Warhammer Online Review
1.66Ghz Core 2 Duo CPU
3GB DDR2 RAM
nVidia 8800M GTS Video
As a veteran of games like Everquest and World of Warcraft with many thousands of hours poured into those games, jumping into yet another MMORPG that looks just as addictive can feel a little dangerous sometimes. Am I going to get lost in this game like I did those others? Am I going to lazily forget to clean up around the house or skip social events just to keep playing? For those of us who have been addicted in the past, being asked by Mythic Entertainment and EA to review their newest title, Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, is something I had to take on cautiously.
But I'm glad I did. This game is just as accessible as WoW - if not more, now that millions of players know how to play a game like this - and really runs off in its own direction. At first, with its dwarves, orcs, elves, and good-guy-or-bad-guy setup, it sure looks like it's ripping off Blizzard's monstrous MMO. But quickly you start to realize - somewhere around the time you realize there's a repeatable quest to do PvP scenarios (just like WoW's battlegrounds) shortly after you create your character - that this is just a different game.
Here, you will have a very tough time avoiding PvP on the way to level 40. Sure, there are open RvR servers where the playerbases mix and people get tangled up in fights anywhere in the world, but even in the regular servers there are plenty of quests, even PvE ones, that send you right into the PvP areas of the world. And fighting in there is actually fun, as there are little objectives that are at work inside there and spoils to be had. It helps to give people experience points and money for PvPing, too, as people seem to be more motivated to play it right rather than just sit around waiting for their enemy to win (I'm looking at you, Ruin battlegroup on the Alliance side).
Where this game really starts to get interesting is when you realize that doing PvP scenarios actually helps your XP gain when you're also doing the quests and fighting monsters out in the world. You'll pop to town, pick up one or two PvP quests, hit up the scenario queue, and do some nearby monster-killing for the other quests out in the world. When the scenario starts, you hit the button, and you will finish your PvP quests (win or lose) and gain a good chunk of XP in the process. Then turn in the PvP quest(s) after joining the queue again for another chunk of XP. It's a nice, easy habit to get into, and it helps mix up the monotony of running around and killing monsters for hours.
It helps that this game makes PvP consensual as well as very easily accessible. You can join a scenario queue from almost anywhere in the world, and the open PvP areas are easy to jump into and group up in. But that convenience does stretch to other areas of the game, too, like tinting both your minimap and your world map to show you where the objective of your quests are. That way, you're not constantly looking up coordinates on Thottbot or something like with WoW. Death also has a pretty small effect overall, simply reducing your maximum health with a stacking debuff that doesn't usually get too bad and can always be removed at a small price instantly if you want. Gear doesn't break and you don't have to go corpse hunting - and in PvP, that's essential.
The war part of Warhammer has the forces of Order and their elves, dwarves, and humans against Destruction and their greenskins (orcs and goblins), evil humans, and dark elves. Each side has a completely unique set of character classes, although you'll find that each side has an analogous class to the other. From spell-slinging Bright Wizards and Sorceresses to meaty Black Orcs to a range of healing classes that matches your healing style well, this game aims to make each side very different from the other.
The issue with that is one of balance: when each of the two sides has almost no overlap in abilities, spells, or masteries, it's hard to make sure that fights are even. So far it seems that the developers at Mythic have done a pretty good job, and while I've heard from players on both sides that the other side is clearly too powerful, it does seem overall that Order has a smoother curve (most of their classes stay pretty good from levels one through 40, the cap) while some Destruction classes can be more powerful here and there depending on their level but that you too often have to wade through a dozen levels of mediocrity to get to the good stuff. The one thing I want to mention, though, is that this game is not prone to the same conventions of WoW - the good PvPers didn't all go Destruction, and the carebears aren't all on Order. This is not often a concern for someone who just wanted to kill monsters and do raids in WoW, but it matters here in Warhammer where just about everyone'll have to dip their feet in the PvP at some point or another.
