Still at WAR
Aug 25, 2008 18:35:07

After unintentionally causing blog, forum and podcast riots last week with my candid first response to Warhammer Online, I spent much of the week bouncing back and forth from one site to another absorbing the support, the abuse, the retorts and the analysis that the MMO community was lobbing back at me. Truth be told, a quarter agreed in one way or another, a quarter disagreed intelligently and a full half either didn't/can't read or are blinded by fanboy rage, but that's all good - it spawned some awesome discussion. That is what we're all looking for right?

Many of you may have heard the candid discussion of my position on Gax's Waaagh Podcast Episode 2 hosted by the MOG guys, Gary and Ryan. If you haven't, check it out.

All of that discussion led me to retract one promise I made in last week's post - the part about me not playing WAR anymore. Given the passionate response, I feel I somehow owe it to the WAR community to see this thing through a bit longer, either to build further supporting details for my position, or to find those bits of fun that have eluded me throughout the beta. And with that, here's a few observations I made during the preview weekend during which I logged somewhere between 6 and 8 hours of playtime.

The Patcher
During earlier phases of beta I spent long periods of time cursing the infantile patcher program which tended to not work very well and frequently forced me to patch enormous files on a daily basis. Additionally, it provided zero information on the status of the beta itself, instead requiring me to search the forums and follow long winded sets of instructions in order to get the game going again. In one case, the patcher was dispatched in favor of a torrent download which seemed to indicate that the patcher was worthless junk. Fortunately, in more recent incarnations the patcher has been performing well and even has some beta notes included on screen. Much better than before.

The Newbie Experience
Warhammer Online continues to have massive disparities in quality and enjoyment across the various newbie zones. Some are uninspired and dull (High Elf), others are inspired and dull (Dark Elf) while others are inspired and somewhat fun (Empire.) Yes, most of them are riddled with kill ten rats quests, but the cannon shooting, civilian rescue and support garnering quests offered in some areas do support the lore well and build a solid foundation for the battles that will follow. Surprisingly, I had some trouble completing a number of the newbie quests in each area. This could be good, or it could be bad. If we assume that the quests are in fact solvable (unconfirmed in a few cases) we can also assume that at least one or two newbie quests in each area are in fact (gasp) challenging to complete even if that is only due to the fact that the objective is well hidden. Some would view this as a failure to make level 1-5 quests easy enough for a noob, while others (me) may at least make an appreciative nod to the challenge presented by the game designers.

The World, the Engine and the Animations
In the Waaagh Podcast I mentioned that the landscapes and architecture of the world is beautiful and I think all would agree that the world designers on WAR did some work to be proud of. While I'd argue that the entire thing is a little to grit-free to be a Warhammer title, they do look nice. The problems I have with the world engine itself are mostly mechanical. At the moment NPC pathing is atrocious. I don't remember it being as bad in earlier versions of the beta, but its current state frequently results in mobs getting stuck in terrain (yay for ranged DPS), running away to never return, or simply standing still without response. At first glance this could be seen as an AI problem, but based on the herky-jerky terrain traversal of the player character, I have a hunch it might be a terrain problem. The avatars themselves frequently get stuck on minuscule ground litter, fences/bushes/trees often cause that oh-so-unpolished vibrating player character effect, and player characters seems to randomly spin in unwanted directions during combat. For a game so heavily PvP-focused, the player character controls are unresponsive and ungraceful, on par or worse than other modern day MMOs - a primary reason that PvP works so poorly in massive titles, but more on that later.

I continue to be disillusioned by the lack of polish around virtually every aspect of the player character animations. Melee combat actions are boring, idle animations are awkward, feet/hands/hair/weapons tend to stick through objects or even the player's own body in dramatically obvious ways. The animations and the underlying engine seems to be a far cry short of the polish one might expect in this title.

public questPublic Quests
Public quests are a brilliant and perfect addition to the MMO genre and I can find no flaw. They're fun, rewarding on many levels and encourage team work. In addition to that, some of the later sequences include impressive raid-style bosses that are fun to fight if for no other reason than they are enormous and cool looking. Well done, and as others have said: all MMOs should have this.

The Classes
This is the paragraph where you might find me using the words 'uninspired', 'not fun' and 'boooooring'. I've played a half-dozen of the classes and not been drawn into any of them. This weekend I tried the Bright Wizard, which was 'ok' in PvE and better than the others I've played in RvR due to the fact that I didn't have to "chase the guy with the red name". Instead, I could simply "stand still and mash 1-2-3 while targeting the guy with the red name." To be honest, this resulted in more success and was somewhat more fun that chasing, but in the end, my success in blasting the beejezus out of someone, or alternatively my failure when stormed by a beefcake with a big axe meant little.

