NDA: News, Dialogue, Action!August 19, 2008
You May Commence Freaking Out… NOW.
Now that the NDA has dropped and you have approximately five billion new articles from beta testers to read — which is weird because you’re still here reading mine — there’s probably dozens of questions on your mind that need a bit of soothing relief.
I’ve only been a part of closed beta since late July, so it’s not like I have all the answers or experience anyway, but here’s a few questions I think *I* would have wanted answered if I wasn’t in beta — hope it helps!
Is it worth it, or is it a disappointment?
My biggest fear — that I had been waiting so long on Warhammer and blogging about it for months only to find out that it was a big turkey — was erased within minutes of loading up the game. My friends, this is the real deal. WAR is fun, polished, exciting, new and quite lovable. I have no regrets whatsoever moving on from WoW and other MMOs to this one, and I can’t wait for other people to finally be able to play it!
I don’t want to oversell it to you — I think there are sticking points that some people will struggle with, I think it’s very easy to become overwhelmed in PvP, and WAR haters are easily going to dismiss it as a WoW clone and move on. But seriously, this is a terrific game that seems deeper and more energetic than MMOs I’ve played in the past.
How are the graphics?
In a nutshell — less cartoony than WoW, more cartoony than LOTRO, and boasting a unique style all WAR’s own. Very pretty, is what I’m saying. The spell effects, landscape, character models… they look terrific for the balance between graphical power and ease of accessibility (in lower end computers). On higher-end rigs, it’s absolutely beautiful. In a death and decay sort of way, of course.
One issue is that in the beta versions I’ve been playing, I’ve yet to see the lighting that I’ve witnessed at GenCon Indy. Without the lighting put in, a lot of the game looks more “flat”; with it, it’s far more textured and lush.
How’s the sound?
Sound is an aspect of MMOs that often gets overlooked, but I am just loving the care and effort that went into Warhammer’s audio experience. The music ranges from loud and bombastic to soft, eerie crooning, but it never overstays its welcome — it comes and goes at the right pace. The voices and sound effects, including ambient noises, are impressively believable. I approached a waterfall once and my computer’s subwoofer went nuts with the rumbling. Combat noises give appropriate weight and heft to the action, which helps immerse you into the situation.
How’s the user interface?
As with most MMOs, there’s a LOT of stuff going on to digest and sort out at first, but WAR’s UI does a great job not being intrusive and, for the most part, being pretty intuitive. I didn’t need any tutorials to figure out most everything within a short time frame. You can move and resize just about everything, filters exist on the map and chat windows, and unlike some MMOs, I keep my eyes glued on the action instead of the health bars in the upper-left hand side.
The hotkeys took a little getting used to, as they do things a tad different than you might be used to (in terms of global cooldown and flashing to let you know everything’s ready), but once you get into the swing of things and start jamming on those skill keys instead of letting auto-attack do all the work, you’ll find that combat’s a lot more fun because of it.
What’s combat like right out of the gate?
It’s weird this has to be said, since WAR is no different than pretty much *every* MMO ever made in this regard, but you don’t start out with a hundred abilities and frenetic moves — most every class gets two initial skills, with new skills, tactics or whatever coming one per rank thereafter. Auto-attack is pretty worthless in terms of damage (it even gets less of a bonus to dps from your gear than special attacks do); you mostly want to stick with activating skills left and right to do decent damage, so the first couple levels will most likely be you doing the same one or two skills over and over and over again. It’s how it goes in these games, and if you complain about it in WAR, then you’re complaining about every other MMO as well.
The nice thing is that you do hit ranks 3, 4 and 5 quickly, and five skills within a half hour or so give you a nice starting palette of combat options. Plus, combat itself seems more visceral and flashy than other MMOs I’ve played (barring City of Heroes), and I was certainly not bored doing it.
How’s the PvP?
Apart from one keep siege (which was laggy beyond belief, due to either the client or my old video card or both), my PvP experience came solely in the form of the starting zone scenarios. Happily, these were pretty enjoyable (I think I liked the Elf pairing one best — big bombs go boom!), it’s chaotic but once you get into the swing of things, you can actually figure out what’s happening. There’s a little bit of twitch action, but a lot more is strategy — Bright Wizards going up to higher places to unleash damage without instant reprisal, people gunning for the healers, tanks pushing you out of the way, and so on. I didn’t find a lot of immature behavior, although it did trouble me just how much long-distance damage dealers (casters) dominated the field. I don’t know if that’ll be a balance issue as people level up or not.
How does it stack up against World of Warcraft?
Like you, I’m pretty tired of this question, but since it is a question a lot of MMO players have, we can’t be dismissing it without addressing it (and hopefully rectifying a few myths along the way). Personally, I think I’m going to like WAR a lot better than WoW. I loved WoW, I really did, but 4 years of unchanging gameplay takes its toll, and WoW will never be much more or less than what it is now. WAR, on the other hand, has a very solid PvE game on top of a monster of an RvR experience, and I don’t expect that to get old any time soon.
In many ways, WAR is on par with WoW’s features — it’s just as polished as WoW was in 2004 (if not more so), it has a very friendly death penalty, it’s easy to pick up and I expect it to be hard to master, it’s colorful and features a world just begging to be explored. In some ways, WAR will be overshadowed by WoW — WoW has a 4-year head start on polish (ergo WAR will seem buggier), WoW has a bigger playerbase, probably more balanced classes (9 classes balanced over 4 years vs. 20 classes balanced just during a beta), and WoW boasts a wider (if not deeper) PvE leveling game.
