Warhammer Online Preview Weekend

Sometime after my last MMO laden rambling post the Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (AKA “WAR”) closed beta’s NDA was officially dropped.

Now, I haven’t actually been all that interested in Warhammer Online despite being a long time Warhammer fan. It just didn’t look too interesting to me and Age of Conan looked a lot more appealing so most of my fanatical anticipation was focused on it instead. With Age of Conan finally out and not looking so hot and more and more details of WAR being released my interest in it had finally started building. So, the NDA dropped and the usual places were absolutely flooded with details, mini-reviews, screenshots, and videos. The buzz about the game from testers was quite positive, surprisingly so for an MMO even, and the more I read about it the more awesome it sounded so, with its release imminent, I bit the bullet preordered it.

One of my preorder bonuses was access to the upcoming open beta so I began downloading and patching the client. Much to my surprise after just trying it by chance it also let me in to last weekend’s “Preview Weekend” event and instantly any hope for a productive weekend went flying out the window.

Scouring various forums for reports and other tidbits it seemed as if the Order side had been vastly outnumbered in beta. This isn’t too surprising as Destruction’s Orcs and Chaos are exceptionally cool while the Order’s races are relatively bland. Still, despite being a fan both Orcs and Chaos myself I typically root for the underdog (I played mostly Horde in WoW for instance) so I made the hard decision to go with Order.

Battling a boss in a public quest. This Dark Elf bastard refused to die.
“Battling a boss in a public quest. This Dark Elf bastard refused to die.”

Next while scoping out the classes I was reminded that several of them were dropped recently, all of which I was at least semi-interested in. I was especially interested in the Orc Choppa and Dwarf Hammerer as I often lean towards melee DPS classes. This didn’t leave too many interesting DPS classes left. I had kind of started leaning towards High Elves early on – now I’m not normally a big fan of Elves but I’ve always thought Warhammer Fantasy Battle‘s High Elves were quite impressive in their long mail coats and their pointy helmets and I, again going with the underdogs, figured they’d be fairly underplayed. At first I was interested in the Swordmaster class, but not being a big fan of tanks I looked elsewhere. Shadow Warriors looked very appealing but my last main (in Age of Conan) was a bow guy and I figured the stereotypical Elf + bow combo would be played out anyway. This didn’t leave much else but after looking at the beta class population data I found a good candidate in the most under played class in the entire game, the High Elf White Lion.

The White Lion is actually not that interesting of a class mechanics-wise. He specializes in melee DPS utilizing medium/light armor and a big, two handed axe and that is basically all they are in Warhammer Fantasy Battle. In Warhammer Online, however, they also have pet lions. So, in a way, you can almost consider this class a weird (but again not necessarily exotic) combination of World of Warcraft’s Hunter without his ranged weapon and some sort of damage dealing warrior class from another RPG. I admit I wasn’t too thrilled about the lion itself – one of the appeals of Hunters in WoW was the ability to tame virtually any animal you wish and here you’d be stuck with the same fluffy white lion as everyone else but the more I thought about it the more the idea of having this second source of damage running around with you appealed to me.

White Lions can be specialized to, basically, use their lions as taunting, damage absorbing tanks while they themselves do more damage with their axes via position attacks, use their lions as damage dealing powerhouses while they tank a bit and assist with the damage, or a more balanced combination of the two which somehow results in a lot of area of effect attacks.

Enjoying the view...
“Enjoying the view…”

Onto the game itself. First of all I’ve got to note that my screenshots here aren’t spectacular – I didn’t see many graphical options in the client and really I was more anxious to play than to squander my limited time tweaking things anyway. Still, I don’t have AA or many other bells and whistles I might normally have turned on.

As far as the graphics go I think they’re pretty fair. The style definitely appears to be similar to World of Warcraft at first, though as many Warhammer fans have pointed out on various forums, Warcraft (and Starcraft) itself has been highly derivative of Games Workshop’s works for a long, long time now so this shouldn’t be any surprise. The models are a little higher poly than WoW’s, the lighting is better, though the overall polish is definitely lacking a little. The draw distance seems quite short, some of the textures aren’t so hot, and the animations sometimes leave a lot to be desired. It definitely (currently) lacks the high production feel of WoW and isn’t anywhere close to as nice looking as Age of Conan. Anyway, the graphics are apparently locked to low right now, and they say they’re going to be improving the animations so hopefully it will only get better from here.

