Hands On: Warhammer: Wrath Of Heroes

By Dan Grill on September 12th, 2011 at 5:09 pm.

It doesn't look very cel-shaded, does it?

You may remember that snuck into EA’s Gamescom presentation was the news that there was to be a spin-off from their MMO, Warhammer Online, called Wrath Of Heroes. Focusing on three-sided arena battles, it’s a free-to-play idea with its own look and feel. Needing to know more, we sent raving reporter, Dan Gril, to go take a look.

“In the grim darkness of the far future…” No, that’s not it. “Blood for the blood…” Nope. “Seven Rings for the…” No! “It was a bright cold day in April and…” Hum. “No-one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century…” Why doesn’t Warhammer have a slogan as cool as 40K? “The game of Fantasy Battles” is extremely informative, but I’d question the use of the definite article and it hardly thrills you about the world. Moving to the video games side, despite our endless, well-documented affection for the Warhammer universe, we have to admit there were fundamental problems with the construction of Warhammer Online; not with the characterisation or the art or the world or the gameplay or the PvP, but with the distribution of players. Rarely has a game felt more empty from the start, rarely has our the sweetness of our optimism turned so rapidly to sour squig in our mouths.

Wrath of Heroes is an attempt to turn the big flailing MMO into a F2P arena battler, like the top-end PvP of Guild Wars, drawing on WAR’s pretty good arena PvP. You choose from a limited range of characters (I’m betting some form of EA Coin will unlock these, as well as hats), who you can swap between at any stage of the game. Most of the more interesting characters from the MMO are there; a huge Black Orc, a Bright Wizard (fireball-tastic, for those not in the know), a Night Goblin sorceror, a nippy Vampire lass, a Witch Elf, a Elven archer, and a Dwarf Trollslayer. The single twist is that it’s three team PvP, with just six players on each team. Due to a bizarre timing screw-up on EA’s part (1-3PM and 1-3AM are sooo different), we only got a very short hands-on time with this, so these are very limited first impressions.

I hopped into a single map with three-way rotational symmetry, which consisted of three flag locations to capture, mixed with a central domination ‘artifact’ point. Each team gets points from kills, from the various locations and from the artifact. Once a team had captured a flag location (each conveniently located next to their spawn point), they could capture the central point and proceed to dominate, building up their points to an eventual victory.

The combat was very similar to that of WAR PvP, with the tanking characters’ physical presence supposedly playing an important role in denying access to the ranged characters, though the extra faction and open level layout made it so much more chaotic that I never saw effective team play during my short time in the game. Like all MMO PvP, winning a tough one-on-one fight, by injuring, pinning and then killing a player, is hugely rewarding, but the larger melees were too messy to get anything from, especially with three teams and the staccato respawning.

Bizarrely, for this kind of game, there seemed to be little in the way of long-term progression. There are passive abilities you unlock for your main account, which you equip before a match, but in-game I started with all my spells and didn’t improve or develop at all. Bloodline Champions or Guild Wars is the closest model rather than any of the standard DOTA games. If like those games, or Counter-Strike, this game were predominantly skill-based, that lack of progression would make sense to make this a competitive, balanced game. But like most MMO multiplayer the combat currently feels too loose and multi-dimensional to reward skill.

The other thing that was strange was how ugly it was at this stage, compared to how enjoyably rich Warhammer Online is in my memory. Perhaps there was a bottleneck somewhere in my rig, perhaps they’ve deliberately cut back the looks to accentuate the action, or perhaps I’ve just had a mild stroke, but I couldn’t honestly say the game attracted me. (Having just checked with another beta-tester, I’m told that they’ve changed the art style to cel-shaded – I honestly didn’t notice when playing, but considering my reaction I’d say that it was a mistake.)

So overall, for me at least, there’s work to do here. The looks, combat, and progression all need a second pass. The first thing they need to do though is come up with a really good slogan. “In the glum twilight of the fantasy past, there is only squig,” doesn’t really cut it.

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32 Comments »

  1. Dana says:

    They took the spammy and sluggish combat from WAR and made it even more spammy and sluggish. In which was supposed to be a fast paced moba-like game.

    • Rancid says:

      A fast-paced MOBA game… you know where you press buttons? What are you expecting? Walk around in circles all day? You press buttons to kill people. You kill people for points. Seems pretty logical. Playing as the WE, combat felt fast and fun. It was a pretty good balance compared to WAR where WEs would just melt face with impunity.

  2. Kaiji says:

    Boy, they’re really determined to try and wring some kind of profit out of that dodo.

    Bad luck to them, I say.

  3. hypercrisis says:

    Sounds like crap. Wheres the 40k MMO?

