Warhammer Online – Review
When I wrote the preview for Warhammer Online – Age of Reckoning I was planning to also write a full review of the game in just a matter of weeks. Almost six months have passed since that point and I am actually quite happy that I haven’t rushed towards an in-depth analysis of the game earlier because during these six months WAR has been polished up to a level which does a lot of justice to those very good ideas that stood at the corner stone of game’s concept. The game has improved a lot. It is also a very good time for a review since the developers are now struggling with the last details of one of the most important patches so far which will reshape a lot of the game elements around the past months’ experience and the constant and sometimes even suffocating user feedback, and will also introduce two new classes into the game, one for each faction.
Considering that the value of the subscribers’ pool for WAR has been recently announced to be 300.000 – which is pretty low when compared to the millions of players which are still feeding the WoW money-making-machine – I’m guessing that not many of you know what I am talking about and what exactly is Warhammer Online. So let’s go together once more through the basics.
The Warhammer story revolves around the familiar idea of a perpetual conflict between good and evil. Driven by common goals alliances are formed between the high elves, dwarfs and humans on one side and dark elves, greenskins and chaos forces on the other. This way two distinct factions are crystallized: Order and Destruction, and choosing one of them will automatically place any player in direct conflict with the other. After deciding the side you wish to fight on, you will then have to choose the class type of your character from the basic archetypes of fantasy games: healer, tank, ranged damage dealer or melee damage dealer. These choices are highly important since they will influence your entire gaming experience from that point on, so give them a lot of thought. Once in the game you will also notice that although the classes are mirrored on the other side of the barricade they are not identical with each other. In other words each faction has its own character classes and each of these classes has special and unique abilities. More than this, it seems that special efforts have been made towards making all these characters easily recognizable on the battlefield with the use of distinct animations and armor. Although this may not seem much at first I can assure you will appreciate this effort during epic battles with hundreds of player involved.
The combat system is shaped around the good old rock-paper-scissors circle and it has been balanced and tuned up to a point where player skill makes a difference regardless of the class you chose to play with and where carefully balanced small groups of skilled players can successfully hold the line in front of much more numerous enemy armies. It may need a bit more attention in the animations department where one might find appropriate to heal the victims of old abilities-modification patches such as three second long animations for skills that take only one second to use. But these are more cosmetic issues and although I’m sure that any subscriber would like to see them fixed, they don’t damage the gaming experience to such a level that one of these subscribers might be inclined to stop playing the game because of these issues.
For those of you which are more interested in a peaceful and productive activity during MMOs, the game offers a profession system which will give you access to activities such as gathering basic materials and transforming them into potions and item enhancement talismans. There are four gathering professions and two main crafting professions and every player can only have one of each in the same time. If these six professions will leave you lingering for more we won’t blame you because we feel the same way and think that more effort should be invested in expanding the professions system at least up to a point where clothing and weapons can be produced by players also and not only looted from dead enemies.
But it is never enough to create items just for you, is it? Especially in massive multiplayer games and especially when there are items you can’t create without someone else’s help, and this is where the auction house supported trading system comes into play. Although players can swap items through direct trade windows which can be opened and accessed through the normal UI, having the ability to submit items to a virtual auction house that can publicly display them to whoever is interested is without a doubt a whole lot better and a great deal more productive in terms of earning gold coins. What can one do with all these gold coins is on the other hand a big mystery. Intended or not, Mythic has managed to create an economical system which discourages farmers and gold sellers from the start, that does not give them a chance to prosper and thus slowly but surely drives them away from the game. Not only you will always have enough gold from random world drops and completing quests to buy almost everything your heart desires from NPC vendors, but even the most expensive items players will post for sale on the Auction House will never seem inaccessible in Warhammer Online. So a big hand here to the first developers that finally understood that MMOs should not be created around the idea of hours of endless farming which eventually drives players insane and smoothes the way for organized farmers and gold sellers, but towards having fun together with other players.
And this brings us to the greatest achievement of Warhammer Online – Age of Reckoning so far: the ability to bring large numbers of players together like no other game on the market. Starting from the very beginning, the very first moment of gameplay, a new player will be able to participate in Realm Vs. Realm Scenarios where he will be automatically grouped together with players of the same faction and will fight against players from the other faction for renown, experience and in-game money. Skirmishes in the open world RVR locations will also require grouping with other players in order to bypass enemy defenses formed by both high difficulty NPCs and players, especially during keep sieges and battlefield objectives capture attempts. The PVE paths are crowded with public quests – open world events that reward all the players that participate in the event in direct proportion with their contribution to its completion. Also membership in a guild will open up special locations, vendors and items so players are automatically encouraged to get together under the same banner. And these are only a few of the game features that will most likely make you wish to play together with people you don’t know and never met before.
Up to this point you might think that everything in WAR is just milk and honey, but it’s not. The game deserves a lot of praising for what it has managed to bring into the MMO universe, but it is not without flaw. And I think its greatest one is its instability. An epic battle with tens of guilds and hundreds of players involved is something any decent WAR player hopes for, regardless if he is defending or attacking. So it’s a shame that the game servers and are not capable of coping with this kind of wishes. Game client crashes or server crashes are not a thing of the past as one might hope or think, but a constant reflection of present state of WAR. The unrest among players grows each day as the chaos of server-wide battles seems only a distant dream as Mythic only comes with temporary solutions to this game stability problem, such as limiting the number of players that can take part in a fortress attack/defense. On top of this the game still spits out a bug or two during a game session, still lacks some polish on the graphic side here and there and needs immediate attention when it comes to itemization variety.
Warhammer Online – Age of Reckoning is not a perfect game, but at the moment is one of the best the MMO market has to offer – we didn’t gave it The Best MMORPG 2008 Award for nothing. So if you are a player who is more attracted by the PVP aspects of such a game, I believe that WAR has the potential to keep you entertained and hooked in its charms for quite some time.