RPS Impressions: Warhammer Online Beta

This is not a review. It also isn’t a verdict, or a judgement, or a rating, or anything of the sort. WAR isn’t released yet, there’ll likely be a fair few changes in the final game, elements of it won’t be up and running properly until the servers are jam-packed, and without a doubt none of us have played enough of it to make a really definite judgement. Apart from Jim, who knows full well he won’t be playing it until they put some spaceships in.

What it is a discussion. We’ve been on the WAR closed beta for a few weeks now, and it’s certainly a game we’ve desperately wanted to talk about here. And not simply because we’re British, hence playing Warhammer is fairly synonymous with puberty for us. Also because, well, it’s potentially the most interesting MMO this year. Despite… ah, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s see what we’ve got to say…

Edit – a little context. The European closed beta differed significantly to the US closed beta in that players were split onto different servers dependent on their language. The net result was four fairly quiet servers instead of one busy one, and that mean the PvP/RvR elements of the game were barely operable. That’s why we don’t discuss ’em as much as we do the PvE and Public Quests. If you think we shouldn’t be talking about the game at all given that, well, that’s your prerogative, but we disagree. We’re writing about what the game’s European publisher presented us with. Additionally, WAR is far from being just a PvP game – the PvE is substantial and omnipresent, and the reason many people want to play the game. And again – this is not a review. It’s just a cheerful, informal discussion of our experiences on the closed beta.

Jim: Come one, come all, back from your tea and masturbation, to discuss Warhammer: Rage Of Eckoning! First, let’s talk about how much we’ve played. I have created three characters, and played nothing
John: I’ve played a High Elf to 10, a Chaos to 8 and an Orc to 15.
Alec: I’ve made a few characters to poke about with, mostly on the Destruction side
Kieron: I’ve played my Witch Elf up to Level 14 or so. A couple of other really low alts. And some messing around with the level 31 stuff. I haven’t done much of the PvP or RvR stuff yet. Those areas have been quiet when I’ve been playing, it seems.
Jim: John, how do you feel about playing another MMO? Your first since City Of Heroes?
John: I’ve played a bunch of WoW between the two. But it’s an interesting thing. It’s a comfortable place to be, but sometimes I feel like WAR was a bit too comfortable.
John: WAR is good. It’s really, really good. I think they’ve done a stunning job. But it’s also the same as another game.
Jim: What game?
John: WoW.
Jim: Goodness, how dare you.
John: I know! Who’d have thought this would come up?
Alec: They are genuinely trying to take that model further, though
Jim: I’m sure it’s completely different.
Alec: It tries quite hard to make its classes distinct, and your every action is that much more tied into the ongoing struggle
John: That’s true. And the endgame is very different. And the Public Quests, and the instanced Scenarios, and the whole RvR thing – that’s all different. But it feels like a different topping on the same ice cream.

Jim: Alec, how is this making you want to play MMOs again? Aren’t you burned out after months of WoW?
Alec: I took a while to click with WAR precisely because of the initial crushing familiarity, but after a while you pick up on how it’s more focused on giving you what’s fun, not what’s a pain in the arse
Jim: The familiarity is a good thing though, right? In the same way that MMO’s ease of play and comparative lack of skill demands are a good thing? Get people playing…
Alec: I’ve yet to decide entirely about this. There are times when I want to throttle everyone involved for being so cynical, but other times when I entirely appreciate that yes, it’s bringing people in, and is an entry point to hopefully experimenting with stuff outside of their WoW comfort-grind zone. But at the same time, it turns some people off, and it paints them into a corner. Plus it’s depressing that what’s likely to be the biggest MMO of the year – and the biggest step-forward MMO of the year – is hanging on to someone else’s coat-tails
Jim: =But does the game offer enough new shit to keep time-hungry beasts like me interested?
John: I think its physical similarity has an astounding effect on you. A housemate walked in and said, “How come you’re playing WoW again?”
Alec: No, it’s not going to appeal to anyone who’s completely done with the WoW model. It goes beyond it in many ways, but you don’t ever think you’re playing a different sort of game

Jim: Let’s get away from that for a bit, and assume everyone knows what they’re getting themselves in for on that count. John, can you explain those public quests for me.
John: Right, well, you’re toddling along, probably killing ten of something, and then you’re alerted to a quest that’s happening in the area. You can join in without joining a group (although there’s a very smart system that lets you join an impromptu group with others taking part, should you wish to), and what you contribute to the push defines the XP and rewards you receive. They’re generally three stages, and often end in killing a powerful boss, and they’re really rather a lot of fun. They are, without question, WAR’s best feature.
Jim: Alec – public quests?
Alec: The public quests do make a big difference
John: They really do. Every MMO from now on is going to do them.
Alec: It terms of it’s what you want to play a fantasy MMO for – big fight, nice reward, grouping, but without any of the hassle. It’s just there, and instant, no talking required. You get your big monster in about 10 minutes
Jim: That sounds like a great way of getting away from the “massively single-player ” trap
Alec: My concern is it’s overwhelming the game a little. That’s what everyone piles into, and the best rewards only come from doing them multiple times.
Jim: That’s something for patch/tweaks though, right?
John: It really is getting away from that. Mucking in to a general effort – that’s a great feeling.
Alec: But at the same time it’s organically bringing about group play, in the very clever way of dangling a personal carrot in front of you
John: It pushes you into teamplay in other ways too. You’re given quests that are simply to take part in a Scenario.
Alec: That may be at the expense of the standard quests, though. Possibly the RvR stuff too, though it was hard to get a good sense of that from the stuff we were playing a couple of weeks back