However, WAR holds the upper hand in many areas, which might be discounted by naysayers, but honest players will know better. WAR has several features that are unique to the genre — PQs, RvR, city siege and the Tome among them. While other MMOs including WoW might have variations on some of WAR’s features (achivements vs. the Tome), I’m finding WAR to be showcasing the better version of these. There’s simply more to do, more options to develop your character, more ways to level, more classes to play, and a new spirit of actual warfare that is strangely lacking in World of “War”craft.
Right out of the gate, there is just tons more to do in WAR than there is in WoW for a level 1 adventurer (see the next question). Particularly when it comes to making alts, this is going to be a huge relief to people who shudder at the mere thought of starting all over again.
I have no illusions about WAR suddenly outselling WoW, but I’d be very surprised if it didn’t make a serious dent and didn’t start winning people over to the WAR fold within a few months… even after people get their paws on Lich King.
What criticisms do you have so far?
Again, let’s keep in mind that for the bulk of my beta adventures up to this point, I spent my entire time in newbie areas doing newbie things — I can’t really comment on anything higher on up, and there’s bound to be quite a few criticisms and/or disappointments along the way. However, if I was asked to nitpick based on what I’ve seen so far, it would be:
- The Tome is pretty well cross-indexed, but it took me a little bit to find the page with all the new entries on it, which I think should be the automatic page that comes up when you hit the Tome key.
- Some classes (especially high DPS classes like the Sorceress) are incredibly strong in PvP during the first ten levels, which makes PvPing with a low DPS class an exercise in mild frustration.
- Bugs. They’re there, even in the newbie zones, and those are always disappointing.
- Class balance — 20 PvP classes are going to be a balancing nightmare, as anyone with half a brain could anticipate, and while I have no idea how closely balanced they are in level 40 combat, it still worries me.
- Loot at the start is a bit blah (especially gear from quest rewards) — you really need to do PQs to get good starting gear.
- Speaking of which, PQ rolls can be intensely frustrating. You might spend a half hour working your butt off during a PQ, and you still get a low contribution score and 7th or 8th place.
- No easy general or worldwide chat channel that is there from the onset. It makes it a bit hard to connect with other players in the area (maybe they just never talked, I don’t know).
- Making a guild isn’t super-hard, but it is a hassle, especially come launch day.
- Elves exist.
- There’s almost TOO much to do at the start, and players who eagerly rush through the starting zones expecting for the “good stuff” to start at level 10 or whatnot will miss a lot of it. I can easily see this happening.
- Armor stats need better explaining (what does one point in toughness do for me?).
- I wish I could put Tome entries that I’m working towards on the screen, just like how quest objectives are.
- The in-game player base didn’t seem too interested in helping new players out. I don’t think any question I ever asked was answered.
- My female dwarf engineer’s starting outfit looked like she was a waitress at a German restaurant. Where are the leather coveralls, darn it!
- On lower end graphics cards (like my old GeForce 6800 that runs WoW maxed out), you get subpar looks and stuttery gameplay.
- Mass armies clashing in open world RvR lagged out my computer a few times.
- Ranged DPS seems to rule PvP whereas tanks flounder with crappy DPS (at least at the start, before access to mastery trees and better items).
What’s there to do at level (rank) one?
Good question, me! I spent a lot of time with the newbie experience, and in that time I compiled a decent list of everything you can do right at the start:
- Grind (duh). Kind of boring, of course, but neat to test out skills.
- Quest. Just a couple quests are ready at the go, but more quickly unlock as you complete earlier ones. These are good ways to raise initial funds (for skills) and get some basic gear.
- Do Tome Unlocks. There are a surprising amount of Tome unlocks for your level one dude or gal, including kill X whatevers, get critical hits, click on yourself, explore the map, speak to certain people, loot bodies, etc. You can have your first title within a half hour, easy.
- Kill Collector sprees. Kill Collectors sit in different camps, waiting for you to kill a certain, unspecified number of a certain creature/person, then giving you a “free” reward of XP when you find them.
- Start stocking up on crafting items. You can’t craft until you enter chapter 2 and find crafting trainers, but you’ll quickly start finding some crafting components on kills.
- Public Quests. Even as a level one, you can jump into a PQ knowing that you can contribute in a meaningful way. PQs are great ways to earn special loot and rake in influence. Speaking of which…
- Fight in PQ areas to increase influence. Influence can be traded into a special NPC vendor for good loot, and it doesn’t take too long to max out your initial Influence bar.
- Scenarios. Itching to jump into PvP, but you can’t wait the few hours it’ll take until your questing path starts intersecting with the enemy? Click the scenario button and get into the queue for your first battle. The scenarios automatically level up your character to the maximum rank for that battle (your first scenario will make you rank 8), although you won’t get new skills to go with it. Scenarios offer you an alternate way of getting XP, so conceivably you could level to 40 doing nothing but.
- Build up renown ranks. Scenarios not only offer XP and loot, but renown XP as well. You have 80 renown ranks to climb through, which will net you rewards and gear later on.
- Join a guild. Might as well — you need friends in this war-torn world!
All this, I kid you not, at level one.
What is [name of class] like to play? Which one was your favorite during beta?
This is a highly subjective pair of questions — what may be for me may not (will not) be for you. However, I’d want to know what you thought if you were in beta and I wasn’t, so I’m going to answer this question with a record twenty articles after this one that I’ve been working on. One article for every class and their newbie experience. I spent a few hours on each, getting them up to rank 4 or 5 for a “taste” of the class and starting zone, and had fun writing initial impressions — which, of course, aren’t a final say on the class itself. I’m looking forward to seeing what they’ll be like at level 40, that’s for sure.
As for my current favorites? You’ll just have to read and see…