Death in WAR is meaningless aside from a the time wasted in rejoining battle. When defeat is meaningless, it also means the war is meaningless to a large extent. I was pleased at the ability to level up a bit in RvR, but the XP definitely came much slower even when accompanied by "kill the guys with the red names" quests that appeared to be repeatable.

My primary issue with the RvR is that after a short time (5 to 10 deaths) the open field RvR battles felt like an empty grind that was going nowhere. More disheartening was the sheer randomness of the personal victory or loss conditions. With the Bright Wizard I was frequently able to stand at a distance and burn down someone that wasn't directly engaging me. Sometimes I'd get several enemy foes in a row using this tactic. There was a glimmer of ego boost when I succeeded, but in truth, I was simply standing still pressing 1-2-3. Likewise, enemies that stormed a group of squishies and singled me out took me down toe-to-toe easily enough. Did either victory prove the skill of the player? Nope. Just proved we had some timing. MMOs are games that grew out of a desire to be the hero and I don't see much opportunity to be a hero in Warhammer Online. I see myself being a cannon, a meatshield, an insignificant participant in a pointless bar brawl. I'm hoping that battles between guilds that have more significantly defined objectives will change this feeling of apathy present in general RvR battle.

There is one thing I truly liked about the RvR areas. There are quests in RvR areas that do not directly entail the slaying of one's foes, but instead have more traditional PvE style objectives contained within the RvR areas. These are great because there is a distinct tension that is experienced when pursuing these quests that no straight-up PvE content is able to achieve. In these situations: I did have fun. No doubt about it.

As those who witnessed my Skype-borne rumblings over the weekend will attest, I'm far from a cheery WAR player. I was bored out of my mind much of the time, frustrated with the grind of RvR at others and unimpressed with the technical and artistic execution for much of the weekend, but there were brief moments of fun that gave me pause. I took note, there's some things to like, but the question is, is there enough? I continue to be very skeptical, but likewise, I will continue to put my grumbling aside and see how it shakes out. In particular, I'll be making great efforts to participate in group and guild play at launch as there are at least two large groups of net-friends who will be chasing red names around. The companionship is sure to turn the tide toward fun, but if we have to make our own fun in order to tolerate the game, does it spell success?

- Brent

Submitted by Brent on Aug 25, 2008 18:35:07 CST (comments: 23)


'Heh...' by Wilhelm2451
Submitted on 2008-08-25 21:29:47 CST
Scott Adams has said a few times on his blog that a good portion of the comments he gets are people arguing with a position they think he has taken as opposed to what he actually wrote.

I'm sure you know where he is coming from.

Anyway, Dr. Bartle had to grind 3 characters to level 70 in WoW to sustain his credibility, you can suffer through a little more WAR to for yours.

'In before...' by TheRemedy
Submitted on 2008-08-25 21:47:37 CST
Sir, (and I call you sir as an insult cause I'm that witty) your opinion is clearly fail worthy as it is different from my own.

You clearly lack the ability to blog/podcast/do laundry and should give it up! I shall now (ironically) suggest you are a fanboy of some other game that I dislike and is thus inferior to my latest obsession. The next thirty sentences will be me regurgitating marketing buzzwords showing you how super duper awesome and life changing the game I'm playing is!

/end sarcasm

'Sweet Mary!' by telstar
Submitted on 2008-08-25 21:49:27 CST
I thought the picture looked cool so I clicked on it. Sweet Mary! Brent just stepped in another pile of doo doo. I think everyone is getting more used to the smell now.

Well written and informative - thanks

'When Brent talks....' by coppertopper
Submitted on 2008-08-25 23:36:20 CST
Well this was a good overview and glad you gave it 6-8hrs - heh ;) I had to force my buddy to play WoW ("I just cant get into the cartoony graphics!") past level 20 before he really got into it and started enjoying it for what it is. You can't get RvR out of your system once you've had a taste. Remember how good it felt to light those realm enemies up on your Bright Wizard? Yeah, its ok - I'll be there in end game with you to offer that knowing wink of I told you so : p

'Death is Meaningless' by PeZzy
Submitted on 2008-08-26 00:09:51 CST
I had a more detailed post but I got logged out when I submitted.