[Kieron returns from his tea and masturbation]
Kieron: Hullo!
Jim: Kieron Gillen, we’re talking public quests
John: The standard quests, that I’ve played across all races, are pretty poor. Kill 10 of this, gather 5 of those, and then go tell that guy.
Jim: Girren: public quests?
Kieron: That’s the thing – I agree entirely with the guys that the public quests are the really nifty PvE component.
Kieron: I mean, I’m a level four Witch-elf and I’m already involved in a mass brawl with a bloody dragon.
John: When I spoke to Mythic and asked them what would be the thing that stood out, they said PQs.
Kieron: Yes, but the game is being hyped as a RvR thing. We haven’t done much of that, man.
Kieron: Something Tim E said to me seems relevant – with Warhammer, to have the most fun with it, you have to kind of go with the flow.
Jim: Do you think RvR will matter to the majority of gamers?
Kieron: I suspect it may actually.
John: I think it will have to. The game passionately funnels you into taking part in it. And with a level cap at 40, it’s what the game becomes about.
Kieron: Which is what I mean – rather than in WoW where at a similar part of the game I generally stuck my head down and carried on doing my own thing
Alec: I think the PQs are pushing you into it to a significant extent
John: They very quickly set PQs in RvR zones.
Kieron: In Warhammer, you see what’s happening. Is there a big RvR scrap going down? I’ll go get involved. passing a PQ on the way to something else? Well, why not muck in.
Alec: Yeah, that “well I’m here anyway, and I don’t have to anything other than start hitting things” sentiment pervades
Jim: Will making the MMO *more* multiplayer, be the lesson of Warhammer?
Kieron: The ONLY WAR thing

Alec: It’s the reason it’s important, and not simply A WoW Clone
John: Yeah, it really means that. You CAN skin animals, but really you’re meant to be hitting stuff.
Kieron: (Hell, I was amazed there was crafting in it at all. And I’m also disappointed that Witch Elves can’t skin elves to make clothes out of it)
John: I think it’s going to be a huge success primarily because it apes familiar MMOs enough that people instinctively know what they’re doing, but it also is a game that’s deliberately built around that endgame world of epic battle. Rather than sticking it on the end so the hardcore have something to do.

Alec: My concern with the PQs and the RvR both is that it really messes up the game’s geography. It’s not a world filled with events – it’s more like wandering around a science museum, and stopping off at the exhibits that have pushy-buttons and flickering lights. It’s really unconvincing as a place – it’s these pockets of activities within their own weird, insular bubbles, but far too close too each other. There’s really no sense that you can explore.
John: I didn’t find that at all. I found the PQs occuring naturally between towns, or in contested zones.
Kieron: I disagree too actually, though I know what Alec gets at. Thing is, for me, it’s not meant to be a world. It’s meant to be a warzone. Those pockets of areas on the maps are individual skirmishes going on, and in terms of giving character to individual conflicts – at least for the Dark Elf stuff – it does it well.
John: There’s these old ruins at the bottom of a hill, near a town in the Greenskin area, and on the border of a RvR zone. It has an epic PvE PQ going on, occasionally with enemy players getting mixed up in. It’s an awesome site, and feels like it makes sense to be there.
Alec: That’s the thing – you can’t wander anywhere without some message popping up on screen. It feels artificial to that extent. I want to feel like I’ve found this stuff, not that it’s dropped in my lap.
Kieron: Like – say – this whole forest area off the main path where the elves are counterattacking via these traps, and there’s a low level skirmish going on between the two. perpetually, as it’s a standard PvE MMO, but decently enough.
Alec: It’s not a critical failing, but it’s made it hard for me to get a sense of place.
Kieron: I’ll give you that those messages can be intrusive. But I think the alternative is worse. “Where’s the public quest again?”
Alec: I’d make them further apart and shown on the map, or shown on a map once you speak to an obvious NPC in town
Kieron: Wow – lots more walking. That’s the thing – I like its tightness. I like things like not having to kneel and eat food to recover health.
John: All praise the super-fast healing!
Alec: No, not lots more walking, just a bit more breathing space
Kieron: Stuff like that absolutely stopped me playing WoW. I have a very low threshold for boredom.
Alec: Yes, it’s identified a shedload of WoW annoyances to get rid of – whilst retaining plenty of others

