The future of WAR: does it have one? Tuesday, Nov 10 2009 

WAR

WAR: is its days numbered?

Other commentators have picked up on EA’s further cuts to its workforce. Hit hard, the team looking after Warhammer: Age of Reckoning. Nobody really knows how many Mythic employees went, but the there is a good chance they got hit hard. I feel for those peeps. Really, I do.

I have to say it saddens me, even though I no longer play the game. It had such potential. I wuved the PvP, especially in the early tiers when the game was full of players battling it out. I liked the artwork and the lore.

But the game had too many issues – class balance, imbalanced server populations, quality control issues, middling PvE content – that killed it. What does the future hold for WAR?

  • Closing the game down – a drastic move, and this would be a real shame. WAR was a $70m investment. I’d guess the player base is well under 100k subs by now. That may not be enough for corporate bean counters. It would be a huge embarrassment to EA to have to shut it down just over a year after launch, but if the game can’t break even or return a modest profit, then EA would have little choice but to shut it down.  
  • Life support – consolidate the remaining servers and keep the remaining population of players happy until it dies a slow, quiet death. That seems to be EA’s strategy.
  • Free-to-Play/RMT– follow Turbine and the DDO model? I’m not sure the games mechanics would allow F2P. Opening up Tier 1 as “free” is a good move, but what else could they do?

The problem inherent with WAR going F2P

F2P would mean opening up all the Tiers and allow players to purchase items, mounts and other items. But is that even feasible?

The problem is that WAR never really had a great deal of vanity items to speak off. There’s no Lil’KT or Mr. Chilly. And $10 for a mount in WAR? I can’t see the players purchasing them. Could they offer potions and scrolls perhaps? Maybe… though that might destroy what little remains of the player economy.

The endgame does not lend itself well to the F2P model. It depends on large numbers of players coordinating to lock down objectives and take the enemies city. F2P appeals to the casual market, and I don’t see them investing that much time and effort into a complex and demanding endgame.

The endgame offers very little else. There are precious few instances/dungeons of note to turn it into a gear/raiding game.

Most likely future of WAR… my “hunch”

Well, putting on my “Monday’s Expert” hat I predict a slow decline with WAR being closed down sometime in late 2010 or 2011. A simple press release will come out announcing when the servers will be turned off. With Cataclysm and so many other MMOs coming out, WAR will find it hard to survive.

A real shame, but WAR reached for greatness and fell short.

The legacy of WAR: a former player’s eulogy Thursday, Oct 1 2009 

After the battle, when all is said and done...

After the battle, when all is said and done...

 “But here I am to speak what I do know…” ~ Marc Antony, Julius Caesar

I cancelled my subscription to Warhammer: Age of Reckoning last week.

It saddened me to do so, as it’s not a bad game. Aspects of it approach true greatness: Open Realm versus Realm (ORvR) combat where parties of Order and Destruction slugged it out was always thrilling. Sure, keep fights where repetitive and the PvE game was open to charges of being monotonous and boring.

However, I found the range of WAR’s classes interesting and enjoyed the games art work and aesthetics. I’d rather not slate the game, I think WAR has been subject to enough trash talk on the interwebz.

When people talk about failed MMOs they mention WAR and Age of Conan in the same breath. The less charitable compare it to such notable failures as Vanguard and Tabla Rosa. But I’m not here to do that. After all, I invested a lot of time and energy in the game. I don’t see that as wasted effort.

I had a lot of fun in WAR, and have some great memories of the game. If I’m going to make one, final dedicated post to Warhammer: Age of Reckoning I’d rather do it out of respect. Respect for the hard work of developers. No doubt they sacrificed years of their lives. Also, respect for what is still a solid, though flawed, MMO.

Did the game fail? Yes, even EA/Mythic employees are talking about it’s major shortcomings and referring to it as a “magnificent failure”.

Still, let us speak fondly of a game that was once held to be a challenger to “The MMO that shall not be named”.

I come to praise WAR, not bury it.

I would rather pay tribute to WAR then condemn it. This, my eulogy, will praise the legacy of WAR…

Public Quests

A notable innovation, the public quest (PQ) allowed players to easily group and take on elite level MOBs and gain higher level gear and rewards. Players could simply open the “looking for group” window and join a group anywhere in a zone. Starting a PG group was just easy, and removed the need to constantly spam the open chat channels for party members.

This mechanic easily encouraged grouping, and as the groups numbers grew you would often convert the group into a “Warband”. Then the fun really started, as you and your little army went off to hunt enemy and capture strategic points in the ORvR areas. No doubt PQs will become a standard in many MMOs over the coming years, and can be rightly stated as true innovation.