Basically, death is not meaningless if you lose your RvR objective.

A bad warband and bad leaders will make RvR look bad.

The real fun in RvR is at Tier 4. A good Bright Wizard can turn a losing battle into a winning one, thanks to their morale 4 spells. If you are getting chased by melee characters, a well-timed cage stops them in their tracks. If this was WoW, I'd get WTF PWDed by a Rogue.

'@Brent' by StEWork
Submitted on 2008-08-26 01:23:04 CST
"Standing still pressing 1-2-3" - sounds like EVE. ;)

I appreciate the update - thank you!

'@TheRemedy' by darrenl
Submitted on 2008-08-26 06:54:31 CST
How dare you question Brent's laundry making skills!

/throws down gauntlet

'Looking forward ' by brackishwater
Submitted on 2008-08-26 15:58:01 CST
to you expanding on this once you have 3-4x the playtime under your belt. I honestly have a hard time taking to heart your opinions based on the time you have had to play it. Not a shot at you Brent, merely looking for a solid review at this point.
Keep it coming.

'@brackish' by Brent
Submitted on 2008-08-26 16:19:59 CST
... note... that was THIS PAST WEEKEND ONLY ... I've been in beta for a while and have some considerable play time in ... 4 to 5 times that ... certainly not as much as some fan boys, but 'enough'

'So noted' by brackishwater
Submitted on 2008-08-26 16:28:31 CST
Thanks for the clarification as I am just now sticking my head back in here after a long interlude. Its good to know it was simply me misreading you. My apologies and I will do my best to hold off the posting til I'm more up to speed again.

'OMG Brent's right' by Julie
Submitted on 2008-08-26 17:22:55 CST
Seriously. After having the delight of being on Shut Up We're talking again, I thought back on the beta experience I had in Warhammer and compared it to all the other pvp experiences I have had.

Oh my god...Brent's right. I might even go so far as to say Warhammer PvP stinks - I might.

Now there is no "/sarcasim" involved here. What Brent had to say is not only "spot on" as they say but I felt compared to sit down and write (and submit) an article about it.

Keep in mind, however, this will still not dissuade me from pvp in Warhammer. It has other redeeming qualities, and to paraphrase what Winston Churchil once said about government, "its the best pvp except for all the rest"

Julie Whitefeather

'Huh?' by PeZzy
Submitted on 2008-08-26 21:44:02 CST
I think it's a bit rash to say the PvP stinks, after all its system has evolved from EQ/AC/WoW etc. If Warhammer's PvP stinks, then WoW's should be condemned.

AoC is defnitely not where combat should be going. Ignoring the horrible balance issues, the combos are extremely slow and annoying and I keep comparing it to that old game called "Simon" -

'Huh???' by Wilhelm2451
Submitted on 2008-08-27 00:13:18 CST
PeZzy, is there somebody out there that hasn't condemned WoW's PvP yet?

'My preview weekend' by Arenwino
Submitted on 2008-08-27 11:55:20 CST
Wow Brent, that's what I've wanted to say about my preview weekend. I couldn't wait to play WAR, but it's over for me because of all the issues you said. I tried, I played 20 hours of WAR this weekend, but hated it from hour 3 maybe. Same old, it's like every other mmo, but you get to kill guys with red names.

But who knows, maybe in 6 months, when I give WAR another try, I'll be running after orcs for months...

'it doesn't matter when I die. It doesn't matter when you die. it matters when we all die.' by cyanbane
Submitted on 2008-08-27 15:42:44 CST
Brent, the problem with RvR from your perspective is that you are looking at it from a single character entity's perspective. There is no penalty for death for a character, BESIDES FAILING YOUR SIDE.

There is no 'Brent' in Team, or no 'Team' in Brent?

'Bad PvP can be found even in a good PvP game...' by Grimjakk
Submitted on 2008-08-28 02:42:16 CST
PeZzy has it wrong, saying that WAR PvP evolved from WoW... WAR borrowed (and improved upon) the Battleground mechanic that WoW borrowed (and improved) from DAOC... but the heart of WAR's PvP is straight from DAOC. And I don't think I've ever heard ANYONE in their right mind say that DAOC is a bad PvP game.

