It would be a sad situation if the wrapper were better than the meat wrapped inside it.

One thing that Warhammer Online has managed to do, perhaps more successfully than others, is to make other people the content. This came to light recently when discussing the number of new arrivals in the guild and how the first ten levels or so are fairly fast in coming, but then things start to slow somewhat after that, such that it was highly likely that these newcomers would, in all likelihood, be able to catch-up with the current wave of existing members and in short order join with them on the battlefield. It’s a bit like a motorway traffic jam, where the faster traffic at the back catches up quite quickly with the slowed traffic at the front and everything concertinas up, only with less swearing, horn tooting and smashing of GPS units against the dashboard.

The point was that despite the motorway-congestion-based levelling curve we do have several levelling machines within the guild, the sort who seem to have strapped their arms, via a complex set of hinged rods and springs, to some Victorian clockwork contraption that ticks and whirrs away in the background, thrusting the mouse hand around and chik-chakking the fingers on the keyboard hand like a strange cross between a hyperactive spider and an H.R. Giger biomechanical mass, presumably allowing them to continue playing even as they sleep. They are the steampunk Terminators of the MMO world: they will not stop levelling ever. Or so it used to be. Now, however, several of these guild members are talking about rolling alts and trying new classes whilst they wait for the rest of the server to catch them up, because they’re finding very little to do at their current level. That’s not to say that there isn’t any content, that’s not the case at all, it’s just that what they want to do is fight in RvR; the game makes RvR so pervasive and easy to partake in that it becomes the focus of a player’s levelling experience, these speed levellers therefore want other players on their side to join with, and they want players on the other side to fight against, because it’s slowly becoming clear that, if done well, PvP is a far more compelling game-play experience than an AI-controlled PvE one can ever be.

Which is something EVE Online and its proponents have been trying to tell us for years.

General PvE and the more focussed public quests are fine, but what WAR is showing us is that PvP can also be fun, even for Carebears such as myself. Take, for example, a scenario run last night where Order were facing off against the forces of Destruction in the tier two scenario Stone Troll Crossing. I say ‘facing off’ but of course what I mean by that is ‘getting obliterated in the typical fashion of an undermanned force fighting against an overpopulated realm of hardcore PvPers’. Such is the way of Order, such is the way of the Alliance, such is the way of Good in the universe it seems. But let’s not get all melancholy and dwell on it as though we were an Eliot in the waste land, because our valiant underdogs pushed-on, hounding the enemy as best they could and at one point, in a brief moment of nugatory success, had the enemy fleeing before them, like foxes before the hunt, doggedly pushing them all the way back to their starting area.

It was a pyrrhic victory of course because we lost the match by some abysmal margin, but in our hearts we had won the greater battle, that being the self-imposed struggle against moral degradation and debasement at the hands of a superior force. We were the Spartans at Thermopylae; the Sikhs at Saragarhi; the Jacobites at Culloden.

Who knows, maybe one day we will be the English at Agincourt.

The fact of the matter is that being the underdog can be fun, oh for certain we don’t get to sit around bragging all day about how we own an entire server and could some of you pitiable peons please come and play Order on our server so we can unleash our fearsome skills on you, but when we do get a victory it feels like we earned it, that we fought tooth and nail for it and that it wasn’t some sort of boring statistical tick in the box, another soulless token victory by our superior force. Seeing that the game positively encourages you to get involved in the war effort with both renown and experience being rewarded for PvP, why wouldn’t you take the WAR supermarket’s special two-for-one offer? You’d be crazy not to, and at the low low price of a bit of a drubbing by the forces of Destruction every now and again. Bargain!

Other blogs have stated that public quests don’t work as well as people had originally thought, but I think they’re off target slightly: public quests do work, very well, they would be an absolute revolution in World of Warcraft for example. The reason that they’re not so popular in WAR is that the PvP scenarios and open RvR work even better. Why spend time grinding PvE mobs, and maybe experiencing the odd (albeit excellent) scripted event for a few items of gear in a public quest, when you can jump into PvP, face-off against real opponents who can produce more bizarre and unexpected tactics in one fight than the bastard offspring of IBM’s Deep Blue and a slot machine ever could, and earn yourself experience and renown to boot. And what does renown mean? Phat lewts!

Public quests were, alas, a major revolution set against the backdrop of a global war, and they inevitably and unfortunately became background noise to the main event.

So what we have is a game where the PvE content is the side order of coleslaw to the half pound cheeseburger of PvP, it’s nice to have something to dip into every now and again when the burger gets a little too much, but it’s nothing but a brief diversion on the path to chronic indigestion. Other players are the meaty main course in this game, and in the end isn’t that what massively multiplayer games should all be about?

Mmmmmm, meeeeeeeat.

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