Written by  :  D Michael (232)
Written on  :  Dec 11, 2008
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  2 Stars2 Stars2 Stars2 Stars2 Stars

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Would be great, if it were not broken.

The Good

Warhammer Online, WAAAGGH as the orcs might say, is the latest, ambitious endeavor into the Warhammer universe. As for myself, I’m completely new to this long running fantasy realm, but not to MMORPG’s. So having said that, forgive me while we trade my lack of knowledge in regard to Warhammer in exchange for solid MMO experience when compiling this review.

This game is the epitome of the love/hate relationship. In many aspects the game is remarkable, but unfortunately, it’s also broken. What we do see is experience in design marred by technical annoyances that will keep all but the most dedicated (or lucky) playing for a long time to come.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For all practical purposes Warhammer Online does not take a step backwards. This is obviously a game that has built upon the successes of pioneers in the MMO industry, and learned from those that had failed implementations and have steered clear of those pitfalls, for the most part.

It’s important to take into account that this game has the most to offer two types of players; those that like pvp, and those that like to solo. While there is a little bit for everyone, if your forte is raid style pve ala end game World of Warcraft, you will be seriously let down. Many MMOs are a pve experience first, and a pvp experience second. As we’ve seen in times past, pvp function in MMOs is often a small piece of the pie, or at best, an afterthought. There are exceptions of course such as the case with DAOC and other less successful MMOs, but generally speaking, pvp is not the center of attention in most MMO experiences. Sure, there are battlegrounds in WoW, and the original EQ did offer various coin loot and even player item loot servers, but generally speaking, this is the exception rather than the rule. Everquest 2 had even gone completely in the opposite direction by not allowing even consensual pvp (you couldn’t even challenge one to a duel) at launch… an endeavor that they found to be a grave mistake. Many companies in years past had this funny idea that all players hated pvp and were annoyed by it, and as a result much of the design left pvp out of the picture except for strict, exceptional circumstances where the “minority” pvp crowd could somehow be satisfied.

Apparently, they had it all wrong. Now the vast majority of MMO games are released as pvp friendly and generally, pvp servers retain higher populations. This majority should be pleased with the design perspective of Warhammer Online (WAR), where pvp IS pve, for the most part.

I say that pvp IS (or can be) pve because one can advance their character with both experience and loot rewards all the way to end game. Just as one may do the typical “grind” to level or advance their characters in traditional MMO fashion, this can be accomplished by doing nothing but pvp. Or, if you’d rather grind pve you can do that as well, however the item and cash rewards aren’t as lucrative.

Speaking of World of Warcraft, that’s what WAR looks and plays like. Yes the graphics are the same style but let’s not forget that WoW stole from the Warhammer universe to begin with, or at least, that’s the argument made by long time fans of Warhammer. The play style is mostly the same as well, with action points and a multi-tiered attack system being the standard method of dishing out the punishment. But WAR goes a step further and has a very wide variety of tactical moves that serve better in some situations than others. I could for instance, decide to take more damage and dish out more damage, or perhaps I could change my style to do a little less damage but have a higher defense rating. Even using a 2 handed weapon vs. a 1 handed weapon involves utilizing completely different play styles as what you can do with one you might not be able to do with the other.

And aside from the typical moves that spend action points, there are also tactic and morale abilities. In short, tactics are largely passive abilities that offer some benefit, such as extra damage on an attack, or perhaps more hit points. You get many tactics, but there are a limited number of active tactic slots. Therefore, you must make hard decisions on which tactics you select depending on the situation. This is good stuff!

To add, morale is similar, but instead of being passive the abilities must be activated. You receive a morale “bar” and the bar starts filling up the longer you are in combat. Once it reaches a certain point, you can activate your morale ability which could be anything from an area affect attack, to being able to block all attacks in your direction for 10 seconds, and the like. Like tactics, morale has a limited number of slots so one must choose both tactics and morale abilities based on their situation. Because of this, the style of play, and the action movements themselves, SKILL rather than level or equipment is the biggest factor in playing a class effectively. And what about the classes? Well, they are your typical classes, although there is one big difference here; the classes are race dependant. So for example, only Orcs can be Black Orcs, only Dwarves can be Ironbreakers, etc. You cannot play say, a human ironbreaker. No, the class is race dependant, and there are differences to the classes on each side that are meant to play the same role. However, the consensus is that the Destruction side is terribly overpowered, and playing a Black Orc I can see this.

But before going on to that, let’s talk about how the factions work out. Well, there are two, Destruction and Order, constantly fighting one another. To add to the environment, if you’re playing Destruction in a pve environment, you’re typically killing Order themed characters, and vice versa. However, the problem presents itself halfway through one’s career in that this game has very little variety in the way of “mobs” or computer controlled opponents. At higher levels, you’re killing the same type of mob you were killing at level 1. I remember starting my Black Orc and my first quest ever was to kill some dwarves, otherwise known as “stunties”. I just got a quest today at level 22 to kill more stunties, and for the most part, that’s all I’ve been doing on the pve end. It gets really, really boring.

