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Saturday | December 10, 2016
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Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning

Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning

When fantasy worlds are concerned, the more dirty and gritty the lore is, the better. And by that metric, few can compete with Warhammer, be it the classic variant or the 40k space marines versus orcs one. But while having a good world to base your project on may be half of the work in the movie business, it doesn’t matter all that much in the realm of games. Especially when you want to topple the king of MMOs – World of Warcraft.

To beat the most popular MMO one first has to be able to draw the attention of the millions of WoW players. As such, Warhammer Online is very similar to WoW in several key areas, starting with the whole reason for the conflict. The forces of Order and Chaos both have their agenda, and while at first it seems that the Chaos races are in it for the pure fun of battle, it becomes clear with time that they have some pretty noble goals guiding them. Likewise the forces of Order end up with a fair share of dust swept under the rug, put there by the players as they do quests for them. For fear of mentioning Blizzard too many times I’ll let you figure out which MMO had a similar approach.

There are a few differences though – some of which might seem like a string of very bad decisions. Just like with WoW, each side has exactly three races fighting under its banners. Unlike Warcraft however, each of the three races gets paired with one of the opposing three, breaking the entire war into 3 distinct conflicts. This discrete approach with Greenskins VS Dwarves, Humans VS The Chosen and High Elves VS Dark Elves smells of laziness and archaic thinking, but only to someone searching for faults. The real reason Mythic decided to dissect the two sides and split them into three parts is that by doing this they gave players three different experiences available per side. And, as a bonus it made the whole PvP from your first steps on mechanic a lot easier to pull off.

But lets not get ahead of ourselves and take a closer look at the available races and classes. Hiding behind the Order banners (or rather behind the flag poles) we find the Dwarves, traditionalists with a fever for inventing new stuff – making them highly conflicted. Their sworn enemies, the Greenskins consist of Orcs and Goblins, which are considered the same race (distant cousins) by the Warhammer lore. On the other end of the world, surrounded by oceans on all sides live the Elven folk. For reasons that go back beyond the count of human generations the dark and high elves plot against each other, trying to gain dominance over the island chain. Preventing the elves from being the only xenophobes the conflict that started it all is left to humans. The Empire, your typical 17th century Europe country lookalike are going head to toe against the Chosen, a massive army of mutated warriors, barbarians from the north and masters of the dark arts.

With such a wide selection of races comes an even wider selection of classes. Each race has its own set of professions at its disposal, ranging from three to four depending on race and gender. These 20 or so classes aren’t 100% unique however. Each class has a twin class on the other side of the battlefield. Some of them are cleverly masked, such as the Chosen Magus and his demons being the archetype copy of the Dwarven engineer with the turrets and other contraptions. Generally speaking each of the classes falls into one of the four groups – tanks, melee damage dealers, ranged damage dealers and healers. There are some smart mechanics at play making each of the classes as unique as possible, but to prevent balancing issues the differences are usually more cosmetic.

Throughout the development of the game Mythic have been touting two major features – seamless grouping and full on PvP during the entire length of the game. While the two are completely different in nature, we should look at them both side by side, since they share many ideas. First and foremost, in Warhammer you are always only a click or two away from a group experience, be it PvP or PvE. This is thanks to so called open groups. If you even played an MMO before you know how tedious the process of getting a pick up group together can be. Spamming the general chat with “Hobbit LFG Mount Doom group”, hoping somebody answers is a thing of the past. In Mythic’s vision you just open the group window, search for open groups in your area and join the one that is doing whatever it is you want to do. Feel like taking over that nasty looking fortress controlled by the enemy forces? Invite whoever you see nearby into your group, and you are guaranteed that within 5 minutes people will have filled your group completely on their own.

Hand in hand with open groups are Public Quests. The idea here is that you walk into a public quest area and are immediately part of the quest-line. The progression of most quests of this type is as follows – first you have to kill a big number of regular NPCs, which is something solo players can do as well. The second stage usually involves champion NPCs, which require at least 3-4 players to tackle. With the time limit involved however, the second stage usually requires a larger group. The third and final stage usually pits the brave adventurers against an epic encounter, similar to ones found at the end of raids. A player can step in at any point of the quest progress, and since the quests reset after being completed (or failed) everyone gets a chance to do it. These quests are also repeatable, so you can complete them several times if you want to.