Introducing PvP to a broader audience

Many gamers have become accustomed to the PvE tread mill: click NPC, get quest to kill ten rats, kill ten rats, come back and get rewards. Repeat for several years. Players were ripe for a change, and they looked to WAR for a different experience. After all WAR advertised itself as “the player versus player” experience: no doubt many flocked to WAR’s banner because of this very promise.

Fighting a MOB with scripted moves is one thing. PvP players know taking on another player is a thrilling challenge. WoW’s PvP is rather dull in comparison, restricted to Battle Grounds and a few open areas (Wintergrasp). I’ve never felt the same sense of danger or anticipation in WoW’s PvP than I did in WAR. No doubt the interest Aion has a lot to do with it’s PvP aspects. Thanks to WAR, many formally PvE centric players have had a taste of PvP and are keen to experience it in greater doses.

How to manage pre-launch expectations

It’s fair to say that pre-release, WAR was subject to enormous hype. Viz, Mark Jacobs very public statements, the bold claims made for it’s success and how WAR was going to take on WoW. In the months leading up to WARs release, I like many other players where *pumped*.

However, the games infamous post-launch issues dashed the hopes and dreams of many gamers. It was if there was a great disturbance in the MMOsphere and hundreds of thousands of gamers cried out in frustration all at once.

In contrast, witness NC Soft’s low-balling of expectationshas with the Aion launch. They’ve tried hard to walk the tight rope of building awareness and anticipation for Aion while not setting themselves up for massive failure. Mythic as taught the industry a valuable lesson: be careful what you say pre-launch.

Oh, and Blizzard will face stomp you if you dare try to take a shot at their crown.

Community engagement

Despite the often acrimonious relationship between Mythic and it’s player base, one could never fault the companies commitment to engaging and communicating with the WAR community. Even as a casual player, I had a good sense of the direction of the game and how issues where being resolved thanks to the frequent communication from Mythic. It sets a benchmark for other companies, and Mythic should be applauded for setting new standards of engagement with it’s player base.

Focus on polish

WAR was not polished enough at launch. The rough, unfinished Tier 4 and endgame experience dissapointed most players who got there. Bugs riddled the game, leading to almost daily hot fixes by Mythic during the first few months. The client would often crash, and server performance was subject to the ire of many players. In contrast, Aion has offered a relatively smooth launch experience. Despite the long server queues that some have experienced (at worst I’ve had a ten minute wait) there has almost no QQ about client/server performance. The game is relatively bug-free and runs smoothly.

Hopefully, developers will learn from WARs post-launch blues and ship a quality, polished product and not hope players will “stick it out” for a few months unit they get it right.

They first few months are when players such as myself are evaluating the game and deciding whether or not we’re going to maintain our subscriptions. Treat us well at the beggining, and we might just stick around.

Imitation and flattery: what WoW has taken from WAR Wednesday, Sep 9 2009 

WoW’s Borg strategy
This is not an exercise in WoW bashing.

How to build an MMO? Take the best bits from others...

Successful strategies often rely on studying the ideas and technology of your competitors, then making them your own...

I play WoW and I the game.

I think it offers a great MMO experience. Heck, I’ve just starting leading a ten man Naxx group, which indicates my commitment to WoW. But having sampled other MMOs I can’t but smile when I see features of other games slowly find their way into WoW. Ever since WAR launched I’ve seen a number of it’s features become standard features of WoW.

But it’s no secret that Blizzard is somewhat Borg like (check ultra nerd reference there guys). They’re the biggest, baddest dudes on the block and grow by absorbing the technology of their enemies. They take the raw ideas of others and polish them.

Bit-by-bit WAR features are being assimilated.

WAR fell short, but it’s failure offers valuable lessons
I suggested in one of my previous articles that WAR relied on a strategy of innovating many of the features common to MMOs. However in doing so they diluted their efforts. WAR is one of the great “could’ a been” MMOs. It reached for greatness, but just fell short. It’s the Icarus of MMOs. It’s a game with beautiful artwork, interesting classes and a rich lore supporting it.

But with it the developers tried to do too much. However, other MMO developers have noticed some of the interesting features and have started to adopt them.

WAR may have suffered from not capitalising on it’s first mover advantage: it introduced novel concepts to the MMO genre, but failed to capitalise on them. The advantage then moves to the second  mover, who sees a good idea and grabs it. Clearly Blizzard is taking advantage of this position: watching competitors, analysing their success and failures and absorbing them.

Something borrowed, something WoW
So what are some of WARs features being assimilated by the master of polish at Blizzard?

WAR feature 1: instant PvP
One of the great features of WAR was joining a scenario from anywhere in the world. Simply click a button form the user interface (UI) and join a scenario. WoW now offers the very same feature. Perviously who had to find a Battle Master in one of the capital cities to join a Battle Grround (BG). Now, you can join a BG from anywhere in WoW.

