Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Other Grass: WAR 2 years on.

Over the weekend I got to flicking through my old art book for Warhammer: Age of Reckoning. I picked the art book up with the collectors edition of WAR just briefly before WotLK came out. I thought what better way to kill time before Cataclysm than to look at just how green the grass is on the other side.

When I first heard the announcement of a Warhammer MMORGP I like many was very excited, now sure I am more a 40k fan than the fantasy game but they are very similar worlds and still I had high hopes. As more and more news came out the hype grew and still like many I waiting on the edge of my seat. When release day came I was there at EB Games to get my copy and that afternoon I was playing. Half and hour later that afternoon I was horribly disappointed.
The game as many were to quickly find out was in no way finished and was full of many many bugs. A very large amount of subscribers left after their first month of free play and went back to which ever MMO they came from, myself included. Since that free month expired I had not been back or really thought about WAR, until this weekend.

After getting a taste for Warhammer I went looking for articles that could tell me how it has changed since release, and while I didn't find what I was after I did discover that they had now put in place two new systems. The first is a free 10day return for all old players, this comes complete with many other returning bonuses such as bonus exp based on the time spend away(with two years gone I should have alot). The second was what they call an "Endless Trial", not wishing to waste my 10 free days at the end of the weekend and knowing the game would need to be patched from release client I went for the trial option.
There were a few restrictions on the Trial such as not being able to use the mailbox, being restricted to the first tier of content or having a restriction on servers available but nothing that sounded to restrictive though.
After creating the account and installing the base game I got to patching, compared to a full WoW patch the 2.5gig for WAR was nothing and it was not long before I was in the game.

The character creation was as good as I remembered with a similar creation to WoW but with more choices and ways to customise. Then however I stepped inside game.
The first thing I noticed after the intro movie finished was the share wall of Gold spam in my chat window, now I am not just talking about any run of the mill gold spam this was "super" gold spam. Imagine Trade channel on you busiest day, now imagine that everyone in Trade was posting a 2-3 line gold message instead of LFMICC, finally add a second Trade channel doing the same thing, that is what this was like. This while annoying wasn't to much of an issue for myself, I just had to find the "Region:1" and "Advice" channels from a list of 30 odd and turn them off, for someone new to the game however and new to MMO's they would have no clue how to get into chat settings and they would be limited to only /say to talk to people.

Once I got rid of the gold spam I was hit with another kind of spam I call "Knowledge spam". This issue is every time you find something new it is added to your Tome of Knowledge which is a very nice place for you titles, achievements and lore based stuff, however every new entry causes a popup message on screen and makes your Tome flash until you read it. When you are moving about in the beginning your finding all kinds of new things, places, monsters, people of interest etc. all of them flashing away in your Tome until you click them then back track to the menu and click the next one. It gets really annoying clearing the 20 new entry you got for entering a graveyard killing a ghost, a bat and a zombie then finding a grave.

Ignoring the spam I was enjoying myself doing some quest to help my faction and picking up all kinds of experience, then DING! new level. Instead of getting the cool glow and watching the WAR logo slam together above me like I remember, I got a big popup window filling 1/3 of my screen telling me what I was missing from the full version. This continued every single level, I would be killing mobs fighting for my life when DING! I lose half my screen and can not see whats going on until I click the tiny little "X" in the corner. While I get the idea for reminding people what the full game offers the loading screen messages were enough all this pop-up did was make me want to play the full game less.

As I continued to play I came across WAR's famous public quests, I really do love this idea and they have worked rather well even at launch. The basic concept is that in any given zone there are a hand full of "events" the will run their full course then reset 5 min after finishing. Each event is broken up into "quests" that anyone who happens to be in the area can help to complete for example there is a farm over run with chaos marauders and the first part is to kill 25 of these mobs. Once the first quest is complete the chain progresses forward into parts 2 and 3. In this particular Public Quest the marauders run off and you must take down several waves of casters then heavy armoured DPS. Each wave builds in difficulty until the third wave has you facing off against Champion(elite) and Hero(Boss) mobs. Once the event is over those who participated get a score out of 500 based on how much work they did and that score is added to a random 1-1000 roll and then loot bags are given out to those who top the board with better loot the higher you get. Now while these are awesome, fun events that you can do over and over for good loot they have one major flaw. Each event is build for a set number of people and while events near towns often have an abundance of helpers making them faceroll the harder and further out events often have no one. This means that if you find one that probably has a quest tied to it also(and it likely has good gear at the end) you can only solo part 1 with the Champion and Hero mobs in parts 2 and 3 being to much for any less than the recommended size especially if you do not have a healer. I think with a simple adjustment to alter difficulty in favor of numbers these could be a very powerful way for MMO's to progress.

Another idea that WAR trys to pull off that I quite like in concept is the implementation of realm guilds. This was not around at launch so I had no idea it was coming, the concept is that at level 5 you get automatically added to a realm(server) wide guild for your faction and will stay there till you opt to leave or you reach level 20. I love this idea because it helps new players quickly get introduced to the social aspect of the game and gives them a platform free from gold spam to get advice and form groups. The problem I have this WAR's implementation is that I had no warning that I had joined said guild. Now there is the possibility that I was given one but missed it under my Level pop-up but I was not aware I was in the guild until two people started a conversation two levels later.
This kind of plays along with what I found to be a big flaw from replace and still exists now, WAR has no tutorial outside of little windows that tell you what things you have already seen are. A little more of an active hand in teaching new comers would go a long way, something WoW does even without you noticing (ie. quests to visit trainers) that other MMO's often lack.

The final concept that WAR does that most other MMO's do that I like is armour dyes, letting you pay to change armour colors so you can match gear and look how you want. When I first played WAR there was a Dye vendor in every town on colors available increased as you went on. When I went to dye gear in the trial I found that the dye vendors only exist in capital city's, places that a trial account can't get to. Now I am not sure if this is a change made to keep trails from using them or just a coincidence but dyeing armour is a concept that would make people like the game more, why hide it in city's away from new players and trial accounts?

The final thing I want to touch on and by far the most frustrating is how terrible WAR is at dealing with latency and the bugs it creates. In WoW if your lagging you simply take a fraction longer to cast your spell and not much else changes, in WAR your remain unaffected while mobs bounce around like a gold farmer with a teleport hack. Let me paint you a picture; I am having no more than my usual 300-400 latency and am running through a field when suddenly I take damage, I look around and see nothing. Suddenly a mob teleports in next to me hitting away like hes been there for 2min already, I turn to hit him and he ports back 20 yards runs at me the ports back again before reappearing ontop of me stabbing away. While this isn't always that bad various degrees of this happen far to often and it is even more annoying when its a opposing player during PVP.

Overall I was very disappointed by WAR when I brought it and 2 years later I still am. Sure they have taken efforts to improve it but with many of its issues still around since launch and the shift to kill all PvE in favor for PvP I do not think I will look at this game again outside of the odd run around on the trial account.
I had high hopes for the Warhammer series, being a long running franchise with alot of lore to back it up it could of been much better than it was. I just hope that the upcoming 40k MMO stands better than its fantasy brother.

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