As most of you following this journal know, I’ve been an avid MMORPG player for the last few years. Though I was late to the party, having completely bypassed EverQuest and Dark Ages of Camelot and their ilk, I jumped in wholeheartedly with City of Heroes in 2004 and later World of Warcraft in 2007. While I tend to focus on playing one game at a time, I do sometimes go to take a look at other stuff on the market. (kitanzi is currently having a ball with Spore, and I will have to eventually give that a whirl myself.)
It’s not unfair to say that Warhammer Online was one of the most eagerly anticipated game releases of the year, if only because it gave the gaming press many chances to breathlessly speculate on if it could be the “WoW killer”. (Age of Conan having failed miserably at even being remotely playable, let alone a juggernaut. ) And it’s not hard to see why some people were excited. The Warhammer miniatures game has a long history of fanatic devotees, and the heavy PvP focus of the new online version looked like it might be just the sort of thing for people who like that sort of thing. Since I’m really not a hardcore PVPer, I wasn’t terribly interested, but enough people in my Warcraft guild were rabidly excited that I figured I’d buy it and see what the fuss was about. At worst, I thought, it might be a diversion until Wrath of the Lich King is released in November.
Unfortunately, the results are fairly underwhelming. Admittedly, I’ve only played one character up to level 10 and another up to about 6, but the things that bug me about the game aren’t related to how the classes play. But first, lest I be accused of just being another Blizzard fanboy who can’t see the awesomeness this new game clearly is, let me talk about the things that I like about Warhammer:
- Public Quests: This is actually a pretty neat idea. Basically, there’s periodic events associated with particular areas in the game. Each is divided into three stages. One is a usually a pretty straightforward “Kill X of Y” quests, as a position is assaulted by waves of the enemy. If there aren’t enough people to accomplish this within a certain time period, the event ends and it resets. If, however, the objective is completed, a slightly harder wave of enemies spawns for phase 2, and if those are dealt with a boss-level mob shows up. At the end, everyone in the area who participated in the event (even if they’re not grouped together) gets assigned a participation score, which weights their roll for loot. The top x players get something from the loot chest, and then after a while, the whole thing resets. This is also where you gain influence, a stat which allows you to get rewards from a special vendor when you have enough of it.
The system isn’t perfect. If you’re the only one in the area, you have no chance of completing the event; even if you can get through phase one and two, the boss is not soloable. But the idea of periodic world events where everyone in the area can just pitch in on and then get a reward is pretty neat.
- Normalized PVP. Whenever you enter a PvP area, either an “Realm vs. Realm” zone or a battleground, your effective level is set to the same as everyone else in that area. That means that a level 11 character isn’t at a fundamental disadvantage against a level 19 character. They’re both in the same tier, and both will fight as (say) a level 18 character. Also, if a character who is vastly over-ranked comes into a lowbie area, they are changed into an easily dispatched chicken, which is amusing.
The battlegrounds themselves are pretty straightforward capture-the-flag/hold-the-objective affairs, at least in the first tier. But at least you can participate in them from day one, rather than needing to get to the top of a bracket before you can even play.
- The Tome of Knowledge is very pretty, and a fairly organized way to put all your information in one place.
- Titles. I was a complete badge-whore in City of Heroes, so it’s nice to again be able to accomplish something, get a cool title that displays under your name. It’s utterly trivial, but I like it.
Well, that didn’t take long. Now, the complaints.
- The game is very laggy. Mythic had to remove a lot of content they’d intended to have in the game at launch just to make their release date, and its pretty clear that they still weren’t ready for the load. Everything feels very slow, the frame rates will sometimes drop the pace to glacial. Worse, the synchronicity between what’s happening and the animations are rarely quite attuned, so the action that you just took may take a second to appear on screen, or worse the thing running towards you is often closer than it appears. The game is also a bit unstable, but I try not to hold that against a brand new online game, though if they don’t have the technical stuff ironed out in a few weeks, they’re going to find themself in trouble.
