Rowyn (rowyn) wrote,

Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning

I've been playing it for a few weeks now, through various pre-release stages. There was a "preview weekend" in August where they wiped the servers and let people from the closed beta and some fraction of the people who pre-ordered play from Friday morning to Sunday night. Then they wiped the servers and closed it for a couple of weeks until a week of "open beta", then another wipe and reopening for the "head start".

The result is that I've played several classes to somewhere between 5th and 11th level. I generally don't care what level I'm playing at, but I admit that at this point I'm kind of looking forward to not playing a newbie. x.x

ltwarhound, terrycloth and I made Order characters on Avelorn. Mine are Fritha (dwarf rune priest, healer), Triumph (human witch hunter, melee dps), Liberty (elf shadow warrior, ranged dps with some melee). narile joined us on Avelorn yesterday. (Yay!) I haven't made any Destruction characters yet; as with Mythic's previous MMO, you can't play characters from both sides on the same server. Terrycloth made a Destruction character on Wasteland. brennabat has some Destruction characters on Sylvania.

In aiddition, my mother (what? doesn't everyone's mother play MMOs?) is playing Order on Drifting Castle, where her guild House Arcanum has formed. Lut has his "solo" character on Phoenix Throne, where the Amazon Basin guild has formed. I don't want to play on Phoenix Throne because it regularly has a wait to log on. I think Drifting Castle has the same problem. I'm not totally adverse to migrating, but at this point I've got three friends on one server. This is probably as good as it gets.

I never actually played World of Warcraft, but WAR is a lot like WoW. Which was, in turn, a lot like Everquest. They're all D&D ripoffs: generic fantasy setting with elves, dwarves, humans, orcs, goblins, lots of magic, and leveling up.

terrycloth (here) and bradhicks (here) wrote about some of WAR's shortcomings. So I'll kick off by writing about WAR's good features.

Realm versus Realm

This is the key thing that sets WAR apart from WoW. WAR has a few other minor improvements over WoW, but this is the big distinction.

Mythic refers to it as "RvR". Everyone else calls it "PvP", but there actually are some meaningful distinctions between the two terms. PvP of the sort that Ultima Online opened with and Shadowbane tried to pull off is "anyone can attack anyone". EverQuest had PvP servers with a more moderate version of this: "anyone can attack anyone who is within +/- 6 levels of them".

RvR means "players on each team can attack players on the opposite team, but not players on their own team." This is important, because it means (a) you only have to watch out for half the players and (b) you have a built-in alliiance with the other half. To me, PvP always feels like "me against the world". By contrast, RvR feels like "my team against their team". Which one sounds like it has better odds to you?

Now, WoW has RvR play too, but it's an afterthought to a game that revolves around PvE. In WoW, the high-end loot all drops from NPcs. You don't get experience from killing players. You don't get loot from killing players. You can grind up honor from PvP and get some cool stuff that way, but my impression (granted, this is from someone who never actually played WoW so my info is all second-hand) is that if you never go into a Battleground you're not missing much of the game content.

WAR's whole premise revolves around RvR. You get exp and loot from RvR. You could play the whole game without ever doing PvE, if you wanted to. The game does start out with a lot of PvE: content is 80/20 PvE to RvR at tier one (levels 1-10) but the PvE tapers off as you level up, to 20/80 by tier four (31-40).

Even more important: you do not get whacked with enormous penalties for dying in RvR. In scenario play, the only penalty for death is that you have to wait a little bit (up to 30 seconds) to respawn. Outside of scenarios, the death penalty is a debuff that fades after five to fifteen minutes (or you can pay an NPC to have it removed immediately). That's it. No damage to your equipment, no loss of treasure, no exp penalty, no corpse runs. Respawn points are in non-RvR areas and you're not flagged for RvR (unless you're on an Open RvR server) when you respawn, so there's no "corpse camping" or "bind-spot camping".

The scenarios are control-point-based: capture the flag, or hold the spots where the flag is at, or capture all flag points, etc. Entering a scenario raises you to a minimum level (8th in the tier one scenarios), so it's feasible to play in the scenarios even if your actual level is at the minimum rather than the max. Level isn't irrelevant, but it's not an overwhelming factor. Team coordination is more of a driver than level. Another bonus: in WoW, scenario play doesn't give you loot, so you'd get characters who were twinked out with the best possible gear and left to sit at the top level for their battleground bracket so that they can gank people over and over in that battleground. Since you get exp for scenarios in WAR, you can only play so many scenarios while you're at the lavel cap for your bracket before you'll outlevel it. Overall, scenario play reminds me of playing in Tribes or Team Fortress, except that it's not as twitchy so I don't suck at it as badly.

