When you talk about the MMORPG market, one name sticks out in everyone's mind, and that's World of Warcraft. The worldwide phenomenon that sports over 10 million subscribers has continued a three-year trek that will see its second expansion coming out a few months from the time of this review. If you sit back and think about it, three years isn't a very long time...unless you are Warhammer Online.
Going down the laundry list of problems with the development of Warhammer Online, you'll realize that the stress of trying to make this game would probably kill the average human being. Luckily, it would seem that Mythic Entertainment only employs superhuman programmers and designers. While many will ask "will WAR be the WoW killer?", the real question should be "will WAR just be a clone of Dark Ages of Camelot (Mythic's last MMORPG) with a familiar license attached...published by a company that knows a thing or two about making clones with a familiar license?".
The answer is a pretty hard "eh".
That's not necessarily a bad "eh", because to be perfectly honest, Warhammer Online IS a clone...of about five or six different MMORPGs. The difference here is that all these elements in previous MMORPGs have been around for so long that Mythic was able to capture them, lock them up into some programming code, and make them better. WAR is basically the bastard stepchild of Everquest, Guild Wars, Dark Ages of Camelot, World of Warcraft, and Vanguard, but if you were going to steal...err...refine elements from any games, I would say those are at least five of the better ones to pull influence from.
Obviously, the subject at hand is war, and the minute you boot up, you'll notice it. Everything that's going on in WAR feels extremely chaotic, and that has both its bonuses and drawbacks. On the plus side of things, you'll be engulfed by just how torn down and rugged everything looks in the game, which creates this foreboding sense that nothing will ever be right in the world again. Instead of cities, you'll venture between warcamps through four different tiers of locales, each increasing in level and difficulty. The chaos does come to a fault, though, as you end up feeling a bit out of place wherever you are, not to mention a sense of disorganization. Adding to the disorganization is the presence of loading screens between many areas, which leads to a break in the action and exploration that might leave you disjointed at times. It's because of this broken up action that sometimes you just get the feeling that you aren't part of this big persistent world that you kept hearing about.
There are six races in the game, and each comes with their own unique classes. These archetypes for character "careers" offer a way to recognize characters without having to mouse over or inspect someone, and it works. The Marauder looks and feels different from a Chosen or a Witch Elf, while the Squig Herder and Engineer look and feel different as well. Does that mean they are different? Not totally. Upon examination, you'll notice that almost every race features the four basic setups of tank, melee DPS, ranged DPS, and healer. However, it's the skills that make these classes special, and once you play as a few different classes, you will see just how different they all can handle...even if they do have some similar elements shared between them. The character creation screen isn't any more in-depth than most MMO games, as it features your usual sliders and half-naked 'toon to customize. Rather than using mana or rage or energy or any of that God-knows-what stuff, all of Warhammer's characters use "action points" (which is essentially energy like rogues use in WoW), and it works extremely well to keep things uniform and fit. It means that any potions you pick up can be used by anyone in the game, and that's a welcome change from the norm. Characters will "rank up" (read: level up) through 40 ranks (read: level 40 cap), and everything in the world has potential for giving you experience points...including RvR and PvP. Therefore, you never feel like you are having to grind away to get things done, meaning you can focus more on having fun than having to, well, focus. Another interesting (yet still relatively unconfirmed thing) is that it appears you can only stack your stats on a character so high based on your ranks, meaning that once you hit 40, you may only be able to get so many points into Strength or Willpower or Wounds before you just can't go any higher. Talk about balancing characters out, right?
Let's get the hyped part out of the way: realm versus realm gameplay. There are many forms of RvR game types in WAR - all of which mainly involve capturing certain points in areas and gaining control. You can queue up at any time in an area for a Scenario thanks to a handy little icon on your minimap, which sure as hell beats heading to a major city to queue. In these instanced areas, you'll be partied up with varying numbers of other players from your server in matches that have you capturing bases for points to win. If instanced groups aren't your thing, you can always jump in on the Battlefield Objectives, which are strewn throughout the world you are exploring and open to those walking into the area. What about lowbie ganking, though? Well, that is solved based on what type of server you play on. If you are on a Core ruleset server, then anyone in another tier cannot participate in the RvR of a lower tier (Tier 3 players cannot join Tier 2 RvR, whether it is instanced or not). If you are on an Open RvR ruleset, it's a two-tier rule (Tier 4 can't join Tier 2, Tier 3 can't join Tier 1). If you walk onto any of the Battlefields while you are outside of those level restrictions, you'll be turned into a chicken and debuffed to an effective one-shot kill health point range. With the game having just launched, it's hard to get a real feel for what the RvR will offer, as everything is very grand in scale and focused on lots of people participating. Needless to say, if the RvR areas are any indication, get ready for some potentially large-scale battles. As you play RvR, you'll gain Renown points that go towards a separate leveling bar, and higher Renown ranks mean better gear from the designated Renown merchants found at certain warcamps.
One thing that is a welcome addition to the MMO model is the introduction of "public quests". Zones are littered with them, and each race has chapters that work their way through by participating in these PQs. You don't have to party up in order to be involved, either - just walk up and start beating stuff up. Granted, you might want to have more than just one or two people around to actually play through any entire PQ (as each one consists of at least three stages). At the end of the PQ, each player that contributed to its completion will show up on a scoreboard and the lucky roll of a dice will decide who gets loot bags out of the PQ chest. It's an extremely fun way to encounter live open-world interactions with people, and you'll find that teamwork pulls together very quick amongst strangers when loot is involved. Public quests will also fill up your influence bar (yet ANOTHER thing to level up), and you can get an influential reward from Rally Masters after completing each of three sections in the chapters. These rewards are generally split up as being potions for the first act and gear for the second and third act, but as you get into the higher Tiers of gameplay, the rewards for gear are of higher quality. The downside to the influence bar is that it can be filled up just by continuously playing through the first stage of a PQ, so if you don't really care about the loot offered up by the chest, you don't have to play all the way through any of these little events to unlock all the chapters in your Tome of Knowledge.
