Warhammer Online: Three years later

Justin Olivetti
J. Olivetti|09.18.11

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Warhammer Online: Three years later
To this day, I don't know what quite came over me when I decided to throw my chips into the blogging scene to cover Warhammer Online, eight months before the game launched. Like many of you, I had been a long-time reader of MMO blogs, but I was intimidated at trying my hand at joining in, perhaps elevating these writers to the status of legendary wordsmiths who penned unequaled prose in our lifetimes.

Or I just didn't want to be one of a thousand World of Warcraft bloggers who dominated the scene. Just a thought.

In any case, it was a terrific decision to do so on my part. I found that I had a passion not only for MMOs but for talking about them, and I loved connecting with other writers and readers and players, which happens with blogging. I've been asked from time to time if I regret picking Warhammer Online as the game that I latched onto for a couple of years, and I always say no -- no regrets. The game was fun, but the coverage was an unparalleled rollercoaster of anticipation, hype, fun, speculation, promise, disappointment, and above all, ideas. Wonderful, flawed, captivating ideas.

I haven't touched WAR since 2010, so perhaps I'm not the best source for the latest and greatest in the game. But what I do have to offer is a humble blogger's perspective on what went right, what went wrong, and why I'm ultimately happy that WAR came into being and is chugging along on today, its third anniversary.

When I first heard about Warhammer Online, I was deep into my latest bout of WoW burnout. I'll admit that my dissatisfaction of Blizzard's glacial pace of updates fueled a mean little desire in me to see some other company come along and whip the 800-pound gorilla smartly. More than that, I was hungry for something new, something next generation, something that could give me not only everything I had in WoW but more besides. In my eyes, that something was WAR.

Let's all recognize that it's become somewhat fashionable to rag on Mythic and WAR (stay tuned for the exciting comments section in that regard!) in much the same way as happens to any other game studio and MMO that let players down. Which, to be honest, is like all of them, depending on to whom you ask. But even today I can't conjure up any feelings of antagonism toward it all. It didn't end up being the super-epic awesome perfect-alternative-to-WoW title we'd hoped, but it was -- and by all accounts, still is -- a pretty fun PvP fantasy title that occupied my gaming life for a good long while.

So while it's hard to look back to the build-up of release without applying some measure of "they should've seen it coming," the truth is that Mythic had the solid credentials behind it with Dark Age of Camelot, the devs projected an aggressive, confident attitude that they could pull it off, and many of us were hungry for a good new MMO.

While I personally could not care that much about PvP, I fell in love with the cornucopia of ideas the team brainstormed up. WAR was going to feature "living cities" where "living guilds" would be able to shape the comings and goings by their actions and inactions. We would have the ability to not only dye our outfits but add visible trinkets to customize their look, as if we were one of the detailed miniatures the tabletop franchise is well-known for having. Public quests would provide "raiding without the BS," NPCs would retroactively reward us for killing mobs, open grouping would help get timid players comfortable playing together, and cities could be invaded, razed, and plundered over the course of the game. Best of all, an achievement system/journal/bestiary called the Tome of Knowledge would draw us into the game in a completely new respect. I was hooked.

Week after week, Mythic poured out these ideas via posts, podcasts, videos, interviews, and convention appearances. While this is all standard operating procedure for major MMOs these days, back in 2008 it felt like a blitzkrieg of awesomeness. It's important to note that between 2004 and 2008, surprisingly few big MMOs came out -- Lord of the Rings Online, Guild Wars, Dungeons and Dragons Online, and Tabula Rasa were probably the most significant -- and the MMO community seemed so wrapped up in World of Warcraft as to be oblivious about possible contenders for the throne. This period of time felt almost low-key as the industry adjusted to the WoW factor. Yet by 2008 there was a lot of WoW angst out there, which helped to contribute to an atmosphere accommodating to Mythic's second MMO.

I still contend that Mythic did so very much right when it came to marketing the game and building up its potential playerbase beforehand. In the blogging community alone we saw more WAR-dedicated blogs spring up in 2008 than for any other pre-launched title to date -- now supplanted by Star Wars, of course. The problem was that Mythic ended up promising more than it could handle, raising the expectation bar so high that it almost set itself up for a big fall.

It wasn't good to hear that four of the six capital cities and two of the 24 classes were abruptly cut prior to launch. Certain quotes by Mythic's spokespeople -- such as Paul Barnett's "bears, bears, bears" video or Mark Jacobs' "If we are closing servers down, we have done something wrong" remark were latched onto by a rabid community looking for either brilliant success or vindictive failure, with nothing in between. I think that if WAR had toned down its rhetoric a smidge and had another six months to launch with all the classes and more polish, it could've been a sleeper hit. As it was, it needed to be a blockbuster or all was lost -- and it wasn't a blockbuster. It proved to be as mortal and flawed as every MMO to come before it and since, a perspective that helps me keep my bouncing fanboy excitement from going too far when I'm pumped about other titles.

My impression of WAR was that the whole game was a huge nose-tweak to not only World of Warcraft but the fantasy genre in general. Warhammer's IP was a wonderful mix of dark humor and grim settings, and it was hard not to enjoy being a Gobbo Squig Herder ordering a ball of teeth to devour enemies or a Dwarf Engineer blowing enemies up with bombs and landmines. Scenarios proved to be the most enjoyable aspects of the PvP game to me, although I did participate in a few extremely laggy fortress sieges to say that I was there. I have the t-shirt to prove it.

Even though my time with WAR has come and gone, I'm pleased to see the game still operating, players still enjoying it, and several bloggers still writing about it. Again, it's not a bad game, and if you haven't given it a try yet -- and have a taste for PvP -- it's probably worth your while. It's a testament to WAR that our own Eliot ended up praising the game during his Choose My Adventure series this past summer, even while being honest about its faults.

To Mythic's credit, the company didn't just roll over and give up on WAR; using the best of what I assume to be pretty limited resources, the devs have made a number of smart moves. There's been the addition of the PvP dungeon, the pseudo-third faction Skaven, the rotation of scenarios, the unlimited tier one trial, and the upcoming fortress reopening. The two most-requested changes -- making WAR free-to-play and adding a true third faction -- are ones I endorse but are also probably impossible at this juncture for various behind-the-scenes reasons.

So I had to shrug with a smile when I heard of WAR's MOBA edition -- Wrath of Heroes -- and give Mythic a golf clap for making an unexpected play with the cards in hand. I hope it pays out for the company, I really do. And above all, I hope that Warhammer Online delivers the greatest blow to its detractors by living well, enduring, and growing better over time.
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