Questing feels quite a lot like WoW although I admit I didn’t read much of the quest fluff as I’m saving it for when the game goes live. A lot of people seem to think its well written though. I don’t think I ran into any very grindy kill or collection quests nor any massively long FedEx quests though which is a good thing. Where the interesting PvE aspect of the game comes in is with Public Quests. Public Quests are kind of like repeatable quests that are tied to a specific area in a zone. The idea being that anyone can quit and join a public quest whenever they want by simply strolling into the area. These quests usually have multiple stages and typically culminate in some kind of a boss fight. At the end of the PQ contribution is calculated and added to a random dice roll to dole out loot. I’ve read quite a lot of whining on forums from who I’m assuming are greedy bastards about how unfair the loot system is but, personally, I think the extreme randomness of it really fits in fine with the casual, come and go as you please nature of participation. Loot aside, you also earn influence which earns you special items and you only need to run a few public quests to max out you influence per area, never mind that you gain plenty of experience points and the loot that drops normally during the course of the quest.

The Tome of Knowledge is pretty damn cool though I didn’t read much of it for the same reason I didn’t read much of the quest text. I do really like the fact that it keeps all kinds of bizarre stats and achievements and, of course, I love the unlockable titles associated with many of them. I definitely plan make full use of this feature in retail.

Fighting another public quest bo... Holy crap, laser eyes!
“Fighting another public quest bo… Holy crap, laser eyes!”

While I did mostly enjoy my White Lion unfortunately the lion’s AI was severely busted. It would usually run off in strange directions, ignore my commands, and attack enemies that had already died the few times that it did actually attack. Apparently it had been working more or less fine shortly before the preview weekend and they’ve since said they know about it and it will be fixed. Still, it was pretty frustrating in PVP when I felt like I was ~30% dps off of what I should have been doing because of it. The mobs weren’t much better and I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people will be shocked with how much more challenging the game will be when the mobs are acting a little bit more intelligently.

One negative observation I’ve got to make is the lack of distinctive gear. Gear for the most part seems to be restricted to one particular class and, at least in the first two tiers, there doesn’t seem to be a huge variety in it nor how it looks. On one hand this goes a long way in making sure player characters look like the type of characters they’re supposed to represent which Mythic may feel is important given that they’re representing someone else’s intellectual property. That doesn’t bother me… In fact, I love the fact that I haven’t seen any mismatched, stupid looking clown suits in this game thus far. On the other hand, however, the lack of diversity means that virtually everyone looks the same. Collecting cool looking loot and customizing your character is a big part of most online games these days and I suspect this will be a big deal for many MMO fanatics. Still, rumor has it that the variety is quite a bit better in higher tiers and there’s nothing to stop them from adding more models and textures in later patches.

PvP (or “RvR” which I don’t find to be all that accurate in Warhammer Online’s case either) was interesting. I only got to play in one PvP zone and it was a pretty uneven affair. At first I didn’t see another soul, though I soon wandered up to a fight in progress via the minimap battle markers and joined an open group. Open groups, by the way, are another awesome concept owing to the same kind of thought process that spawned Public Quests. Anyway, at first we dominated. As noted before my lion was fucking useless but my axe is a nice, slow, powerful weapon and absolutely murders casters and other squishy classes. There were other times, however, when the PvP degenerated into huge lines of skirmish with most people on either side being too afraid to directly engage, with the occasional unfortunate individual who did cross the line being mobbed to death quickly. It is definitely very easy to be singled out and drawn away from your group thanks to the character collision system. This is something I’m not sure I’d ever experienced in a game before this. The zone I played in didn’t feature the keep siege warfare though I did visit one of those zones and it did look quite cool. I didn’t get to partake in any “scenarios” (AKA Battlegrounds WoW players) as I sat in queue for one for what must have been an hour. I’m not sure what was up with that!

This time it is someone else's lion acting stupid.
“This time it is someone else’s lion acting stupid.”

A little later inspired by my lion’s continued uselessness and perhaps by my observation of the possible utility of ranged combat in PVP I decided to give the Shadow Warrior class a spin. Once I developed some basic ability rotation techniques it actually surpassed my expectations and was a very fun class to play. I felt like having to switch between long distance and close combat stances felt natural and fun, but the addition of the “skirmish” stance complicated the flow of combat quite a lot and I never did get a hang of using it to kite mobs around effectively. Still, I thought melee combat with my Shadow Warrior was surprisingly effective so I didn’t put as much effort into it as I probably should have. I didn’t get to PVP with the Shadow Warrior but I strongly suspect that I’ll end up making an SW alt in retail.

That about wrapped up my participation in the Preview Weekend. I did eventually acquire the legendary 10/6 PvP gear but I never got to actually test it out in PvP thanks to some things that came up in my schedule and although I played around with other classes/races in the character creator I didn’t get to test any others out. I believe I’ll probably spend the official open beta on trying out some of the other numerous classes just in case something else ends up hooking me and I’ll leave the White Lion and Shadow Warrior alone save for testing the (hopefully) improved lion’s AI. One thing is for sure: I’m really, really looking forward to the launch of this game and having to wait two weeks for open beta is already killing me. 🙂

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