Neil Booth
07 Oct, 2008

Warhammer Online: First Impressions

PC Feature | 40 hours of mayhem.
The keen-eyed among you will already have noticed that there's no score at the end of this article, and that this isn't even a proper review. Despite having put a good 40 hours into Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, there's still so much left to discover that it feels way too early to form a definitive opinion on the game. So think of this article as the first half of a review that will conclude in a few week's time.

WAR had a slightly more bumpy start in Australia than elsewhere, due to the much publicised disk errors on the Standard Edition. Still, Mythic has to be given credit for addressing the problem very quickly and the exemplary support it has provided ever since. The Herald on the game's website provides a constant stream of information about the state of the game, and is well worth keeping an eye on. Australian server stability has improved tremendously since the first week, with only occasional periods of downtime that are timed to coincide with off-peak gaming hours. Not a flawless launch, then, but a good distance from the down-in-flames debuts of many other MMORPGs.

After all the hype and bluster that led up to WAR's launch, it's difficult to not feel a teensy bit underwhelmed when entering the game for the first time. It's not a feeling that lasts long, but WAR isn't a game that immediately blows your socks off. It's familiar, more than anything. Ability bars, hit points, skills, crafting, quests - you wouldn't be alone in wondering, just for a few seconds, if you really want to go through it all again. The answer, after an hour or two, is an emphatic yes but we were surprised at just how soft WAR feels right at the beginning.

Fangor was beginning to suspect he hadn't bought a labrador after all.

Fangor was beginning to suspect he hadn't bought a labrador after all.
The first hint that things are going to be different comes when the first Public Quest reveals itself. PQs are scattered liberally all over the map and are pretty much unavoidable. You don't have to do anything to join these communal slugfests other than wander into their catchment area and get stuck in. They generally unfold over three stages, with each stage increasing in difficulty. The first stage will often task you with laying waste to a small legion of cannon-fodder level gremlins and don't need too many players to complete. The second stage toughens things up, with a smaller number of harder opponents, before the third stage serves up one or two boss creatures that will quite happily stamp your tin-plated skull into the ground if you don't have some serious back up.

While Public Quests can be endlessly entertaining, they do need an optimum number of participants to work well. Having too few players involved will often make it impossible to complete the PQ, which prevents the post-quest loot raffle taking place. Too many players, on the other hand, results in a multiplayer version of whack-a-mole, with dozens of people scrabbling to inflict damage on creatures the moment they spawn into existence. Lack of PQ participants is the more common problem, and it may possibly get worse as the game's population travel beyond the early levels. Time will tell.

The WAR world is divided into four tiers, with each tier containing content suitable for ten character levels. Each tier offers three Scenarios, any of which can be queued for at any time. Server population dictates how quickly these fill up, though we didn't often have to wait more than ten minutes. Scenarios are purely player vs player events, featuring variations on classic multiplayer games like capture the flag and king of the hill. Scenarios have mostly proved to be good fun, if chaotic. Pre-formed parties can join scenarios as a group, which is a good way to provide the teamwork that's almost always missing from pick-up groups. It's not uncommon to see a scenario play out something like a pre-school soccer match, with everyone barrelling after the objective and no-one staying back in defence. These all-in tumbles are still enjoyable, but it does get a little wearying to once again see a 'team' scatter all over the map like so many dandelion seeds.

The life of a council building inspector is never easy.

The life of a council building inspector is never easy.
While it's never been easier to join a party of players - you just bring up a roster of available open parties and click 'join' - this seems to have made parties more fragile than usual. We suspect that because there's so little effort required to form a party, there's no real disadvantage to just flitting in and out of parties on a whim. We're not suggesting that taking half an hour to stitch a coherent group together is necessarily a good thing, but it does seem as if people don't attach much value to something than can be conjured up with a click of their virtual fingers.

Rounding out the PvP side of WAR are the Realm vs Realm areas. Every map has an area marked out for RvR combat and, to get involved, you simply have to walk into the area. The game will inform you that you are now fair game and leave you to it. Every RvR area has a number of objectives that tend to act as conflict magnets but you can simply wander around looking for trouble. It's less structured gameplay than that offered by PQs or Scenarios, and it's all the better for it. There's an atmosphere in RvR that's missing from the rolling scrums of the other PvP options. We've fallen victim to some extremely sneaky ambushes, and had some delightfully tense encounters. There's nothing quite like seeing a member of the opposition crest a hill, and having to make a split-second decision to either plunge into the bushes or hit them with everything you've got.

Despite the fact that WAR takes pride in its PvP options - and quite rightly so - the Player vs Environment (PvE) gameplay shouldn't be overlooked. It does suffer from being the most familiar kind of MMORPG activity, but knocking off a quest every now and again keeps the XP flowing and can fill in the quiet spots when the PQs are empty or the Scenarios are taking ages to pop. Quests locations are highlighted on the map, so there's very little time spent scratching blindly around in the wilderness.

Trick or treat. Or sudden, violent death. Your call.

Trick or treat. Or sudden, violent death. Your call.
WAR feels like a game that is still settling itself down and getting comfortable. There are any number of small improvements yet to be made - we'd love some sort of audible cue when friends come online, rather than having to use obnoxiously shouty capitals in the chat box to get their attention. It'd also be handy to know exactly where a friend is, rather than just getting the name of the region they're in. The auction and mail system feels unresponsive, clunky and unreliable.

It also has to be said that despite the vast amount of Warhammer lore, design and style that's packed into the game, it doen't feel like a fully formed and immersive world. Rather, it comes across as a Warhammer theme park, with a hundred distractions, sideshows and big ticket rides around every corner. The busy, bustling nature of things makes it difficult to simply enjoy the atmosphere.

As it stands at the moment, Warhammer Online offers some fantastic, if familiar, MMORPG gameplay with an innovative and exciting PvP heart. And we've barely scratched the surface. The guild system, city sieges, and high-end content are all still shrouded in mystery and something that we're looking forward to tackling over the coming weeks.

Related Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning Content

Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning Review
31 Oct, 2008 Whacking day.
750,000 players signed to Warhammer Online
11 Oct, 2008 That’s one hell of a WAAAAGH.
5 years ago
They already dedicated a "strike team" to deal with gold farmers.
The general manager says:
“I’ve been waiting for the day that WAR launched so I could have the absolute pleasure of instituting policies to make their lives more difficult so we could drive them out of WAR.”
Oh the hate!
Link: http://www.tgdaily.com/content/view/39639/98/
5 years ago
On one hand, WAR's turning into a very casual frinly game. On another, if you can't get a group most of the good content is out of your grasp.

I'm also finding that out of the three scenarios for each teir, it only seems to be one that people play and the others are constantnly on 'wait'.

It is fun, though, but as the review said, it's not immersive and feels like a PvP game hung on the Warhammer lore. To be fair, though, it doesn't pretend to be anything else.
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Australian Release Date:
  19/09/2008 (Confirmed)
  Electronic Arts
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