The Game Archaeologist: What I loved about Warhammer Online

The Game Archaeologist What I loved about Warhammer Online

As I got my start in blogging over Warhammer Online, I've become "the guy" everyone on staff goes to whenever WAR hits an anniversary. The problem is, there's precious little good to say about this title's development over the past year. Pretty much all of the news we've gotten has been negative, from the closure of Wrath of Heroes to the elimination of the six-month subscription to the departure of its most vocal developers. TL;DR version of my feelings on the topic: WAR needs F2P or it will die probably much sooner rather than later.

But instead of going maudlin and piling on the obvious, I want to go down a different road today for the sake of those who loved and perhaps still love Warhammer Online. Obviously, people continue to play it even though its day in the spotlight is long gone, and I'd like to chime in with some positivity for a change. After all, WAR's celebrating its fifth anniversary, and that's pretty cool.

So in honor of that, here's a list of seven things that I loved about WAR from my time playing it and why it wasn't quite the abysmal failure that revisionist history has made it out to be.

The Game Archaeologist What I loved about Warhammer Online

1. The classes had great personalities

It was so hard picking out a class in WAR because, well, I wanted to play all of them. I think that this was in thanks to the devs' hard work to make them as distinctive and chock-full of personality as possible. Warrior Priests looked the part of steel-suited holy warriors; Squig Herders abused their pets until they obeyed; Marauders had grotesque mutations; Slayers really nailed the punk two-fisted fighters; and so on. Just from the look and feel of these classes you could extrapolate a lot of who that character was, and that really helped to put me into the shoes of that toon.

2. The trophy system. Oh man, the trophy system.

No matter what you think about how the game executed them, the ideas that WAR came up with were pretty interesting and occasionally groundbreaking. One of my absolute favorite was almost a small, inconsequential system: trophies. Basically, these were cosmetic objects that you could affix to various points on your armor so that you could visually display your achievements and look different than the rest of the pack. I always loved this idea and wished that other games would take it and make it even better.

3. Achievements with meaningful rewards

It's hard to imagine, but in 2008, achievement systems weren't the standard that they are today in MMOs (and all video games, for that matter). For WAR to include an in-depth one via the Tome of Knowledge was kind of groundbreaking, even if World of Warcraft debuted its achievement systems that year. I always thought WAR's meant more because they weren't just arbitrary points but goals with rewards -- XP, money, titles, trophies -- attached. I also thought WAR went about achievements backwards by keeping achievements hidden until you did them, forcing anyone who cared to go to a website for the full list, but I'm being positive here so I'll shut up.

The Game Archaeologist What I loved about Warhammer Online

4. Scenarios were kind of fun

Listen, I'm about as far from a PvP player archetype as you will find. I'm just not good at it, and I consider it stressful to engage in such systems, so you won't find me in PvP... unless it was back in 2008 with WAR. WAR got me to play quite a bit of PvP, seeing as how it was one of the main pillars of the game, and out of all of it, I think I liked the scenarios the best. They were fast, reasonably balanced, and pretty fun to do.

5. The black humor

Warhammer Online has a kind of dark humor that I find appealing. It's not a bright and shiny fantasy world, but it's also not a completely grim and dystopian world either. It kind of straddles a line of savage brutality and uplifting heroics with a gallows humor that made me laugh quite a lot. The Greenskins were always the best for this, and hey, any game that gave me a quest to kill unicorns was enough to put a smile on my face.

6. Public quests and open grouping

Before you launch into how WAR got public grouping all wrong -- and trust me, I've hard all of the post-game analysis -- I think it's important to go back in time and grab on to one big thought: We really needed something like this. MMOs had become way too stagnant (I'd argue even moreso than today). and new titles seemed oddly reluctant to try new things. Instead of beating players into forming groups, WAR presented the tasty carrot of public quests and the assorted rewards as incentives. With open grouping, it was a breeze to jump into a mix of players, do an event, and generally have a good time trying to win at it. Were there too many public quests for the population the game eventually had? Definitely. But when I engaged in one with two or three other players, they were easily the highlight of my PvE experience.

7. The blogging scene

I still love blogging, both on Massively and on Bio Break, but there was something almost magical about the 2008-09 season when scores of new bloggers arose to form a community and tackle this game. Bloggers drove a lot of the discussion and promotion of WAR during that time, and I made a lot of great friends because of it. Even today I still see some of my former WAR blogger compatriots writing about various other games, and it makes me happy to know that we went through the same experience together.

When not clawing his eyes out at the atrocious state of general chat channels, Justin "Syp" Olivetti pulls out his history textbook for a lecture or two on the good ol' days of MMOs in The Game Archaeologist. You can contact him via email at or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.