Monday, August 25, 2008

Warhammer Beta: A WoW Player’s Perspective

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.

User Interface
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.

The Map
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.


SolidState said...

One of the most important things about WoW is the PvE and specifically the endgame PvE.

So my question to you, as a current WoW player who is in the Beta - how does the PvE content in WAR stack up? Are there any interesting instances? Is there any info about endgame raiding? Is questing exactly like in WoW or different? (apart from the Open Group concept)

A related question - I understand PQs are repeatable - you can do them as many times as you want. Do you see people actually doing these more than once/a few times, or are they interesting/challenging enough to come back to over and over, like a raid? The WoW repeatable daily quests award a lot of gold, which is why people do them (well and for faction rep too). But I think most people would not do them otherwise. Are the PQs different?

SolidState said...

> or are they

I meant "and are they" :)

sid67 said...

I can’t tell you what endgame PvE will look like in WAR since I haven’t played it. Questing is similar to WoW, but the MAP system makes the area to go more obvious. It makes a certain amount of sense – it’s almost as-if the questgiver took your map from you and put his finger on the general area of where he encountered the beast who killed his poor wife. It’s not as much detail as a walkthrough site, but enough to let me know where to go without wandering aimlessly.

PQs have three stages, the 1st stage has no timer and is easily soloable, albeit time consuming (think kill/collection quest). Once that stage is complete, the 2nd stage begins – this is harder (think elites) and has a timer. When the timer runs out, it resets to stage 1. Stage 3 is even harder (think boss) and also has a timer that works like Stage 2.

Everything you do in the PQ contributes to influence (think faction rep) for that chapter. It doesn’t take that many PQs to max out influence and while it would be a bit grindy – a solo player could cap it out by repeating Stage 1. There are 3 rewards available for influence, so even if the boss isn’t killed (starting the vegas roll) you still can get something out of it.

The elegant beauty of PQs is that it is immediately obvious how far along the PQ is and that you have entered one. A few solo players wandering into the area together suddenly find themselves working together (at the exact same point) to complete a progressively harder objective. Once it’s finished, it’s only natural for you to stay together to do it again.

In WoW, people compete for mobs. There is none of that in WAR. If I need a Boar’s Head, all I need to do is help kill the boar a bit and I get the quest update (I don’t even have to loot). You don’t “tap” a mob, so if two of us kill the boar together (even if we aren’t in party) then we both get the update. All of these things foster and encourage players working together rather than being annoyed they are in your grind location.