(NB. It is midnight here and I just got back from meeting friends to find that EU NDA is lifted. I’d like to take a moment to thank whoever it was at GOA who was up late updating the website so we could go ahead and post this. And hope you enjoy reading it.)
[Updates from the end of Open Beta added as underlined comments in brackets, 13 Sept ’08]
WAR is everywhere
The Age of Reckoning is at hand! It’s time to pick your side and join the fray! And with that, we’re off. It’s been terrific fun and that, more than anything else, is why the game succeeds.
And if there’s one thing I learned from playing the beta, it is that a lot of other beta testers have been waiting years for a new MMO which integrates RvR (Mythic’s more sociable version of PvP) and PvE because people were taking part in both aspects very enthusiastically. Although on the surface, it shares many facets of gameplay in common with other MMOs, the social aspects feel like a breath of fresh air. What really makes this game stand out for me are the clever mechanics which nudge people into playing together without any of the awkwardness of looking for groups or standing around for hours hoping to find some action.
RvR is provided via scenarios (small instanced mini-games, like battlegrounds in WoW) and world objectives. It’s very easy to find some action in world PvP because the map will mark where battles occurred in the last 5 minutes. Or you could just ask on the zone chat or join an open group in world RvR and check where they are. It’s easy for lower level players (assuming they are in the level range for the tier) to get involved because as soon as you enter an RvR area, everyone gets bolstered (or lowered) to the same effective level for the purposes of being able to hit things and how much health you have. So it is more effective to have higher levels because they’ll have better gear and skills but it’s not instant death if you aren’t.
The PvE side of the game is dominated by the Public Quest system (remember I said you’d love it?) which makes it easy for players to work together on a smallscale raid boss with a storyline attached; we all got quite addicted. Add to this the intuitive open group system and it becomes so simple to check which PQs the open groups are at, head over there, and join in. And it would not be unusual if the group was fun for people to suggest moving on to other PQs or heading off to RvR. The groups didn’t always disband after a single quest. Aside from the random PQ rewards, you also gain influence from taking part that you can eventually turn in to a reputation-style vendor for gear. This, coupled with the renown gear you can earn in RvR (which covers a full set of gear, including weapons and trinkets), means that you never have to rely on random drops while levelling. There is always something you can work towards reliably from either PvE or PvP.
Most of the other questlines that we found are very solo friendly. In general they are good, but lack the polish of WoW. There isn’t so much emphasis on ‘you are the HERO and this is your story’ that you get from single player games or many MMOs. Some zones we liked more than others but the feel of the Warhammer setting is very true. Although quest givers are marked with a green book above their head, they don’t all appear on the minimap which means that there are some perks for explorers who like to go searching. The other innovative side to questing is that when you accept a quest, a red area will appear on your map showing you roughly where you need to go. This struck a good balance between making quests into a pointless snooze-fest while still making sure that the directions were good enough that you didn’t go wildly wrong. So questing was generally fast and non-frustrating.
We didn’t test any PvE instances, it’s something I hope to do before the end of beta. It is mostly because the first instance is at around rank 20 and a lot of the guild didn’t level that much in beta.
[Ahaa, I did go through part of the Altdorf sewers when we were grossly over-powered for it. Was quite small and fun though, and the atmosphere in the sewers was great – don’t think it was itemised at the time though – arbitrary]
I also should mention the Tome of Knowledge, which is just astounding. You’ll be earning unlocks from the moment you zone into the game and talk to the first questgiver. Each new tome entry has a few paragraphs of ‘in character’ prose for you to read, and may have maps and other descriptions also. The Tome itself also contains your quest log, lists of titles and achievements you already have, and lots of other information too. It’s absolutely integrated into the game. And the other thing I loved (and this is great for explorers) is that there are some tome unlocks that are based on items or places that you can find. Massively wrote about one tome unlock like this which they found in the High Elf starting area. There are lots more, if you can find them.
Is it ready to release? We found some bugs, sure, but the game itself is as stable as any beta I have ever played. I can compare it easily to WoW or LOTRO in that respect, which both had very stable betas by the time they got to release.
The game isn’t flawless; in particular we still don’t know what the answer will be to population balance issues, and performance in largescale battles hasn’t been good. With regard to that latter point, I hear via forums that we should not read that there’s a patch already on some of the US beta servers that solves many performance issues so I’d hold judgement on that until we get to see it ourselves.
[OK, as of the end of open beta, performance in largescale battles has been dramatically improved. There was definitely some lag but the game was playable. It’s better than anything else I’ve seen in that kind of situation. We also have some idea now of how the population balance will work out. There are separate caps and queues on each server for Order and Destruction. This does mean that if your side is ‘full’ then you may need to queue before you can log on.]
