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SummaryTwo years of WAR, has there been progress on any front?
The GoodFirst let me clarify that MMOs are not my preferred genre, and I prefer traditional RPGs, so that will influence the review I have of this game.
A month shy of the 2-year anniversary of Warhammer: Age of Reckoning (WAR), how has the passage of time fared for the game? Nearly every aspect of this product has been tweaked and revised, but the core gameplay remains the same, naturally. I recently restarted the game earlier this summer, after a long hiatus -- my previous stint in this MMORPG was during the beta test and first month of the product launch.
As with most MMORPGs these days, you can download and play the game for free to a limit (level 10 out of 40, confined to one area, can't send mail or use auctions), but otherwise you have full access to all of the game's features. This is a great selling point and what got me back in the game.
Mythic attempted to produce a product that will satisfy the two general categories of audience for MMOs -- those that prefer solo and co-op (Player vs Environment/AI or PVE),and those who live for player vs. player combat (PVP). Overall WAR is heavily oriented to supported PVP.
There two main PVE options. Naturally for every race their have their own missions/campaign, and some missions are even class specific. It doesn't take too long to finish a campaign, probably 20-30 hours if you don't count any PVP play, so it's not difficult like other MMORPGs that just want to leech your subscription payments.
There is quite a bit of grinding, but it's actually reasonable. Most of the missions just have you killing a handful of enemies, and many mission link with the same enemy kill type so there's quite a bit of satisfaction seeing you knock 2 or 3 birds out with one stone.
Other mission types include retrieving objects or scouting areas. The maps are very diverse and it's fulfilling to discover new parts of the world. Mythic's designers and artists did a good job translating the Warhammer environment to the digital world -- this is not a beautiful world, as it rightly should not be, but grim and gothic unconquered terrain that is punctuated by some semblance of nature and civilization.
Public Quests are the other solo/co-op alternative. These are open areas in the game world where any number of players can participate in an objective that usually involves killing a number of monsters and/or retrieving objects in the area. PQs all have 3 stages, and they progressive get more difficult as your complete them. Besides the first stage, the second and third stages have a time limit before they end and reset to the first stage. Players are encourage to participate as this is the only way to acquire rare and powerful weapons if PVP combat is not desired.
For PVP, there are also two options. The first is, of course, the raison dete for WAR, the realm vs. realm (RVR) battlegrounds, where Order (Empire Humans, High Elf, Dwarf) players fight against Chaos (Chaos Humans, Dark Elf, Orcs/Goblins). These zones in the gameworld have minor objectives and larger structures such as castles/keeps to capture, all populated by elite AI, which bolster the defending side's player forces.
Scenarios offer the other PVP experience. These are instance maps of very unique locations where players are teleported to, and objectives include player elimination to capture the flag style gameplay.
Besides the challenge of competing against other humans and the chance for acquiring powerful equipment, there is one main factor which encourages PVP: Renown. This is another "level" that you character attains, separate from the main class level, and the cap is 80. Renown advancement gives you new special abilities/boosts, and also the option to purchase unique arms and armor.
For novices with no MMO experience, this game has a fairly reasonable learning curve. Players with an extensive background in the online RPG gamespace will be very familiar with the interface and concepts. The game is also more stable now, and in the past few months of heavy play I only recall a handful of lockups/crashes, and most were due to network issues (unknown if on my end or the servers'), and playing the game in windowed mode.
The BadThe biggest disappointments for me all revolve around the implementation of PVP.
First, I think it's a poor representation of the Warhammer mythology -- massive armies mustering for war. During RVR, it's still just a few parties or warbands of players. It hearkens back to the days of Herohammer, a negative moniker given to the tabletop game from a few editions past when individual heroes could wipe out entire regiments of troops on their own. Not that there are regiments of troops to obliterate, but that this entire "war" is fought only by heroes in WAR. Sure, there are some "battles" raging on in all the areas, but these are just small skirmishes of background AI troops that have no effect on the game.
I may be dreaming too much, but I was expecting to see large units AI troops fighting with the players in the RVR battlegrounds. I'm not sure how exactly it would be implemented, but it sure was not even attempted here.
Second, for an MMO game, the handling of the player populations and matching is very weak. On weeknights it's impossible to find any RVR and scenarios with players. Speaking of scenarios, there seems to be a bug where sometimes the game can't match properly and you end up with a handful of players for one faction and dozens for the other, causing the scenario to end due to balance reasons. A more elegant solution would have been to keep players from joining if one faction is too large. Anyhow, in general this all just stems from the lack of players.
Ultimately, there also is no permanency to any of your actions. Granted, this was never billed as a persistent world type game, but it all just seems pointless, like you're just playing on a game matching service for any competitive multiplayer game like first person shooters.
PVE also seems unfinished. Solos are not fun as you'll never receive any of the even moderately powerful equipment, and even the co-op required PQ loot is nowhere near the caliber of the PVP rewards. In addition, though there's a lot of text to read for missions, but they just aren't interesting fluff for the single player experience.
WAR is heavily focused on stats and combos, following in the traditional archetypes of other MMORPGs - melee tanks, healers, ranged area attackers, etc. There's no originality, and no real "RPG"... it's just about maximizing your damage or healing combos. Nothing wrong with this, except I just wanted to put this out to those interested in the Warhammer theme not familiar with MMOs.
Graphically speaking, it seems to be struggling to find a direction. The environments are decent, but the character design appears to be caught somewhere between the cartoony caricature of Warcraft, while trying to be more grim and realistic, but just not looking that interesting ultimately. The technology is a bit dated, too. Even two years ago when it was released it looked dated eye candy.
The Bottom LineWhat really solidified my negative feelings of this game was the fact that it feels unbalanced between Destruction vs. Order. There have been some complaints about this, and it may be that Order classes require more "finesse" -- but my only experience with this is that the Dark Elf I first started playing a few months ago was able to fare much better in RVR than my human character (both rogue classes), even after having played much more extensively as the human.
And yet, I'm still playing it. I think it's just due to the fact that it's paid for, and I want to get my money's worth for the subscription (though to be honest, the only reason I restarted was because I received a copy of the collector's edition for free). I'll probably terminate it at the end of this month.