John: What about the Tome of Knowledge? That was the other Big New Thing, and was the thing I was most looking forward to.
Kieron: The Tome’s neat, but I honestly haven’t used it much.
Alec: I’ve used the Tome to check quest details, and that’s it
John: I’m really let down by the Tome. For me it’s become one of those irritating things that flashes on the screen that I just click on to clear it.
Kieron: What’s it actually *meant* to do?
John: And it makes getting at quest details a real fiddle. I assume a hotkey for going straight to quests will be added eventually. It was meant to be this alternative to RvR.
Alec: It’s an awful lot of text for a game that’s about cartoon characters stabbing each other
John: It was there for the person who wanted to SP the game.
Kieron: Right.
John: It would provide a coherent narrative, and offer its own quests.
Kieron: It’s a step on from Middle-Earth’s similar thing, I think, in that way
John: But I’ve not had a single tome quest offered. There are 10,000 Tome Unlocks in the game, and they’re fun to get, but then a confusion mess to understand. I think that’s what will happen – the Tome will become a fiddly quest journal, with an achievements page.
Kieron: It’s a very big achievement page. Anyone got a favourite character class? I like my Witch Elf a lot. Which surprises me, as I despise elves.
John: Okay, I have one other worry, and it’s that question.
Jim: Has anyone got to the squig tank? that sounds amazing
Alec: Yeah, I’ve enjoyed my Chaos Magus, though the floaty disc isn’t floaty enough. I get stumped by small hills and puddles.
John: I played as a High Elf first, and it was just so dull. I thought the game was doomed. I played as a Chaos, and I thought: meh. Very standard MMO. I then played as an Orc, and I thought: Woo! Best MMO ever!
Jim: Tell me a bit more about the classes – is there anything specifically unusual?
Alec: Most of the classes are a bit more hybrid than you’d have expected. Still fit into the standard boxes, but generally feel a lot less like you’re just Tank or DPS or whatever.
Kieron: Yeah. The thing with the classes is *there is a lot of them*. And they’re not just the same with the names filed off.
Jim: Why are orcs so good John?
John: It seems like a squillion times more passion went into that zone. You’re immediately firing yourself off Orcapults to reach distant castle roofs. You’re having these really funny quest givers talk in grunts. You’re a real character.
Kieron: I haven’t played the Dwarves, but I’ve heard similar things
John: Whereas a High Elf is like being a bloody librarian. “Go and find 8 of this plant, for no reason.”
Alec: The comedy races were always going to be easier to achieve that with. Which WoW sort of failed at by lumping Gnomes in with Dwarves and Trolls with Orcs in its starting zones
Kieron: And I really enjoyed the DE. Even the “Kill X” quests were often turned into something a little more interesting. Like – say – the one where I collected heads and stuck them on spikes in front of an enemy base to try and lure a hero out to fight.
John: There’s an Orc quest similar to that. It makes a big difference.
Alec: There’s a lot of head-pole action. I’ve done that almost half a dozen times
Kieron: Yeah – I used it as an example. there’s certainly been mroe pole-head sticking.
John: But even if it’s just an aesthetic on the end of a kill quest, it makes it feel like narrative.
Kieron: Yes – exactly.
Alec: It was funny the first time, etc. I just hope they can sustain that kind of thinking without running out of ideas. Having seen some of the l30 stuff, I’m not convinced yet, but there’s much I’ve not done yet.
Kieron: You know, I’m going to go and roll a new High Elf alt after this and see what I make of it
Jim: Speaking of aesthetics – how good looking is it?
Kieron: It’s acceptable.
John: It looks like a polished WoW. There’s no escaping that comparison.
Alec: you stop noticing what it looks like – it’s like a genetic memory of playing an MMO. Though the Inevitable City looks incredible, if horribly confusing to navigate
John: The Inevitable City is utterly brilliant.
Kieron: I haven’t been yet. I may go there instead of forming a HE.
John: It’s a stunning piece of design. Visually wonderful.

Is this meant to be in here?

[Alec leaves on a secret mission. It may or may not involve milk.]
Jim: Anyone got something else to add? We can conclude otherwise
John: One thing. I want to make it clear that this is one of those occasions where you’re deducting marks from 10, rather than adding them on from 0. They’ve managed it – they’re the first to create an MMO that compares to, and goes beyond, WoW. And that’s an absolutely massive deal that shouldn’t get lost in the (very valid) nitpicking.
Kieron: Yeah. God knows how it’s going to do long term, but given a choice between the two, I’d play this.
John: I think it’s best summed up as: they’ve created the WoW that Kieron wants to play.
Kieron: And I do wonder how much I’ll play it – after all, I’m the one of us who *didn’t* burn out on WoW. I didn’t like it enough to burn out on it.
John: Kieron I use as an example of someone’s who entirely immune to grind hypnosis.
Kieron: Heh. of course, it’s also the one MMO I’ll never review due to conflict of interest stuff (He’s writing a comic set in Warhammer at the moment. Out September, Comics peeps – Ed). To conclude: What’s your favourite chaos god?
John: God.
Kieron: Slanesh.
John: What’s a funny answer to attribute to Alec?
Kieron: The Horned Rat

[Fin.]

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