A Canticle For SpinksAugust 19, 2008
A little while ago, Spinks of Book of Grudges took a short break from fighting crime in a chef’s outfit to beseech current beta testers-slash-bloggers to answer ten questions that she (and presumably, her arch-nemesis Fast Food Fury) would appreciate the answers to once the NDA dropped.
It has dropped. And I has answered. I might have already answered these, so if I repeat myself, just chalk it up to an early audition for the nursing home my future existent children will commit “crazy pop” to.
Question 1: Was it fun?
Answer: Definitely. I think I put myself through a semi-unfun process by forcing myself to repeat the beginning content 20 times in a row instead of really leveling up a character, but that’s my decision for reasons not yet known to me. Anyway, WAR? Fun. Giggles of black humor, awe at the little touches, giddyness that it handles “right”, joy at weird Tome unlocks, and plenty of “holy CRAP!” moments when the game decides it wants to knock me out of my chair. I think I had the most fun, initially at least, doing Public Quests. Those are quite repeatable and much more enjoyable than solo questing.
Question 2: What irritated you?
The biggest irritation was the immediate clash of heightened expectations and actual game reality. Listen, it’s a terrific game, no doubt, but you, me, many people have bought into the hype that we’ve built WAR up to be the be-all, end-all of gaming existence. It isn’t. That’s not knocking it, but when a starting zone is considerably different than what you’d been dreaming about for months, or when the PQ loot roll works against you, or when you discover that the same mixture of wonderful human beings and ganking slimeballs from other titles exist here… well, it’s a bit of cold water in the face. Best to take it, sputter, and move on.
Question 3: What makes this game different?
As always, it’s a mixture of the BIG and the (little) features that set a title apart. The BIG stuff — like Public Quests, which, if there’s the population to support it, provide some of the most truly impressive, most unique MMO experiences I’ve had yet — get a lot of the press. But the (little) stuff matters to, and WAR does strike away from the pack in many ways that have yet to be championed. Like how a lot of the armor isn’t just retextured skin, but actual bumpy pieces of armor that goes over your character’s frame… or the cool little “killing spree” mechanism that activates if you start slaughtering stuff fast enough… or how the world seems full of crazy, chaotic scripted events that often have no greater purpose than to tell a story or give flavor.
The biggest difference is that, from level 1 to 40, you always have a slew of options at your fingertips for advancement and fun. It doesn’t look like you’re going to be forced into dungeon grinding or PvP ladders just to get the gear or advancement you crave — there are many paths to the same end.
Question 4: What makes this game the same?
It’s the same auto attack + special skills hit via hotkey that most every MMO sports. It’s hard to get around that because it’s what works when you consider the complexity and latency of the genre’s titles. A lot of people are going to say “Orcs? Dwarfs? Elves? We’ve seen these races before!” And they’d be right — we have. The fantasy MMO genre is hardly underpopulated at this point, and since so many other titles borrowed heavily from Warhammer’s 25 year legacy, it’s almost as if we’ve come full circle to where it looks like WAR is ripping other titles off for having ripped Warhammer off in the first place.
Question 5: Did you try anything nuts?
I played a PQ entirely naked to get a Tome unlock. I felt free to jump off high cliffs and explore weird places just to see what I could find. I was less than cautious at times and would end up training about 20 mobs behind me as I fled for my life. But it’s too early to really craft those epic tales of mayhem and mischief that are to come.
Question 6: What is the core of the game like?
Quite war-ry. Mythic’s lived up to their promise that “WAR is everywhere!” in this title — there’s scarcely a patch of land that isn’t under attack or part of a PQ or up for grabs by the enemy. It’s not as clean and neat as you might like; it’s messy and sometimes chaotic and perhaps bewildering. But it’s a boatload of fun, for sure.
Question 7: What do you think the biggest issues are going to be?
Class balance and population balance will fight for #1 and #2, for sure. There’s no getting around the enormity of balancing 20 classes for a PvP-centric title — people might be a bit mollified by the newness of it all at first, but within a month or less, we’re going to hear a lot of folks screaming about how class X is overpowered, class Y has a broken “I Win!” button, and class Z is almost extinct due to uselessness. It’s hard to predict where these troublespots will flare up, but I’m wincing already at the thought.
From my perspective, if Mythic can’t pull off the massive RvR battles without loads of people lagging and crashing out, it’s going to backfire on them just as hard as AoC did on Funcom. We’re talking dozens and dozens of characters clashing, spell casting and zipping through their hotbars like they are expert pianists. I’m going to remain dubious until I witness one of these battles lag- and crash-free.
Question 8: What wasn’t there?
A worldwide chat channel that people could use, and the sense of large-scale community. This might be because in beta, people tend to be a bit isolated or contained within guilds, but nobody ever seemed to talk. Tactile feedback on some of the skills you activate repeatedly felt sluggish or nonexistent, and I’m still struggling with that (the two separate cooldowns — global and skill-specific — tend to clash a lot). Any sense of a tutorial, although things are pretty easy to understand.
Question 9: So what was the beta experience like?
Overall, very good, very positive. I didn’t overplay it, but after the first week, I ended up with a patch that made the game so stable that I never crashed out unless I was in a huge RvR match. Even as a somewhat hesitant PvPer, there’s a ton in here to entice me and fill my hours with, and I really liked just trying out all the classes to figure out which one I’m going to stick with.
Question 10: Did you find any good bugs?
Actually, I did! I found one nasty bug that caused me to fall through the world on my very first night in beta (not a good sign!). Later on, I had read that one of the Tome unlocks comes from doing an entire PQ, start to finish, butt-naked. So I stripped my goblin shaman, did an entire 20-minute PQ… and all for nothing. No Tome unlock, which was confirmed to be bugged.