But first off, let's get this straight. It's not PvP. It's RvR. The distinction is important. RvR is tactical, goal-oriented combat that contributes to the strategic goals of your entire Realm: to conquer and sack your enemy's capital. PvP is farting around, playing "red-rover, red-rover" in a newby zerg standoff at one of the battlefield objectives in a tier1 zone

It can be fun. It can even be a good opportunity to explore the mechanics of your class in combat - and frankly, it's about all you were likely to find in a 3 day preview with a character wipe at the end - but it's not what the game is about.

I challenge you to get a character into it's teens and look for a warparty that's out to capture and hold keeps in the T2 zones. THEN you can talk about what kind of "PvP" game WAR actually is.

Bring siege engines. You'll need 'em.

'... and that wasn't necessarily aimed at Brent, ;)' by Grimjakk
Submitted on 2008-08-28 03:01:07 CST
I know he's been in closed beta. But even there, the testing was extremely targetted, from what I hear. I don't know if he's actually played as part of a guild, conquering, claiming, and defending keeps.

Just saying... if you haven't done RvR, you can't judge RvR.

'Meaningless? Naw' by Orkomage
Submitted on 2008-08-28 12:13:34 CST
"Death in WAR is meaningless aside from a the time wasted in rejoining battle."

The same could be said for first person shooters, but I doubt COD4, Team Fortress, Counter Strike, or the like could ever be argued as bad pvp. When you are waiting to spawn, or traveling back to help your buddies, that is very meaninful. You aren't there to assist, you aren't there to make a difference. The enemy side has removed you from the preceedings. On your way back you might get ambushed. Now you're really out of the loop. Your buddies fighting the good fight are now outnumbered. They can't push back the forces. Now you have to regroup, lick your wounds, and try to unseat them. This may not seem meaninful because you didn't lose coin, or armor, or experience, but the meaninful part is the fun had. I'd say losing those things you call meaninful is the same old tired design of mmo's past that you liken WAR to. Thankfully they want players to have fun, not pay another price once inside the game just to play it. Those fps's use the exact same mechanic, and you can call those not fun if you want to, but their system works, guaranteed, and it's fun to play.

"More disheartening was the sheer randomness of the personal victory or loss conditions."

I get a sense of victory and thrill of action by forming up with a couple of bozos I don't know at all, choosing something of the enemy to take, figuring out how to do it, and then accomplishing it and holding it. If you are working ouside the group, then I guess yeah, it wouldn't be the same experience. If you are in a group and you don't get that feeling, I guess the game isn't going to reach the spot in you it's trying to tickle. That spot is the little kids at recess playing king of the hill, or the kid on the beach that builds a sand castle for hours, then stomps and tears it down. Meaningful? Nope probably not. Fun to them though. Call of Duty 4 at the end of the day isn't meaningful either, but people play it because it's fun as I hope WAR is able to follow suit. Good pvp = how does it play, not how hard is it gonna slap me if I get taken out.

"Did either victory prove the skill of the player? Nope. Just proved we had some timing."

What other skill is there in mmo's? Heck, what other skill is there in games period? If someone beats me in an fps, it's because they had better timing, knowledge of how to play in the situation that popped up, and put the hammer down. The same can be said for a real time strategy game. A fighting game is all timing and knowing the combos. Pretty much just like an mmo is knowing what skills to use, when to use them (timing) and taking the other guy down. I'm really confused, because on one end, you want there to be more punshing features to the pvp system (hardcore imo) but on the other hand you don't seem to be a fan of even the baseist form of pvp elements (carebear). I think WAR is going to be successful because it's going to target and snag those people right in the middle of the two. The same people that played WoW and liked to queue up here and there for battlegrounds, but couldn't compete due to it requiring a second job just to move up the standings, or having to travel to a certain area just to participate in them. WAR takes those successful elements of WOW, breaks down the time barriers, and lets everyone be productive and progressive.

'Almost forgot =)' by Orkomage
Submitted on 2008-08-28 12:25:30 CST
"The companionship is sure to turn the tide toward fun, but if we have to make our own fun in order to tolerate the game, does it spell success?"

Massively MULTIPLAYER Online Roleplaying Game.

I'll go through the games I've sampled thru my days.

Everquest = horrible horrible game to play solo. More fun in a group. Much better in a guild.

Planetside = ok experience solo. Oh the possibilities as an organized outfit. (WAR reminds me of this game with the feeling I get when playing it)

Star Wars Galaxiies = Now here is the definition of having to create your own fun. There was little to no content in the game at all. You HAD to play with others, make a town, make a store, dance with wookies, etc.

City of Heroes = I had fun makeing characters?

