A mass of Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning previews has been rolled out. 1UP:
Good to Go: The art direction, classes, and feel of the world are true to the 25 years of Warhammer that the game draws upon. Anyone who's spent time reading through the various Warhammer fantasy codexes will definitely get a kick out of walking around in a virtual version of the world they've read about for so many years. Who doesn't want to visit the famous dwarf city of Karaz-a-Karak?
Good to Go: We've been waiting for the ability to level up by exclusively participating in PVP or PVE. According to the developers, the best option is to participate in both, as you'll get deeper into the world, but we're really looking forward to just having PVP as a viable way to obtain items and experience. And while some of you are most assuredly saying, "Wait, WOW has that, too," there's a difference. WOW may give you items and experience for participating in PVP, but it doesn't offer PVP that can dramatically alter the world's landscape.
Warning Sign: The newbie areas appear to be so similar to other MMOs we've played that we wonder if the rest of Warhammer Online will be engaging enough to draw us away from games we've already sunk hours of our lives into. The realm-versus-realm combat is really going to have to deliver if Mythic expects players to grind characters from level 1 to level 40.
Our final stop with Warhammer was the character creator, which is as straightforward and easy to use as can be. After choosing your side--Order or Destruction--you can choose from one of six races (three apiece) and then choose your class, which varies depending on the race you choose. You'll have some pretty standard options for character customization from the outset--including hair color and style, as well as a number of face options. We ended up with a Dark Elf Disciple of Khaine, a dual-blade wielding badass that looked like a cross between a High Elf swordsman and the Chaos Zealot we played as previously.
Whatever kind of character you create, Warhammer Online will toss you into the eternal fray of war early. All starting areas for characters will be beset in some way by an enemy race, giving you plenty of opportunities to mix it up and get used to the combat system. In addition, such additions as public quests (where players work together to complete cooperative goals) and realm vs. realm combat look to prove that even in a universe that knows nothing but war, you can still have fun. Though there isn't a strict timeline yet, the public beta for Warhammer Online is set to begin later this year, and the game is due for release in the fourth quarter of 2008. Stay tuned for more on the game right here at GameSpot.
AOR trades on its unique and distinct personalities, though - so while each army will host similar careers, their playing styles will be very different. For example, the Orc Choppa gains morale as he fights, building into a berserker frenzy. His most powerful abilities will drain these reserves, so he must keep slicing and dicing to keep his beserker ability powered.
In comparison, melee combat powers the Human Witch Hunter's ranged attacks, so he must engage in and withdraw from hand-to-hand combat to be effective. Both are damage dealers, but have radically different styles.
The mastery system is EA Mythic's mishmash of Titan Quest's tiers and WOW's Talents systems, with a few tricks of its own. After level 10, you can specialise further, allocating mastery points across deeper abilities. If you play a High Elf Shadow Warrior, you'll be limited, at first, to killing from a distance.
With progress, and well-chosen masteries, the warrior can turn into an brawling beast. Furthermore, you can combine masteries to make complex hybrids - tailoring yourself to either RvR or PvE combat, or making an amalgam adapted to both sides of this rough-and-tumble MMO.
If you're familiar with MMO newbie-fare, then you'll know the drill quite well. In Dwarf-land, the very first quest involves killing squigs that have been unleashed by invading goblins issuing out from a mineshaft -- imagine little balls, all teeth and talons. On the Dark Elf side, we were doing the invading, so replace angry squigs with a scattered high elf shore party.
To its credit, the early quests in WAR seem to impart a definite sense of "place." Think about how the early quests in WoW make you feel as if you're "clocking in" to quest-givers, subsequently running out into the field a few yards to fulfill objectives, and returning to clock out by delivering your quests and collecting rewards. There doesn't seem to be as much of that in WAR; rather, the early environments seem to be designed around highly-visible events, the consequences of which are evident all around you. In the Dwarf areas, the context is a Greenskin invasion, with the tunneling goblins and squigs and the orc-manned artillery beyond the ramparts. For the Dark Elves, it takes the form of an invasion mounted from enormous naval structures called "arks" -- think a floating city the size of an island.
According to Bales, "In our beta test we just did our first tier four campaign testing. That's where we artificially level players to the highest level in the game, give them access to the highest content in the game, and said go fight through these zones. We also did a one-night test of an invasion of Altdorf, which is our Empire capital city. We let people go in, burn down the city, kill the king, capture rewards, sort of the culmination of the entire RvR game.
"Our next phase of beta is going to release the Greenskin and Dwarf tiers one through three content, and that will allow players to see stuff they haven't seen in almost a year. We've been focusing heavily on the Empire and Chaos and recently the Elves in beta, and so now we're going to give players a chance to see the Greenskin and Dwarves and see all the improvements and polish we've made to those areas."
Mythic is also at work on a high level player-versus-environment dungeon. "We're working on a high level dungeon, it's called the lost vale," Bales said. "That is a dungeon that's going to be instanced and it's geared toward one group of players. It's our highest PvE dungeon in the game and we only require six players to do it. It further emphasizes the kind of gameplay we want to encourage players to do in WAR; you can play almost the entire game solo if you want."