  4. Mastahamma says:

    Really doubt this will be successful, the best part of WAR were the massive RVR battles in the PVP pools, fighting for a battlefield objective or a keep with about 50 players attacking and 20+ defending, those leave the fondest memories in me.

    • oldmanbob says:

      My opinion also. Scenarios were cool for levelling and as a nice side-show while you waited for both sides to form up, but the real meat of the game was the RVR.

    • Ignorant Texan says:

      The RvR lakes were the most fun. Having several hundred on a side, until they capped attackers and defenders(the poor hamsters used to power the servers kept having massive coronaries, thus crashing servers), along with the odd desperate objective fights of ~20v20, are some of my best memories in gaming. *Le Sigh* So much potential, so much disappointment and really hard feelings.

    • Rancid says:

      They’re two different beasts. WAR is more of the hardcore-catering MMO. This…. is not an MMO. Take it for what it is. It’s a MOBA. You hop in, kill people, advance your toon, go about your ways. And it’s free, which takes down a whole slew of barriers for casual players.

      If you want large-scale RvR, then that’s fine. Go find it in WAR, or go back to DAoC. If you want PvP without the grind of leveling and gear and dungeon crawls and all that nonses… play WOH.

    • Howl says:

      @Rancid: The problem with insta-levelling or solo quest-grind levelling is that you hit the meat and potatoes part of the game with no social connections whatsoever and an incredibly hostile playerbase that expects you to pull your weight even though you have no idea what you are doing.

      DAoC took a long time to level to 50 when it first came out and there was none of this WoW quest grind nonsense. You levelled by finding 7 other people and going and roaming around killing stuff. By the time you hit 50 you had plenty of social connections, were highly likely to be in a guild and knew all the limitations of your class and the other 15 classes in your realm. All those elements were a pre-requisite imo to then go out and enjoy the lvl 50 end-game for the next few years.

    • elfbarf says:

      @Rancid
      WAR is not a “hardcore” MMO, from my experience of playing it (sometime last year) there was hardly any endgame content and because of it, hardly any guilds with any sort of hardcore mentality. I was playing on Volkmar as a Witch Elf and managed to make some friends and get an invite to what was considered to be one of the top few guilds on the server. After having raided competitively for several years on WoW (generally in the Top 30 US guilds, though I quit in April of this year) I was surprised by how casual the general player-base was. No one really seemed concerned with class mechanics or min/maxing anything, the general idea was just to play the game all day, grinding out RvRs to increase your Renown Rank.

      The end-game PvP content consisted of a city raid (which was fairly hard to organize) which for some reason was followed by a series of PvE encounters. Personally I never attended the actual city bosses (as I never bothered getting my Renown Rank too high as the game was incredibly repetitive) but no one really seemed to look forward to fighting them. In general the PvP (and PvE) combat was very imbalanced, though apparently it was MUCH worse when the game was first released. Also the game just felt a bit sluggish/unresponsive when compared to WoW which also hurt the game considering how much they tried to focus on PvP.

      The PvE content consisted of a handful of dungeons that no one ever ran, mainly due to the loot being pretty crappy (partially thanks to Vanilla-WoW style itemization on gear, like Strength for Witch Elves) and overall being fairly boring. I ran a few of them and overall they seemed pretty unpolished/buggy and fairly simple overall, most of the fights consisting of a fairly basic tank and spank.

      If by “hardcore MMO” you mean incredibly repetitive and unpolished, then I agree, WAR is very hardcore.

    • Rancid says:

      I guess our definition of hardcore might be different. What I’m saying is, the amount of time to progress your character is steep. It’s like leveling in DAoC. It took a metric crap-ton of time before the Powerleveling spots were all scouted out.

      I can agree with some of the assessments though. Balance in WAR has improved. It’s not a top-tier PvE game. To an extent, people can bypass some of the grind of gear/stats by actually learning how to play better. Now when you combine the “play better” with “gear better” you get the hardcore peeps.

      What I’m trying to say, overall, is that the MOBA version of WAR is a lot more accessible than WAR is. And that’s kinda the point. Not to replace WAR, but to supplement it, or give the WAR: Lite experience. I think it works on that level and feel content with it.

    • Enso says:

      I’d like to join Texan in reminiscing. So much potential, so many tastes of fun, all dashed.

  5. TillEulenspiegel says:

    Why doesn’t Warhammer have a slogan as cool as 40K?

    WFRP: A Grim World of Perilous Adventure

    Since WFRP2 is the best piece of the franchise, that works for me. Just make a half-decent CRPG from it already.

