World of Warhammer

So I’m officially back in the MMO business. Wigglepants the goblin squig herder and Zanligalkya the dwarf engineer have started their long, long careers of talking to a guy with a green icon over his head, killing ten or fifteen monsters on that guy’s behalf, then returning and making their little purple bars increase a tad.

To say Warhammer took a few pages out of World of Warcraft’s book is a gross understatement. I’m only six levels in (whoops, sorry — six ranks in) but I can already see where they’ve taken the basic WoW paradigm and improved on it a bit.

One example off the top of my head is the PvP (whoops again – RvR). In WoW you have to be L10 before you can even think of queueing up for some PvP, because the lowest tier battleground only admits L10-L19 players. Except, no, wait, any L10 toon who dares poke his unleveled, poorly geared head into the battleground is not only going to be absolutely ineffective at actually completing the goal, but is probably going to be constantly berated by all his L19 allies for taking up one of their faction’s slots. So if you want to PvP you really have to get to at least L19, and then you can go BUST SUM HEDZ and have a jolly good time… for exactly one level. Because the split second you ding L20, well, now you’re at the bottom of the L20-L29 PvP tier and you have the same problem you had ten levels ago.

PvP in Warhammer is integrated directly into the story. The game encourages you to sign up for the war scenarios by dropping PvP quests in your lap right out of the gate. I’ve run the newbie scenario a couple times now and it seems like there was a good mix of levels on both sides of the battlefield. PvP is something you do while leveling your Warhammer toon, not something you do once every ten levels as a break from leveling.

Another slight difference is that Warhammer makes every attempt to not hide any information from you. I’ve only played a handful of MMOs, and I’ve determined this is something that was important to me. These games are, at their cores, collections of numbers and I, as a player, want access to those numbers.

On one end of the spectrum you have games like Final Fantasy XI which are almost completely opaque. The game hides as much as it can from the player behind smoke and mirrors. The description of a spell might be something like, “Protects you from wind spells.” The description doesn’t tell you how much protection you get, or how long the spell takes to cast, or how long it will be before you can cast it again, or which of your magic skills applies to it and what benefit that grants. Players have, over the years, deduced all that information to the point where it is now common knowledge, but a brand new player doesn’t have anything to go on outside of “this spell will grant me at least some protection against wind attacks.”

WoW is extremely good about this. In fact, before Warhammer it was the best about it I’d ever seen. In fact, I can think of only one notable difference: quest information. WoW gives you very clean-cut instructions with its quests; go kill this many of this monster and bring back this many of this item. Quest-givers have giant icons above their heads identifying them as such. Each quest tells you exactly what level it is, exactly what zone or dungeon to do it in, what the rewards are and whether or not you’ll need a group to complete it. This is wonderful compared to, say, FF11 which has none of that information available in-game, but there is one hiccup: it’s sometimes not precisely clear where a quest needs to be done. Sure, you have to kill 10 scorpions in Tanaris. Tanaris is a big place! You could wander around until you find the scorpions, I suppose, or you could hop on the WoW wiki and look the quest up. Clearing quests efficiently meant doing research ahead of time and knowing, okay, I can go to this area of the map to get my Glowy Mushroom and kill ten Slavering Kobolds, then circle around to the waterfall for Forest Spiders, and hunt down the three rune glyphs on my way back.

Warhammer’s improvement is ingenious: they put bright red outlines on the mini-map showing precisely where each quest takes place. Clicking anywhere in the outline brings up your quest log so you can refresh your memory on what you should be doing. If two red zones overlap, you’re in luck, because you can quickly and easily knock those two quests out at the same time!

They’ve improved travel, too. In FF11 the airships run on a set schedule, so if you show up to catch a flight to Windurst and miss the boat by ten seconds, you get to sit and wait 12 or 15 real-world minutes for the next one to show up. In WoW you can hire a flying critter to take you just about anywhere you want to go, but you have to actually sit and watch the entire flight. In Warhammer you hire your flying critter, the screen fades out, then when it fades back in you’ve arrived at your destination.

There are at least a dozen more little things I’m probably forgetting.

I know a lot of this is probably just the novelty talking, and maybe my praise of the game’s first five or six levels is unfounded. We’ll see! I’ll be picking my copy of this weekend.

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