Sunday, October 12, 2008

I laughed, I WAAAAGH'd, and it became a part of me...

Every time Blizzard releases a new Warcraft game, I have to remind myself that they do not have the official Warhammer license. It's hard to tell. Warcraft is a direct copy of Warhammer, right down to the most minute stylistic details. Make no mistake, Warhammer existed long before Blizzard started stealing their ideas and using them for RTS games. By the time WoW debuted, they'd been biting on Warhammer for almost a decade. So this game, Warhammer Online, had two difficult jobs:

One, be a better mmorpg than World of Warcraft.

Two, steal back the Warhammer identity, and return it to its rightful owners - Games Workshop.

For the first twenty minutes of Warhammer Online, I thought it was a tie. Honestly, Warhammer just seemed like a different version of WoW; as much a clone as WoW had always been itself. Then the details started to bleed through...

Warhammer classes are interesting and well designed. Archetypes you've grown used to from every game since Everquest suddenly have new twists. My Battle Priest, for instance, must melee to recharge her healing spells. My Dwarven Ironbreaker is a tank that can make an oath to protect another character, and share his combat activated defensive buffs. (I can't say enough about the social/personal investment dynamic this ability creates!) My Dark Elf Sorceress tempts backlashes of magic energy as she collects greater and greater amounts of dark energy, becoming more dangerous to others AND herself. Every character class has their own little special mechanic that adds a dimension to their skills and abilities. It's really quite clever.

The PvP section of the game, a segment of massive online gaming I tend to ignore outside of Eve Online, is structured and implemented in such a way that it's fun, engaging, and perhaps most importantly, directly rewarding. Go play arena scenario games against the opposing force of Order or Chaos, and earn cool renown awards - from new goods at merchants to actual loot on the bodies of dispatched players.

Warhammer just brings so many good ideas to the table, and carries them out so well. Public quests that are fun and interesting foster a sense of community and teamwork among strangers almost from the moment the game begins. Npc banter is well written; for the first time since... well, since ever in a mmorpg... I find myself reading the quests. Grinding has been rendered ineffective and useless; virtually all gameplay is purposeful and quest driven. Exploration is rewarding and fun; the maps are littered with clickable objects that bestow experience and quests or new entries in your Tome. And the Tome!

The Tome of Knowledge is perhaps the greatest single addition to massive online rpg theory I have ever seen. Imagine a slick, user friendly combination of your journal from Oblivion, the statistic tracking reward system of Madden football games, and Xbox Live's achievement system. Plus a lot of other cool stuff. It brings the game together into a cohesive presentation that would be very impressive in a well designed single player game. To see something that good in a massive is a rare moment indeed.

I think that's the most basic truth of Warhammer Online - it's the first massive online roleplaying game with a design that genuinely compares to the best experiences of offline, single player gaming. It doesn't require (or ask for) your forgiveness for being an mmorpg. After a couple days of playing Warhammer, you'll understand why Blizzard stole every idea they ever had from these people.

And you'll be glad Warhammer just stole them back.

1 comment:

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