WAR feature 2: open world PvP
Surely Wintergrasp (WG) was Blizzard’s counter to the promise of WARs RvR lakes? Both offer zones that each faction battles to control. The zones have strategic control points (keeps in WAR, workshops in WoW). You get rewards for controlling the zone. The battles are essentially the same experience: zerg v zerg.

WAR feature 3: WoWs Orcs and new Goblin race will mirror the Greenskins

Ere den? Wats this about gobbos in Azeroth den?

Ere den? Wats this about gobbos in Azeroth den?

Cataclysm will offer two new playable classes: Goblins and Worgen. The question is why are Goblins aligning themselves with the Horde? Why even make them a playable class. Well, the addition of Goblins to the Horde mirrors the Greenskins races of Destruction in Horde. Both are the “bad” side. Both offer Orcs, and now both offer Goblins as a playable race. Really, a Goblin Hunter will be WoW’s equivalent of a Greenskin Squig Herder. A Goblin warlock/mage is a Greenskin Shaman.

We did leave WAR and comes to WoW lads!

We did leave WAR and comes to WoW lads!

WAR feature 4: tracking quest objectives in map
This feature has not yet been implemented (did not make Patch 3.2), but will do so in the near future. WARs maps did this by shading quest areas of objectives in red. This made the entire PvE experience much easier, and was a well liked by players. WoW will add icons and the like on their maps, pointing players exactly where they need to go.

Learning from the enemy is a legitimate strategy
Is there anything wrong with this? Well you can QQ about Blizzard not being original… but we’re talking about fantasy computer games folks. Not great art.

All MMOs can trace their ancestry back to Lord of the Rings and Dungeon’s & Dragons. They all borrow  aspects of lore, gameplay etc. WoW was designed to be an easier version of EverQuest. EverQuest derived it’s inspiration from MuD games, but added a graphical interface. MuDs based themselves on D&D. D&D took it’s inspiration from table top games and Lord of the Rings… and so forth.

In the end adopting WAR features makes WoW a better game. From a customer perspective, I and the millions of other players “win”. Though it does make me a little sad that WAR could not have translated all their great ideas into the worlds #2 MMO.

Karazhan: best instance ever? Friday, Aug 21 2009 

V5s5t5ng the s5ghts
Kara. Still worth visiting today if only for the sights

Could Karazhan be the best WoW instance ever?

The world of WoW is big. Despite the fact that I’ve been playing WoW for almost four years there is a very large proportion of Azeroth and Outlands that I’ve never seen. Despite rolling several alts and levelling one character all the way to level cap I’ve experienced only a small proportion of the game. But it’s not just zones I’ve missed missed out visiting. I’d pretty much missed out on seeing the end game instances of both Vanilla and BC WoW.

Last night I took a tiny step in correct that with a run through the fabled Karazhan. Yes, we went in with a mixture of 70’s and overpowered 80’s. It was a nostalgia run for some and a bit of tourism for me.

Kara was *the* raid to do in Burning Crusade. It’s where many started their raiding experience if they hadn’t done so in Vanilla WoW. It’s the one that first piqued my interest in raiding as a concept. But I never got round to running it. Time and an addiction to far too many alts meant I never got there.

But thanks to some good friends of mine I was run through it last night. My impressions?

Gosh it’s a beautiful instance.

The art work is superb. You really get the feeling of fighting your way through a partly demolished and ruined tower. The boss fights are interesting, varied and would have been challenging. I’d heard all about the Maiden, Big Bad Wolf etc. from podcasts, guild mates and the WoW blogosphere. But seeing them was as different experience.

Karazhan has character, the kind that Dead Mines has. I know there are many instances in WoW, each with their own unique charms, but there are some real standouts. Kara would have to be one of them.

Of course it was an easy run for us last night- just over an hour. Apparently in the “good old days” in order to clear Kara raid groups would schedule at least 3-4 hours over three nights.

Listening in on experienced raiders reminisce about Kara runs of old in Vent was also fascinating:

“Oh I loved this part!’

“This fight used to be so hard!”

You could tell how many memories this place holds, how fun and challenging it was. My super-pally-healer friend talked us through all the highs and lows of old Kara runs. How they wiped on every part of the instance (including the trash mobs), how they’d *never* taken this boss down. BoE and BoP gear was dropping left-right and centre, with members of our raid team exclaiming “Oh I always wanted that!”.

I regret never raiding Kara back in the day. At least last nights run gave me a glimpse of just how fun it would must have been.  I can see why experienced raiders have a special place in their hearts for Kara.

My hope is in the next expansion or future patches they remake Kara as they did Naxxramas. It wouldn’t be the same, but it would give me and others real incentive to go back and visit what may be one of the best WoW instances ever made. 

