Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (War) - PC - Review
Is there a crow (or humble pie) somewhere on the battlefield? If so, this writer needs to chew on it a little. Why? Well, when Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (WAR, for short) was in beta, not a lot of hope was held out that it would be worth playing. That was wrong. I’m not afraid to admit it. The retail release of WAR is a solid, entertaining massively multiplayer online game that might not be in the same graphical league as the latest MMO releases, but does not let a dazzling coat of paint deter from what is a deep and solid content-driven experience.
Phew … that’s a mouthful.
Before getting into the particulars, it is hoped that this initial review of WAR is not the last, that it will be added to as the leveling up continues as more of the game world is experienced.
But onto the details of the initial levels of WAR. The game is, as the acronym would suggest, driven by the fact that there are two opposing forces in the world, Order and Destruction. The world itself is one that bears similarities, in a physical sense, to the real world, but only as a matter of convenience. There are, after all, humans in this realm, but there are also high-fantasy characters such as goblins, elves, dark elves, dwarves and mutated humans that go under the collective name of Chaos.
Games Workshop is the company that holds the license for Warhammer properties. EA/Mythic is the developer behind the game. Because this is a subscription-based MMO, players will be required to pay a monthly fee of $14.99. The game itself does a nice job of scaling graphically to machines, but there are minimum system specs that need to be considered before trying this game. Also, players who are not wishing to engage in player-versus-player conflict (PvP, as opposed to PvE in which the player only battles elements of the environment that are controlled by the game’s artificial intelligence), might want to consider whether this is the game for them. WAR is about war; it is about the conflict between the forces that represent Order and those that side with Destruction. There are RvR (realm versus realm) zones that will require players to venture into them for quests. When you enter that zone, a timer will let you know when you are flagged for PvP, meaning opposing players can hunt you down and maybe even kill you, if they are more skilled than you are.
Mythic has done a pretty good job with the balancing. Yes, there are classes that can kill other classes nice and quick. But there are also supporting classes that may be a bit flimsy when it comes to withstanding attacks, but because they are support classes, the health and battle-readiness of other classes may lay in their hands.
There are six races in WAR, each is broken down into professional classes. As you fight, you gain experience. That experience translates into levels. When you level, you gain new skills. At level 11, you enter into another type of skill leveling, allowing you to concentrate your training in singular directions, if you care do to that. An example of that will follow after breaking down the races and professional classes. Those races and classes are as follows:
Dwarves – This race can be an Ironbreaker (fighters that specialize in melee and build up grudges in battle that will buff offensive attacks; Engineer (defensive ranged fighters who can use gadgets and black-powder weapons); and Rune Priest (ranged support that specializes in buffs), that can aid defensively as well as cast offensive spells.
The Empire – There is the magic, flame-centered Bright Wizard (ranged attacker); the Witch Hunter is a rogue-type class specializing in infiltration with powerful back attacks and they can use melee weapons as well as handheld pistols; the Warrior Priest, which is a close-combat healer (who also can wield a pretty mean hammer).
High Elves – Four classes here that include the White Lion (offensive melee pet class); the Shadow Warrior (primarily a ranged attacker that can also level up blade skills, and that specialize in strategic maneuvers); Archmage (the best long-range healers with a few offensive capabilities than can buff up the strength of their heals); and the Swordmaster (fighters than perform combos and can add a few magical abilities to the mix).
Greenskins – These are goblin/orc type characters that can be a Shaman (capable healers but use destructive spells more often than not); Squig Herder (pet class that uses Squigs to launch their attacks); and the Black Orc (a destructive melee force).
Chaos – Four classes are available here that include the Marauder (offensive brawlers that mutate to form the right weapon out of their own bodies); Zealot (ranged support class that can leach power from enemies); Magus (defensive ranged fighter that can summon daemonic aid and cast offensive magic); and the Chosen (fighters specializing in the group attacks that can surround themselves with curses that act as damage-inducing auras around the fighter).
Dark Elves – a bit snooty, the Dark Elves fall into three classes that include the Witch Elf (offensive melee that favors ambushes and quick blade work); sorceress (offensive ranged magic user); and the Discipline of Khaine (front-line healer that can reap the soul or essence from the fallen to invoke gifts of healing).
Some of the classes are male only, such as the Chosen, while others can be female only (Witch Elf). And it almost feels as though each class is mirrored by an opposite class. Each race has a starting point and natural enemy. The Empire starts in an area that is opposed by Chaos; Dwarves are opposed by Greenskins; and High Elves are natural enemies to the Dark Elves. This is not to say, though, that you can’t travel to other areas and undertake quests in different lands. In fact, the quest system is relatively well designed and enables players take on quests wherever fortune may find them. The Witch Hunter, for instance, might find his mirrored match in the Witch Elf.
Be forewarned, though, that siphoning off small amounts of XP (experience points) from quests that are beneath you (when you look at a monster, they are rated as to the challenge, from trivial on up) may result in finding yourself tagged by the dev team – in a wry sense of humor – as a chicken. If this is the case, you will actually not run about in the form you entered the game in, but as a chicken.
Don’t look for a deep individual character look customization system with this game, either. You do have options but not to the extent of some other games. However, one thing that is notable is that every class can solo to some degree. While healers fare better in groups, and actually get XP based on the kills of their compatriots merely for doing their job as a healer, there is a nice strategic element that can come into play. Fortunately, in WAR, the players participating seem – for the most part – to be veteran players who understand if a healer is standing in the back doing what healers do best (keep everyone alive), it ill serves the purpose of the group to have that healer attacked and possibly die. There are been several instances of a healer coming under attack only to be rescued by a melee group mate who has broken from his or her own battle and rushed back to draw the aggro off the healer.
