Name: Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning
Genre: Massive Multiplayer Online RPG
The Massive Multiplayer Online RPG market is fairly saturated, with dozens of different choices for anyone who wants to enter the scene. There are games set in outer space, some set in the worlds of literature, other set in movies, and some in comics. The most popular, however, are usually based in fantasy, where the king of all MMORPGs currently resides. Entering into its realm is a dangerous business unless you’re really ready to compete, and it looks like someone finally is. From the developers of Dark Age of Camelot comes Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, based on the popular fantasy series of the same name. At a glance, it might appear that the game shares many similarities with World of Warcraft, but that has more to do with WoW borrowing its style from Warhammer than the opposite. When I say “borrowing,” of course, I mean “ripping,” and most similarities between the two originated in 1983 with the Warhammer Fantasy setting. Of course, they both rip off of D&D, which is really just a rip of LotR, which is sort of a rip of the Arthurian legends…
The tone is far more serious than most of its fantasy competition. The odds of Warhammer adding Polar Bear or Motorcycle mounts are low, and you will likely not run into any NPCs named Clarice Foster or Chuck Norris. There are glints of humor from time to time, mostly for players who find themselves playing as Greenskins, but for the most part the world is a dark and gritty place – it is at war, after all. Unlike many other MMORPGs, Warhammer Online is actually set during a full-scale, all out war between two sides (or, as the game calls them, Realms), Order and Destruction. Each race is involved in a one on one war with their competition; Greenskins battle Dwarves, High Elves battle Dark Elves, and the Empire battles Chaos. Each race has its own starting areas with hundreds of quests, four tiers of RvR combat and bases and Keeps ripe for capture. That said, within the first few levels you’re able to travel between lands, and Scenarios can be joined from anywhere in the world, so there’s a blending and merging of races fairly early in the game. Each race has its own classes, giving Warhammer an impressive 20 starting classes separated into four archetypes: tanks, healers, Melee DPS, and Ranged DPS. One defining factor of WAR is that each of the classes is unique, and while the Ironbreaker (Dwarven Tank) might share similarities with the Black Orc (Greenskin tank) there are enough differences to give them very unique flavors.
Another unique concept implemented well in WAR is the public quest. Players can earn Influence by competing in large, outdoor quests with several stages. Stage One might involve killing 125 Greenskins, Stage Two might involve lighting signal flares defended by powerful enemies, and Stage Three might involve needing to kill the boss summoned by said flares. Each enemy killed and flare lit gives Influence, and after the stages are over the players are awarded modifiers towards a die roll to be among those who receive rewards for the PQ. If you’re among the many who don’t receive a reward, fret not, because Influence is saved on a Chapter by Chapter basis, and NPCs throughout the area reward class-specific gear based on the amount earned. It’s a brilliant way to get players to work together, as the increasingly difficult waves are oftentimes far too difficult to complete without a full party, but the entire situation itself usually takes no longer then ten minutes.
The graphics can’t compete with some of the current generation titles on the market, but they don’t try to. Mythic realized early on that MMORPGs need to be able to run on a wider variety of PCs than other PC titles, and the game’s highest graphical settings still don’t look much better than a PlayStation 2 game. The game’s sound is also unimpressive, but it’s also not annoying. In a game where even casual gamers will spend 10+ hours a week playing it’s very easy to grow annoyed by music, regardless of how well produced it is, and Warhammer delivers on creating ambient noise that doesn’t grow old.
There are plenty of ways to play Warhammer, each with its own set of rewards. Focusing on Public Quests will earn you experience from killing the enemies, completing the scenario, and loot from both the chest at the end and the Reward Vendor. Focusing on questing will give players experience for completing the missions and a steady stream of items and money for completing missions. The greatest rewards, however, are achieved in Player versus Player (or RvR; Realm vs. Realm) combat. Every aspect of the game funnels into RvR, with constant reminders during questing that there are likely better things for you to be doing. Loading screens remind you constantly that you’re able to take enemy Keeps, and joining an RvR arena, or campaign, in WAR’s case, is easier than any other action in the game. Entering a RvR area bolsters your stats as well, so the only thing differentiating your level 11 Orc and the level 18 Dwarf is the gear and abilities. The experience gained in these areas easily rivals that from questing, and enemies will occasionally drop good loot, on top of the rewards gained from Renown Trainers.
The largest issue with Warhammer Online, which might not always be an issue, is the balance between the two sides. As it stands now, Order is outnumbered by Destruction on every server, even with Mythic offering 20% boosts to experience for playing as an Order character on that server. Because of this, RvR arenas are usually dominated by Destruction and players anxious to see what it’s like to actually win a Scenario will ditch their character and create a Destruction one. Once they begin, they will soon realize that playing as Destruction is much more fun than Order. The different quests have a better sense of humor; the areas are much more visually appealing, the classes more interesting and fun, and the mounts much, much cooler. Dwarves ride small, silly looking helicopters while Greenskins run around on bad-ass wolves and warthogs. High Elves and Empire ride on horseback while Dark Elves mount Raptors. Freaking Raptors! Every MMORPG I’ve ever played I’ve made the conscience effort to try and focus on the outnumbered side, since there always is one, but WAR’s popular side is too cool to ignore, and they’re going to need more than a 20% EXP boost to convince me to play my Elf again. Later in the game, Order has an easier time combating Destruction due to some lopsided Scenarios, but already the Destruction players are complaining about this on Mythic’s Forums, and have been promised a solution.
WAR’s end game is completely dominated by PVP, so players looking for large-scale instanced quests should look elsewhere, but the PVP is unique. It isn’t like WoW’s where players join battlegrounds just to unlock items. It isn’t like Age of Conan’s where it’s an all out fight for the sake of battling. It’s WAR, and there are great reasons and rewards for fighting. One of the game’s loading screens really says it best: “Does your enemy own a keep? What are you doing? Take it back!” The actual Keep and Castle sieges are incredibly epic, and as interesting as any MMORPGs large-scale raids or PVP battles. Players are even able to set up rams at their opponent’s door, where several players need to work in unison to smash it to breach the entrance, while their opponents attempt to pour hot oil on them from above.
There are many things a Massive Multiplayer Online RPG needs to do to become popular in today’s market. See, there’s a little game currently out called World of Warcraft, and it currently has nearly ten million subscribers. That counts for more than half of the market, so for a MMORPG to succeed and be worth the huge investments that it takes to make it, the game needs to be able to compete with WoW. Many developers seem to ignore this fact, and think that they will be able to take just a small chip from Warcraft’s base and consider it a profit. The problem is that WoW fans will quickly go back to their poison of choice if the new drink isn’t all that much sweeter. For many years, no games have come close. Some have found a niche and taken advantage of it, but in terms of actually building competition to the king it seems like developers have all but given up. Well, good news: Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning is very, very sweet.
Warhammer Online is the first MMORPG since World of Warcraft was released that actually holds a candle to it in terms of content. Generally, companies have launched MMOs without certain features, promising to add them in the future. This hasn’t been too successful, because WoW players would come, see an incomplete game, and leave. Warhammer isn’t an incomplete game, and the upcoming Wrath of the Lich King expansion to World of Warcraft is doing more catching up to WAR than WAR is to it. The fan base is growing, and it appears that people are staying – happy to find a new home outside of Azeroth. Warhammer Online is definitely worth a try for anyone looking for an alternative.