Oct 6 2008
In light of the market domination that is World of Warcraft, it takes serious guts to release a MMORPG these days, let alone one that is tied to the Warhammer franchise, which inspired the Warcraft series many years ago. Orcs, Dwarves, and Elves abound in Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning's Order vs. Destruction conflict, so at first glance it may look like the same old /dance we've been doing in MMORPGs for ages. Or is it?
Graphics and Interface
Understandably, Mythic wants their game to run smoothly during large PvP battles, so they haven't pushed the limit on graphics technology. Aside from the mild stuttering produced by jogging around the largely seamless world, WAR will run even on a fairly modest computer. Nevertheless, the game is nicely lit and looks good overall, particularly when nothing is moving. The animation is rough, but there is some spectacular architecture in the game and it will definitely appeal to those who want a darker, grittier, less cartoony atmosphere than WoW.
The world allows you ample freedom and you're rarely forced into a loading screen, although progress through the game's "tiers" is rather linear. While you are not able to swim, WAR does have collision detection, so it's possible to block a doorway or choke point with a number of players, and WoW's familiar "run through" melee tactics aren't so prevalent.
WARs interface is very similar to that of other recent MMORPGs, so if you're coming from WoW, EQ2, or Lord of the Rings Online, you're going to find just about everything exactly where you'd expect to find it. There are plenty of tool tips and help for those who need it. Unfortunately, the chat system is weak, with no way to link an item or preview an item on your character, among other things.
One new GUI element that stands out is the Tome of Knowledge, which is a beefed up quest log that includes a wide range of achievements, titles, and lore. It puts a wealth of information at your fingertips and it's pretty slick next to your average quest log.
As I mentioned in my preview, it's almost impossible not compare WAR to World of Warcraft, the two games have that much in common. WAR has adopted many of the small refinements which have become almost mandatory in a MMORPG, such as in-game mail, auction houses, flight points (although in WAR they're instant), hearth stones (aka Books of Binding), rest XP, and more. There are some differences in implementation, but the fundamentals are the same.
Similarly, WAR's Scenarios and RvR system are largely derived from Dark Age of Camelot, except that you are no longer trying to steal enemy artifacts, you're now trying sack the enemy's city. To describe the game as "WoW meets DAoC" is not entirely inaccurate, and if you enjoyed one or both of those games, there's a decent chance you will have some fun in WAR.
Races and Careers
Even after axing four careers (classes) that were originally planned for the game, WAR ended up with 6 races and some 20 careers to choose from. Each of the two realms has a unique set careers, but they do mirror each other quite closely, which ensures a certain amount of balance. The typical archetypes of tank, healer, and ranged damage dealers haven't changed dramatically, although Mythic has tried to give them some interesting twists. For example, Goblin Shaman build up an energy called "Waaagh" by doing damage that then goes toward better heals, and other careers have similar mechanics.
There isn't a whole lot to differentiate you from other characters of the same class, either in appearance or abilities. While you can dye your armor and even attach trophies to it, you often get a new piece of gear that only differs from what you're wearing in stats and color. Having 3 WoW-like skill trees helps a little, but there is no variation within a tree, and mixing trees is probably not an efficient use of points.
WAR sticks with a traditional RPG combat system; load up your shortcut bars with abilities, select a target, and you're pretty much good to go. The old formula has a few new ingredients, such as Tactic Slots and Morale Abilities. Tactic slots give you a constant set of buffs which you can change at any time, and Morale is another energy bar which builds up during combat, eventually giving you brief access to powerful abilities that have a long recharge.
At times it feels like WAR tries too hard to be different just for the sake of being different. If the objective was to give you more energy bars to watch and buttons to push, they've succeeded. Yet for all that, you rarely need to deviate from one attack pattern, and even if you wanted to you have limited options. It's lacking in moments where you will say to yourself, "If I had only done this instead of that, I would have survived," whether in PvE or PvP. One example is Morale Abilities; the energy needed to use them is temporary, so whenever they light up you use them whether it's a good time for them or not. It just feels a little too routine compared to combat in other games.
They did get a few things right. Secondary targetting takes some of the tedium out of switching back and forth between enemies and friendlies, especially for healers. Crowd control abilities, like roots, stuns, snares, and traps, have been kept to a minimum in PvP, avoiding many of things that have the potential to take you out of the game completely.
WAR has opted to give you explicit directions to all of your quest objectives with big red circles and arrows on the map. If you prefer guesswork in your questing, you have the option to turn all the directions off.
Most of the soloable quests in the game are, if anything, over a bit too soon. They've forgone the tradition of having you kill 3 or 4 trolls to get a troll tongue, instead giving you a tongue for every troll killed. This speeds up questing, but it also means you often run for 5 minutes to complete a quest that only takes one minute.
Although you can solo in WAR, it does tend to wear thin pretty quickly, depending in part on what class you play. In practice, there isn't all that much variety to the solo quests and returns from them diminish as you level up. By about level 20, you really need Public Quests and PvP to avoid painstakingly slow progress. Reaching the current level cap of 40 is still a long haul.
Death hurts very little, as you respawn at the nearest base with a debuff that a NPC healer will remove for a small fee. In fact, suicide is an affordable way to travel if you don't feel like running. There are a few instanced dungeons in WAR, but they're clearly not the focus of the game.