Given how much content has been missed by players over the years, reimaging old Vanilla WoW content is a good strategy. The assets have already been built and they could be retuned for the new level cap with reimaged fights, loot drops and revamped story lines.

Monday’s expert: what is there to like about WAR? Sunday, Aug 9 2009 

Despite it’s flaws, WAR is still a pretty solid MMO (end game being one of the most serious issues needing to be resolved). My previous post discussing the failings of WAR may have left the impression the game is a total failure. I wouldn’t say it is: there is still much to commend about WAR. It’s innovative features are impressive, and will no doubt find their way into many future MMOs.

If I had to sum up my opinion it would be this: WAR tried to be too innovative. It wanted to be both PvE and PvP king. The developers should have concentrated their efforts in making it either the best theme park MMO or the best PvP MMO.

I suspect commentators will look back and see WAR for what it is: a good MMO that just fell short of true greatness.

Very close in fact.

Top notch art work

However I still continue to play WAR. I’ll list my reasons for in further posts, however one of the reaons I still enjoy WAR is the art work:

Very, very cool.

Very, very cool.

One of my Destruction alts in that factions starter zone. Great atmosphere, great visuals. These guys are evil. And it sure as hell looks like it. The whole feel of WAR is that of a world in conflict:

Can you say "atmospheric"?

Can you say "atmospheric"?

Here’s Augusteena patrolling Troll Country. Bodies litter the ground everywhere, war camps are stuffed with men and supplies as if about to head off to battle. Mythic’s artists certainly nailed the look of Warhammer. The world looks as one think it should.

One of the reasons I toyed with cancelling WoW was it’s cartoonish, pastel themed art work. I understand it’s graphics engine is over four years old, and there is only so far you can push the graphics. Still, WoW’s art direction is brilliant.

But WAR’s art has the grittiness that WoW lacks, which is befetting a MMO that once claimed “War is everywhere”.

The day after: when your MMO patches Saturday, Aug 8 2009 

No matter which MMO who play, WAR, WoW, EQ, Conan… you will have no doubt expereienced the joy of post-patch day. Often changes our made to the world or the class you play. Sometines for better, sometimes for worse. WoW Patch 3.2 has just dropped introducing a wide range of changes to the game. Some good, some bad and some “meh”.

Well, it's looks good!

Well, it's looks good!

All in all, I think the changes are welcome. I for one, like change. I really do.

However, it did make me think about the “what to expect” after your MMO has been patched;

  • Broken mods – You forget just how much you depend on the mods (add on programs) to enhance your game experience. Most “break” and don’t function, leaving you to struggle with the games original UI and functionality. And it normally aint’ pretty…
  • Class nerf – My spell/ability has changed! It changed! You may have even read the patch notes, and knew it was coming. Take for example my paladins Holy Wrath ability; casting time is now 1.5 seconds. 1.5 seconds! No matter the game, some players will feel a sense of outrage. “OMGZ I teh quite game!” Post-patch the QQ (crying, moaning, complaining) kicks into high gear)
  • The world changes – MMOs promise a dynamic, chaning world. But when it changes, many people can’t handle it. For people who play MMOs every day, having their routine changed (aka spoiled) is stressfull.
  • I can’t raid/endgame – Broken mods, changed mob skills, retuned instances and dungeons… all of sudden what you’ve been doing on auto is different.
  • This game is not what is used to be – Somehow the current state of the game just does not compare to when it first launched (see the debate of WoW’s endgame experience and how its “easier” for those cry baby, carebare casuals)

Sometimes a developer can really drive a stake into the game (the infamous “New Experience” Star Wars Galaxies, or some of the issues that seem to be arising form WAR’s “Land of the Dead”  live expansion).

But more often than not, change is good. Roll with it is what I say!

Postcards: the arts and crafts of Troll Country Wednesday, Aug 5 2009 

Hi guys!

Augusteena here again! Some of you might not know it, but I took Visual Arts Theory as a minor during my time training to be a Warrior Priest. While more than a few people thought is was a waste of time (yes, I’m looking at you mum!), I’ve found my knowledge of the arts has really informed my travels. Especially in Troll Country, where the locals seem to have a real flair for using “found objects” in their art. Take this example….

A really expressive piece of work!

A really expressive piece of work!

… a charming and very expressive piece. Clearly the artist (now dead, his corpse was lying near by) was exploring his fear and dread of death, mocking both it’s finality and universality. The rough hewn wood compliments the dull metal of the chest piece. The piece speaks to the viewer;  “Oh, I’m deeeeeath! Here I come!”.

And while I just loved, loved, loved that piece, Ive found some of the local artists have taken the use of found objects to a whole new level…

Powerful commentary on the war between Man and Nature...