For this reason I’ve done most of my leveling through pvp (well, that and the fact that I like pvp). Where pvp is concerned however, it can happen in the “overworld”, or in “scenarios”, the latter of which you enter a queue to compete in a themed game such as capture the flag or capturing territories types of environments. The overworld involves pvp that can happen in select “RVR” (their term for pvp… by the way, everything is called something different here, which we’ll get to in a moment) zones which have keeps and outposts that the warring factions can try to hold. By holding a keep there is a bonus to players in the zone, say, more xp on kills and the like.

But along with traditional advancement there is “renown” xp, which is earned through pvp endeavors. It is a separate leveling bar that by increasing dictates the types of rewards you’re allowed to purchase from renown vendors. More on this as well, in the “bad” section.

Another relative innovation is that of public quests. Public quests are a fantastic idea, where anyone, at any time with a group or without one can jump into an area where a public quest is happening and earn rewards. For starters, killing mobs associated with public quests earn you “influence” (yet another xp bar, yes, we’re working with 3) for that particular quest. As you advance the bar, you can select influence awards. If and when the public kills the boss mob at the end of the quest, a random lottery is drawn for loot. Here’s the best part; you get a bonus to your random number based upon your contribution to the quest. Therefore, if you started the public quest at the beginning, you have a mathematically better chance to get raid loot than someone that joined at the end or even half way through. It gets even better; HEALERS are awarded points for healing, just as the melee and spellcasters are given for doing damage. This is fantastic! Finally, healers can be equally represented among the classes that actually take down the mob. While I don’t play a healer, this was a much needed innovation, and it furthermore gives incentive for healers to keep their party members alive. Good stuff! Better still, public quests reset every few minutes and should not take more than half an hour to complete. Therefore, you can jump in without having to spend 8 hours on an end game raid, and if you missed it, you can just wait for it to reset and try it again!

The sound for the game is mostly par, while the music is very good, although you don’t get to hear it much except for logging in or changing zones. Speaking of zones…

The world is massive. It’s huge. You could and probably will get lost. There are vast tracks of land wide open that give the feel of being on a planet, rather than a section of the world. Interestingly enough, most of the space is wasted. I’ve been in sections that don’t have relative quests requiring that I go there, and furthermore there were no overworld pvp objectives, so this is just vast open space that isn’t being used except by people that just wanted to wander around. I did so, for a couple of hours. Deep in the woods, I found a cave and went to the back and discovered a chest that had a couple of potions in it. I thought that was pretty fun. Truth be told the potions were rather weak and not worth the time I invested in stumbling upon them, but it did spark my imagination to realize there are little hidden gems out in the middle of nowhere, places where neither NPCs or even another player could be seen. However, the real heart of the game is pvp, which is quick and accessible in the scenarios. The overworld sieges are another matter, but when people do congregate around them, a sweet amalgam of tactics, strategy, and teamwork are imperative to successful raids. Did someone bring oil to pour on the people attacking the front gate of your keep? Is the front area of the keep secured so that siege weapons can be used to get in or destroy players high atop the towers raining fire down on your invading force? The options and strategies relevant to overworld conflict is where the game really shines, and is where I fell in love with WAR.

The Bad

If only I could say three words to sum up the Achilles’ heel of this game; stability, performance, function. All three get an F, an F- if that were possible. The technical issues often bring the fun to a screeching halt, and none but the most determined (or as mentioned earlier, “lucky” enough to not have technical issues) will be around for long.

But before I tear this game a new ass over my frustrations on the technical side, let’s talk about the leveling, which is one of the inherent, troubled design flaws. In short, it’s too slow. Leveling takes a very long time at higher levels, similar to EQlive leveling. Granted, the level cap is set at a meager level of 40 so we’d expect it to be slower between ranks, but in turn this means that there are longer times between advancement, and fewer advancements overall. Many of the tactics that you earned at a particular level will be in use 10 or 15 levels later, and beyond. Given this, grinding xp is less rewarding and gets boring really fast.

Then there’s the issue of renown rank, which makes no sense in its application. You would think renown rank at level 20 means using renown rewards at level 20. Nope. You typically must have more character rank (or level), than renown to use the renown rewards. So, if my level is 22, and my renown rank is level 20, guess what, I’m not high enough to use some of the gear I’ve EARNED by working up my renown level. The sick part is, this changes later on, and you must have a higher renown rank than character level. Why? Because renown rank is capped at 100 where as character level is 40. Why did they do this? Why do they have 100 pvp levels but only 40 characters levels? Would you think because renown climbs faster? Nope, it doesn’t. You can level your character easier (even though it’s slow) than you can move your renown. This makes no sense whatsoever.

And if you focus primarily on leveling up your character on pve instead of the xp and renown earned at pvp, then you will go for very long periods of pvp action (later when you decide to do it) without any reward that is better than any gear you’re using. So, pick your poison.

