from the initial launch lag, server issues, and never ending bugs, the game’s community was strong and this allowed the game to thrive. After a year or two, many players were upset with the state of the game and lack of developer support, and decided to leave. This brought the player population on all servers to very low levels. Warhammer relies on consistent and high population in order for players to achieve the goals that involve realm versus realm combat. These goals usually require killing players on the opposite faction, so population became a huge key in the gameplay. For a long time now, the developers have neglected the game and the community, which has continued the decline of the player base. In the end, only the hardcore players remain on the last merged server, however many gamers have hope that it could bounce back. Even after four years, there are still daily players and many users who are trying the game for the first time (since it recently added free to play elements). With the new content that was added over the four years following launch, and the fixed bugs and performance issues, it has grown into a very good looking game. However, with a lack of population, there is no chance that WAR will combat industry leaders like WoW and Guild Wars 2. However, Warhammer Online players can proudly claim that it is the best game ever made in the RvR MMO niche.