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The Tome of Knowledge: A One-Month Review

October 20, 2008

As my ChaosCast cohorts can attest, I’ve been batty about the Tome of Knowledge ever since getting into the Warhammer Online scene. The concept is rock-solid: an in-game journal that keeps track not only of your quests, but also all your kills, your achievements, your journeys and the world you explore. It’s a wildly ambitious feature that may see counterparts in other games — the badge system in City of Heroes, the deed log in LOTRO, XBL Achievements, WoW’s new achievement system — but had and has the potential to dwarf them all with sheer scope and content. I couldn’t wait until launch to start digging into the Tome and enjoying the “metagame” aspect of WAR.

Like so many features of WAR, what we received was something short of the monumental hype and yet something greater than many expectations. Part of it I very much love and is filling up that void in my gamer life that needs to be applauded for every silly little milestone that I cross; part of it is disappointing and frustrating, and definitely needs work. I thought it’d be appropriate to do an in-depth review of the Tome as it is one-month into the game — and still growing.

1. The Unlock Rate

When you start up a new character in WAR, the Tome is like a hyper-chatty party hostess looking to talk your head off and show you around to everybody. “Did you see that? How about that? And that?” The unlocks just fly in, one after another, and while they border on “too much too fast”, each one is a pleasant little jolt of discovery and reward. I get killed by a Sorceress in Nordenwatch? No worries, the Tome says, here’s an unlock AND a title! I just got rewarded for sucking. That’s awesome in a very twisted way.

Unfortunately, like pretty much every reward feature in every MMO, you have to work harder and longer for the little “dings!” of Tome unlocks as you level up. What was a monsoon of unlocks in the beginning zone becomes a mere steady downpour in T2 and a drizzle in T3. The problem here is that there are two types of Tome unlocks: those that are one time hit-the-right-spot affairs, and those that work in exponential numbers. The second type (coupled with a seemingly lower density of unlocks in higher zones) is a key issue behind the slowdown. You might get an unlock for encountering a bat. Then an unlock for killing 25 bats. Then an unlock for 250 bats. Then an unlock for 2,500 bats. And so on. It’s an exponential increase that quickly gets beyond something you’ll see on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis.

Verdict: Great at the start, but we need more in T3/T4. It’d be great if there were new types of Tome unlocks that you only started to find when you moved into T3 and T4 content, or if the unlocks wouldn’t come in multiples but every set amount (like every “100″ of something or “1000″ of something).

2. RvR Unlocks

A common complaint by the PvP set is that they’re getting far, far fewer unlocks for doing RvR content than the PvE — the latter of which is the Tome’s primary focus. It’s true that there ARE RvR unlocks, particularly in getting killed by a type of enemy player and killing X types of enemy players. But what about unlocks for doing a certain type of scenario (doing Nordenwatch 10 times) or accomplishing a task in a certain scenario (your side controls all three capture points in Nordenwatch simultaneously)? Werit’s remarked on this, and it does seem pretty bizarre that I can get an unlock for the first time I kill a Greenskin, but if I’m part of a group that manages to overtake a Keep I get nada… at least not until I do it multiple times.

Verdict: There needs to be TONS more unlocks for RvR content. Especially since Mythic is trying to put more of a focus on open world RvR these days.

3. Secrets vs. Goals

There seem to be two types of achievement systems whenever you see them (with a possible third being a hybrid of the two): those that tell you outright how you can earn an unlock, and those that keep you in the dark until you accomplish the task. The Tome is the second type, and it’s been cited as a sticking point for some.

I see why they went this route: it’s pretty exciting to stumble upon an unlock without knowing that you were going to get one (random reward motivator), secret unlocks make those unlocks hold more intrinsic value (factor in other players’ jealousy – “How’d you get that title?”), and a bit of mystery keeps the mind wondering what may lie around the corner.

However, it has a downside: we just don’t know what to do, often times, to get those unlocks. Players are working on compiling reference lists and guides, but that takes us out of the game to look at a document that now we have to go BACK in the game to accomplish to unlock part of the in-game document. It motivates us to do the exact opposite thing the Tome intends: to keep us enthralled with the in-game world.

Verdict: I don’t think ALL Tome unlocks need to be spelled out for us, but the Tome doesn’t motivate us to do these things unless we know they’re there — and I think it’s time it starts presenting us with clearly-defined goals so we know what to do to get that reward. Progress bars, too, would be a big help on the “Do this X number of times” unlocks.