As you level, you get both core training and mastery points. Core training are foundation skills upon which you build the template of your character class. For that aforementioned healer, they can be heals, rezzes, or ranged magic attacks. Mastery points, though, allow players to truly define their character within a specific class. You receive points beginning at level 11 that can be allocated into key areas. For the archmage that might be the Path of Isha (emphasis on battlefield heals), the Path of Asuryan (offensive magic attacks) or Path of Vaul (mostly buffs and debuffs).
The Death Penalty …
When a monster kills you in a PvE area, you are tagged with a lower hit points (your health) number for a short while. This is a debuff that can be forgiven ahead of schedule if you visit a healer in a town area (for a price). You can also get rid of the debuff by entering an RvR scenario. Should you be killed by another player, there doesn’t (at least in the first 11-12 levels) seem to be a death penalty.
Renown and Influence
Fighting in an RvR area also has other benefits. Much like you level XP to gain levels and new skills, the more you fight in RvR, the more renown points you acquire, with the higher a renown level you can attain. Renown levels open up new items on renown merchants that include better armor and weapons. When you fight, you do chance getting drops from the enemies that may be healing potions or other potions that provide other benefits. But at the lower levels, the best gear is through the renown merchants. Some of this gear has slots in it that you can add crafted talismans to in order to add a bonus buff to that particular piece of equipment.
Renown points are acquired in PvP combat, and you can either venture into an RvR area or take part in a scenario. These scenarios are on the order of Capture the Flag or team deathmatch (first team to 500 kills wins). You can join as a solo player and be put into a team, or you can join as a team.
In addition to the regular quests and RvR scenarios, there are also Public Quests. PQs are static quest areas that you enter and can either find the quest in progress (it has three tiers) or just beginning. There are conditions to each segment of the PQ, and you advance by satisfying the requirement or conditions of the individual parts. Once you have completed the PQ, you are placed into an order of all participating members and ranked according to your participation. Based on a lotto determined by participation, the top places receive a reward. However, the entire time in the area, in addition to the XP you gain toward skill level, you also gain Influence points. Much like renown points, you can go to a Rally Master in town and barter off the influence for tangible items, which may be potions or a weapon or piece of armor.
Graphics, sound and controls
Any MMO can be hit or miss depending on the accessibility of the game. WAR is very accessible with an interface that can be customized (including macros) and tailored to the individual player to a nice extent. This is a game that is keyboard and mouse driven, and it does well.
The sound is a little on the minimal side with some NPCs merely intoning words without expressing them. Despite the fact that this is a world that is in open warfare, some of the NPCs can be repetitious and thoroughly lacking in the kind of urgency that would be associated with a beleaguered race. The musical score, though, is rather nice, with some big orchestral pieces that are very appropriate.
Graphically WAR is not totally what one would expect from a next-gen MMO. At times there is a lack of bump-mapping and some textures are very flat in appearance. Still the dev team has done a very nice job with colors and lighting schemes. The animations are a bit of a miss at times as well. Characters lope in an almost slow-motion manner, like running uphill in mud, and the game does have magic missiles (the kind of range shot that tracks through objects, bends and twists its way to the target). Combat is handled in a cone-effect, which is nice, meaning that you have to have the target within what would be a natural area of attack depending on the weapon being used. If the target moves out of range or behind you and you swing a sword, you won’t connect. This is a game that can be very strategic at times, but it can also play out at a frenetic pace.
WAR is a very good game. Sure, there are elements that EA/Mythic borrowed from its own Dark Age of Camelot, but even those elements have been tweaked and improved. It would be easy to point at the graphics as being last generation, but that’s only not fair, but not accurate. The dev team didn’t invest its main effort in making a game that was drop-dead gorgeous but lacking in the elements that would retain players – like the gameplay itself. They made a game that looks good, but plays much better. It is the latter, the layers of gameplay, the challenges, and the community, that will keep this game moving forward.
Back in the development of the game, there were elements that pointed toward a much grittier experience. Those elements have been taken out and the game has been sanitized a bit for a wider market appeal. While those elements might have given the world more character, what really stands out is not what isn’t in the game, but rather what is – and what is here is a good MMO gaming experience.
Review Scoring Details for Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning
Aside from the Public Quests, there is really not a lot of innovation in this game. Most of the concepts have been seen elsewhere; however, having said that, EA/Mythic has done a truly fine job of realizing them within the context of the Warhammer world, yielding up a game that is rather deep, but not so deep as to lose or confuse players. The control scheme is well done. There are some load times, though, as you transition into scenarios or new zones.
The animations are decent, the environments are well imagined, but there almost seems – at times – like the surface or bump mapping is kept on the low end. The game will, though, as you zone into an area, adjust and render out some very lush graphical elements.
The music is fine, some of the NPCs don’t sound as if they are aware of what is going on (the few that do talk) and the battle sounds are what you might expect. Sometimes a dead mob might still speak. It’s rare, but it does happen. A friend was hearing an NPC speaking, rounded a tree to kill the monster and found out it was the monster he had already killed, and yes, it was still dead.
EA/Mythic has taken some of the RvR concepts of Dark Age of Camelot, refined them, and presented them in a new and entertaining way.
The community is really pretty solid. You might find yourself in a scenario with players who don’t know what they are doing, but generally speaking, finding solid player groups is easy. And once you get in with a good group, it can be a very entertaining experience.
Warhammer Online is a deeply engaging experience that may not fit the bill in terms of jaw-dropping graphics, but those graphics are good. The real stars of this game are the gameplay and community. The game is multi-layered with enough of an open-ended experience to allow players to play and succeed in the manner they wish – whether in the RvR or as a PvE player. The community is intelligent and seems to be comprised of a lot of veteran players that understand roles in a combat scenario. This only adds to the overall experience.