Last week at Comic-Con in San Diego, I sat down with Warhammer Online producer Jeff Skalski and got my hands on the beta for the first time. I could go in-depth on all the new features and functions of the game, but our own Michael Zenke beat me to the punch on that one. Instead I want to give my impressions of the game from the perspective of a long-time MMOG player with little time to play these days and even less interest in PvP.
You may be asking yourself why I would be drawn to yet another MMOG, much less one largely centered on PvP given my statement above. The answer is simple: revirginization. In a discussion I had with 38 Studios at Comic-Con, I questioned them about how they thought yet another fantasy-based MMOG could succeed in an already heavily saturated market. The answer they gave me was simple and true: gamers have had wonderful experiences when they've first played other fantasy-based titles, but the thrill has been lost by repetitive gameplay. Now, many of us are looking to recapture that newbie experience again with a new title. Warhammer Online may be that game for me, not for its PvE content, but for its Realm vs Realm PvP set-up.
Based on my hands-on time with the game on the floor of Comic-Con, it was clear to me that Warhammer Online borrows heavily from World of Warcraft. Much like Lord of the Rings Online and Age of Conan, WAR strikes me as WoW mechanics wrapped in different lore plus a couple of new features. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Clearly Blizzard got a lot right with WoW, but it doesn't do much for those of us looking for that "new" experience again.
Yes, there are brilliant innovations every game would do well to emulate. The Tome of Knowledge is an in-game source for all the information you usually alt+tab out to third-party sites for (think lore wiki plus quest database plus game bestiary available while staying in the game.)
And though the UI layout felt similar to WoW, every frame on the screen is completely customizable in-game by dragging-and-dropping and resizing without the crutch of an outside mod or the knowledge of programming languages. But those aren't enough for me to want to invest the time in yet another MMORPG.
The feature of the game that truly fascinates me is WAR's Realm vs. Realm combat system. As I stated earlier, I'm not a fan of PvP. I hate the ganking, the trash talking and the very idea that my limited game time can be ruined by someone else looking to stroke their e-peen by ambushing someone else. Also, I suck at it. I don't have the twitch skills or reaction times to prevail.
What impressed me about WAR's RvR system is that, as you level, it teaches you how to play in stages. Combat zones are divided into tiers by every 10 levels. In the first tier, RvR is very straightforward (fight to take this keep). In the next tier, more complexity is added with siege weapons. The next tier after that trains you in yet another new RvR mechanic all the way to the level cap. Once you reach that, the real RvR fun begins between the forces of Order and Destruction and you are now trained to succeed.
While the PvE game looks like most other fantasy MMORPGs, the RvR game looks like the real winner. The fact that they train you to play the PvP endgame is big draw for me and the reason I will be keeping an eye on the title as it approaches its September release date. Who knows, Warhammer Online may just be the revirginization experience I've been looking for this year.