Ah, yes, the Tome of Knowledge...that little book you keep with you that documents EVERYTHING you do. This will be your central hub for what you need to know about almost anything you've achieved in-game, going so far as offering up a bestiary of everything you've killed, titles that you've unlocked as a vanity prize to your e-peen ego, achievements like dying 100 times or killing a gajillion wolves, and documenting your quests. Really, there isn't much to say about the Tome of Knowledge except that you can get as lost in its pages as you can in the world you are exploring.
Guilds are one of the better features in the game, as it rewards you for working AS A GUILD! How so? Your guild can level up almost the same way that your character can level up, and with a rank cap of 40 on your guild as well, it means that you will still have things to do even when you have maxed your character to 40 itself. Working together as a guild also unlocks extras for you and your guild both, such as guild banks, tactic slots (which are separate passive skills you can unlock for your character), etc. The most interesting features, however, are in the way you can control how a guild is managed, and that list is far too long to offer up in a review. Needless to say, there are things from taxes to battle standards to rule and regulations and the whole nine yards. What this does that no other MMO has been able to accomplish is that it forces you to work as one cohesive organization rather than what you see everyday in WoW: people dropping out on a whim without any serious repercussions.
In all honesty, the beauty of Warhammer Online comes from the fact that it can be played at many different levels. You can just walk into the world and beat some stuff up while improving your character. You can micro-manage so many little details to make the game a complex monster. You can just dance in cities naked if that's your thing. There are so many options that it's truly impossible to even list everything after only a week's worth a gameplay time. Despite that, the sheer number of things you can do can sometimes feel very overwhelming, because you don't know what you want to do next. This is one of the biggest reasons for the previously mentioned chaotic feel of the game. Sometimes, it feels like Warhammer Online is trying to be too many things at once. However, with as well as all of the elements are implemented, it's really hard to make that out as a downside.
Speaking of downsides, they do exist in Warhammer Online. Of course, you can never expect a purely online game to have a perfect launch, but WAR suffers from some pretty heavy ones. The most obvious of them all is in the fact that RvR battlegrounds are virtually empty without more people playing the game, so it's odd that there is so much content at the beginner levels focusing on high numbers of players being involved. There have been times where I've waited for five hours trying to get into an RvR match on a high pop server, and while it has been reported that the queueing system is glitched to improperly queue someone, it's still just something I can't wrap my mind around. There's also the typical frame rate issues that you find with a ton of games, but this time, it's mixed in with a horrendous amount of graphical pop-in and texturing problems. Switching a piece of gear can mean your entire character loses texture for up to 10 seconds at a time, and entering a new zone can lead to the entire environment going fuzzy and looking like an Expressionist painting or even worse...turning into complete pitch black nothingness. You also have the fact that clipping plays major roles in the gameplay, and while I'm all for clipping being involved, it's also annoying that I can't always click on the character I want to attack without clicking on myself or another teammate. Tabbing through targets is quick and easy, sure, but I shouldn't be denied options because of a company's preference. I've yet to find an option to turn the clipping off, which I would prefer after all the years of playing WoW, but maybe that's just wishful thinking.
The last big problem is a pretty big one, however: while I initially didn't care that the game wasn't holding my hand, there really are a lot of things are not explained as well as they should be. Professions in the game can be rather daunting to figure out, and even digging into the Help option and reading up on it doesn't always clarify what you need to do. Areas that you need to travel to aren't always communicated well on the in-game map, and there is no option to pull back the map further to see the entire area of where you are playing. Instead, it will only let you zoom out to see little circles representing each of the main race areas, as well as a main city for each. The main cities also require leveling, up to Rank 4 (I believe, don't quote me on it), and in order to do that, you have to...umm...well, I'm still trying to figure it out. I know that if I do public quests, it will increase the rank, but much needs to be done? Therefore, my initial reaction of "thank God this isn't WoW telling me that any retarded monkey can be a badass in epic gear" is slightly skewed now because there IS stuff that needs some better explanation. I'm sure I could go to the website and the forums like many players in-game have suggested (and in very rude ways I might add - not all of us have two years to spill into researching every facet of a game, you twats)...but should I REALLY have to alt-tab out of the game to look this shit up? I don't think so. Let's be honest, anyways: why the hell do most of these problems exist when the game has been in development for three fucking years? Anyone? Exactly.
For all the games it rips off (dye armor like Guild Wars, influence points = VERY VERY VERY dumbed down diplomacy from Vanguard, same gear color scheme from WoW, etc.), Warhammer Online does prove that it can take all those elements and make them work better than almost all of those games have shown. Warhammer Online has the potential to be the next great MMORPG and play in the big leagues with World of Warcraft and Everquest (because people actually do still play that game...and enjoy getting ripped off with still-$50 expansions, apparently). All the ideas are there and implemented at what feels like a 70-80% capacity, but as it stands right now, a handful of basic launch problems hold it back. That doesn't mean they can't be ironed out later in patches, but reviewing a PC game is about what you have right now, not later down the line. Does all this mean that Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning is perfect and a WoW killer? No, especially not at launch, and it's a totally different league than WoW as is. Does it mean that is needs to be dismissed? Absolutely not! Warhammer Online has the potential for greatness, more than most other MMORPGs ever seem to get...and in today's market, that's saying a lot. I'm giving up WoW for the game after investing three years into it, so maybe that can tell you something about the quality of the experience that Mythic has created.