4. Stories and Quotes

As a pseudo-book, the Tome goes hand-in-hand with storytelling. It’s easy enough, really — you stumble into a new Chapter and you get an unlock with a backstory behind the chapter and why you should care about it all. Stories and quotes are cheap, easy, non-game-breaking rewards to dish out to the players. And they work and don’t work.

What doesn’t work, for me, are the longer stories (Chapter stories and Warcamp stories). I’m a reader by nature, I love to read, and I devour books like nobody’s business. But for some reason, I just cannot get into the multi-page stories whenever the Tome unlocks them. It’s hard for me to sit and just read page after virtual page without getting ansy. In LOTRO, I liked how they’d have cutscenes and a narrator spelling out what was happening with your Chapter Storyline, and I’d love to see something like that here. Or, hey, even some pictures/concept art to help break up the wall of text.

Yet what does work are the shorter blurbs. I get a lot out of character quotes or small snippets of info behind the game world (like when you get a history unlock about Superstitions in the Empire starting zone). I’d honestly like to see more of them, many, many more of them, and have the bigger stories told in a slightly different fashion.

Verdict: A mixed bag, but plenty there for a reader to enjoy!

5. Fluff and Rewards

Arguably, the Tome is pretty much the beginning and end of the “fluff” (meaningless fun that doesn’t statistically impact your character) in WAR, especially if you set aside trophies and dyes. The Tome is all about handing out fluff rewards — stories, titles (see #6), trophies, items — and as a result, it’s the refuge of the player who eagerly seeks after this sort of thing. If the Tome is going to be the main repository of fluff in WAR, I’d argue that it needs more, lots more, to help give characters a sense of life in the world outside of nonstop combat. The Tome is a ripe system in place for collectors… if only it would feed them.

Verdict: A good start, more fluff needed!

6. Titles

Possibly the crowning achievement of the Tome system, titles are a smash hit with pretty much everyone I encounter. People love to collect titles and have a great selection to choose from, ranging between silly to serious to haughty to humble. It tells me a lot about someone when I see what title they’ve chosen to wear. I tend to gravitate toward depreciating titles (“The Above Average”, “The Peculiar”); I’ve seen a lot of tanks wear the “Meat Shield” one in particular.

Verdict: Awesome implementation!

7. Bragging Rights

This is a feature that was tacked on shortly before launch, and I doubt many people know what to make of it.  In theory, it’s a great way to highlight ten of your best Tome unlocks on your character inspection screen, so others can check you out and see what you’re made of.  Yet I’ve hardly seen anyone use this.  It’s partially because it’s not very intuitive how this functions or how to set something as a bragging right (some unlocks you can right-click, but some don’t work as brags, so they do nothing).  And in-game, do I really want to be reading a top 10 list of people I encounter?  Not so much.

Verdict: Bragging Rights might work a lot better out of the game, or represented by symbols, or… really, I don’t know.  It’s just not clicking.

8. Nudity and Chickens

Somebody at Mythic had a very demented and sad childhood, for the Tome is rife with unlocks pertaining to either doing things nude, or doing things as a chicken.  This seems to be the bulk of the “silly tee hee” Tome unlocks, but the sheer number of them suggest that there are players out there who will make it their life’s work to unlock every Chicken achievement until there is no more.  And I kinda doubt that.

Verdict: Amusing, would like to see more “silly” unlocks coupled with other fun WAR features.

9. Limitations and Absences

In short: it’s odd that there’s a quest log limit in a book that, as W&W put it, “has a lot of pages”.  There are other odd limitations of the Tome, such as a lack of progress bars (except for influence), or detailed map notes, or extensive cross-referencing (a la Wikipedia).  It boggles the mind that your character isn’t writing down recipes for crafts they’re doing, or that you can’t annotate your Tome at all.  I’d love to have some blank “notes” pages, at the very least, where I could cut ‘n paste in text from internet guides or whatnot to reference in-game.

Verdict: I’m sure Mythic has a laundry list of Tome “to do’s”, and it speaks well that there’s so much possibility and potential for putting them in.  I’d like to see them take the Tome much farther in creativity and usability.

10. Tome Tactics

I’ve done a whole article on these, so suffice to say that they’re (a) a good idea and (b) completely unintuitive how to attain them except through sheer luck or an internet guide.

