Massively goes to WAR: Sieging keeps and assaulting fortresses

Michael Zenke
M. Zenke|06.06.08

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Massively goes to WAR: Sieging keeps and assaulting fortresses
Today's the last day in our ongoing Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning coverage and we've saved one of the best conversations about the game for last. RvR Lead Designer Brian Wheeler and Producer Jeff Skalski sat down with us on Friday to go through Keep capturing and siege gameplay. It's one of the most compelling parts of Realm vs. Realm combat from Dark Age of Camelot buffed, shined, and retooled for the Warhammer crowd

Read on below the cut for details on this expansive system. We'll discuss what exactly the point of Keep gameplay is, why it wasn't initially included in the game's design, and how all of this combat is merely the precursor to the ultimate act of sacking a Capital City. Call out the guards, and read on.

Bonus Trivia: Right now the development team has effectively completed the Keeps for Dwarves, Empire, Chaos, High Elves, and Dark Elves, with the Greenskin Keeps entering the beta sometime this week or next.
Indeed, keeps were not initially a component of Warhammer Online's RvR system. Each zone had a series of Objectives, capturable points that helped control the zone for your realm. In that design, a lot of emphasis in the game was given over to Scenarios, the instanced map-based mini-games familiar to WoW and AoC players. Over the course of the early Beta phases, EA Mythic realized that players found the Objectives system unsatisfying. It was too easy to just play 'tag' with these points; they initially weren't even guarded by NPCs.

In response, the team imported one of the most interesting components of DAoC's RvR system: stout structures that can be captured and held which exert an area of control within a zone. Keeps. Keeps, at their core, are a method of ensuring that players participate in open-world RvR in a meaningful fashion. Instead of just random feints and swipes at the opposing realm to no real end, players have specific objectives in each zone: capture and hold the enemy realm's keep or keeps, while defending your own.

Mr. Wheeler compares the gameplay to Dark Age of Camelot, noting that the game is a "mix of old Frontiers and new Frontiers. Some players liked the old one better, some liked the new version better so we're splitting the middle with how we're doing the Siege and Keeps in WAR."

Probably the biggest change from the DAoC gameplay is that Siege weapons are not craftable. Instead, it's "diminutive Siege lite"; Siege weapons can be purchased from War Camps throughout the world, with four different types of weapons available. Also unlike Camelot, Siege weapons are not placeable just anywhere around the structure. Instead, 'Siege pads' can be seen in strategic locations around the front of the Keep. The first time you encounter these buildings, attackers will have just one or two ranged pads, and a single pad in front of the door for a battering ram. At higher levels, and especially up through the Fortress encounters, both attackers and defenders are given numerous places to drop the massive weaponry required to fulfill their goals.

Bonus Trivia: Battlefield objectives haven't been removed, just shifted in purpose; instead of being the core to open-field RvR, they now add to the number of Keep guards your realm has ... and they're guarded by NPCs.
The most basic structures have just a few levels, with four guards on the lowest floor. Guild ownership of a Keep will add more guards, and possibly level them up a bit as well. The second story is the home of the Keep Lord, with his own attendant NPCs. The Keep Lord is "the toughest we can make him for the zone that you're in". IE: he's basically as high level as you can be and still legitimately be adventuring in that zone. Slaying or defending a Keep Lord is actually a public quest; it kicks off automatically as Keep conflict progresses. The roof level is a 'last stand defensive locale', with a ramp structure throughout. These ramps not only allow attackers easy access to upper floors, but allow defenders unhindered line-of-sight access from the roof level to the lowest floor.

As outlined in a production video on the official site, your time leveling through the game is delineated into tiers of content. Tier one, the starting zones, don't actually have Keeps at all. Battlefield objectives, which haven't been removed from WAR's design, are the goals for Tier 1 open-field RvR. They're guarded, of course, and like all RvR elements they contribute to the overall war effort; they push points up the tiers in the direction of Tier 4.

Tier 2 offers one Keep in each of the two associated zones for the realm's struggle, with no outer wall. With the aforementioned limited number of Siege pads, the designers expect that these structures will flip-flop fairly regularly; without the external layer of a wall's protection, a Keep undefended by players will be a tempting target.

Bonus Trivia: AoE Siege weapons actually have a small targeting reticule in the mini-map window; this allows you to actually fire over walls in a directed fashion.
Siege pads are extremely easy to make use of. Each pad is associated with a limited number of weapon types, of which there are four general categories overall. Simply clicking on one will bring up a context-sensitive menu, allowing you to make use of a weapon in your inventory. To demonstrate, Mr. Wheeler rolled out one of the massive Hellfire Cannons used by the Empire. This weapon is an example of the indirect/splash damage type of weapon; every Realm has a unique version of the four weapon types. The splash damage weapons are meant to keep opposing players on their toes and off their guard. Brian demonstrated by firing at the attacker siege pads out in front of the Keep. These points can be destroyed by defenders as a tactical move, denying incoming invaders the opportunity to make use of them.
To make use of the cannon, Wheeler enters a sort of firing mini-game. Each of the four Siege weapon types has their own mini-game. The splash damage-type weapons allow you to influence angle of attack, height, and projectile velocity. The place where the projectile lands is altered by prevailing wind conditions, a variable that's displayed by a simple pointing arrow. Jeff Skalski spoke up, noting that the weapons splash was recently upped to affecting 12 players at the same time. Players unlucky enough to be in the center of that splash radius have a chance to be knocked to the ground in addition to the expected horrible burning. In this way, a lucky shot on a moving party of players might disrupt/confuse a charge long enough for defenders to mount a response.

