Over two years have passed since Warhammer Online has first seen the light of day and dazzled with ingenious, rich and bold game and character designs. Over a year has passed since fed up with both server and client instability, hordes of players decided to let go of the dream that was Warhammer Online and move forward. And now over a month has passed since we decided to revisit this old friend and see how time has shaped it and what new things it has to offer. Here’s what we found!
As disgruntled players abandoned ship, a lot of WAR’s servers were shut down and the game looked as it was heading towards an untimely death. But what no one took into consideration was the dedication and ultimately the stubbornness of the developers who, facing less community pressure than before, seized the opportunity and started molding War into the game that was supposed to be before launch. Instability issues were the first ones to be addressed and a series of patches and updates slowly turned the game from an uncontrollable lag-fest into a smooth running joy-ride. The whole anti-lag campaign registered some collateral victims as well and the ones most mourned were the forts, the final bastions that stood in the way of an invading army heading for a capital city. They were completely removed from the PVP campaign and now players can roam freely through these empty shells that not long ago housed epic battles and monster-lag. I guess you need to be prepared to break some eggs if you want to make an omelet and forts were a necessary sacrifice. Now that the game has reached its much sought after stability we can only hope that this retired game feature will be soon reintroduced.
Forts however were only the tip of the iceberg in the whole WAR make-over. City sieges, previously based on public quest approach, were redesigned and aimed towards a more meaningful and rewarding PVP experience. They now resemble more an Open RVR (Realm vs. Realm) zone in which objectives must be captured and held in order to successfully progress to the next stage. Keeps were also subject to modifications that made them more vulnerable thus encouraging players to get out in the PVP areas, bash their doors down and claim them for their own faction. Loot tables were addressed, bugs were fixed and attempts to balance classes were made. All these as part of the ongoing struggle to make WAR the game it deserved to be.
Is WAR perfect at this point? Well, no, it isn’t, but it’s a whole lot better than it used to be. Many of the modifications the game suffered generated positive results, but in the same time some of them also backfired. A good example for such a situation is the decision that concentrated Tier1 PVP efforts into the Chaos/Empire zones coupled with the unlimited trial client. This led to a very active Chaos/Empire PVP lake, but condemned the other two original starting areas (High Elves/Dark Elves and Dwarfs/Greenskins) to oblivion. And that’s a shame because it simply means that a lot of the game’s early content, from which I can remember a lot of interesting and entertaining elements, goes to waste. A fairly easy solution would be to re-shift the focus on a regular basis and lock the other two zones’ PVP objectives, thus forcing players to constantly change zones and discover the full spectrum of the game’s Tier1, not to mention it’s rich and appealing lore.
Since the game is relatively old and the free trial client limits access only to Tier 1, the middle tiers suffer from lack of population. Players will face a lengthy and sometimes boring transition period from the brimming with action Tier 1 to the end-game content of Tier 4. PVP is scarce, PVE groups are hard come across and in general you feel abandoned and your only goal remains to level up faster so you can actually enjoy the game. Developers need to take a closer look at these two tiers because for a new player who doesn’t know that the Tier 4 content will fully make up for the struggle, this level bridge might prove sufficiently disappointing for a subscription cancellation. Once Tier 4 becomes available (this happens at level 32 and the level cap is 40) the player will finally be able to enjoy WAR in its full glory and also face many of the game’s more serious problems that haven’t been ironed out yet. I’m only going to point out two of those, only the front page material.
The first is related to class balance and class synergies. Although lately many efforts have been placed towards bringing classes on par with their opposing faction mirrors and reducing the deadly effectiveness of AOE DPS classes in certain situations and groups set-ups, the problem is not entirely solved. Players are still encountering so-called “bomb groups” that if not matched by organized veteran players with good gear and extensive game experience can obliterate in a matter of seconds groups of players many times larger than their own. Since time to kill (TTK) is still relatively small, a healer’s ability to efficiently react to the problematic DPS burst is seriously reduced. AOE DPS is still an issue, both for ranged and melee classes. As we are talking about a game aiming towards epic battles involving hordes of players, switching the battle design approach from AOE to single target focus can do more harm than good. So a careful balance between these two must be found, and even though Mythic hasn’t found it yet we can’t ignore the serious efforts made in this direction.
The second issue is related to the appeal of the whole WAR PVP campaign. Previously reaching the opposing faction’s capital city was indeed an epic effort that involved carefully kept secret faction wide preparations that lasted sometimes even for weeks. And then, at a precise moment, hundreds of coordinated players poured into the ORVR lakes determined to unleash hell upon their unsuspecting enemies and claim absolute victory. Finally being able to engage the opposing faction on the narrow streets of Altdorf or around the twisted buildings of the Inevitable City was a victory from the start, regardless of the battle’s outcome. In those moments the game was more alive and more rewarding than all the other MMO Games out there put together, but also more lag-ish. As a result of the desperate need to remove/modify the lag creating choke points in the game and also make the end-game content more accessible (why?), the PVP campaign suffered drastic modifications. Some were good, but on the other hand some were completely uninspired. The Domination system that was newly introduced granted a zone lock and with it campaign progression to the faction that managed to take and hold all the ORVR objectives for 120 minutes. For an organized PVP-oriented guild/alliance that’s child play. For an unorganized group of players in the early hours of the morning it’s a walk in the park. Previously regarded as unlikely monthly events, city sieges became overnight a routine activity. What was once epic became common and the whole PVP campaign lost much of its appeal.
At the moment these are the two main problems WAR developers are facing and should struggle to fix as soon as possible. Will they do it soon? I don’t know, but more than a year ago I honestly thought that I will never have the pleasure of playing a lag-free WAR. I’ve been proven wrong, so I guess finding and implementing solutions for the above mentioned issues is only a matter of time. It’s a race against the clock and unfortunately gamers are not renowned for their patience.
Months ago Warhammer Online was considered by many dead and buried. Apparently it was not, or at least it has the miraculous power of rising from its own ashes – the game is alive and kicking. Now that the lag is gone and many of its early bugs have been squashed dead, WAR is facing more common MMORPG Games problems. Will it ever be the perfect PVP-driven fantasy MMO game it always had the potential of being? Only time will tell.
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