Now, I did (foolishly) make a list of ten points I wanted to see from reviews so it would be churlish not to cover them.
1. Was it fun?
YES. We had a lot of fun, particularly with the phase of the beta test where we started from level 1. Part of this is just the sheer joy of having a whole new game to explore, and being able to play with friends I haven’t seen online for months. But the game made it easy for us to play together and find fun things to do which benefitted all our characters. It was also easy, as I have said, to hop into a group in PvE, RvR, and a scenario, and fight alongside other people who you might not know without everyone annoying everyone else.
There’s nothing especially revolutionary in the classes but we all were able to find ones that we really liked, so they’re doing something right! And that helps a lot with the fun aspect.
2. What irritated us?
The most irritating thing I found in the beginning was trying to figure out how to get to the other race’s starting areas (or to Altdorf) so we could group up. It is not currently intuitive or obvious. What you actually have to do is find your way the first warcamp in your racial area and locate a flight master, but the warcamps are not well marked until after you have found them.
[Yup, still an issue. But now people have great websites up with maps on them which makes this a bit easier.]
It was also a bit irritating that some of the scenarios were never up. People congregated in the Empire v Chaos zone and I never saw any of the Elf T2 or T4 scenarios played at all. Of course, this did mean that it was easy to find A scenario, if you hopped over to EvC. Just some zones ended up quite deserted.
[Not true in Open Beta when there were more people around. EvC was still the busiest scenario in tier 1 but I think that’s mostly because people liked it better. I was able to play all of the others without too much of a wait. I think in live with its greater populations, this will be less of an issue.]
I was also sad that there wasn’t a dual wield class for Order, at least Destruction has the Disciple. (I don’t count the Witch Hunter because sword + gun isn’t really the same.)
Couldn’t name the War Lion. That made me very sad, and I hope they change it before the game goes live.
[Both me and my husband (and Hawley) got to play the T4 Elf scenario and loved it, I played the T1 Dwarf one a couple of times, but in general all the action in beta was EvC. Possibly had to do with the comparatively low server population – arbitrary]
[As of Open Beta, you can now change the War Lion’s name (the command is /petname <name>. This made us very happy, at the cost of seeing lots of … very creative pet naming. The War Lion also changes appearance more from level to level with different colours of coat and stripes. There’s even extra some randomness so two pets are less likely to look the same.]
3.What makes this game different?
I think Mythic have really delivered on all the things they hyped. Public Quests, lots of open world RvR with objectives, Tome of Knowledge, the Warhammer setting. Just to delve more into the setting, the look and feel of the game is spot on. We discussed our various ponies and gyroharness and everyone agreed that they didn’t want the choice of different mount colours because the standard ones just … worked. You will end up feeling like part of a larger army, wearing similar styles of armour. You will feel as though if you rode into battle alongside a bunch of people of the same race, it would feel like a warhammer army on the march.
I also really liked having both a defensive and offensive target. As a healer, it was a very nice touch.
I also really liked the idea of levelling up the guild and getting in game rewards for it. This isn’t especially new to this game, since EQ2 and LOTRO (among others I am sure) have similar features. The living city intrigued us a lot also.
Oh and I totally loved my magus and its disk! I won’t be playing it as a main but … I just loved the disk.
4. What makes this game the same?
The UI looks and feels like Warcraft when you first see it. This makes the game very easy to pick up. Aside from that, most of the standard tropes of the genre are there. It isn’t revolutionary. Class design is fun and has some neat tweaks but goes with the same tank/melee/support/ranged that we’ve seen many times before. Quests are … quests. You’ll end up doing deliveries, killing 10 mobs-of-the-day, finding items that kind of glow a bit to help you out, and so on. I think they’ve done a good job on all of these things but there isn’t much new there.
[Should just add, if you have a quest that asks you to collect 10 foozle ears, every foozle will drop an ear. Also there is a separate item bag for quest items, so they don’t take up room in your main bag.]
I think the game does compare well to other MMOs, but it doesn’t have the gonzo polish of WoW. I do think that if people are willing to give it a chance, it will win them over. But you have to stop comparing constantly to other games and enjoy it for itself. Whether people will do this, I don’t know. I think the warhammer fans will be happy though.
5. Did you try anything nuts?
The high elves start on top of a cliff so naturally the first thing I did was to jump off. I failed totally to die because I landed in the sea, though. I announced to my guild that you couldn’t die from falling, and then they all proved me wrong.
