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Games For 2008: Warhammer Online

He's mean, he's gree... kill me.

Two conflicting positions: I have very high hopes for Warhammer Online, and believe it will be a great MMO with fresh ideas, and a unique way of dealing with global conflict. Also: I really worry about Warhammer Online, concerned that by the time it comes out it will have devolved into a very generic WoW clone.

The very first time I saw WAR, back in February 2006, it was more conceptual than physical. They had built a bit of the beginning ground for the Dwarves and Greenskins, and that was just about it. But they had some really exciting ideas. The world of the Games Workshop monolith was going to take some really original approaches to the genre, and the most immediately exciting was the abandoning of levels. Instead they had this fantastic structure in mind that let you micro-manage your character’s skills, picking three at a time and then letting the XP you accrue fill each until it’s complete. This was then broken down into five distinct stages, and, well, it doesn’t exist so it’s not worth explaining. But they were excited about it, and so was I. It’s very telling that the MMO genre seems to have the power to force developers to lose anything that strays too far from the familiar. You’ve got to get a player-base, and if you want them, you’ve got to make it familiar enough. Which means, of course, you’ve got to make it feel like World of Warcraft. Sigh.

Now of course WAR has entered that troubling time of vanishing betas, occasional silence, and hugely extended release dates. So it’s now that I’m going to tell you why I’m so optimistic about WAR.

war6

First, delays like this mean something: they’re making the game better. Now, this might mean they’re smoothing out more obscurities that separate it from WoW and thus confuse the stupid, but it also means they’re likely improving all that remains.

But more than that, there’s stuff that’s staying in that’s really distinct from WoW, no matter how the Warcraft fanatics will cry, “But blah-de-blah is the same as that if you squint and use your imagination…” And these are all structured around the global warfare in which your character is involved.

From the very start, you’re involved in the main conflict, even though you’re not immediately aware of it. While the game has the usual array of regular “kill 30 of these” quests (there’s a feature they told me about and I don’t know if it survives, but I really hope it does – that if you’d killed 25 rabbits in a field, then get given a quest to kill 30, you’ll only have 5 to go – please keep this in Mythic), there’s also those that invest in the overall progress of your race.

war3

Those races are, for the non-GW-familiar, Greenskin (Orc and Goblin), Dwarves, High Elves, Dark Elves, Empire and Chaos. If the first four look a little familiar, the last two should provide some much-needed originality to your racial choice.

These start out small. You could find yourself entering a PvP area from the very start, with a quest to complete that directly contradicts that of the opposing race (of the six, each is paired in twos), meaning you’ll be in each other’s faces right away. Then there’s the designated PvP zones, where you can venture in and just kick some enemy butt for the hell of it. Or most immediately accessible and stupidly fun, the organised team games. On a second visit, Kieron and played in a few of these, including a Capture The Base game, based around dominating the bases of a large, bridge-like gateway, and then a very fun Capture The Flag game. I think it’s important to state at this point that I was best at this, and Kieron and I won nearly every game for our team. We were amazing. You should have seen us. You’d probably have been moved to weeping.

war4

And then at the far end of the scale is Mythic’s signature (based on their small-scale success with Dark Age Of Camelot) Realm Vs Realm uber-game, for those who have level-capped. All the previous PvP elements, along with this end-game battle, add to the effort for your side, pushing to gain territory on a huge scale, and eventually capturing the enemy’s capital city, with all the accompanying ransacking you could hope for. These pushes are expected to last around a week, with the game forcing resets (the AI driving players back to the ‘middle’ once capitals are taken.

Another feature that really stood out when I last played the game were the public quests. As you wander the lands a message will pop up letting you know you’ve stumbled into a public quest area: a quest you can leap in on at any point, and help out whoever might be around. There’s no need to team up with other players – simply contributing to the effort means you’re in on the task. So say a team of AI soldiers come marching through, you should help out with beating the crap out of them. Once they’re defeated, you might find that there’s a consequence – you’ve got to rescue a bunch of prisoners who can now be freed. But doing this could unleash a huge boss giant, and those in the area will now have to bring him down. The game will measure your involvement in the events, and reward you accordingly.

war5

Talk to the developers and you’ll hear a lot of excitement about the Chaos race, and their potential for freakish and spontaneous development. I have a sneaky suspicion this will eventually mean that there’s some floaty eyes in their starting world, and you can grow an odd horn. I don’t see how an MMO can sustain the improvisational approach they’re suggesting. But there is no doubt that there’s a hell of a lot of lore going into this, with massively elaborate back-stories, histories and motivations on offer. Given a unique freedom by Games Workshop to tell their own story, loose of the canon, the plan is to pick up on familiar conflicts within that universe, and pinch the best ideas from all over the GW history.

At this stage, after a lot of development, a buy-out from EA, and some extensive delays, to Mythic I quote the immortal words of Project Runway’s Tim Gunn: “Make it work.”

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John Walker

Senior Editor

One of the original co-founding robots of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and hero of humanity. Old and special.

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