It’s been eleven months since I last set foot into Warhammer Online. As one of the first to play the game throughout its closed BETA period and launch, I had certainly burnt myself out by late October last year. Playing one class exclusively, and encountering many of the game’s trials and tribulations, a break was certainly much needed…
At a time when the community was in uproar over several prominent, powerful class types, server population reductions, Realm vs. Realm combat failing to live up to post Dark Age of Camelot expectations, and Area of Effect abilities ruling the roost, it’s fair to say Mythic has drawn its fair share of criticism.
Well received critically and with fans’ wallets, Warhammer Online peaked at over 1 million players within several months. A record at the time. Contrary to what others may now say, the launch (irrespective of being a European player or American), was faultless (for me anyway); a rare, noteworthy feat in the industry. An achievement even Blizzard didn’t pull off.
The numbers eventually declined, as with all MMOGs, falling to present figures estimated to be around 300-500,000 players. Not quite the World of Warcraft killer people tipped it to be, but nevertheless, these are respectable numbers. CCP, the developers behind the highly successful EVE Online, are continually praised for achieving such subscription figures, albeit for a niche title.
Thankfully, Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (WAR) is profitable and has continued, despite disruptions of Mythic releasing staff, a change in game producer, as well merging with Bioware, to keep its head down and fix as much as possible, as quickly as possible.
The die-hard fans still scream blue murder at the lack of this, or that; my class is still broken!, I’m still lagging!, this skill is too powerful!. But, based on the quantity of patches delivered, the weight of them and the team size at Mythic, they’ve done an incredible job of not only stabilising a game released 12 months too early, but filling the cracks, crushing those bugs and still managing to add new content.
The first thing that surprised me upon my return was that Mythic has taken complete control over its European operations, and has removed GOA (the company responsible for implementing their patches, hosting servers and liaising with the community). This, for everyone, is the greatest thing Mythic have ever done. Inept since Dark Age of Camelot, the entire community groaned when Mythic announced during WAR’s BETA stages that GOA would be reinstated for their European operations. Thankfully Mythic (12 months too late I might add!) have finally seen the light and cast them aside.
With server numbers now reduced to 9 and set across three languages (English EU/US, French, German) it’s startling to realise that only the core rule set exists. No doubt this ruffled a few players’ feathers at the time. It does however work in Mythic’s favour, not only for keeping the approach to the game simple for new players, but allowing them to focus their resources on one game rule-set, as opposed to Core, Role-Play, Open-RVR, and Open-RP variants.
The addition of an Endless Trial is also relatively new to WAR, and allows players to download the game and play without a subscription fee. Thankfully, there is enough available content within the playable Empire and Chaos racial pairing, within Tier 1 (that’s the starter zone) to hook them in. However, the restrictions placed on trial users (such as no item trading, no in-game mail, level cap) are not strict enough to convert the majority to pay for the full game. They seem more than content slugging it out in the lower Tier, resulting in several consequences.
The first is that those players trialling the game are so comfortable enjoying the lower Realm vs Realm (RvR) combat, irrespective of restrictions, means that there is no new blood moving onto the later Tiers. This results in a rift for those who do want to progress in the game, those needing new players at end game, and those happy to stay within the starting zones. This disparity affects everyone above level 11, resulting in less RvR, less scenarios and less chance of partaking in Player Quests (PQs).
Without figures from Mythic to confirm conversations, from Endless Trial to Full Accounts, it would be difficult to guess the financial success of such an initiative. However, from speaking to various players on my return, many are simply happy to stay as they are, which suggests that the Endless Trial shouldn’t perhaps be as endless as it is.
On a lighter note and scouring through the latest patch notes on the test server, Mythic are certainly making efforts to address this concern. The first is placing level restrictions on the Land of the Dead (32+), to ensure that those in Tier 3, particularly individuals into the late 20s, do not get ahead of themselves in order to power level to 40 (with the help of a guild mate or two). This should go some way in filling up the Tier 3 zones once more, while aiding in scenarios launching.
On the topic of leveling, Mythic have implemented concentrated zoning. Originally when a player made a character, dependent on the race chosen, you began your adventures in the race’s respective starting zone. As a Dwarf, you would have spawned in the Dwarf/Greenskin pairing for example. However, to bring new players together instead of spreading them thinly over three lands (High Elves/Dark Elves, Dwarf/Greenskin, Empire/Chaos) all players now begin life in the Empire/Chaos zones.
This is a clever move by Mythic. It gives a great impression of the starting zone (bearing in mind the majority of the 300,000 subscribers are already level capped), it allows for a bustling area of Realm vs. Realm combat, questing, grouping, and Player Quests, and most of all it allows for users to really experience what WAR is all about. In another great step, all new players are automatically placed into a beginners guild. Meaning you can chat, group and organise straight from the get go (is there any wonder no one upgrades from the Endless Trial?!) while many of the quests have been adjusted to reflect this new game design.
Fundamentally though, this is Mythic acknowledging there is not enough of a new player intake to make all three racial pairing zones busy, which is a real shame; the other racial paired zones are absolutely stunning (particularly the Dwarf/Greenskin’s). Thankfully, you can fly to any of these and undertake the stories and quests, although there is no guarantee they will be busy with others.
Speaking of the game world, Mythic have recently implemented post-processing effects that really make the game world come alive. Although some may argue it’s no Aion, WAR really does look absolutely incredible on maximum detail. With the graphics cranked up to “ooh shiney!”, I really don’t think there is an MMOG on the market which is as visually appealing; the art direction really is fantastic.
What really did shock me is that for the first time since I left, I actually achieved over 30fps in Open RvR combat with several hundred Order and Destruction slogging it out, which in the past would have seen my computer crawl into a foetal position and beg for mercy, even after I had turned the settings to their lowest. Perhaps sacking GOA really was the blessing Mythic and players needed long ago.
While I’ve noticed that players still complain on the forums of server lag and slow down, I can honestly say I have experienced neither in the two weeks since I re-subscribed, and at no stage (even during a City Siege) have I lowered my graphical settings from the highest possible, achieving for the most part a healthy 50-60fps.
In terms of class balance, my class (Shadow Warrior) in particular has undergone very few drastic changes, even since BETA, while others (wading through the patch notes), have seen the nerf-bat swing back and forth with the finesse of a very large sledge hammer. Although the community is still very much “X is better than Y” or “Z needs improving in-line with X” the game certainly feels about right in its balance.
In many circumstances, people continue (as they do/have in every MMOG I have ever played in the last ten years) to place too much emphasis on their own class, its shortcomings, failure to consider context, personal skill level, or that the balancing of WAR in particular is based on group combat, not 1 on 1. There will always be room for improvement (the Magus in particular even now remains arguabley the weakest of all classes, while the Shadow Warrior’s stance mechanic is arbitrary in comparison to the Squid Herder) but to balance a game of this type is no easy feat; inevitably someone will always be offended.
I’ve yet to even mention the Scenario changes (improved queuing system), the implementation of RvR currency (these can be exchanged for weapons, armour and items), the Land of the Dead, Keep and Capital City sieges as well as exploring the Choppa and Slayer (I’ve still yet to find time to play either of these new classes properly since their implementation) so stay tuned over the comings months for my regular diaries.
I think I’m back in WAR for the long haul. Now I just need to tell my girlfriend.
You can contact me in game by mail or tell at any point in the evenings on Mizaki Karak-Norn (Black Orc Down Guild). See you on the battlefield!
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