E3 2006: The RPGs

24 Aug 2006

Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning

I’ve played a lot of MMORPGs in my life, but few have kept my interest like Dark Age of Camelot has. So when Mythic Entertainment acquired the rights to develop a massively multiplayer RPG using the Warhammer setting, it definitely piqued my interest. In my opinion, if the developer could integrate its successful realm vs. realm formula into the war-torn universe of Warhammer, they’d have a serious hit on their hands. To see how things were coming along, I made a point of stopping by Mythic’s booth to get some hands-on time with the game and to have a one-on-one conversation with community relations director Sanya Weathers and content director Destin Bales.

Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning builds upon the role-playing franchise’s extensive twenty-five year heritage. “War is everywhere,” as Sanya tells us, and it certainly looks that way watching her play the game. She’s in a small Orc camp that was recently under siege by dwarves. The camp is littered with bodies and vultures have begun feasting on their bones. After speaking with the camp’s Orc Warboss, she receives a new task to fend off the vultures and recover some of the meat still left on the dwarven carcasses. It’s not just this single camp that gives the “War is everywhere” impression, either. Everywhere we look, the land has been battle-ravaged and blood-soaked, and contributions are constantly being made to the ongoing war effort.

Mythic has broken out the game’s land mass into thirty-three zones, eleven for each of the three different conflicts – dark elves versus high elves, orcs versus dwarves, and chaos versus humans. However, any player can venture outside of their conflict area, meaning a high elf could take part in the human war effort or an orc could take part in the chaos war effort. Every zone will feature some sort of PvP and PvE content, though each area may be heavier in one than the other, depending on its location. If you accidentally cross over into a PvP area, don’t worry. You won’t be flagged as participating in PvP for a specific amount of time (currently about 10 seconds). The opposite effect holds true too, though. Even if you leave a PvP area, players can still attack you for a set of amount of time while your character remains flagged. This whole process is designed to avoid accidentally getting yourself killed and to keep players from simply jumping over a PvP border after killing someone to become impervious from the attacks of his or her avengers.

Quests have been broken into four different types – Public, Conflict, Branching, and Christmas – though that last term is just an internal title until the team comes up with a more appropriate label. Public quests allow anyone in the area to participate toward a mutual goal. The example we were shown involved taking care of some Squig harassing a giant and, afterwards, bringing the giant booze so that it will get drunk and you’re your team against the dwarves. Conflict quests are unique in that they pit two groups against one another to achieve different goals in the same area. For example, as an orc, you may be asked to collect the beards of dwarves that have fallen in battle. On the flip side, as a dwarf, your objective would be to bring beer to your fallen comrades in order to give them the sustenance they need to return to battle. Branching quests provide you with a decision during the quest that will ultimately affect its outcome. To explain this, Sanya and Destin told us that there may be situations where you can either turn in an item for experience or, instead, bring it to a shady merchant that will buy it off you for gold. The final quest type, currently called “Christmas,” describes those quests that you’ll just happen upon during your travels. Nobody actually leads you to these quests – you must find them while exploring. For example, you might come across a goblin and his wolf companion. The animal is in dire need of food, and the goblin will proclaim that he’d “give his right arm” if you could help him feed the wolf. If you simply hack off the goblin’s arm and feed it to the wolf, you’ll reap the quest’s reward.

Obviously, you’ll come across quests of all four types virtually anywhere in the game. According to Mythic, 85% of the quests are considered “green,” or completely safe from any sort of PvP. The remaining 15% are broken up into “yellow” quests, meaning that you must enter a PvP area but don’t actually have to participate in PvP combat, and “red” quests, meaning you must actually do battle with other players in order to complete them.

One feature that I thought was really impressive is Mythic’s journal system, which they call the “Tome of Knowledge.” As you participate in quests, kill monsters, and collect equipment, Warhammer history and other general information will begin to show up in the journal. If you do battle with one giant, you might get to view some concept art of the creature. However, once you’ve slaughtered a small army of them, your journal will become more fleshed out and may contain a full history about the creature and even tactics for defeating them in future skirmishes. The same holds true for quests, loot, landmarks, and just about any other topic of interest.

When the demo was concluded, we were given some hands-on time with the game. After completing a couple of simple quests as greenskins, we were brought to a small PvP area where we had to battle some dwarves for control of a central waypoint. It was during this battle that one of Mythic’s staff pointed out my morale bar. The longer you participate in combat, the higher your morale bar climbs. As it rises, powerful abilities are unlocked for use. For example, after a short period of time, my greenskin was able to get access to an ability that blasted all of my opponents in the entire area. Using an ability depletes the amount of morale required to gain access to it, so if you’re patient and can avoid being killed, you’ll eventually unlock even more powerful abilities. The demo version I was playing had a total of five different morale abilities, though this number could certainly change before launch.

I really think that Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning is headed down the right path. It has a lot of competition to contend with in the MMORPG sector, but after seeing its unique approach to questing and PvP/RvR combat firsthand, I think it has a great chance of winning over many people’s subscription dollars.
 
 

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