I had a chance to play the WAR Beta and wanted to present my thoughts about the game. This isn’t a review, just my insights as a currently active WoW player planning to play Warhammer on release.
Immersion – Graphics
This is tricky, but despite the game having better “graphics” than WoW, I felt that they were less fluid or connected. When I say connected, I don’t mean to the game world but to me (personally) as the player. It’s hard to pinpoint, but something just seemed to be missing.
Cartoonists use a technique called exaggeration to avoid a phenomenon called the uncanny valley. The theory of the valley is that if an animated character is sufficiently non-humanlike, then the humanlike characteristics generate empathy that makes them visually appealing (awww – isn’t that cute!). However, if the character is too humanlike, then the non-human characteristics will be the ones that stand out and it will feel “strange” to the viewer. Ironically, the better the imitation of reality, the more likely they are to fall into this uncanny valley.
Stylistically, WoW is often considered “cartoony” when compared to other MMOs. WAR has a much grittier sense of realism. Graphically, it’s far superior to WoW, but that sense of realism makes it more difficult to have an empathic connection with the animated avatar. From an immersion standpoint, I didn’t feel as connected with the game world (through my avatar) as I do in WoW.
That being said, within a couple of hours of play, I did get used to it and started to feel like I was part of the Warhammer world. In an unexpected way, the sense of community that WAR fosters with the RvR and Public Quests actually offsets the unconnected feeling. For this reason, I didn’t find the early lack of connection to be a deal-breaker since it mostly passes. I mention it mostly because if you are a WoW player, you WILL notice it.
Open World, Public Quests
Each zone appears to be divided into six chapters (three for Order, three for Destruction) and an RvR openworld battlefield. Zones are very large and each faction has an area about the size of the Stranglethorn Vale with an RvR battlefield of about half that size separating them. In a similar fashion to a continent in WoW, you can travel anywhere in the zone seamlessly without a loading screen. Likewise, if you want to travel to another zone, you would take a public transport that brings up a loading screen (like the Zepplin or Boat in WoW). A chapter is simply a collection of several subzones and a quest hub. Each chapter appears to have at least one Public Quest.
Public Quests have been covered in detail on other sites, so all I will say about them is that they are fun. As my buddy said to me, it feels like a spontaneous 10-man raid at level 3. They feel epic and the more people participating, the more fun you will have. Anyone can solo stage 1, but no one can solo stage 3. There has been a lot of skepticism about the Vegas Roll – but it’s a non-issue. It simply feels fair and I have yet to hear of anyone who felt “cheated” out of any loot.
XP for everything
You get XP for quests. You get XP for player kills. You get XP for winning or completing an RvR scenario (like a battleground). You get XP for each stage of a Public Quest. You get XP for unlocking achievements in the Tome of Knowledge. You get XP for rising in Renown rank. You pretty much get XP for doing just about anything while playing.
However, this doesn't make for faster leveling – it just helps take the grind out of it. It’s brilliant in its simplicity because I don’t feel compelled to do anything that I don’t want to do. Since everything I do provides XP, all I need to worry about is doing whatever it is that I feel is the most fun at that particular moment.
This, more than anything else WAR offers, makes the game design vastly superior to Warcraft. In WoW, you constantly feel compelled to do things that are unfun in order to get a reward. In WAR, anything you choose to do provides a reward, so you simply gravitate towards the things you find the most fun rather than the most rewarding.
Mythic provides a default layout editor and everything can be resized, hidden or moved around. They also provide three different default hot bar layouts. Unit frames don’t appear to indicate class (or at least I never figured that out). The big thing that I noticed is that Mythic makes it pretty clear they want you watching the action and not watching bars and unit frames.
Macros suck. At least in beta, macros couldn’t be used to cast spells. Interestingly, this isn’t an entirely bad thing. It makes combat more involved and since it’s at a slightly slower pace than WoW, it’s not painful. It fits very well with the above idea that Mythic wants active participants and not people spamming one or two buttons while watching unit frames.
One improvement over WoW are the direction “arrows” that point out the location of party members and your target. Following the “watch the action not your UI” approach, WAR provides the visual clue to your relative position by providing arrows underneath your avatar in the style of Rainbow Six. Rather than located on the mini-map, directional arrows are placed at your avatar’s feet that indicate the where you can find your party or target.
Everything you could ever possibly want to know or look up on something like Thottbot is already on your map. No need to alt-tab to a website about where to go for a quest when the area is indicated with a little red cloud (like a fog of war) on your map. The neat thing about this approach is that it tells me enough about where to find it that I wouldn’t look it up, but not enough specifics to just walk me through the quest.
I will say that I’m colorblind, so this wasn’t intuitive to me right from the start. I’m used to designers differentiating things by color, but it’s still annoying. WoW does it all the time too (I hate Netherspite!), so this really isn’t a complaint specific to WAR. Eventually, I figured out my own little way of making it work for me.
Renown Rank vs. Career Levels
Warhammer has two sets of levels. A PvP level called “Renown Rank” and an all-purpose level called “Career Rank”. The Career Ranks are the most important levels since they determine your base stats, ability ranks and so forth. Renown Ranks provide points that are kinda sorta spent like talents in WoW.
Renown points can buy minor stat upgrades, large stat upgrades, or even new abilities (tactics). The biggest upgrades cost the most points and there are several tiers. Renown Rank is basically on a separate XP table that is specific to RvR. In other words, you only gain Renown when participating in RvR.
As your Career Rank (or level) progresses, you can also eventually earn points that can be spent in several Mastery trees. Through Mastery, you’ll specialize in a specific area (ex: damage, heals or buffs) that will augment your Core skills.