So I totally failed at jumping off cliffs 🙂
[I would never nor have ever tried anything nuts – arbitrary. Honest!]
6. What is the core of the game like?
The core of the game is all about giving you lots of options for finding people and doing things in groups without being overly beholden to them or spending hours in LFG. It’s fun and it works. A typical session might involve logging on, checking if your guild was busy and if you could join them, if not decide if you feel like PvE or RvR and checking the open group list locally to see what is going on. Or join a scenario queue and get on with some quests in the meantime. It’s also very easy to start your own open group so if you are in a mood for keep taking and no-one is doing any, just announce in the local channel what you plan to do and people will probably start joining.
I think it’s a solid model, it works, and it’s fun. And I can see that it would be easy enough for Mythic to add more content later without altering the core of the game.
As to how the game actually plays, it’s balanced to avoid insta-kills in RvR. There were some complaints that it took too long to kill people but in a largescale fight this really means that there’s a bit more tolerance for people to get involved without constantly dying. I thought that aspect was tuned well, and made the RvR experience rather less ‘omg I’m dead again’ for people who hadn’t done it much before.
Combat is fine, not as responsive as WoW and classes don’t have as wide a mix of abilities but I tried casters, healers, and melee and I didn’t feel any major issues with basic gameplay. You will notice the lack of long crowd control as a basic design decision.
7. What are the biggest issues?
Funnily enough, I didn’t find any issues in the actual game that concerned me. But population balance is going to be a big deal. In beta, Order was outnumbered and as a result Destruction held most of the keeps for most of the time. This wasn’t especially demoralising since we were able to take some back, but knowing always that we’d never be able to hold them for long takes some of the fun out of it.
And as I said above, some zones were quite empty and some scenarios rarely ever ran. I’m not sure how much of an issue this really is. If you give players choices, they are likely to have preferences. But it is worth noting.
Healers in particular are quickly singled out and have very few defenses other than healing themselves. I think this will be less of an issue once players learn how to work better with collision detection and tanks.
[Getting used to collision detection is bizarre, the number of times I swore blind it was someone else’s fault I’d run into them was kind of amusing, to my husband anyway! I think there’s something for everyone, but the traditional concerns relating to RvR will always apply; lag and balance – arbitrary]
8. What wasn’t there yet?
Auction House and Banks. The only tradeskill (apart from the gathering skills and cultivation) was Apothecary. Trophies don’t show up on your character although you can equip them (edited to add: have had reports that this has changed, I haven’t had a chance to grab any trophies since we got the level 31 templates to check yet.)
[OK, many changes here since Open Beta, as you’d hope. Auction House and Banks are now in the game. Trophies do show up but you need to have an item of the correct type equipped to do this. For example, if you have a shoulder trophy, it won’t show up unless you have shoulders equipped.
Crafting is now in but not especially polished. It’s fun for what it is, but I expect to see some tweaks later. Butchery and Scavenging are easy gathering skills to earn some extra cash, especially Scavenging since most things you kill are humanoid. Magical Salvaging needs you to destroy green items, although they have added extra salvaging drops too. Cultivating needs you to sow seeds (which drop a lot) and add water and nutrients, but you can do this while wandering around and doing other stuff. I found it quite relaxing. Of the crafting skills, Apothecary makes potions – they all seem moderately useful. You have to figure out the recipes but its easy to experiment. Talisman Making makes short duration (several hours) tokens that you can add to socketed gear, it seems the most difficult at the moment.]
9. What was the beta experience like?
I actually have written a separate post about that. It’ll go up later 😉 Generally positive though. And zergy. I feel that Mythic have been quite responsive to feedback.
10. Did you find any good bugs?
Nothing spectacular. Some graphical glitches. Quests not lining up nicely in the quest tracker, etc.
I know someone found a levelling bug because it was one of the few things that got moderated off the forums. There was some issue with Bright Wizards/Sorcereresses which meant that some of their abilities did too much damage. We did keep getting drops for the cut classes, which was quite funny. And I found a quest which gave a reward that was unusable by any class in that zone. I also found a PQ in which the last stage was bugged to be way too easy — we reported it after we’d all maxed out influence (err, I mean we repeated it three times to make sure it was replicable and then reported it).
[Hrrm, mine mostly related to naked dwarfs. Is that a problem? Found some interface stuff, but not really anything too much of the game itself – arbitrary]
[Mythic have been very responsive to bug reports. Each patch that came out in beta fixed a lot of bugs and although there are still some graphical glitches, they’ve been very quick to fix major issues. There has also been some class rebalancing but nothing major.]