WAR is the first MMORPG where I actually like the PvP play. Granted, the highest level any of my characters has reached is 11th so I haven't seen much RvR apart from the scenarios. I don't know how the non-instanced RvR is going to play out. But so far, the various steps that WAR has taken to make RvR work have been effective. To sum up the key points:

* Fighting against players is just as rewarding as fighting against NPCs, even when taking into account that you will lose a lot more often to players than to NPCs.
* Death penalties are minor and not onerous
* Game mechanics encourage team play
* Character classes are reasonably balanced

Public Quests

This isn't as big a deal as the design of RvR, which is really revolutionary for the genre. ("What? Give player Y a reward for killing player X that is not matched by an identical penalty to player X? Impossible!") But the Public Quests are cool enough to be worth mentioning.

Public Quests are areas with a specific goal that's reached by proceeding through stages. Stage 1 is generally on the order of "kill X crunchy things". Once that's done, stage 2 begins, which varies more. It might be "kill Y hard things", or "protect Z good guys" or "rescue C prisoners". After that, you get to stage 3, which is generally "Kill the boss mob(s)".

What makes public quests neat is twofold:

1) Everyone who works on a public quest has a shot at the loot that drops if the quest is completed successfully. You do not have to be part of the group that started the quest. You do not have to be in the quest zone when it starts, and you don't have to be there when it's finished. However, your chance at the loot is modified by how much you contributed to the quest, so if you're there through all the stages and contributing, you'll have a better chance than somoene who came in at stage 3. And just standing in the quest area doing nothing does not give you a chance in the draw.
2) You get "influence" when working on a public quest, which can be turned in to NPCs for valuable prizes. So even if you're unlucky and don't get anything from the quest itself, you still get a reward for your effort.

Because of (1), it's easy to drift in and out of public quests. The mechanism allows players to do a complex activity that needs several players without requiring anyone to gather up a group and drag them off to do it. It's a little like doing a raid without the "organize a 10 man team" part first.

The public quests don't always work well. Sometimes you'll have enough people to do stages one and two but not stage three, which is annoying. Some of the quests are just plain bugged, which is even more annoying. But the concept is still good, so kudos to Mythic for it.

Open Parties

When you form a team in WAR, it defaults to "open". Anyone can click on the "open parties" icon, glance over the composition of each party with a mouseover, and join any open party in the area.

This makes forming groups much less painful than the traditional "LFG" cries heard throughout other MMOs. Yes, you can make your party closed, or open only to guildmates, or open only to friends, or whatever. But the default is "open". Also, you can merge parties with a simple "invite to merge", so you don't have to do the "okay, you disband and I'll reinvite ... wait, how did you spell that one guy's name?" dance.

This seems like such a small thing, but it really is nice. The simplicity of the mechanic affects the culture, too. Where in CoH a lot of people disdained "blind invites", in WAR people wander in and out of groups freely. Especially in a public quest area, it's effortless to join up with the people also doing it. It does mean that the groups don't last as long on average (you don't have that "I must stay with this group because it will be sheer agony to find another if I leave" effect that I remember so well from original EQ). But it's overall a good feature.

The above are probably my three favorite things, and the three things that I haven't seen in other MMOs.*

The game does have some things that annoy me, especially in the UI. Terrycloth and Brad Hicks covered them pretty well, but I will name just one pet peeve. A year or so ago, when Terrycloth quit WoW, he noted that "characters run too slow" was the reason he wanted to give for quitting, but it wasn't one of the options on their exit survey. That stuck with me, because it seems like such a silly little thing but when you do as much running around as WoW makes you do, "characters run too slow" really is annoying.

In WAR, the characters run too slow. ZOMG WHY?!? You get a mount at 20 that lets you move somewhat faster, but you never get to fly, and the terrain can be annoying. When you're coming out of City of Heroes/Villains, where characters can get a temp flight power at 6th (which represents maybe 3 hours of play if you're slow about it) and a permanent travel power at 14th, WAR is OH THE PAIN. It's not really horrible; there are warcamps in each tier with "flightmasters" that let you hop quickly between other warcamps and the capitol city, and the quests mostly don't require a lot of "run all the way over there and then run all the way back here again". It doesn't have a patch on original EQ's twenty-minute boat rides or two-hour runs from Freeport to Qeynos. Nonetheless, as my character is running along a hillside trying to find the one spot that will let her climb to the top again, I do find myself thinking "I will never, ever complain about travel in CoX again."

* One of the commenters on Bradhick's journal said that WoW's LFG system (added a year ago?) is similar, but Lut says WoW's LFG system is too painful to use and nothing like WAR's open parties. I have no clue, and Lut did quit WoW several months ago, so maybe WoW today has something similar? That somehow hasn't been mentioned on any of the WoW forums Lut still follows?

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