What’s more is that the influence system makes grouping or completing public quests irrelevant. For example, I don’t need to complete the public quest to get the rewards, rather just kill enough mobs related to it to build up enough influence. As a result, almost nobody messes with completing the quest or grouping up for the boss mobs at the end of it, rather are content killing the yard trash until they max out their influence bar. This is good in the sense that you can receive the public quest rewards as a solo player, but it also means that there is no incentive to group up to tackle the harder aspects of it. The end result is that you’ll spend your time just grinding these out, rather than participating in a raid to win.

But the technical issues do it for me. I love this game with all of my heart, but as I write this review, I’m considering leaving the game over the technical issues.

First and foremost, the graphics are too laggy. This is a very widespread problem that a quick Google verified is well established. My system is a 5600+ dual core with 4 GB ram, running a 9800GT video card. With ALL of the settings turned down, the graphics set to “fastest framerate”, and even going into the nvidia control panel and turning off or down EVERYTHING, only then is the game playable. And I say, “Playable” as in just that; it’s playable. Constant dips to 2-3 fps are not uncommon, and in large RVR battles it’s a slideshow, a slideshow that looks like total shit because all of the textures and effects are removed. I’ve talked to many people that have this same problem, even on much more powerful systems. I know my specs aren’t a supercomputer, but they aren’t exactly chopped liver either. I can run Fallout 3 and CoD World at War with high settings on and it runs flawlessly. The slowdown with WAR however is so apparent, that that alone is almost enough to make me quit playing.

Then there’s stability. Crashes requiring a hard reboot are bordering on common, and everyone in my guild that’s I’ve spoken to gets them at random. You’re playing and then boom, it freezes, the sound stutters, and the only way out of it is pressing the reset. ARGH!

Even if you can get past the slowness and are having a crash free adventure, random glitches tend to happen which require logging out and back in to fix. For example, for no reason at all, your attacks may be interrupted by being hit. This is not the norm, you can take hits and still attack, but when this bug rears its head, you can’t beat a mouse; because anytime you take any damage it will reset your actions. Logging out and back in resolves it for a time.

Then you may start to notice that mobs stop dropping coin and loot. Hmm, at first you might think that they just didn’t have anything on them. Wrong, log out and try again, it’s there. Good grief!

Oh cool, I just earned a new passive tactic that will increase my health by 880 points. I’ll use that for this big fight. How did I die? Oh, I see, the tactic didn’t give me the hit points, that makes total SENSE NOW DOESN’T IT!?? Here, let me log out and back in. Yep, it seems to be working now. Oh and by the way, there are NINE SCREENS from desktop to getting in game, only one of which can be skipped with the esc key. WTF WERE THEY THINKING!?

The sound… the quality is good, but it’s buggy. Suddenly, your own battle sounds and the sounds around you will become very quiet, almost inaudible, yet, you’ll hear sounds from other area of the map as if they’re right next to you. I recognized this because I could hear the sounds that NPC’s were making in town, while I was out fighting in the woods and could hear nothing in regard to the sounds of my area. Oh but you can always exit the game to fix it, and sit through 9 screens to get back in, then hope everything else is working, and you don’t crash, and the mobs drop loot, etc. Get everything set up to be working, have any of the aforementioned issues rear their head, and then hopefully you can reboot to fix the problem, and hope that something else doesn’t go wrong which it invariably will.

Moving on to other issues, the factions are not balanced very well, and the server populations show this. On almost every server there is an overwhelming number of Destruction characters to Order ones. There are several reasons for this, the main one being that the Destruction classes are simply more powerful. As a Black Orc (pure melee class), I regularly crush the corresponding Order class, the ironbreaker, in one on one fights even with them being several levels higher than me. I attribute some of these wins to having more experience in pvp and MMO games in general, but many times I can tell I’ve gone against really good players that despite being levels above me, are simply lacking in the tools or firepower to take me down. It must be frustrating for them. Furthermore, the Destruction side is just simply more attractive, with nitty gritty and hardcore looking character types, as opposed to namby pamby looking high elfs in conical hats. The “good” side is good in the wrong way, that is to say, not like a troubled vigilante out for justice, but more like the “play dress up Barbie” type of good.

One thing that also annoys me but is invariably overcome by familiarity with the game is the unique naming of various attributes. For example, “hit points” or more commonly, “health”, is referred to as “wounds”. How many “wounds” do you have? Come on. Mitigating damage is called, “toughness”? What? Oh and speaking of that, melee damage is first mitigated by armor, and then again by toughness? That seems a little unfair, until you look at magic resistances (corporeal, elemental, and spiritual… huh? What happened to fire, cold, magic?) in which damage is mitigated first by resistances, then by toughness. However, all clothing has armor, but not all clothing has resistances. This seems rather unfair as it ends up meaning that melee damage is heavily mitigated two times and magic based attacks are mitigated lightly and then heavily, or only one time as opposed to melee damage.

The Bottom Line

My patience is wearing thin. I really love this game and its potential is phenomenal. There is a good foundation here, a few innovations unique to WAR, and hardcore pvp action which I love. But whether the technical issues will be addressed before I lose patience only time (and a very short amount of time at that) will tell.