Second Wind Roundtable: The final days of Warhammer Online

Screenshot -- Warhammer Online
I know it's been a while, but the Second Wind Roundtable is back for a special occasion: the shutdown of Warhammer Online. As you may know, Mythic's long-floundering RvR title is officially shutting down on December 18th, taking with it the war between Order and Chaos that's been waging since 2008.

I was never a die-hard WAR player, but I did have an account still in good standing, and the game was made free for all former subscribers, so I figured that I'd jump in for a last hoorah despite the icky taste it left in my mouth the last time I played. I wasn't about to do this alone, though, so I pulled my now-ex-friend Eliot Lefebvre along for the ride. A post on the official site promised new NPCs to power up our characters and "other unique experiences," so I expected a big end-of-the-world bash as former players returned and boosted to max level for one final brawl. What we got was... well, just read on past the cut. I need a drink.

Matt: Hello friends -- well, friend. The only person I could connive into joining me in this horrible misadventure. What have you got to start off this roundtable?

Eliot: We're not friends any more, Matt. If Scarlet Blade didn't do it, this did.

M: That's what you said last time.

E: And yet somehow I agreed to do this with you again. I just don't know.

M: Fool me once, shame on you...

E: Fool me twice, I'm coming for your femurs.

M: I'm not sure that's how it goes... Well, at any rate. We can discuss potential transfers of skeletal structure later. For now, how did we feel about Warhammer Online's shutdown... err, event?

E: I think the fact that the damn thing didn't work at all kind of sums up all of Warhammer Online quite nicely.

Screenshot -- Warhammer OnlineM: What was your favorite part? Was it the part where WAR posted no specifics about the level-boosting NPCs for the shutdown event? Was it the part where we finally found the damn things and found out that we needed to buy the boosting items with RvR currency? Or was it the part where the RvR lakes and scenario queues in low-level zones were completely empty, thus making it a pain in the ass to even try to acquire said currency? Because I'm having a hard time choosing, myself.

E: That's not even all of it. I was also fond of the fact that the level boost was not automatic and didn't actually include any training or equipment, thus forcing you to run around even in the event that you did get the boost properly. And it was really clever how there were two level-boosting items, both of which gave you more RvR currency than they cost, making the fact that they had a cost at all a complete waste of time. Not to mention that the big point of doing RvR was getting that stuff, thus making it an even bigger waste. The idea was there, and yet they chose the worst possible implementation.

M: That really about covers it. I mean, isn't the whole idea behind making WAR "free" leading up to its shutdown to allow everyone to come back and play together? Because it seems odd that they'd make players invest any time whatsoever in acquiring the boost items just to be able to play with everyone else at max level.

E: Not that there's anyone to play with right about now. The game is already a ghost town. You can say that's because of the levels we were playing at, but what I saw in the high-level regions it was equally empty. In fact, it looked like people were just grouping up in big warbands, taking the objectives in a given zone, and then leaving for the other side to capture everything.

Screenshot -- Warhammer OnlineM: I wouldn't be surprised. I was honestly kind of hopeful about this last hurrah, since Warhammer's biggest problem has always been population, so I thought maybe we'd see some big, max-level RvR battles. But no, just to get the level boost you have to get crests from non-existent enemies, and even in the max-level zone it didn't exactly seem to be thriving. As game sendoffs though, this one is borderline insulting to the players who have, for some reason, dedicated hours and hours to the game.

E: But there's so much to be said about World of Warhammer: Wrath of Reckoning that has nothing to do with the insultingly awful way they handled this shutdown event.

M: One thing I always did appreciate about WAR was the way it handled tanks in PvP, allowing them to be useful without just giving them more DPS.

E: There are things I like about WAR, definitely. Melee healers are always awesome, I liked how the classes each had mirrors but not necessarily among the opposite race...

M: And yes, public quests were sorta revolutionary at the time, but it's hard to critique the game without critiquing the way it was horribly mishandled by the developers because those awesome public quests became completely null and void when the population plummeted and they were deserted.

E: Oh, most certainly. There's nothing dynamic to public quests. No scaling, nothing. They're designed for massive gang-rushes of people and never scaled to deal with emptier regions.

M: Right, exactly. I don't know what else to say, really. At this point it just feels like rubbing salt in the wound.

E: Hey, this wound needs a bit of salting, I think, if for not other reason than that others learn from it down the line. If I could show this game to designers, the first lesson would be that there is such a thing as far too much grimdark. WAR has no joy in it. And that isn't even true to the setting. Warhammer's humor is usually black as night, but it exists.

M: There's also the small matter of the complete lack of support the game received. Honestly, I just feel like the game hasn't changed since I stopped playing a few months after launch.

E: And lord, did it need support. I can't even remember how many times we engaged something, only to watch it slide backwards before we actually engaged it in combat. Not walk backward, but slide.

Screenshot -- Warhammer OnlineM: It's a shame, really, that the game never went free-to-play. If anything could have salvaged WAR, that was it. But it seems like the publishers just decided to stop supporting it and let it die a slow death rather than just ending it mercifully and quickly.

E: That's the baffling part. This game launched in 2008. Obviously nothing big was going to change by its last couple of years, but it seemed like the developers just threw in the towel pretty early and locked themselves in a nasty feedback loop. No one is playing WAR, so we won't improve it. People leave for lack of improvements. Then even fewer people are playing...

M: I think it's rather telling that the top item in the "patch notes" panel of the launcher is from October 2012.

E: It was a waste. And even the final goodbye wound up coming across as rushed and... You know what? DISINTERESTED. Like even the developers stopped caring.

M: And on that note, maybe we should too. Warhammer Online is no more (or will be no more very soon, depending on when this is published), and that's sad. But given what I've seen during this "grand finale," it needed to be taken behind the shed long ago. Regardless of what good ideas it may have had, it's been languishing for a long time now.

E: It has. I am disappointed because there were so many things that could have been done, but nothing was. It was just left to lie there. It was released buggy and unfinished, and whatever clever things it did were too small and too little.

M: And now, too late. Not that a shutdown event as half-hearted as this was about to sway any hearts. Alas, poor Warhammer.

E: And you're right. I could talk about ugly character models or weak questing or poor design over and over, but... it's kind of flogging a dead horse for no reason. All this return made me think was that there was a good reason the game shut down for good.

M: Agreed. And thus ends the tale of Warhammer Online. Hopefully it'll serve as a warning in the future.

E: A dual-pronged warning: Don't promise what you can't deliver, but don't just give up when things go cross-eyed.

M: I think that sums it up pretty well. Can we go ahead and put this whole misguided venture behind us? Or at least in a bin off to the side somewhere.

E: Nah. It's over, and I'm not sorry there's nothing to say.

M: Fair enough. Meeting adjourned. Now about those femurs...

MMOs are constantly changing, and our opinions can change with them. That's why we're here to give some beloved (or not) games a second (or third) look. Has that game that was a wreck at launch finally pulled itself together? How do the hits of yesteryear hold up today? That's what we're here to find out as Massively gets its Second Wind!
This article was originally published on Massively.