Which brings us to the important question – why would you want to do public quests or participate in PvP? The answer is quite simple and hails back to the time of pacman. Points! Killing enemy players wins you renown points which gives you access to gear specifically tailored to your class. Likewise, public quests give you influence. Get a high enough influence rank in a zone and you can get free gear of the highest quality. The best thing about this is that you can only play the game for 20 minutes per day and still have a chance to get that badass looking armor you saw on another player. Sure, it will take you weeks, but you will never have to play for 4 hours straight in order to reach the end boss in a raid dungeon.

That is not to say that there are no raids to be encountered in Warhammer Online. In fact, the whole endgame is focused on massive PvP raids against the enemy capital cities. But in order to be able to lay siege to one of the cities, players must first conquer all the zones separating their capital and the enemy one. Taking over zones is important in earlier levels as well, since having control of a zone grants bonuses to all players of the controlling faction, such as merchant discounts or renown and influence bonuses. So how does one take over a zone? Depending on the tier you are in, there is a varying amount of control points on the map, including a keep in higher end tier zones. Taking over the control point and the keep is on the daily menu for nearly all players, since many quests end up pushing players into the PvP zones where they indivertibly help each other beat the opposition down.

It is hard to put into words the epic proportions of what Mythic managed to achieve with Age of Reckoning. For the first time in the history of MMO’s literally every player has a fair chance to have a swing at PvP (which is no longer reserved for player with the high end gear obtainable only by raiding for 6 hours straight 5 days a week!), group quests get completed on the fly by people who just stumbled into the same area and most importantly, casual players can rise to the top.

Speaking of achievements, Warhammer Online offers a plethora of them. Introduced by Microsoft on the Xbox 360, they seem to be the latest craze and Age of Reckoning basks in their full glory. Kill enough dwarven players and BAM!, you receive an achievement. Win a PvP scenario a few times in a row and KAZAM!, another achievement. Heck, you can get wiped out enough times by a certain race and you will still get an achievement. Best of all, a lot of these achievements carry a title with them, so you can proudly display your latest (or greatest) conquests for all to see.

The achievements and titles are both tracked in the Tome of Knowledge. You can think of this book as of Journal 2.0 which keeps track of not only your active quests and achievements, but also your kill statistics, world story, hair length and PvP conflicts (all right, one of these is a complete lie).

With all the talk of PvP and Public Quests an important question arises – do solo players have a place in this game? If you are completely anti-social you best look elsewhere. Not so much because you will be forced to group with others – trust me, you won’t be, but because you will have a hard time avoiding the temptation to join a ragtag band of adventurers who just happen to be plundering the same crypt as you are. You have been warned!

It has been a few paragraphs since the last WoW reference, so we might as well fill the quota and drop another one here. Warhammer Online looks and feels very similar to World of Warcraft. So much in fact, that with the interface hidden it can sometimes be hard to tell the two apart. Before you cry foul and throw Age of Reckoning into a trash bin for being a doppelganger you probably should know that it is Warcraft that was modeled closely after the Warhammer universe. If you take a look at the tabletop Warhammer games you will see that the art behind the game follows the figurines down to the last detail, resulting in a cartoonish, yet very dark and brooding look.

As you probably figured from the pictures and video the game is no technical marvel and can look a bit outdated when compared to Crysis and the like. But just like with WoW, the art style saves the day, not to mention the benefits of having high framerates with dozens of players seen on screen at once. Similarly, the sound and music won’t throw you off your chair in awe, but they do manage to stay relatively fresh all along the 40 levels your character will go through.

Which brings us to the final and perhaps most important questions of them all – is Warhammer Online any fun? Is it plagued with bugs and devoid of content in the higher levels? The later can be hard to answer this close to the release, but judging by the polish put into every facet of the game there is no reason to fear. Bugs are also few and far in-between, making the launch week an enjoyable experience that can only get better with time. As for the game being fun – if you never liked MMOs Warhammer Online probably won’t make you change your opinion about the genre. It will however give players the chance to play a new game that is different enough from WoW to feel fresh, yet similar enough not to scare people away. Blizzard beware, WoW has just encountered a formidable new ally. Time will tell who will emerge from this conflict victorious. WAAAGH!

Gameplay

90/100

PvP, Public quests, Open groups. It has never been this easy to be a part of the MMO community and have fun at the same time.

Graphics
80/100

The game looks average by today’s standards, but the resulting high framerates and good art style make up for it.

Sound
80/100

Bland, but unobtrusive enough to remain bearable to the very end (2 years from now).

Value
95/100
Even if you somehow manage to complete every quest Mythic put into the game, you will still have tons to do in the Realm vs Realm campaign.
Overall
(not an average)
91/100

Casual or hardcore players alike should hail the rising of a WoW challenger. This one actually has a chance at winning!

About Author

Stuart Davidson

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