Powerful commentary on the war between Man and Nature...

…like this powerful piece commenting on the conflict between the locals and the trolls of the region. It has such pathos and raw emotion. Clearly the artist shows sympathy for the slain trolls, prompting the viewer to question the  dismembering, slaying, chopping, stabbing, shooting, burning, hanging and gutting of these powerful and majestic animals. The conflcit between Man and Nature summoned up in this one work!

Brilliant! How the tears welled up in my eyes when I saw this piece! And not just from the smell either!!!!

Well, hope to write again soon. I’m sure this is much more of the local arts to see here in Troll Country!

XOXO

Monday’s Expert: did innovation kill Warhammer online? Monday, Aug 3 2009 

This would make a great MMO! Maybe?

This would make a great MMO! Maybe?

We all want to make a difference, to change the world in some small way.

Which is why the word “innovation” is used so frequently used in business and the arts. We need to “innovate” in order to beat the competition and mark a difference. Innovation will bring customers, revenue and recognition.But does the phrase “innovation can cause death” have merit? Often companies and organisations arrive at a compromise;

“Maybe we can do a little bit of innovation, but mostly do what we know works.”

I’m not an MMO developer – hence the name of this series “Monday’s Expert”. I can only comment after the fact, and from second-hand. Am qualified to do so? No. But I do have experience in working as a senior manager in large organisations, and have frequently managed large IT projects.

Well there’s you have my “IMHO” opener. Now, too business.

Can’t. Tun. Off. Brain.

I play MMOs to relax, and yes escape the humdrum of normal life. But even in game, when running a dungeon with a group or soloing content I can’t turn off the analytical part of my brain. Having played two AAA MMOs extensively (and dabbled in Dark Age of Camelot) I can’t but help compare and contrast both the my experience in both Warhammer (WAR) and World of Warcraft (WoW).

For years players, or more specifically bloggers and commentators have asked developers to be more “innovative”. No more WASD, DikuMUD, fantasy themed games please! Give us something new, fresh! Innovate! But what happens when innovation is attempted? Hence my review of Warhammer Online’s perceived failure.

The promise of innovation: WAR is everywhere?

Players, both current and ex (of which there are sadly too many) will fondly remember the promise of the WAR’s tagline “WAR is everywhere”. It was the promise of massive player versus player battles; the constant struggle for survival against a ruthless enemy. Desperate keep fights. City sieges waged between two massive armies – one representing a flawed good (Order) and the other malevolent evil (Destruction).

It promised to be a gritty, grim battle for survival. The constant flow of information from the developers Mythic was constant, uplifting and tantalising. I admit, I got pulled into the hype. So I bought the box and official game guide the day it was released. And gosh, I was excited.

My initial experiences were extremely positive. I enjoyed the classes I sampled, admired the artwork and got straight into the PvP (or “Realm versus Realm”) side of the game. Right from the get go I was enjoying some great PvP action. WAR was good. I was enjoying myself. And it seemed there many other players enjoying it too. The game had momentum. There was talk of WAR being a series competitor to WoW. In fact, for a few months I toyed with cancelling WoW all together.

I was running two characters simultaneously; a Witch Hunter named Julstinian and and a female Elf Shadow Warrior called Aigeline.

So many alts, so much fun... right?

So many alts, so much fun... right?

I’d never really played a lightly class melee DPS class before, and was keen to do something different. If I was going to try WAR, then I’d experience the game from a completely new perspective. I hung up my plate armour in order to be daring. I got both to 20 pretty quickly. I did lots of PvP, and lead quite a few keep fights.

But my sense of how much fun I was having started to change. Across the board things turned ugly. Players became disgruntled, a backlash developed. Things fell apart.

The question is; why did the collapse happen so fast?

Nerd rage, WoW tourists, server stability problems or player balance issues? All of this. But WAR could have survived all this, after all launching a MMO is no small thing. People expect problems. I’d suggest that most players expected things to be a bit bumpy at first. I sure did and had plenty of patience in reserve. I was prepared to forgive the game and developers a great deal. And yet, the initial game population of an estimated 800,000 has crashed to less than 300,000. A second round of server mergers has just been announced.

WTF happened?

Innovation: PQs, oRvR, ToK, SC’s and some other acronyms.