The game's got a couple of serious weak points, though. Playing this alone as a plain old kill-the-monsters MMO is not nearly as rewarding as others out there, so make plans to make friends as soon as you get in, or bring friends with you to all play together. The other issue is that the game's crafting system is boring and tedious, requiring you to often buy stuff from other players through the Auction House or in direct trades to make new stuff. You don't make your own weapons and armor, either - as Mythic's Paul Barnett put it in a video Q&A he did for AtomicGamer, "It's not Dancehammer, it's not Make Your Own Pantshammer". Well, that's true, but you are still double-looting bodies as a Scavenger and brewing a massive range of wacky potions as an Apothecary. So, it is Loot Bodies Again-hammer and Plant A Seed-hammer. Crafting in this game is nice in that the gathering skills don't require you to have to chop down trees or pick weeds for the stuff you need for the crafting skills, but you will need either multiple characters with a full range of gathering skills (or friends sending you stuff) if you don't want to hit the Auction House to further your trade.
What I do really enjoy are the game's Public Quests, which go on in a particular area of the world and reset themselves after completion. Here, you don't need to group with players to contribute to the quest, but will often have to work together in the later phases of the PQs to win. Killing PQ monsters and completing objectives gives you influence in that area, which can be used like currency to buy new gear. There's also a roll at the end of every PQ that doles out loot - those who contributed the most gain a bigger bonus to their dice roll, and the top 3 people after the roll will get a choice of a few pieces of loot. It's a great system that lets loners do something a bit more substantial than just fighting single monsters over and over, but unfortunately that alone is not enough to make this game a great solo experience.
At some point, the question has to come up: I played World of Warcraft (or I am thinking about quitting) and I'm wondering if Warhammer Online is more fun. I'll say this: if you're sick of the gear treadmill that PvP has become in that game, the dwindling number of players in instanced PvP areas (40v40 in Alterac Valley was fun, but now we're down to 15v15 for the most part and the arenas are much smaller than that!) and the massive built-up advantage that the Horde has in most PvP, then this is definitely your kind of game. But if you're mostly doing raiding or casual PvE gaming and don't really care to kill other players, it's worth keeping your friends together in WoW to play its new expansion.
Of course, there is the issue that many WoW players simply have no guild or have joined a new guild, repeatedly, only to see it collapse within two weeks of chartering. There is the issue of servers being filled with immature kids and the public channels and forums degrading to Chuck Norris spam and idiocy almost hourly. These are problems that have plagued Blizzard's game communities for years now, and while there's no guarantee that Warhammer Online's community will be any better, but on the servers I've played on it's been much better so far. Players are getting along, fighting well in the scenarios, working together in the RvR areas, and generally doing much less useless bickering and more fighting and winning their fair share of times - on both sides. It's a good sign, but the community must police itself (at least until the developers start suspending immature players, which could set a rather dangerous precedent), which is something I'm not terribly hopeful for.
While I really enjoyed Age of Conan in its first few weeks, the game fell flat almost immediately as the players proved that the game couldn't handle much more than small-group PvP in a few zones (plus, the siege system was almost completely broken). In Warhammer, that initial charm is there, but you quickly realize that the PvE content won't hold your attention for the full 40 levels, but then the potential for excellent PvP becomes more and more apparent. The first impression isn't as great, but as long as Mythic can keep up what they've been doing, we should see a much more solid PvP-oriented endgame here than we did in Conan.
As far as the rest of the endgame goes, there's not nearly the PvE focus in Warhammer Online as in Blizzard's top game, but to hear many WoW players talk, they're quite happy to sit in arenas and call that their endgame - for those players, this could be what pulls them away from Azeroth and Outland. For the raiding players, Warhammer could turn out to be no more than a distraction for a few months, but for those who want to see PvP be an integral part of their MMO experience, then this is their next big game. The end result is simply that Warhammer Online is a big deal for those who want to kill other players, but may be ho-hum for those who want the most compelling, charming, content-filled fantasy world out there.