11. User Interface

Before launch, the Tome saw a complete visual rework of the whole UI, transforming it from “usable” to “nicely functional”.  The tabs helped you navigate faster and it was all sorted out neatly.  I like the animations of the page flippings, and it’s easy to get here or there between sections.  Now, between entries is another matter, and I’m surprised that I haven’t spent more time just flipping through the Tome to read all the sections as I anticipated I would.  This might be due to just a glut of info that still needs yet more organization and cross-referencing.

Still, I like the look and it’s pretty breezy to use (especially to find what Tome unlocks you’ve accomplished lately).

Verdict: Great, could still use more tweakage.

12. Out Of Game Experience

I’m sure Mythic is pretty sick of hearing this suggestion, but here it is again: let us access our Tome out of game!  Please!  It’s a no-brainer that a mainly-text feature would be read extensively by folks who can’t get into the game (at work, school or elsewhere) but want to catch up on recent unlocks or to just comb through it all.  We should be able to access our Tomes from the Mythic site.

This list isn’t a series of “Why I hate the Tome”, but hopefully you’ve read it as “I am quite fond of the Tome and want to see it get a lot better” analysis and suggestions.  I can’t wait to see what the 1.1 patch will bring for the Tome… and I’m sure I’ll be covering it when it happens.

Looking for Tome unlock lists? So am I! Here’s a few I’ve found:

9 comments

  1. Writable in game books have been a wish of mine for a long long time. For some reason I hadn’t thought of that in the ToK, but now it’s my third most wanted addition behind /sit and /walk.

    There was an add-on for WoW way back when that allowed you to create items that could be traded with other users of the add on. They were basically just icons and of course you couldn’t create actual items but it was great for RP. One of the features I loved most was that you could fully featured books. All my characters had a journal that they wrote in nearly every day. It was really really fun. Sadly the add-on stopped being updated years ago and last I played simply didn’t work any more.

    The ability to write in your ToK, notes, journal entries, recipes, gaming to-do lists (“Tues: Slaughter more high elves. Pick up dry cleaning.”) would boggle my mind on the fun factor. Make it export to a .txt file, rather than being saved server side and there would be no concern about server space/strain that I’ve seen minuted to rebut the idea of writable books in games before.


  2. Nice one, faving those links. Thanks!


  3. Well some of the tome entries do have refernces to where and what you need to do to unlock them, in the bestiary section anyway.

    And I totally agree with you on reading the history notes I fully read the short ones and scan the long ones.

    What would be nice is to have a search function for the tome. And having offline access might make that more possible.

    Another thing that needs to be fixed are the tome entries that can not be completed. For example the Order have an entry for “Da War Maka” in the Mount Bloodhorn history section. But it does not work for the order. Or there is an entry for talking to Zamgund Roarhammer, but apparently, he was removed from the game during beta. But hey, I found a way to get on top of the Gates Of Ekrund, so it wasn’t a total waste! :)


  4. When new classes are added, I want more brag slots. We have 10 brag slots and 10 classes, so I use them for my RvR kill deeds.


  5. lol, my title I use is “The Above Average”
    :)


  6. I’m worried that if they put progress bars into the tome it will make it a grind instead of a fun exploration.


  7. Brilliant write up! Great ideas, I really hope Mythic takes each of these things on board. The Tome has the potential to be ‘truly great’ instead of just ‘kind of neat’ like it is at the moment.

    Minor thing to add: some of the categories for the titles seem weird. For example, some of the “Killed by a … ” titles are under killing, whereas some are under “Silly”, etc. They should all be under the one category.


  8. *puts on his software engineer hat*

    I didn’t build it, but I guarantee it has limits set by the game proper with regards to how much memory it can eat and how much processor it can eat per unit time. Also, we don’t want to wait for huge loading chugs with it, so I’m willing to be it caches some stuff (that is, it loads stuff you may or may not look at just so it’s there faster when you do go looking for it). My guess on the quest limit is that it’s based on some small technical threshold like this. Only so many quests (which have some modal size memory foot print) can be cached along with everything else you might decide to look at, without it constantly going to the harddrive (and bogging the game down…excessive harddrive access does that).

    So maybe after more optimizations they’ll boost the quest limit, but don’t hate on them for not doing so yet.


  9. [...] to do an in-depth review of the Tome as it is one-month into the game and still growing. The Tome of Knowledge: A One-Month Review Waaagh! A Warhammer Online Blog If you have any questions, comments or problems please send me a Personal Message, [...]



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