Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Warhammer NDA Roundup

The NDA on Warhammer has finally dropped, and the internets are full of commentary. Obviously, I haven't played the beta myself, but getting the full range of reactions can be helpful. Here are my impressions of other peoples' impressions.

Classes: Innovation and Balance
Warhammer has some classes that fit existing WoW archetypes, and some that do things differently. For instance, the Dwarven Engineer is a ranged DPS/pet class with stationary pets. Many of the classes that fit WoW archetypes still implement things differently. For example, Tobold has an extensive write-up on the healers of Warhammer, while The Greenskin blog examines the three classes available to the Greenskin realm. There are also mini-reviews of all the classes in this lengthy forum thread. You might think it wouldn't be news that classes in an MMORPG can differ from WoW, but LOTRO didn't do much to prove that theory, so it's nice to see some variety.

Some observers, including Keen and Waaagh, are concerned about class imbalance. I think that's a relative non-issue because A) class balance will be adjusted in beta (indeed, Blizzard has remarked that they're not even going to waste their time balancing damage numbers in Wrath until they get all the abilities implemented, numbers are the easiest thing to tweak when you're done) and B) class imbalance cannot be eliminated. There will always be some flavor of the month class which players will flock to, only to abandon it when it gets fixed to go for the next version. This will not break the game.

Population Balance
Population balance may break the game. Tobold posted specifically on the topic, while numerous other accounts mention being outnumbered, or that RVR devolves into zergs (The Greenskin blog quips that "Given the zergs I’ve seen in WAR, you’d think this game was made by Blizzard"). At the moment, it appears that the Destruction side of things has the numbers advantage in Beta, but no one can tell for sure how things will play out in retail; it seems like the bad guys have the cooler lore and more support among fans of the tabletop game, but they may be outnumbered by the same folks who roll Alliance in WoW. (Then again, Warhammer's Destruction faction has its version of skanky elves too.)

I've previously written about my experience with LOTRO's non-instanced PVP, which is definitely dominated by zerg tactics. Of course, for Warhammer, World PVP is actually the focus of the endgame, not a side-zone tacked on to try and appease the PVP crowd, so this issue matters much more for Mythic. I stand by my prediction that their handling of this issue will make or break the game.

The Major Innovations: The Tome of Knowledge and Public Quests
So the two most major innovations that Warhammer promises are the Tome of Knowledge (see writeups by Syncaine and Jobildo) and the Public Quest (discussed below). Jobildo confirms my biggest concern about the Tome, namely that your accomplishments are character specific. I haven't seen any details about how important so-called Tome-Tactics are (one example, on WarDB, gives you a 5% damage boost and 5% damage reduction against Daemons and is presumably unlocked by slaughtering significant numbers of the above), but having to repeat large numbers of accomplishments can be a big disincentive to rolling alts.

Syp also remarks that there is a huge array of stuff you can do at any given level, which may ironically be a problem for Tome completionists. Warhammer has some sort of a chicken-based anti-ganking system that may make it difficult or impossible to complete tasks that you've outleveled, and it's also been confirmed that Warhammer's Scenarios (instanced battleground-equivalents) are strictly off-limits once you've outleveled them. Perhaps the design intent is for every player's tome to be something different, but it seems odd to miss a lot of content because you leveled too quickly.

Public Quest Concerns
PQ's are praised by just about every write-up of the beta that's out there, including, again, nice writeups by Jobildo and Syncaine. The public quest system is intended to get players working together early and often, and has been very well received. I have seen two major criticisms of it:
- The Greenskin writes that the things seem to be tuned somewhat for there being exactly one group of players in the area, with Influence (Warhammer's reputation-equivalent) gain slowing to a crawl if there are either too many or too few players in the area. The former will probably happen at launch, and the latter may kick in after launch when people level past the earlier areas, so this could be an issue.
- Many many write-ups (including some of the ones I've linked above, it's a common enough complaint that I haven't been keeping track of who said it) say that the random rolling system has a bad habit of handing out the best rewards to players who barely participated. I'm guessing that Mythic WANTS things to work that way, in order to try and hook the guy who soloed one mob and now sees the value of participating in the public quest system. Still, the complaint is so wide-spread that they probably went too far. (Showing what I know, this is actually the opposite of the issue I discussed last weekend, though players behaving anti-socially to top the damage charts could become more of a problem if Mythic takes steps to reduce the randomness of the rolls.)