- The graphics aren’t that good. I suppose they’re serviceable, but to be honest it looks to me like they couldn’t decide if they wanted to be cartoony or realistic, tried to do both at the same time, and fell into the uncanny valley between them. Some of the vistas are pretty enough, but nothing that really makes the game go pop.
Worse, there’s an incredible sameness about the characters. The choices of personal appearance is quite limited, and it’s very hard to tell one character from another. Sure, you can tell an elf from a dwarf, but spotting which of two elves that one is without the name floating overhead would be nearly impossible. (To be fair, WoW, though better than this, isn’t MUCH better than this. City of Heroes is still the gold standard for avatar design, IMO).
For the first 10 levels, there’s not much dropping that’s different than the other guy, either. I’m sure that as you rise in level there will start to be a bit more diversity, but in the early stages of the game, everyone pretty much dresses alike, carries the same weapons, and you couldn’t pick one from another in a lineup.
- The animation isn’t that good either. Characters have this sort of hunched straight-legged run that makes them look like they have a stomachache. The combat animations look stiff and unnatural.
- The PvE is anemic. I know that the focus of the game is PvP, and that’s what people are excited about, but for someone who really enjoys questing and following storylines, this really kinda terrible. I’ve spent most of the time I’ve been doing PvE stuff being bored to tears. You don’t stay in one place long enough to really get a feel for it, and most of the regular quests are simple but unimaginative. Only the Public Quests have any sense of something really *happening*.
- The lore is shallow. Warhammer fans like to point to the 25 year history of their world as if it somehow imparted it an epic status. Frankly, if this is all you’ve come up with in 25 years, maybe someone should have put the tape measure down and actually developed the world beyond “We have always been at war with
EastasiaDestruction.” Yeah, war is everywhere, and all parts of the land are touched by it etc. etc. etc. Praise Khaine and pass the ammunition.
The problem is that this is the *only* storyline, essentially. There’s nothing to make you *care* about a place anymore than you have to to complete its quests and move on. And there’s very little in the way of stories that don’t center on the Ongoing Conflict. You don’t get the sense that anyone really *lives* here. There’s just a setting for a giant conflict. And after a while, you think “Did that. Got the t-shirt, which has slightly better stats than the last t-shirt. Yawn.” I’ve played first-person shooters with richer narratives than this.
- The crafting is byzantine and opaque. I’m sure there’s something really exciting lurking here, but it’s completely non-intuitive.
- All of the above adds up to the killing blow: The game just doesn’t feel immersive to me. I never lose the sense that I’m playing a game and just experience the action. And while its the sort of thing that *might* get better at higher level, if a game isn’t grabbing you early, it’s not doing its job.
- Ok, this is a personal gripe, but this is a personal journal, so I get to complain about this here. I can’t have my name. On WoW, my main has been my hunter Pryderi since nearly the beginning. I took the name from Welsh mythology, which I’ve loved since I first read the Mabinogion, and it’s more or less the name my guild knows me by. And it wouldn’t let me take it.
At first, I thought that someone else had gotten it first, and was merely disappointed. Then I checked on the online roster and found out that no one has it. Apparently, Mythic compiled a list of forbidden names, and mine is on it. So I did what any unhappy player does in an online game. I opened a GM ticket asking if it would be possible to have my name, since apparently no one else did. Unfortunately, I opened that ticket on September 20th, and as of yesterday, September 28th, I had not gotten a response. Not a “No, sorry.” Not even a “We have received your query and it will be answered in the order in which it was received.” Radio silence. I find this, frankly, a simply unacceptable level of customer service.
Honestly, a lot of these things might eventually get fixed, at least in terms of the game responsiveness and the the bugs, but most of my complaints are about the fundamental design of the game, and I don’t expect that to change.
I don’t want to say that Warhammer is a bad game, because it’s not. But it’s a perfectly mediocre game, and doesn’t offer anything compelling beyond a somewhat better PvP environment. I find myself, after 10 levels (and thus 25% of my way to the level cap) underwhelmed and disappointed.