Choose My Adventure: Dat's it, boss, I'm outta here

As of today, I'm finished with Warhammer Online. Today is my final installment of Choose My Adventure, with the torch passing along next week to Larry Everett. Before anyone asks, yes, I'm definitely going to miss the feature... but that's not really what you're here for at the moment, is it? You're here for the fanfare, and it's all over but the depressing part.

Last week's vote was overwhelmingly meta -- rather than a recounting of events, the audience clearly wants to hear my thoughts on the future of Warhammer Online, what worked and what didn't, and why the game followed the trajectory it did. (Also, an awful lot of people want to know about the Choppa Song.) I'm admittedly coming into the game late and with somewhat less passionate eyes than many of the game's fans, but looking at my experience, I think I found a lot of the game in microcosm. I see all of the things it did right... and in hindsight, where certain choices went wrong.

Other people have opined on many occasions about what it was that really drove the nails into WAR's coffin, but a lot of that comes far after the fact. Much of it is presented as if the game were a complete nonfunctional mess, which is very patently not the case. There's a very good reason why the game got such great reviews out of the starting gate and people were psyched about the game's launch. And, of course, people were quick to latch on to the game later as an example of why hype doesn't work and how the game was a miserable failure, because if there's one thing people love, it's a good spectacle.

So what do I think did the deed? I think WAR was afraid to be a PvP game.

The RvR in WAR is great. It's engaging, it's active, and while it's not perfectly balanced nothing ever is. I know that there were some members of the audience from over on the official forums that kind of assumed that I wouldn't like PvP and thus would dislike the game, but that couldn't be more wrong. I don't like a free-for-all environment and I don't like tacked-on excuses for battles, but the sense of energy in the PvP of WAR is something that hit it just right for me the whole time. If not for the sharp population dropoff, that alone would have been enough to keep me in the game for at least another month.

On the other hand, the PvE is... well, it isn't bad, but it's just not interesting. It's the same stuff that World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, and EverQuest II had already done at the time of the game's release, and done better. And yet WAR inexplicably tried to sell itself as having PvP as an optional thing, where you could take it or leave it depending on whether or not you liked that playstyle.

Except you really couldn't. The amount of power you gain from a few Realm Renown ranks is too substantial to ignore, the PvP armor sets are easier to obtain and just as good as what you get via PvE, and so on and so forth. The game is at its best when it shoves the two factions against one another, but it seemed afraid to just come out and say "we're not going free-for-all, but yeah, you're going to have to fight other players."

So some people didn't. Then they got bored with the same material that other games had done earlier and better, and they left, because they didn't see or didn't want to get involved with the meat of the game. And that's the real shame of it all, the fact that the game already had such a solid framework and engaging gameplay sitting right there but never wanted to draw in the objecting parties.

I'm not going to get into what would have fixed it. There's no way to know that being more unabashedly loving of PvP would have made the curve from launch to now more even, if the game would be on its second expansion or if it would be in the same state. All I know is that I can't help thinking that players who thought they could get by in the game without PvP were essentially scraping the hamburger into the garbage and then complaining that the bun alone doesn't taste good.

What does the future hold for the game? The usual rallying cry is "go free-to-play," but I'm not convinced that's going to actually bolster the population in the middle tiers. Right now, the endless trial is free of any sort of commitment -- just pop in whenever you want, run some PvP, it doesn't matter all that much. Change it to a model with a cash shop and suddenly people are going to be eyeing that unlimited free time very differently. I'm not saying it's a failed model; I'm saying that it doesn't necessarily follow that the success of an unlimited trial will transfer to a successful free-to-play mode.

Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of better options on the plate for the game at the moment. The revamps coming to PvP are good, but when a game's development team is looking at ways to re-use what's already been made, it's usually a result of the team not having funding for anything more substantial. And that's really not surprising; the game has unfortunately fallen from its state of critical darling long enough that interest is nonexistent, and from the standpoint of Electronic Arts there's nothing more to be regained from the investment.

As an aside, it's really easy to make EA the villain here, but that's a questionable stance to take. EA is a company, and it wants to do company things, like turn a profit on the games that it produces. If it's not going to do that with its existing resources, the odds are against you funneling more resources into a project that's already losing money. Not fun if you're a fan of the project that's losing money, but you probably don't want your boss to start tossing money in the direction of the homeless guy down the street who claims to be an investment banker.

The biggest thing WAR needs is something that you can't patch in -- something to bolster the population in Tier 2 and Tier 3. Otherwise, people will subscribe after the trial, see the vast empty landscape, and hit the unsubscribe button... and that's worse than the game deserves. The PvP is top-notch, even if the PvE is lackluster. (Public Quests in particular stick out as one of those elements that gets celebrated as innovative without actually adding much to the gameplay.) The classes are distinct and fun, and the RvR is well worth the time to invest; it's just that essentially unnecessary PvE and the total population drop that harms the game as a whole.

But I come here not to bury WAR, but to praise it. Because for all of my kvetching up above, when the game was firing on all cylinders it had no shortage of cylinders to fire on (if you'll forgive a tortured metaphor). The game was no slouch in delivering great PvP, and had it lasted just a bit longer, I don't think I would have found much negative to say about the game. When it delivers what it promises, it delivers in spades.

Thanks to everyone who's been following along with Klurgind's adventure over the past several weeks, and I hope you'll give Larry the same amount of welcome. It's been a lot of fun, and I've greatly enjoyed taking some time in the driver's seat.

What happens next in Eliot Lefebvre's adventure? It all depends on the choices you make on Choose My Adventure! What path will he choose? Only you can determine that! And the best part is that you can keep reading every Wednesday until you've made not one but several different choices for him!
This article was originally published on Massively.