WAR has some notable features, which are now starting to appear in other MMOs in one form or another (especially in WoW). Some of these innovations include:

  • Tomb of Knowledge (ToK) – recording both your progress in the world of WAR, it also contains information on lore, NPCs and monsters while tracking the progress of your quests, number of mob and player kills. The ToK is stunning, in both conception and execution. I spent a great deal of time simply browsing the content, familiarising myself with the world.
  • Public Quests (PG) – brilliant in both conception and execution. Simply turn up to a public quest area and start killing stuff. Whether or not you where grouped with some one, you all achieved the same result. Each PQ followed a simular model: first stage you kill a bunch of non elite mobs; second stage you kill some elite mobs; third stage kill a boss. At the end of chest would drop with some nice rewards.
  • 100% drop rate – not really an innovation, but a nice touch. When the NPC asks you to collect ten rat tails, you go kill your ten rats and you get them straight away. A minor annoyance in MMOs simply waved away. Especially for those us burnt by Stranglethorn Vale in WoW.
  • Instant PvP – being able to port into instanced PvP battleground (called Scenario’s, or SC’s) in WAR was a great way to get a burst of PvP action. Especially if you only had 15-30 minutes spare and you wanted some fun, not a PvE grind. Simply hit a button to be transported to the SC for some great PvP action.
  • End game city siege – in my mind this sounded the most fascinating, and the part of the game with the most potential. Here was an end game that promised to be epic. Sacking your rivals city and fighting it out in the streets of their capital? Awesome!

And yet despite all this promise, WAR failed. Why? Here’s some thoughts as too why…

Failure one: not using technology to tell the story.

PvE in WAR is often referred to as an afterthought. In my opinion it stands up pretty well compared to WoW’s PvE game. Essentially it’s about killing ten rats and moving stuff from one NPC to another. I expect that. The text in both the Tome of Knowledge and that associated with the quest givers is actually superior to WoW’s. It conveys the gritty feeling of WAR, and helps give you a good sense of the lore. And yet I can’t help but feel WAR’s PvE fails. Why?

The overuse of public quests.

Unarguably the developers greatest innovation is the public quest, and yet by the “second tier” (between levels 10-20) you’re heartily sick of them. By that stage they have lost their magic, as you will find at least half a dozen scattered around the zone. At that point you simply roamed around farming PQ’s with groups. A true grind. Compare this to WoW’s human starter zone, where there is one elite mob you work towards killing: Hogger.

Still opening a "can of woop ass" on noobs to this day...

Still opening a "can of woop ass" on noobs to this day...

Everyone in WoW knows Hogger, the gnoll mini-boss. It’s normally the first hard quest, and it teaches newbie players the value of grouping (you need at least three players to kill him/her/it). Four years after the launch of WoW, Hogger jokes are still funny. He’s part of the lore and our shared gaming experience because he is unique. WARs PQ’s could have been used more sparingly, at best one-or-two per zone. More time should have been put into crafting a unique experience for each rather than the same three tiered approach of mob/elite/boss fight.

Imagine if each PQ experience had been perfectly crafted to tell a story. Wrath of the Lich King’s use of phasing technology is used to tell the story brilliantly. The Wrath Gate experience, whereby you watch the tragedy unfurl before you and that part of the game world is for ever changed for you, is simply magic. There isn’t a WoW player who was not blown away by that.

The technology is an aid, but is used sparingly and judiciously. PQ’s could have been the tool to do that for WAR. Instead they used them as PvE filler.

Failure two: Tome of Knowledge fails to tell other players your story

WoW achievement system is a anaemic compared to WAR’s ToK, and yet it is far more satisfying. Why? When you reach an achievement in WoW it is announced in both the general and your guild channel. More often than not you get a flood of “gratz”. Achievements are all about status. Downing a raid boss in heroic and having that broadcast to your guild mates is a nice touch. The ToK tells me everything I need to know, but does not share this information with other players.

In fact, it becomes nothing more than a Wiki experience. You browse with diminishing interest.

Still impressive to this day

Still impressive to this day

MMO players come to these worlds to interact with other players. Achievements and the like help signal prowess, but also signal shared experiences. Some WoW players complain about “achievement spam”, but honestly, most of us live for the recognition it gives us:

“Gratz”

Such simple recognition from your peers can make all the difference. Achievements are driving players like crazy in WoW.

Failure three; instant PvP

Again a good idea, but in my experience it killed the open world PvP experience. The only place where viable PvP action happened on my server was in scenarios (SC). Yes, they were fun, but SC fights are restricted to small scale battles.

The promise open world PvP was never delivered.

oRvR can be fun, if you can find the people...

oRvR can be fun, if you can find the people...

Which brings me to my next point: there was nothing like the  experience of two armies fighting it out in the open field.

Failure four: I’m a grunt, not a general!

Warhammer, as a table top game, is about marshalling the fight between two armies. It has an epic feel: regiments line up to charge, cannons roar, dragons swoop to attack. And yet, WAR online is about pushing your tiny, individual avatar around PvE content. Table top WAR is about being a general. WAR online is about being one of those expendable grunts. There is a disconnect between the two.

For me, this is WAR has really failed.

