The Comparison Curse

May 26, 2008

As the upcoming months start slamming into us like the seasonal typhoons they are, I can guarantee you one thing: we’re going to be hearing a LOT more rhetoric about how Warhammer Online looks (and presumably plays) just like World of Warcraft. Recently, Tobold went so far to say that WAR will be more or less a new coat of paint over the same-old, same-old gameplay, which might indeed help with subscription numbers (since players familiar to WoW would apparently be comfortable in a familiar setting) but will ultimately relegate WAR to the ugly title of a “WoW Clone”.

So let’s sound the trumpets and horns, and scream our battle-cry from the mountaintops right now. Are you with me? Let’s go:


Let’s push aside, for a minute, the fact that Blizzard heavily “sampled” the Warhammer universe when they made Warcraft (because we don’t want to end the world), and instead investigate whether or not the WoW Clone claim is true.

The two biggest comparison points here are the stylized graphics and the core gameplay. Graphically, both titles prefer to avoid the uncanny valley by giving us colorful and stylized, although Warcraft definitely skews more cartoony, whereas Warhammer is striking a balance between realistic proportions and artistic license.  Gameplay, sure, the two titles share a lot: quests, auto attack-plus-special skills, experience, loot, etc, etc.  The fact that these are present do not point to any specific theft on Mythic’s behalf — after all, these have been the staple of MMOs for the past decade, long before WoW took them and polished them to an inch of their life.

I think what most people fear is that WAR will “feel” too similar to WoW and thus be subject to gaming fatigue incurred by that other title.  There’s the rub for Mythic: they want the game to feel familiar and as easy to pick up as other MMO titles, but at the same time they need to incorporate enough unique elements to make their baby stand out from the pack.  I don’t think Mythic even minds the numerous community comparisons between WAR and WoW, because they know it can only help to bring vastly more players into their game than push away.  Their hope is that when people do start playing WAR, they’ll quickly realize the game has a lot more than just a fresh coat of paint.

And I think they have good reason to be confident of that fact.  With the Tome of Knowledge, Realm vs. Realm conflict, Keeps warfare, the Vegas loot system, 24 classes, tactics/morale/mastery character specializations, Capital City captures, and — let us not forget — the eschewing of the /dance emote, WAR stands poised to break from the traditional MMO pack and forage down its own path.  Will it be 100% unique or completely different from WoW?  No — but in today’s MMO landscape, I don’t think any title can claim that unless they’re setting up a title that will present a huge difficulty barrier to the average gamer (such as EVE Online).

Let us remember: WoW was often referred to as an EverQuest clone, back in the day.  What WAR will be, will be.



  1. You’re misrepresenting what I said. I know better than seeing WAR as WoW with a new coat of paint. I posed the question whether people would want their next game to be as similar to WoW as possible, or as different as possible to WoW. Because in the end the direct competitor to WAR isn’t WoW, but Age of Conan, and AoC is “more different” to WoW than WAR is. Which one will people prefer?

  2. I wasn’t trying to misrepresent anything, but to take that thought and discussion and springboard it into something I’m hearing an ever-increasing amount about. But thanks for visiting and clarifying your post for our edification.

  3. I just got depressed by some comparisons on my LotRO kin forums (though when I posted about comparisons on my blog I didn’t want to mention that’s where the bleh-ness came from).

    I think comparisons are natural, but it’s when people get really defensive that the problems arise, because it looks like an attack.

    Honestly, a fairly large number of people will try all the big MMOs and then there’ll be a shake-up of some sort, but I’m beginning to know an increasing number who play more than one. I have to say I just can’t do that.

    In some ways I hope no other game becomes as big and anonymous as WoW, because I crave a good community on my chosen server. Am hoping a good bit of RvR and public quests will solve that riddle and keep WAR good for me.

  4. […] AoC, the other is about designing an ideal MMO. Syp, over at the Waaagh! blog also ponder the comparison curse, sparked by a post from Tobold on his MMO blog. We’ll no doubt see a lot more comparing and […]

  5. I think something that most don’t know is that Warcraft, the RTS, was originally suppose to be a Warhammer game, but GamesWorkshop pulled out. So instead of scrapping all their work, they made Warcraft. And hence, it all comes full circle.

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