Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Warhammer - the game that could have been

Please forgive me as I indulge myself a little more than usual today. In my last post, I wrote about how another game has (temporarily?) broke the stranglehold that WoW has had on me off and on since January of 2007. It was nearly one year ago that another game almost kept me away from WoW for good. That game was Warhammer Online.

I had been following Warhammer for a little while back then and was anxiously awaiting another MMO that would have the stuff to take me away from WoW. Last spring/early summer, I was getting frustrated with WoW PvP and really wanted something different. I remember vividly having nothing to do one day other than to level my fishing in Stormwind while I read Tradechat for hours. Yea, I was that bored. I had applied to the Warhammer closed beta and had hope that they would pick me soon. Months went by after that initial application and nothing happened. Then, in late July/early August of 2008, I decided to upgrade my PC to prepare for the open beta. Soon after upgrading my motherboard/processor/memory and video, I decided to upload my new DXDiag file to the Warhammer beta site, since my system components had drastically changed. Sure enough, I got a beta invite days after. I figure it was my new beefy computer that got me in since Warhammer is much more graphics intense than WoW is or was.

One of the things I wanted to do in Warhammer was start a guild. I had been a member of AUO since the early spring and since I loved the guild so much, I asked our GM if it was OK to use the Aculeus Upon Ordeum name and start a “Warhammer” chapter of AUO. She was cool with it and even gave me a sub forum on the main AUO guild forum site. My wife and I put a lot of time into getting things in place for when the game went live. We had a killer application and the forums were fairly well organized. We were set to recruit as soon as we could.

Playing in the beta was a really cool experience for me. I didn’t play too much because I didn’t want the thrill of starting off fresh in a game to not be there when things went live. Soon, the semi-closed beta turned into a full open beta for anyone who wanted to download the beta files and then, things went live. One of the coolest things about the game is that the game studio, Mythic Entertainment, is in Fairfax, Virginia and about a 15 minute drive from my house and from work. I read on one of the forums that the head guys from Mythic were going to do a game signing at a local GameStop. I took a long lunch that day and got my game box and my wife’s game box signed by the top 4 game producers (Paul Barnett, Mark Jacobs, Jeff Hickman and Josh Drescher) and got a few extra goodies signed as well. I think that was the highlight of my Warhammer experience.

Once the game went live, things started going well. The guild was growing and at one point I think we had about 25 dedicated members. They were a great crowd and I miss playing with them, no matter what the game is. As the weeks went on and we got past the first 20 levels, things started to really stagnate. The game launched smoothly enough but Mythic made a few key errors that lead to a huge drop off in subscribers after about mid November of 2008. That’s about the time that my wife made the transition back to Warcraft as she was called back by the temptation of the Lich King. Shortly after she stopped playing Warhammer, I hung up my mantle and hammer and wrote the guild that I was calling it quits. The game really lacked a few key fun elements and it became painful to log on and play.

So, what did Mythic do wrong? There have been many articles written by other much more popular bloggers like Keen and Grave and Syp at BioBreak. I think they all missed the point though. Most of those writers were out of Warcraft for a while and as much as they claim to love MMO’s, I don’t think they are die hard dedicated junkies like the ones who play Warcraft. In fact, I think they were part of a vocal minority that helped to guide Mythic to making Warhammer a game that was destined to fail. So, what did Mythic do wrong? Here’s my list.

Too many servers
. Mythic’s launch went well because the servers were relatively stable. The only problem was that they did a special pre launch for those of us who had a collector’s edition key. I happened to have one, though I didn’t have an actual collector’s edition. I forget how I got it. It wasn’t anything nefarious, I was just given the wrong kind of key from GameStop I think. That special key let me play the game a few days before all of my friends so whatever server I picked was going to be the server they picked and that server came from a small list of servers that would be up for the pre launch. This is what happened for a lot of players and a lot of the preformed guilds. This lead to all of the pre launch servers to get packed very quickly and then the log on queues started and thus the forum whining started. Mythic overreacted by opening up a LOT of servers. Too many actually. So, what they ended up with was a chaotic situation where whole guilds who wanted to play on one particular server would have to up and leave that server for a less populated one. I know Chaos is one of the playable factions, but having chaos in your server infrastructure is a bad thing. Once things settled down, the player base was spread way too thin and once players got out of Tier 1 and left the casuals behind, it started to become hard to find opponents to fight. I think this is one of the main reasons that players started to abandon the game. It’s hard to fight a war if the enemy doesn’t show up. Well, it’s not hard, it’s just really really boring.

Lag. So, if you managed to put up with a low population server and managed to find a fight with a decent number of opponents, than the ugly Lag monster came out. As we have seen in Wintergrasp, you simply can’t have large scale PvP in an MMO without having a lot of lag. So, once you managed to find a battle, it was pretty much unplayable if there were more than 20 or so players in the same area. I think this pushed a lot of the die hard players that were able to put up with low populations out of the game.

Not enough to do. My guild was on one of those low population servers (Grimnir I believe) and we’d have to come up with stuff to do when the PvP areas were empty. This is where WAR was really weak compared to WoW. Now, it’s a bit unfair for me to compare the two at this stage because I started getting seriously bored way before I hit the level cap and it’s at the level cap that half of WoW opens up. But, I know that even at the level cap there isn’t much to do in WAR other than grind their version of battlegrounds or scour the countryside for some world PvP in the form of a keep siege or the like. WoW has a TON of things to do at the level cap, like work on reputation, non combat pets, mounts, crafting, making money, achievements, etc. WAR didn’t have 1/3 of those things. It kind of had a reputation system called Influence which could get you gear, but since the crafting system was so bad and they had no special mounts, etc, Influence wasn’t that important. WAR does have something called the Tome of Knowledge which is jammed full of achievements and other fun unlocks, like titles, special abilities and trinket type stuff, but it was a closed system. You never really knew where to go to unlock something unless someone else told you about it. If WAR had an open Tome of Knowledge like WoW has an open achievement system, I think things could have been a lot more fun.

Graphics/models. One main gripe I have about the overall look and feel of the game is that the character models can be very goofy and the armor models can be just downright silly. The bad guys get all the cool looking armor and character models and the good guys end up looking like anemic frail aristocrats dressed more for a cold November day than for war. The two best examples of this are high elves and warrior priests. There was only one armor set for the warrior priest that looked cool. All the rest either make you look like a penniless monk on his way to the brewery or an English grandmother dressed in her house coat. The elves are just downright odd looking and not in any way attractive or intimidating. It’s hard to log on when you character looks like he’s ready to make a pot of tea and mend his socks.

Horrible questing. It extends also to the dungeon/raid environment too. The quests are boring, repetitive and unimaginative. I used to think the same of WoW’s quests until I played Warhammer. Lich King absolutely crushes WAR in this department. It’s a good thing you can level by doing nothing but PvP.

It’s a shame that Mythic made so many mistakes and bad calls in Warhammer. The background world created by Games Workshop so many years ago is full of life and inspiration. I really wanted the game to be good and succeed. I think Blizzard definitely picked up on a few of the more interesting and cool game mechanics that Mythic used, like battleground queuing from anywhere. Maybe one day if they fix the things I mentioned above, the game will be good enough to hold my attention and I’ll once again pick up my mantle and continue to play as Rorik the Warrior Priest of Sigmar.

1 comment:

  1. WoW will mostly like be the best overall MMO for along time. it has something for everyone so to speak. Warhammer tried though.