Sure, leading a Warband (twenty five man player group) could be described as a “command experience”, but really, Warbands where zerg’s far too hard to command with any finesse.

I lead quite a few, and found the whole thing frustrating in the end. And it took time to get a Warband up and running. Individual members would come and go, so it’s composition was always in flux. It wasn’t like herding cats. It was more like herding an army of angry lemmings with their suicidal tendencies in overdrive:

“Lets keep running against the wall of Destruction players and getting pwned!!!! Weeeeeeeeee!”

Running a 10 man Naxx with your WoW group can take a great deal of co-ordination and hard work. Organising twenty five random strangers to take multiple keeps across zones?

Oi vey!

Now imagine if WAR had allowed you to control a unit? Perhaps multiple units like a good strategy game. You could bring archers, foot soldiers, mounted troops or seige engineers. Heck, now that would have been *fun*.

Let players fight against other players for control of strategic points – keeps, resources or points like bridges, roads and towns. It could have been a strategy MMO. Letting players control units at the tactical level would have been fun. But I imagine this would be regarded as a niche product, and would not have given the developers and Sony Entertainment Online anything like WoW’s numbers.

Warhammer has such a rich, deep reservoir of lore to draw from. Turing it into a traditional single player MMO may have been where they may have made their first mistake. I wonder if anyone at Mythic or the owners of WAR’s original IP thought:

“Say, let’s give players the chance to battalian a unit of Chaos Knights!” No?

Failure five: complex meta-game that opened end game content.

In order to get to the city siege fight, your “side” had to capture and “lock” zone, keeps and battle objectives. It required a good understanding of the end game process. But for a casual player at level ten, months and months away from end game it was all meaningless. So what if Destruction controlled my zone? Could I still PvE? Yes. Could I still pop into a SC? Yes. Did it stop progression of my character, or dealt out any other penalties that impacted me? No. Did I care? Not really. In fact, seeing my zone flip to was depressing.

“Oh look, we’re losing. Again.”

Says Destruction:

“Wez are in your capital city pwning yr king”

For the casual player, who WAR desperately needed to capture, the meta-game that underpinned the end-game was far to complex and daunting. I don’t have a full day to spend locking zones to get into the end game.

This is why WoW raid-centric end game works for casuals such as myself. I know what I need to do in order to perform better in a raid. Sure, downing a boss does not change the game world. But so what?

Lets put it into context: I’ve got two hours on a Wednesday night and I want to have some fun. I’ll get on vent, raid with my guild and have some fun. Next week we go back to clean up Naxx. Each time we get better.

It’s about the entertainment experience.

Imagine if WoW raiding depended on one side capturing the whole of Northrend, holding it and so players could the get into Ulduar. Imagine if I had to spend hours taking control of Dragonblight in order to have a shot at entering Naxxramas.

Argh! By all that is holy, Blizzard please don’t copy this feature of WAR!

Note: yes, I know you have to capture the Wintergrasp zone in order to do the dungeons in that instance (Vault of Archavon, or VoA). But VoA is in addition to Naxxramas, Ulduar and the other normal and heroic instances.

For casual players such as myself, WAR’s endgame seemed far to daunting to enter. Blizzard is creating an end game experience that is becoming more open to casual players such as myself. Raiding in both Vanilla WoW and Burning Crusdae was outside the reach of most players.

Opening up the end game to millons of paying customers such as myself: not such a bad thing innit?

Failure six: allowing PvE servers as an option

The servers still thriving in WAR seems to be those offering open world PvP.

PvP is what attracted many new players, including myself. However I made the mistake of registering on a more safe, traditional PvE server with PvP “lakes” (restricted zones where PvP could happen). I’m sure many other players made the same mistake and found themselves confronted with a limited PvE experience and no true PvP going on.

Hence, the promise of “WAR is everywhere” was never delivered upon. It had less to due with balance issues, and more to do with diluting the promise of open world PvP.

Perhaps Mythic should have made the gamble and allowed only open world PvP servers. Sure those PvE minded players migrating from WoW might have had a rougher time. But really, I like many where looking for the challenge. WAR promised to take players such as myself in a new direction. Maybe not quite hadcore as a Darkfall, but at least more challenging than WoW.

And yet, players such as myself landed smack bang into a typical PvE game experience, imagining something different. We never got the challenge we wanted.

Of those 800,000 who initially registered, I imagine most were MMO veterens of some sort. Players like this new what we were getting ourselves into. And that was why so many felt underwhelmed:

“I thought this going to be harder!”

Most of us have done the PvE grind fest. For me, and many others WAR promised a different path.

Failure seven: innovation was restricted to PvE aspects of WAR

Here’s the crunch: the most innovate aspects of the game – PQ’s and ToK – facilitate the PvE side of the game.

