During Age of Conan's launch, we took a final look at the game as it existed in Beta, a 'state of the game' that took in everything we knew about the title at that point. Today this blogger has attempted to do the same for Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, the fantasy MMO slated for release by EA and Mythic Entertainment on the 18th of September. If anything, Warhammer Online is a title with a more tightly-wound, highly anticipatory audience than Conan was. The long history of the Warhammer IP, the evocative nature of the tabletop roleplaying game, and a legion of wargaming followers across the globe has made this a must-play game across numerous demographics.

Adding on to that the game's lengthy development lifetime and very aggressive marketing campaign leads to a recipe for hype few MMO titles have seen before. Reading the blogosphere in the last few days might have lead you to the conclusion that Warhammer is the second coming. Or, alternatively, that it's an unfun grindfest that apes World of Warcraft poorly. As is so often the case, the truth falls somewhere in between.

In actuality, I believe Warhammer Online offers a fundamentally fun experience. It's a tried and true variation on the core fantasy MMO trope, with a few substantial departures from the 'norm' ... possibly enough to change the direction of this genre for years to come. Read on for this blogger's view on where the game is today - regardless of problems, pitfalls, and promise.
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"Towering plumes of smoke darken the skies of early game zones, while piteous cries for help float on the air. Dark engines of war smelt weapons for the conflict, while soldiers of both factions hack at each other everywhere you turn. War is everywhere."

For years, Mythic Entertainment has been promising their fans that "War is Everywhere". They've assured prospective players that the moment their experience in-game begins, they'll be swept up into a conflict between the player races; elf against elf, dwarf against greenskin. On this basis, if nothing else, Mythic has been wildly successful. Towering plumes of smoke darken the skies of early game zones, while piteous cries for help float on the air. Dark engines of war smelt weapons for the conflict, while soldiers of both factions hack at each other everywhere you turn. War is everywhere, and your place in that war is the foundation of the player experience in Warhammer Online.

The result is that players are not going to be interacting with a world; there was a world here, once. Everywhere it's visible, in a fallen column or a marred statue. The nations of Ulthuan, the human settlements of Praag or Reikland ... these were once beautiful places where people lived out their lives as best they could. Now they're backdrops to an ongoing conflict that has you at its center, a struggle for survival that you have a direct hand in deciding. From the player perspective, this means that Warhammer is a game, not a simulationist experience. If you're not interesting in that core component, if you're looking to roleplay amongst happy trees in a verdant fantasy land, this is not the game for you.

Which is not to say that you can't focus on PvE to the exclusion of PvP. Mythic has also followed through on its promise to provide a compelling non-RvR experience for players. In fact, the stories told via their unique Tome of Knowledge system may be the best in the industry to date. By allowing players the opportunity to read back through the game's rich lore as they peruse their accomplishments, the designers have given us a reason to engage with their world in a textual format. The upfront quest text is simple, in other words. Only if an interested reader wants to scratch the surface are they inundated by the game's history and lore.

The Tome, generally, is one of the game's clear wins. It's easily the most fully-featured questing system in an MMO to date, combining achievements, lore, and progression into a single package unmatched by any other title's offering. In short, this is one of the features of Warhammer Online future games simply must have. All other quest systems seem trite in comparison, afterthought checkboxes of limited functionality without context.

Providing context, generally, is something that Warhammer Online strives towards. Their efforts to get players into groups are where most players will see this trend clearly. The Open Group system, along with the much-vaunted Public Quests, seeks to have players collaborating from the earliest levels. Simply by setting foot on the battleground of a Public Quest, a player learns the importance of participating in gameplay with others. In the modern MMO world, where soloing is a central activity, this emphasis on teaching grouping skills is novel and noteworthy. Soloing is, of course, just as easy to accomplish as in other titles ... but just being taught to 'play well with others' seems like an important (and well aimed) design decision.

"Warhammer is a place of conflict. Conflict not only between the races, but between what the developers sought and what they have achieved."

On the whole, many of those design decisions have 'flown true'. Classes feel unique and powerful. RvR is fun and incredibly easy to jump into. Public Quests immerse adventurers in the story of a place. The capital cities definitely capture the feel of living places. And yet, Warhammer is a place of conflict. Conflict not only between the races, but between what the developers sought and what they have achieved. All the time invested, all the resources expended, have still resulted in a game that will need some post-launch polishing.

In these final days of Beta, the game's "feel" needs the most polish. In many ways Warhammer just feels "slow", for lack of a better word. Character movements can feel somewhat lethargic, and some abilities take what feels like an achingly long time to fire. The goal, I imagine, is to provide a level of strategy in RvR. If you see an opponent firing off a power you have time to counteract. The result in PvE, unfortunately, is that many powers (especially for spellcasters) feel as though you're bringing a cannon online. At low levels the damage output doesn't match up with the 'load time', leaving you feeling disconnected from your character.

The need for more polish extends beyond visual 'feel', unfortunately. Quests often have very interesting stories behind them, but their goals are dirt simple – almost always devolving to "kill ten rats". The lack of variation in actual questing goals, especially at low levels, can make an otherwise enjoyable experience monotonous. Some zones obviously just need another pass or two to clear up problems. NPCs sometimes spawn into static structures, or don't appear to be moving in the correct patterns. The always-entertaining "NPC dies but doesn't despawn" problem seems to be a pervasive one in Warhammer, leading to whole fields of upright corpses in certain areas.

These elements of polish are going to come. They just will – it's a matter of time. Players who jump in-game from WoW or Age of Conan are going to find a title filled to the brim with fun gameplay and constant WAR. PvP players are going to be 'coming home'. This is the game you've always wanted. Lore nerds and story fans will find plenty to love, and those of us who actually enjoy grouping will see our style of play lauded from fairly early on.

"Warhammer Online is a game that the men and women at Mythic Entertainment can be proud of."

In short, Warhammer is just like every other MMO. It's brimming with potential. It's extraordinarily good at some things, bad at others, and will perpetually need to be finished. It's not the be-all end-all of the genre, and it's almost certainly not a "WoW Killer."

At the end of Beta, though, Warhammer Online is a game that the men and women at Mythic Entertainment can be proud of. It's an extremely well-produced testament to the IP. It's a visceral expression of the phrase "War is Everwhere." And, most importantly, it is a fun game.

This article was originally published on Massively.
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