Travel: Mythic Gets It Right!
Spending my previous gaming time watching my character run/fly/ride somewhere instead of actually playing the game is a bit of a pet peeve of mine. Therefore, I'm glad to hear that Mythic seems to have done better than many devs do these days. This guide claims that mounts are relatively cheap, and flight paths between zones are done by LOTRO's off-screen travel mechanic. Consider me happy.

Cause for Concern for the Solo Player?
In the post-WoW MMORPG landscape, there's never going to be another MMORPG that fails to offer a solo-PVE game. There are some players who simply don't like to group, and others who love to group but would prefer to level their alts on their own time without having to hassle their guilds for help. How they will fare in Warhammer is an interesting question. Some commentaries have pointed out that the regular PVE quests all tend to be relatively boring "kill ten rats" type quests. In fairness, many of WoW's quests devolve to that too, but I find it hard to believe that all of the people talking about the solo quests have never played WoW, so I'm guessing they mean their comments by comparison.

That point aside, The Greenskin remarks that he "found this game to be not so fun without people to play with", especially RVR. Of course, the idea that pickup PVP is less than fun would not be new to Warhammer either, but it matters MORE in Warhammer than it does in the likes of LOTRO or WoW because RVR is a far more central part of the game. My solo PVE alts in WoW/LOTRO don't need guilds cause they solo, but it sounds like the best parts of Warhammer really don't come into their own unless you can find your way into a good guild (neither so small that they can't field groups or so large that they're essentially a cross-section of the server). That might be a daunting task as a new player; does "I'm not sure if I'm going to like this game or not, but it sounds like I definitely won't like it if I don't have good company" sound like what you want to hear out of your potential recruits?

It sounds like Warhammer is neither the savior of the MMORPG nor the worst game ever launched, which is probably about as much as one can hope for at one day post NDA-drop. If you like MMORPG's, you should be pulling for Warhammer to succeed; it would be good for the genre to have more variety (and perhaps a little competition to get Blizzard off their rear ends). I personally would like to see it fly if for no other reason than because I'm going to want a break from Wrath far sooner than I might otherwise have due to all the time I've spent in beta (I might even be ready for a vacation come mid-September). I don't care as much about the large-scale RVR issues because I don't expect that to be my favorite activity in-game, but the solo questions (and the need to somehow make my way into a good guild) are slightly more concerning from where I stand.

In the mean time, this game still has another month of testing, so I guess we'll all have to wait and see what Mythic is able to get together over the next few weeks.


Morrigdu said...

My overall impression in beta is favorable. Much more so than wow has been for a while. It's a new game that fixes many of the issues in mmos that WoW had, but has a host of new potential problems for itself.

I love the tome of knowledge, but do see the possiblity of it being a big handicap if the traits unlocked are exceptionally good, exceptionally difficult or tedious to do so, or outright impossible if one can't get to the objectives (fyi: the chicken effect is only in flagged rvr areas, and most of the tome entries dependant on pvp are not tied to specific rvr areas).

The travel change, and the influence mechanic (think rep from wow) are hugely beneificial changes from how WoW has them set up. Time wasteage begone!

The population imbalance is the one truly major and gamebreaking issue I see. RvR just won't be fun if current conditions persist (disorder 1.5 : 1 order). Who knows what happens on release though.

I'm a Warhammer fanboy though, have been for 20 years. I'd play it even if it was the digital equivelant of poking a dead dog with a stick.

Shame it's not a 40k mmo though. :P

syncaine said...

Nice writeup.

Just wanted to point out one quick thing. Unlike in WoW, where PUGs are to be avoided, in WAR the 'open group' system means you can quickly and easily find a group whenever you might need one (PQ, RVR area), and its instant to join.

Even as a solo player, I think you will find that in WAR you will be joining groups far more frequently than you did in WoW, it's just the mentality difference between the games. Even in the beta, everyone has been very accepting of people coming and going in groups, and with the way the quests are designed (everyone gets credit), you don't have to worry about a group slowing you down.