Everquest 2 = Again, pretty dull solo, much better in a group or guild.

World of Warcraft = Closest mmo to a solo experience if you want it to me. Once again though, you are going to have more fun in a group or guild.

Age of Conan = Umm, I hear the pvp patch is coming??

WAR = will follow the genre as it has always been. If you want to experience the full potential of a game, it will be in a group or guild. That's where the massively multiplayer part comes from. Not everyone enjoys that of course, and for those who don't, I think they are looking for a different genre, or a spinoff of this one, perhaps a SMMORG (Somewhat Minute Multiple Online Roleplaying Game=)

'The Bar Is High...' by RadarX
Submitted on 2008-08-28 20:11:05 CST
I'll admit I have reservations about a few things in WAR but I see some really high expectations. What is the last fantasy game class that felt innovative? I know it wasn't AoC and button mash fest so what do we look at? VG? WoW? EQ2?

RvR is no less meaningful than ANY form of PvP I've seen in other MMOG's. EVE/PotBS? 200 people circle each other and shoot cannons, missles, and lasers. WoW? Everyone jams in a battleground or arena and runs around until the other team is dead. Hell it's no more exciting than multiplayer in COD4, TF2, or any other FPS. You are just taking objectives and killing other players.

Brent knows I have a high level of respect for his opinion of all things MMO but for those sharing his opinion I think you are setting the bar REALLY high.

'No potential loss = Meaningless?' by Grugio
Submitted on 2008-08-28 22:53:04 CST
Look at MMO's like they're microwaves.

You have an old microwave. It is one messed up piece of kitchen equipment. It overcooks everything, and it doesn't really match your kitchen walls. You trash that one on the side of the road and go buy a different model. This one is a bit newer and it coordinates with your kitchen. But other than that, it still overcooks your food and the door still sticks. So you trash that one, too. Sick and tired of shoddy microwaves you move onto the newest, top of the line microwave. This one rocks. It cooks your bagel bites perfectly and the door actually opens. It even has a popcorn button.

What is really the difference between the new microwave and the old one? The fact that it is shinier and easier to use than the older models makes it a revolution in the microwave industry? Maybe it brought in a few new perks and buttons, but it's still a microwave.

I agree with you. PvP is about beating your opponent. The lack of punishment for losing shouldn't diminish it all. The reason people play PvP (or at least good PvP) is for the sake of the fight. And if it isn't against AI and you're playing versus other players, then it's PvP.

'Very well thought out and clever, but...' by Greyknight55
Submitted on 2008-09-04 17:39:27 CST
Now I'm not about to say that this is all unwarranted criticism, when you sit back and wipe your glazed eyes from whatever shimmering computer screen you're at, all of these points are very valid. My only question and what I want more from Brent is what could it have been? Not so much what are the things that make the game luck luster and same old same old, but what it is was missing that you were avidly looking for? Yes fun and emmersion are in the eye of the beholder to be cliche, but you seem to have wanted something more and your post(s) only say it is lacking. I know this could be a silly wishlist or take hours to divulge and extropilate everything it could have been, and I'm sure I'm not the first to ask this, but because I greatly repsected your opinion Brent, I wanted know what you think WAR and indirectly MMORGPs overall should have been since it hasn't reached its potential, just making the same mechanics more shiny.

'I can agree with just about everything here.' by Nissl
Submitted on 2008-09-15 19:13:05 CST
The only thing I would update two weeks later is that they have fixed the mob pathing, and the combat timing is now very solid although it still needs a few tweaks.

Otherwise the game suffers from acceptable animation/sound/UI polish that is pretty "meh" relative to WoW and lacks depth in a lot of non-combat areas like crafting and world layout.

The only penalty for dying in PVP is no more than a little taunting on the forums; this game pushes noticeably towards an FPS in this regard. I wouldn't mind death penalties being upped a bit, but I don't want to do more than ~5 minutes of PVE to pay for a PVP death.

Having said all of that, I think you're on the receiving end of so much nerd rage because this game is also an incredible amount of fun if you have an established guild to run PQs, scenarios, and open RVR with. I'm in a big guild and I have been having a absolute blast - the game feels custom-built around our playstyle far more than the 90% solo leveling grind of WoW. But I am not sure I would advise anyone who wants to stay unguilded to play this game. PQ PUGs peter out pretty quickly as you level, premades tend to roll PUGs in scenarios, and the disorganized open RVR zerg doesn't stay fun for very long.

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