If WAR was still going to follow the traditional route of a fantasy themed, third person point of view (PoV) MMO then the focus should have been on the PvE experience. If you going to go head-to-head with WoW, and yes Mythic and owners Sony wanted too, then your PvE has to be better than WoW.

Not as good, better.

PQ’s could have helped build story, not act as content filler. Imagine having only one PQ each zone, with even harder boss to kill. Like WoW’s dungeons they could have been a focal point for grouping, of getting random groups of strangers together. Bonds would have formed, guilds would regularly go out to tackle them.

Instead, you found the same-same- boring PQ’s scattered like leafs across the zones.

The ToK could have been used even more effectively to tell a grand narrative: down a boss, and a really special reward or chapter detailing your role could have been created.

There was such potential there to tell a story. PvE means it’s the developers responsibility. PvP is “user created” content. Perhaps you can’t really do both. Or if you going to do both, both your PvP and PvE experience has to be exceptional. However from a development perspective, it takes translates into time and money. Where to make the investment is a hard choice in any project.

Final verdict: did innovation kill WAR?

Did Warhammer innovate?

Yes. It sure did. On paper it’s sound great.

Did innovation kill Warhammer?

A qualified yes.

It takes millions – an estimated $70m in WAR’s case – to get a AAA MMO up and running. You need to pull in some big subscriber numbers to get your ROI. So appealing to the broadest spectrum of the MMO market sounded like a great idea.

Yet trying to have a broad based appeal and innovate is a tricky proposition.

IMHO the developers tried to do too much: WAR as chock full of innovation, but famously lacked the polish of WoW or other MMOs. This lack of polish hurt them badly. Server stability, client crashes and too many bugs damaged the games reputation.

At the same time in trying to capture the PvE and PvP crowd, Mythic diluted their efforts across the board. Perhaps they should have either gone for full PvE (WoW clone strategy) or niche, hardcore PvP (EVE, Darkfall).

Perhaps they did not innovate enough. Knowing what to leave out is just as innovative as putting new, unique features into a game. However with aspirations to be the second biggest kid on the block after WoW, while also innovating, Mythic dropped the ball.

Saying you’re going to be the next WoW sounds so much better than stating your going to be the next EVE. EVE is considered a niche MMO, and for investors and Mythic alike that simply wasn’t grand enough. However with 300,000 subscribers and a player base that have grown over the years, EVE is looking far more mainstream than WAR. Nor is it tainted with the stigma of failure WAR now has.

Indeed, I’d hazard a guess and say EVE has more active players than WAR currently does.

Postcards: How hard is it to find a good book guys? Monday, Jul 20 2009 

Hi all, Augusteena here!

When I go on holidays I need something light to read. Normally I carry the “Life of Sigmar” with me everywhere as it helps me heal. But, really, who doesn’t want something lighter to read! Luckily books are can be found lying around Nordland, thanks the locals either being dead or having run off. Problem is it’s not exactly holiday reading. I mean, “War and Priest: my life as a Warrior Priest” and “Demon Summing for Dummies” ain’t exactly light reading. Oh well, shall keep looking!

Hugs!

XOXO

So many choices! All sooooooo dull!

So many choices! All sooooooo dull!

The horrors of WAR: Postcards from Augusteena Sunday, Jul 5 2009 

Note: first in the series of postcards from my WAR Warrior Priest as she tours the world of Warhammer.

Hi! Augusteena here!

Hit Nordland a few weeks back, and have to say it seems pretty quiet around here.  Must be off season, as I’ve barely seen any other tourists.  I’ve run round *heaps*, meet and killed LOTS of Chaos minions and animals. Soooo busy killing rats n’ stuff,  but still having fun! Here’s me having a quick dip at the beach after killing some Raiders. Water was cold! Brrrrrrrrrrr! Lucky the shot was not a close up – it was *cold*!

Hugs!

Taking time out from killing mobs for a quick dip in the frigid seas...

Taking time out from killing mobs for a quick dip in the frigid seas...

Hi! Augusteena again!

I’m beggining to think the locals aren’t that cosmopolitan. I grew up in Altdorf, capital of the Empire and we happily accepted all types.  As my mum used to say,  it takes all types to make all sorts right? Anyhoo – seems they have a different opinion on those who don’t share the same opinions. They tend to burn them alive. Over reacting much? Here’s me standing next to some peasant burned for something! The smell put me off bacon for like a week! Ewwwwwwwwwww!

Kisses XOXO

BBQ Heretic

BBQ Heretic

Hi, me again!

Finally! I meet some people! Gosh it was nice! We ran around, killed some Orcs, Dark Elves and little green things called “gobbos”. All good fun. Hope to do it again soon!

Big kissses! XOXO

I get my with a little help from my PuG...

I get my with a little help from my PuG...

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