Diet Warhammer Online: same great taste, less content. Is it bad that the recently re-branded Mythic Entertainment just cut out a large portion of our Warhammer Online pie and put it in the deep freeze? Well it's certainly not good when a developer cuts content they've been talking about publicly for so long, especially when launch is only three or four months away. I've already written about why this MMO ode to classic tabletop trappings shouldn't be shoved onto shelves half-baked and I still feel like I'd rather see a delay than see so much content cut. While there have been plenty of delays already, that doesn't mean more would have been intolerable.
I'm going to try and take an honest look at what the removal of four capital cities and four classes means for Warhammer Online. I will admit that when the news first hit, a vile and seemingly ancient sort of anger began to boil up inside my lungs. It was the onset of some form of draconian rage at the removal of so much content that I'd been personally invested in as a future player. I never really got into Chaos and planned on playing Dark Elves, but now a large part of that content is gone. At first I felt anger and confusion towards Mythic. It wasn't until after that initial knee-jerk anger passed that I was able to give some real thought to their choice and was able to consider the varied consequences.
Realm vs Realm
In the original plan each race was paired against their mortal enemy -- this much hasn't changed. However, what has changed is the endgame of that racial RvR (Realm vs Realm) setup. Now instead of leveling and fighting through zones towards the ultimate satisfaction of conquering your sworn enemies' capital, you'll be working towards just one city and it very likely isn't your own. If you're playing Destruction then that target city is Altdorf, the Empire capital. In the case that you're playing Order it's the Inevitable City, otherwise known as the Chaos capital.
The rationale here is that players who have invested in Greenskin or Dark Elves (or their racial counterparts) will have a reason to want to defend and attack the remaining capitals. Yet I can't help but wonder if players of these races will eventually start to feel left out and want their own cities to defend and attack. Sure, they can participate in the same city defense and offense as other players when the time comes to sack Altdorf, but being unable to do the same against their High Elf or Dwarven counterparts just, well, sucks. At what point do these players begin to feel like a part of the B-list race? Maybe that won't happen but it was never even a question before and now.
Mythic could be doing something to fix the problem. Maybe they'll add some new racial scenarios into the Empire and Chaos lands that feature the "other guys". Incorporating both sides into one zone could be the right answer or it could lead to the other zones (the non-Empire and Chaos ones) being ignored and that's another problem altogether.
Here's a visual breakdown of how the class removals affect each race:
Two of these classes are balanced out by the fact that both Greenskins and Dwarves are losing the same type of class. However, the two tank classes that are being removed (Blackguard and Knight of the Blazing Sun) are not on direct opposing pairings. Specifically speaking the Empire and Dark Elf players are going to suffer here in early RvR scenarios, unless Mythic comes up with a clever way to fill the tanking holes. I can only imagine what playing RvR battles would be like when your side has almost no tanks while the other has plenty. Adding a Chaos tank to the Dark Elves and a High Elf tank to the Empire is the obvious solution but it's also kind of a cheap fix. At the very least Mythic did choose the classes that canceled each other out mechanically, so maybe they picked the lesser of two evils here. Although I still contend that a delay was the least evil choice.
The Full Experience
My other worry when it comes to the capital city cuts is that many players will probably opt to simply play in the pairing that actually have capital cities. "I'd roll a Dwarf character but if I do then I won't have a capital city." says average MMO player John. "Oh, is it really that important?" replies his friend Dave as he plays a newly rolled Bright Wizard. "I guess not." John mutters in a low, muted voice.
I can see this situation playing out a lot during the first several weeks that Warhammer Online is out and it won't be a very big deal at the time. However, over the course of several weeks John starts to feel like something's off every time he goes to Altdorf. Not only that but he probably doesn't really have that much realm pride considering his realm consists of the Empire capital and a bunch of zones that amount to his race's land, which is cool but lacks a shining crown jewel of its own. This tiny little niggling thought starts out small but begins to become tiresome after John has defended Altdorf for the umpteenth time and conversely sacked the Chaos capital as many times. Two or three months tops until John is thinking of moving on to another game.
How long will it take Mythic to add in those cut cities? It'll have taken them a lot longer than two or three months to get the Empire and Chaos cities ready by the time the game finally launches. Let's also not forget that Mythic will have to be contending with live maintenence and general fixes and updates during this time. So I'd wager you could safely say around five or six months for the next pair of "fabulous" cities to be added in after launch, which means there's going to be a long stretch of time where players will be stuck with just two cities. Can you say burnout?
This is of course nothing new to MMOs, but Warhammer Online was promising six cities as endgame content. With more than half of that content gone, burnout suddenly becomes a bigger issue. Is the leveling curve going to be longer? Are the post-launch added cities going to be better designed than the older cities, thus making Altdorf and the Inevitable City outmoded and empty? Will these two capital cities be huge lag-fests? All we can really do is wait for the answers to these anxious questons.
The Un-cut Features
Still, I want to remain hopeful that Warhammer Online won't disappoint entirely. Public Quests are already in the game and they're a lot of fun. The Tome of Knowledge is still there ever-expanding the metagame and such. Don't forget that the crafting system is still there too, although we haven't seen that much of it yet since the reveal wasn't very long ago. We still have one Orc class at least, right? While the game may not be shining as brightly as it was before all this terrible news, at the very least we've still got content that we will get to play. I only hope that once Mythic is ready to finally put the other cities and classes in they don't feel the need to charge us for them. If they do, that will be another firestorm entirely.
There are a lot of uncertanties now that so much content has been cut. It's hard to say what I think will be the future of Warhammer Online. If nothing else, I do know one thing for sure at this point: John Riccitiello probably saw this coming.