Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning is all about war. One can argue that the two factions in World of Warcraft always have been at war with each other, at least over landmarks such as Alterac Valley or Halaa, but that's nothing compared to the fighting between Destruction and Order in Warhammer Online.
In other words, everything is as it should be. Not only are Mythic extremely careful with Games Workshop's 25-year old Warhammer Fantasy-licence (they've been watched every step of the way), but Warhammer Online is completely focused on PvP (player versus player). Where the PvP-system in games like World of Warcraft was added as an afterthought, Warhammer Online has been built from the ground up with PvP strongly in mind. Also, Mythic have a history of doing PvP-centric games, with their 2001 title Dark Age of Camelot being one of the main influences to their latest MMO.
When it comes to PvE (player versus environment), Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning can be seen as severely lacking. Frankly, the PvE is not very interesting and is bland at best. Soloing your way through the ranks, the game's version of levels, won't be a very exciting endeavour. The Public Quests, quests that you stumble upon and automatically share together with other players in the area, do add a lot of flavour when you're enough people in the vicinity to actually be able to pull them off. But in the end, playing Warhammer Online like a pure PvE-game and you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
Because it is all about the war. It's about getting a bunch of friends together to form a warband to go stomping to a keep, deep inside enemy controlled territory, or to sign up for one of the game's many scenarios and try to defeat the other faction. It's about fighting other players over the control of the world, to give your side - or realm, as the two sides are called - as many points and bonuses as possible. PvE-quests does help your realm as well, but there's no monster you can kill that will give you the satisfaction of sinking your weapon into an enemy played by another human somewhere.
Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning does have, in my opinion, some of the best PvP available on the market right now (perhaps only rivaled by the intense fleet battles of EVE Online). Some of the classes might have a slight advantage in one-on-one combat, try going after a healing class like a goblin shaman or human warrior priest and you are in for a surprise, but that's missing the point - it's all about teamwork. There are few things that can beat the intensity of two warbands clashing on the battlefield, both intent on capturing a certain objective or just decimating the opposition. When I write this the game has only been out for about a week and I've already had some of my most memorable MMO-moments in it, all thanks to the impressive PvP-options available.
All of this might change in the future, balancing patches might screw things up and there are not a lot of people that has reached maximum rank. I have yet to see a capital city fall, the final objective of the whole PvP-campaign, and all the implications that will have for the game. Warhammer Online is still very much in its cradle, the grade below might very well change in the future. This is a MMO, after all, with all it entails. But the fact that Warhammer Online feels like a very polished product this close to launch says a lot about the quality and the amount of work Mythic has put into it.
There are problems, though. First of all, the world isn't big or open enough to really get a feel for it. There are three different pairings, where each of one faction's races are paired against a race on the enemy side, and moving between them triggers a loading screen. Moving between some areas, and into a capital city, does the same. It's not as bad as in Age of Conan or Lord of the Rings Online, but it can still very much break immersion. If you are looking for a huge world to explore, without many interfering loading screens, you still have to turn to games like World of Warcraft or Vanguard: Saga of Heroes.
Secondly, by design Warhammer Online is based around community. Not only is there a rich system for guilds, the whole game is built around the fact that you need friends to fight with and enemies to fight against. This can become troublesome, both on servers with a low population and servers whose population has become so high that you need to queue to even get in and play. Mythic are trying to fix this as much as they can, but they will need to take some form of drastic measures when it comes to people prefering to play Destruction instead of Order. A lot of servers, even the more populated ones, almost always have more Destruction-players, something that can also create long queues when you sign up to play a certain scenario.
Thirdly, the graphics aren't really up to modern standards. With games like Age of Conan and Lord of the Rings Online, and the Trinity update for EVE Online, being released during the last year, the bar for what kind of graphics we can expect from a MMO has been greatly increased. It is true that the PvP must run smoothly on all systems to be enjoyable, but at the same time that doesn't mean that we who sit on more powerful machines should have to live with the kind of graphics that Warhammer Online offers - even the four year old World of Warcraft looks better right now. If you are lucky enough to have the right kind of graphics card you can change how the game looks by fiddling around with your settings outside the game, but we shouldn't have to do that.
But the fact remains that Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, as it looks right now, is a great game. I'm having so much fun with it that I can't wait to explore it fully. The future, with end-game and city-sacking, on the horizon, I have no intention to stop playing right now. It might take a nose-dive at some point, but as far as I've seen it's a great, more-or-less-polished game. It has some great ideas which will hopefully inspire future game makers and, with future content patches, will probably be able to live for a very long time.
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