  6. Sami H says:

    And what Mythic failed to realise is that people wanted 3 factions in WAR because it works for counter-balancing population troubles. If one side gets to big, the other two natually gang up on it. Scenarios (i.e. battlegrounds) was where population balance didn’t matter as the number of people on each side is restricted and enforced.

    The 3-way fights seem like more of a marketing gimmick than anything else. From what I played, it was very spammy and having 3 teams actually detracted from the combat, not enhanced it.

    Having only having 5 abilities per hero was quite dull, especially when they weren’t even that varied. While I’ve no problem with restricting the number of abilities you can use at once, being able to pick them from a larger pool would make things far more interesting.

    Finally, I’m not quite sure what role the Black Orc has, seeing it always gets targetted last due to having some of the lowest damage output and being hard to kill. In WAR, tanks had some awesome group buffs, protection skills and temporary damage buffs to make them a threat. All of which seems to be missing.

    • Rancid says:

      It sounds like you’ve not played it. That’s ok though, it’s in beta. Quite a few people haven’t played it…or haven’t played it enough to “get it” (Yes, I realize that “you don’t get it” is typical fanboi response for “I don’t have a reason to refute your argument, but I hate you). It honestly took me a half dozen matches to get the game.

      You need to understand the layout of the five abilities, understand what does what (to the point of not having to think) and then understand the counters system. Certain classes are inherently better at killing other classes. Once you get those, and get the game and have a team that plays as a team, it’s immensely fun.

      The three-sides is not a gimmick. It’s pretty vital. I’d venture to say it’s the cornerstone for why this will be successful. You have options. You see two teams duking it out. Do you wait to roll the weakened winners? Do you go gank a flag? Do you go take back the artifact? Or do you run in, drop all your DPS and get the kills? That’s the strategy aspect.

      There might only be five abilities, but frankly, you don’t need more. Your ability to select a hero mid-fight allows the varied game-play you need to succeed. It’s meant to allow you to pick your weapon for the current setup. And then…that setup changes. If you get really good at just one hero, you’re going to be a pretty ineffective player, as that hero might be going against their natural counters more often than not, as people adapt.

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      Also, for quite some time there was player collision which helped beefier character types to truly form a wall between enemies and the more squishy damage dealers / healers in the back.

    • Sami H says:

      Rancid I was in the beta :), and my Black Orc was either part of a melee train or scaring off classes that destroyed our healers (Shadow Warriors), knocking down at the right moment (60s cooldown…), healing myself to take pressure off the healers, etc. It still felt very spammy and quite boring.

      But hey, it’s early beta so we’ll see :).

  7. inertia says:

    DAN GRIL sounds like an action hero. I wonder if he gets all the womens.

  8. Pfft says:

    …the clocks were striking thirteen.

    It’s no game slogan, but a great opening sentence.

  9. SpoiledToast says:

    I actually enjoyed the beta a lot.

  10. Balm says:

    No Witch Hunter – not interested.

  11. Malawi Frontier Guard says:

    Hey, it looks like Legends of Might & Magic!

  12. Premium User Badge

    shoptroll says:

    “You choose from a limited range of characters who you can swap between at any stage of the game”

    So DotA mashed up with Darkspore’s hot-swappable heroes?

    • The Greatness says:

      Sounds more like a Warhammer version of TF2 to me. At least, I hope it is. That would be awesome.

  13. kraken says:

    Why doesn’t Warhammer have a slogan as cool as 40K?

    Actually, “Blood for the Blood God” is also used by Khorne followers in WarHammer Fantasy.

  14. Ovno says:

    I’ll have to give that a go, WAR had so much potential but with the usual massive, trying to escape wow, initial player base not subing it left millions of empty servers a month later, and it’s no fun adventuring or pvp’ing by yourself…

    The group stuff they did with drop in area quests and stuff was ace though, just a pity it got so dead, and that I don’t have time for MMOs anymore.

    • caddyB says:

      is it still as dead, though?
      I’m thinking of resubbing, WoW pvp leaves much to be desired.

  15. Ergonomic Cat says:

    I finally tried the beta for this yesterday, and I found it to be far more amusing than I expected.

    Games are shorter than LoL (which area always 10-15 minutes too long for me), and more directly controlled. It’s still full of people who have no idea what they’re doing (me, at first), and several of the characters are either ludicrously underpowered or just beyond my ability to play, but the game itself was a lot of fun, especially when I ended up with a number of people on both sides that knew how to play. The 3 sided battles are more interesting than just rushing at the bad guys, and several of the classes (I really like the gobbo healer) are a lot of fun.

    My son was angry when the demo time ended, because he was enjoyed watching, so there is that too….