We had the chance to hack and slash across four maps during our time in Virginia, each with a very different feel. Howling Gorge, for example, sets players against each other on "bomb runs" towards the opposing side's camp. Khaine's Embrace offers an explosive twist on capturing and holding territory, a style of gameplay honed to a point in the Gates of Ekrund encounter. Details on these events, firsthand impressions of Doomfist Crater, and some thoughts on the role that war will play in Warhammer can all be found below the cut.
A mental model of Khaine's might look something like a trio of attached circles; one central area connected via two tunnels to two smaller circles. All around the map are ruins, the result of endless skirmishing between the High Elves and the Dark Elves. Khaine's Embrace is the lowest level Scenario for this conflict, reachable from the High Elf starting zone of Chrace and the Dark Elf starting zone of the Blighted Isle. The ruins form three circular areas, generally, and the two smaller circles are the key components in this encounter. Each of those areas are right near the spawn point for one of the realms, and within them are powerful shrines.
All that needs to be done is 'click-to-capture', a very common mechanic in Warhammer Online RvR. There's a short timer on the capture, allowing the competing realm to hold off a capture if they have players in place. The trick, the catch, to this simple-sounding event is that a 10-second timer begins after both shrines are captured. When that clock counts down, a massive explosion rips loose from both points. Anyone caught in the blast is utterly destroyed, wiping the area around the shrines clean and allowing both areas to be captured again.
We had a rare glimpse of an 'alternative gameplay style' during our time in Khaine's Embrace, as the explosion element wasn't working correctly. It did damage, but usually not enough to kill. The result was that teams that won a round were still there when the shrines reset, and could usually grab another capture within moments. Once both shrines are locked down, that's the round win condition, and another explosion is on the way. Each double-capture earned points, and the first to 500 points was the winning side. Kills also counted towards your point total, and (as with every Scenario) there was a countdown timer. When the timer stops, the winning side is the one with the most points at that moment.
In practice, we found Khaine's Embrace to be a fun, free-form, and hectic map to play on. The goals are dead simple: either you're heading towards the opposing side's shrine or guarding your own. There really isn't any more to it than that. As a result, even inexperienced players can quickly pitch in and participate. The central circle-ruin is likely intended as an ambush point or skirmishing area. Players naturally try to pass each other there on the way to the shrines. More often, though, we found ourselves fighting in the cramped confines of the connecting tunnels; this resulted in harried and bloody gameplay as the two sides met in a free-for-all along the corridor.
Our games of Khaine's were locked at level 1-10 players, and even a level 1 character was fully able to participate in battles. We followed the progress of Adam Gershowitz as he piloted a character through the event, and saw him gain three character levels and two ranks of renown over the course of just about an hour of RvR gameplay.
Though still on the simpler side, the sprawling Howling Gorge map had a much more variegated style of play. The geography of the Scenario itself is a bit hard to envision; picture war camps perched in hollows on either end of a large depression in the earth. In the center of the depression is a raised mound with a wide open space. Bridges of stone, cutaways into the earth, and other features make reaching that top space an initial challenge, with paths that require a bit of forethought.
There on the raised area a keg of dynamite spawns. The objective is for a player to rush to the center, obtain the keg, and then carry it off to the opposing side's camp. There, the keg-carrying player detonates the dynamite next to a wagon of supplies. It does significant damage when the explosives go, requiring the carrier to be quite mobile after he does this. Points are earned when kills are made or kegs exploded, and there's a timer as well. Reaching the point goal or the time limit ends the game. If the timer gets to 0, the realm with the most points wins.
As a Scenario geared for higher-level players, this gamespace is going to be an ideal one for tactically driven groups. The goals, like in Khaine's, are simple to understand: protect the keg or protect the camp. The level of mobility in Howling Gorge is much higher, though, with 'last stands' possible anywhere from the central area to the war camp. Players will also have mounts by the time they're playing this map, adding in another mobility element to consider. Even after the keg carrier reaches his objective, there's still a use timer on the supply cart. An active defense will ensure that points aren't scored.
Indeed, it's quite possible you'll see one realm do everything but score, only to see the keg snatched from the hands of a dead player and rushed all the way across the map to the other camp. Even though MMO players tend to be nerds and this is a fairly thinly veiled football-analog, we think it's going to be very popular. There are a lot more explosions in this version of the game, for example.
Doomfist is given a detailed writeup on the official Warhammer website, and there's not much to add about the map's general parameters. Both teams try to take and hold a central point, with the opposing side given 'murder balls' to aid in dislodging the current point-holders.
What we noticed most about this map was the ways in which Warhammer's specific take on PvP shown through. Warhammer avatars are solid objects which are very difficult to move through/past, and those narrow bridges make for great blocking opportunities. Heavy tanks are going to be an enormous benefit here, holding the line against point-runners and getting support from spell casters safely in the 'back row.'
The two realm spawn points are heavily defended by NPC bowmen, and a tactic we saw several times was to lure a player off of the central wooden structure and into the line of fire from the NPCs. Even with the murder balls our take is that a dedicated team is going to be a tough nut to crack on this map; it'll be really interesting to see how it's received by players.
Gates of Ekrund
The final map we played during our time at EA Mythic was also one of the most dramatic. In some ways the Gates of Ekrund are a combination of Khaine's embrace and Doomfist Crater. A series of three capture-able points are located within a huge gate structure. On either end of the structure is a smaller point up on a second floor; the main and largest point is in the center of the map out in the open. Players on the second floor landings can fire down into the main area with ease.
All that's required to capture a point is to stand in its area of influence. Only one player is required, but the more players at a point the faster it caps. Even one player from the opposing realm in the area of influence stops the capture procedure, making it possible for a single player to hold off a cap (as long as they stay alive). Sides holding points tick their score upwards over time; the more points they hold, the faster their score goes up. The winner is the first to reach the score goal or the side with the most points when the timer winds down.
The setting and goals of this encounter make it feel dramatic and epic; impressive, given that it's one of the starting Scenarios for the Greenskin/Dwarven conflict. Despite the small number of points the developers let us know that it's been rare so far to see a three-cap situation stick and hold. It's so easy to sway a point from the owner that movement back and forth between the two realms will be a frequent occurrence. Our experience (and developer hints) suggest that holding the central point is the most important element of the game. With the central point and one of the smaller points under realm control, a sort of firing line can be established to keep players from encroaching too hard into held territory.
Tactics will be important in small groups here, but pickup groups are actually going to have a good time of it here. The upper points are easily defend-able, meaning that much of the action takes place in the central area. Stealth-caps will be a frequent element for groups without a defensive mindset, but the ease of point recapturing makes any single-player effort a temporary situation at best.
All four Scenarios we had the chance to view offered their own unique take on the RvR component of the game. With many more spread throughout the game, it will be interesting to see what steps EA Mythic takes to promote and polish these encounters as the days move forward. Many thanks to Jordan, the QA team, and all of the folks that assisted us in experiencing this content.
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