Hands-on / Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning

Despite its main focus being decidedly not video games, this year’s New York Comic Con was a good place to find yourself if you’re a gamer. With booths from Square Enix (decidedly a strictly merchandise booth) to Firaxis, and with hands-on stations for big splash titles like Metal Gear Online and addictive little ones like Roogoo, there was something new and exciting to geek-out about for everyone. For me, that meant spending some good old fashion quality time with Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (WAR).

Now, before I launch into the nitty gritty, I feel there’s something important to be said in reference to massively-multiplayer online RPGs. Myself being someone who was introduced to MMORPGs by that other massive role-playing game, it’s hard not to see any MMO through Warcraft-colored glasses. At the WAR panel I attended, senior designers Paul Barnett and Josh Drescher, and producer Jeff Hickman all made a very clear and conscious effort not to mention World of Warcraft, a choice that proved frustrating to some but one that I respect. Although the reality of the market may be a mind-set of “Is this WoW, but better”, the Mythic team refused to go the route of compare-and-contrast and instead, presented Warhammer Online by showcasing a blend of much-loved source material and innovation.

Putting the “Massive” in MMO

Although originally thwarted by a huge crowd during my first visit to the Warhammer Online booth, I was eventually able to snag a machine and hold it for about an hour, playing through both open-world exploration starting at level 1, as well as several different RvR (Realm vs Realm) scenarios at level 20. I wasn’t allowed to step through character creation before launching into the starter level campaign, and instead, was allowed to choose from a predetermined set of races and classes (which differed, depending on what machine you were on to balance out later RvR scenarios). On-hand, the playable classes included Dark Elf Disciple, Dark Elf Sorceress, Chaos Marauder and Chaos Zealot on the Destruction side and Empire Bright Wizard, High Elf Archmage, High Elf Shadow Warrior, and High Elf Swordmaster on the Order side.

Which brings me to the first point about WAR that I’m really excited about. In total, there will be a mind boggling twenty four classes available in Warhammer Online. That’s right, twenty four. Unlike other games where classes can be attributed to several different races with slight variations in base statistics and an occasional talent, each class in WAR is race-specific. The result are completely unique experiences for individuals playing the same class conceit across different races.

Take “healer” for example. In other games there is usually a monk, white mage, or priest available; sometimes they’re squishy and need to be kept very far away from the action, and other times they’re hand-to-hand melee monsters, but usually a game choses a single concept and sticks with it. Not Warhammer. If you want to heal in Warhammer, you’ve got a choice between purer support classes such as the Dwarven Runepriest or hybrid damage/healing classes like the Empire Warrior Priest (melee) or Greenskin Shaman (ranged caster), both of whom strengthen their healing abilities through high, sustained levels of damage. The (hopeful) result? A more nuanced class system with a higher playability factor and a more interesting “division of labor” when working in a group situation.

During my time with the game, I was able to try out an Empire Bright Mage in RvR, and leveled a bit as a Dark Elf Sorceress. My first impression was how familiar the interface felt. Those of you acquainted with any of today’s MMOs will recognize the heads-up display, the mouse and keyboard movements, and hotkey assignments. Yes, even in the Warhammer universe, the NUM LOCK is still auto-run, a discovery which pleased me to no end. The graphics are good and, although not drop-dead gorgeous, strike a nice balance between slight stylization and realism. Spell casts are particularly fun to watch, and can vary between small, subtler buff animations to huge ground-searing area of effect spells. The character design has personality and, as is usually the case when given a new shiny toy to play with, every environment, mob and NPC was a thrilling little discovery.