Certain people apparently feel that the timing of WoW's 3.1 PTR's is an attempt by Blizzard to overshadow the launch of Warhammer's 1.2 patch. I remain skeptical - when Blizzard decides to bury you in hype, it's generally a bit less subtle than having your top guys encourage players to try other games, and it's not like there's anytime in the next four months where Mythic doesn't have something planned - but I suppose it's only fair that I offer the Mythic crew a little publicity just in case.
It's a pretty massive patch, with many quality of life improvements and some big name features. (See Syp's summary if you want the cliff notes.) Wading through the notes, two things really stood out to me.
Closing the book on the cut classes
Last July, Mythic made the tough call to cut 4 of the 6 capitols, and 4 of the 24 classes from the game's launch. Judging from the size of Syp's blogroll that week, it's fair to say that the news made a huge impact on the community. With the new patch, six months after the game's launch, the four classes are back, and I'm not sure that anyone really misses the cities. In some ways, the patch today brings that hard chapter in the game's life to a close.
(At the time, I wrote, "the biggest MMORPG left on the horizon sounds like it's going to have more than six months worth of postponed development work after it launches". You know what they say about a stopped watch being right twice a day....)
In some ways, "these classes suck" might have been less damaging from a PR front than officially cutting the classes, but cutting them was the right call, and I salute Mythic for making it. Even if you don't give extra credit for restoring cut content, restoring the classes has been something concrete for the community to hold onto through the rocky launch months. As an extra bonus, the delay allowed them to come up with some excuse to swap out the under-whelming Hammerereruhruhruhr class out for the popular Dwarven Slayer. (In the lore, Slayers don't want to be revived after they find honorable death in battle, which is a problem for MMORPG characters - I haven't heard if there ever was a good explanation for how that got swept under the rug, but the result is for the best.)
The other thing we can say, in hindsight, is that Mythic having to make such a tough decision several months in advance of the game's release was a red flag in terms of the game's progress. As I pondered at the time, these things got cut precisely because there were other, more pressing problems lurking behind that pesky beta NDA.
Feeling Swindled by Mark Jacobs over Public Quests
If you've been reading my blog for a while, you may have noticed that I actually LIKE group PVE content. What I don't like is the logistics that this content often requires - planning my offline life around being online and uninterrupted for a certain block of time and spending hours of my gaming time in the looking for group channel looking for a group with which to play the game instead of actually playing the game. Warhammer's highly touted Public Quest feature promised to take care of all that stuff for me, so that all I had to do is show up whenever I wanted to, stay for however long I wanted to, and get to take part in the more elaborate content that becomes possible when you presume that a reasonable group is attempting it.
The only catch was, Mythic got the incentives wrong. Scenarios played a major role in this process, though I don't mean to blame them for all of the problems the game had. The bottom line was that they had balanced the public quests around certain assumptions about how many people would be on hand to work on them and those assumptions fell apart on live servers with persistent characters. As a result, Mythic set out to rebalance public quests three months ago, and are finally delivering at least one public quest per zone that's tuned for solo players and small groups in today's patch.
Personally, though, I needed accessible quests for players in the level 12+ range when I hit that level back in September. Looking back, there is a part of me that felt betrayed by that failure. Mark Jacobs talked and talked and talked about how revolutionary this feature was. His words convinced me, so I paid him $50 (off of a gift card I got as a graduation present when I finished my Ph.D.), only to discover that Mark could not deliver the feature that he promised, because there hadn't been enough time left to figure out that they needed content for smaller groups.
The side of me that is an actual player (in addition to a blogger, a role in which I walk away with something to write about whether or not I have a good time), who plays these games because I enjoy them, felt swindled. Something that had been promised simply wasn't delivered, in a way that it's very hard to get away with in any other industry outside of gaming. (Can you imagine hiring a contractor to install a swimming pool, only to have them tell you that they ran out of time, so the pool will only be usable if you have at least half a dozen people in it, but maybe they'll be able to fix that if you keep paying them for six more months?)
In hindsight, it was nothing personal. Mark Jacobs felt that his game's best chance at success was to talk a whole heck of a lot and hope that customers would overlook the portions of the game that weren't ready for prime time. In some ways, my decision not to continue to give him money was equally impersonal - a simple business transaction that I chose not to make because I felt that the product was not worth the price of the subscription at the time. Still, part of me wonders how different my experience with Warhammer would have been had I taken my own advice and waited until now to consider trying the game.
Best Wishes for Warhammer's second launch
You don't really ever get a second chance to make a first impression, but, in many ways, today is Warhammer's second launch. In addition to the two biggies I mentioned above, the game has added "chain" repeatable quests that send players to objectives in the game's open RVR areas, a "zone domination" system that allows large armies that are actually dominating a zone to gain control of it, and the option for low level characters to teleport to outdoor skirmishes in progress. (One wonders whether high level players will miss that feature when they level past it.)
Looking to the future, the game seems to have addressed the major nagging issues from launch, and is now free to focus on new and different things, including their upcoming RVR-focused dungeon. I certainly won't fault them for choosing not to work on reinstating the cut cities just yet - why add in more of the same when you've already got two perfectly good capitols and other, more interesting ideas for what to add next?
Though I suppose my own experience with Mythic's PR machine has left me with high hopes but low expectations, there's no reason why there shouldn't be good things ahead for this title. As Scott Jennings points out amidst his Darkfall coverage, the industry could really use a hit that isn't made by Blizzard, and one would like to think that it isn't too late for Warhammer to fill those shoes.