Bonus Trivia: Siege weapons have a "funky Transformers-build" effect as they're placed onto Siege pads; indeed, the Hellfire cannons muzzles slammed down onto its frame out of nowhere, an impressive animation.
The direct-fire Siege weapon (otherwise known as a ballista) offers the player sort of an FPS-like mode. A set of crosshairs appear onscreen, at first encompassing a huge cone of fire. As a player centers on a target, the crosshairs close in on each other, until they form a tight circle. At that point, when fired, the weapon is highly accurate. Ultimately a Ballista isn't meant to hit a running player (though they've certainly seen that done). They're meant to target attacking Siege weaponry or players manning them. They're very useful for taking out attacker Siege pads, and are unaffected by the wind element the AoE projectiles have to deal with.

Boiling oil is the third type of weapon available, with this example a purely defensive deployable. Oil is placed directly above the Keep's main door, right in line with the Siege pad attackers will be using for their battering rams. Oil is a focus damage attack with a damage over time aftershock, allowing players the chance to jump out of the way after the initial blow. Mr. Wheeler notes that the Adam Gershowitz and the career designers are working to give classes siege-specific abilities; Heavy tanks, for example, will be able to put their shields above their heads to gain some cover from the oil's burn.

The first keep we examined, the location of our Siege weapon demonstration, was a dwarven Tier 2 structure. The Tier 3 High Elven zone of Saphery was the location of a discussion on Keep architecture and advanced techniques. Brian noted that each race has its own unique architectural style, and that Keep layouts differ between racial pairings. Within the pairing, though (Greenskins and Dwarves, for example) the internal Keep layouts are almost identical to ensure players always know where to go.

Bonus Trivia: Designers are toying with the idea of not only changing the number of guards based on the number of battlefield objectives held, but also the number of Siege pads available to both sides.
Here the designers note the placement of attacker Siege pads. They're aimed just so, to give the line of sight mini-game players will need. We slip along the outer wall, and they reveal the postern doors set there to allow one-way access into the keep for defenders. Within the Keep walls, every structure will have its own theme. This extends all the way up to and including the Keep Lord himself, with some Lords preferring spellcasters at their side and others trusting in a strong sword arm.

They also demonstrate the final Siege weapon, the battering ram. They describe the mini-game mechanic as a "Tiger Woods golf swing". The more people on the ram, the more damage it will do. Rams are additionally useful as defense, with some offering protection from the boiling oil defenders will be deploying above.
Even once raiders are through the doors, the developers note, there is still the matter of the Keep guardians. For Tier 2 Keeps, they estimate that at least three groups of players will be required to take it – and that's if there are no defending PCs at all. Even battlefield objectives aren't soloable in the new vision of the game.
Reikland is the Tier 4 Empire zone, and almost the first thing you run across when entering the zone from Praag is one of the massive max-level Keeps. The Empire/Chaos look is very gothic, but both sides have some similarities. Wheeler observes that the Keeps don't completely change shape and look when they're captured. Instead, there are a number of subtle and not-so-subtle visual cues to indicate a change of ownership. Examples might include smashed windows, cannonballs embedded in the walls, and plumes of smoke.
Bonus Trivia: Bonus Trivia: The theming on upper-level Keeps is very impressive; the last Keep you'll defend before falling back to the Imperial Fortress is essentially a massive mausoleum.
From the final Keep it's just a hop and a step to the Imperial Fortress. It's a massive structure, with numerous Siege pads on both sides and three widely spaced doors into the inner sanctum. The Fortress is so huge, because "this building is essentially meant to hold the entire Tier 4 population for this server." By the time the attackers are battering on these front doors, it's put up or shut up time for both sides. To assault the Fortresses, the designers estimate it could take anywhere from 6-10 groups of players ... again, assuming absolutely no player defense. With player defenses, it could take three times that many players to succeed.

Similar to the regular Keep defense or offense, a Public Quest kicks off when the doors come under attack. Both sides in the conflict are drawn into the fray, and a timer begins an inexorable countdown. From that point on, the attacking army has one hour to kill the Fortress lord or the campaign in this part of the world resets to default conditions.

Beyond the main gates is a sprawling internal area filled to the brim with defending soldiery and (one would hope) dozens and dozens of players. There are Siege points within the walls as well, to allow attackers to press the offensive and continue to move into the Fortress Lord's sanctum. In the Fortress, things are skewed slightly in the attacking army's favor. There are a generous four Siege pads, an attempt to overcome the likely huge number of defenders that will be assaulting the invading army.

With the Fortress Lord slain, the campaign moves into the singular City conquest element. Players fighting in the streets, unique Public Quests, the sub-bosses, and ... finally, the assault on the racial leader. If you're interested in that game element, please be sure to check out our guide on how to sack a player city.
Warhammer Online Coverage Did you enjoy this? Make sure to check out all of our previous Warhammer Online coverage, and don't miss any of the rest of the articles in this series as Massively goes to WAR!
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