Daily Archives: October 14, 2008

State of the WAR Nation

Is WAR the Next Big Thing, or just a passing phase (one of my bad days)? I’m still rather enjoying it, and I think I’ll stick with it a while longer yet. It doesn’t do anything wildly revolutionary, claiming it’s created a new genre or something is frankly bonkers; WAR and WoW and LotRO and EQ2 and Age of Conan and their Diku-inspired chums are all ice cream, just some have chocolate swirls, some have raspberry ripple, some have sprinkles on top, some are made by otters in carpet factories. Maybe you don’t really like the sprinkles but you’ll put up with them ‘cos the other varieties don’t have those lovely chocolate chips, or maybe the sprinkles are a showstopper (for every sprinkle I find, I SHALL KILL YOU!) So far, for me, Warhammer’s butter almond ice cream of PvP scenarios with the roasted hazelnuts of public quests and almonds of keep taking in the white fudge shell of World RvR are enough to compensate for the fairly average praline pecans of PvE. I’d better step away from the ice cream a moment before I get too hungry…

It’s the mix of options that really make WAR. If there’s nothing else particularly on, I gravitate towards scenarios. Hop on, hit the “Join Scenario” button, roam around doing anything else you fancy while waiting, then it’s off to a fearsome life or death struggle with XP and renown rewards at the end of it. Oddly enough this is very similar to how I played WoW for a while, queue up for a battleground, fly off and quest for a bit, and into the battleground when it pops. The main difference is that on my old WoW server 10 minutes was usually the minimum queue time, more often 15 minutes for Warsong or Arathi and 30 minutes or more for Alterac, whereas now they’ve added the ability to queue for all scenarios in a tier with a single click, something usually pops within a couple of minutes in WAR. Unless joining with a guild group, though, the increased frequency of PUG scenarios isn’t necessarily a good thing, and can merely speed the screen-punching results of repeated losses in wildly unbalanced teams (10 ranged DPS, 1 melee DPS and a tank, let’s go!) full of bozos, but that’s PUGs for you. Tier 2 was going fairly well, I think I had a winning record overall, but Tier 3 is a bit painful so far, possibly due to being comparatively under-level for now, and not helped by Tor Anroc being the most frequently popping scenario, in which Destruction manage to be The Dude With The Thing every single time.

Outside scenarios, world RvR has been quite fun too. It’s a bit hit and miss, obviously depending on who happens to be around, but our guild have stormed around en masse a few times taking a bunch of keeps in the process, and a few spontaneous rucks have developed around battlefield objectives. More often, though, it seems that large warbands eschew direct confrontation; a substantial number of human defenders make taking a keep a very difficult proposition, far easier, if you can manage to point everyone in generally the same direction, is to fly off to another zone and quickly storm an undefended keep; the attackers just need to shout “everyone to (zone name)!” in warband chat, and unless the other side has a pretty organised intelligence and communication network, they’ll have taken the keep before any serious opposition can be massed.

Public quests do seem to be suffering slightly from the popularity of scenarios, but I don’t think it’s because scenarios give better rewards necessarily (though the combination of renown points, experience points, and even money and loot from other players is a nice package), just that they’re much easier to get into. If the situation was reversed (ignoring the fact that it wouldn’t really work), if public quests were off in their own instances that you could queue for with the click of a button, and there were a couple of locations on the map you physically had to travel to for specific scenarios, I think more people would be in public quests much of the time. Scenarios only need to be slightly more popular for a positive feedback loop to kick in, you go to a public quest location, nobody else is there, so you join a scenario queue while plinking away at a few of the Stage 1 mobs; you get into a scenario, somebody else turns up for the public quest, nobody is there, they join a scenario queue… On the plus side, once you do get a group together, they still work very well; a guild group ran through all nine Elf public quests in chapters 10 – 12 last night, and had a rather splendid time.

Also in PvE-world are dungeons. I’ve only seen Gunbad, heading there a couple of times, and… it’s a dungeon. It’s not awful by any stretch, but it didn’t exactly leap out and perform an “I’m an amazing dungeon” tap dance while handing out free tickets to the wedding of its son. Perfectly functional, mosey on through taking on groups-of-three-Champion-mobs, a bit like yer bog standard WoW-type instance (one of the less interesting ones). Having public quests as you go is quite a nice touch, and it’s something to do as a group, nice for a bit of a change but not something I’d be queuing up for on a daily basis.

Finally, there’s general questing. Quests are the glue that binds everything together, and unfortunately for WAR, it’s more Pritt Stick than superglue. It starts off so very promisingly in your first zone, you have plenty of lovely quests. Quests to use siege weaponry so you get the hang of that, quests that reward you for taking part in a scenario, quests that overlap with public quests to nudge you gently in that direction, quests to kill mobs, quests to kill players, quests to scout the objectives in World RvR zones that encourage people in there for a bit of a rumble, quests that introduce you to and reward you for just about every aspect of the game. By Tier 2, though, and especially Tier 3, things start to come a little unstuck. M’colleague points out the problems in no uncertain terms, most fundamentally that the quest log (the otherwise concentratedly awesome Tome of Knowledge) is limited to 20 quests. The quests keep coming, and indeed multiply; you get quests that send you to the other racial zones, wherein there are more quests. There are quests to go to the Gunbad dungeon, and quests within the Gunbad dungeon, quests to capture Keeps…

Let’s say I’m merrily wandering around Empire lands, quest log stuffed to the gunwales with lovely quests in that zone, and I join a group for Gunbad. Flying over to the Marshes of Madness, I wonder if there might be some quests in the offing, and sure enough bright green “quest available” icons abound, the local Dwarfs more than keen to offload their petty chores onto you, what with being nailed to the floor and unable to move and everything. I start to grab them, but wait, quest log full, so I drop anything back in Empire lands (hoping I wasn’t halfway through anything particularly difficult to complete). A couple of the quests involve going to Gunbad, huzzah, and off we ride to the caves, where, in the pre-dungeon bar and grill (“would sir care for apéritif before plunging into the hellishly troll-infested bowels of the cave?”) a couple of the quests are completed, and another bunch are available, necessitating further quest dropping to fit them all in.

After a light and refreshing jaunt around pestilent nurglings and gaseous squigs, we finish a few quests, never get around to some others, pick up a couple of follow-up quests and call it a night. Next day is Guild Keep Storming Day, so we form up, and go and look for a Destruction keep or two to reclaim for the Emperor. Now a couple of weeks back I’d remembered to pick up the three quests to reclaim keeps, only Destruction weren’t playing that day, and everything was already in Order hands, so I’d since dropped those quests to fit others in, only tonight of course *everything* is in Destruction hands, but by the time I remember there’s a potential quest available it’s a bit late, I think it might be bad form to shout “wait, wait, I forgot the quest! Everybody stand on the ground floor, don’t worry Mr Keep Lord Sir, we’ll be up in a moment, I just need to nip back to Altdorf first…” (tanks stand around whistling, Witch Hunters adjust their hats for maximum jauntiness, the Bright Wizards stand on their own in a corner having a chat about the best way to treat burns and occasionally exploding).

Day three and a bunch of us decide to blast through some public quests, most of the others are over in the Elf zone so I fly and join them, and of course there’s another stackload of available quests, some of which probably overlap with the public quests and would provide nice bonus XP, cash and/or items, but it’s just too much of a pain to try and juggle everything.

Now this isn’t a terrible problem, it’s not something that makes me furious to the point of unsubscribing, but as Melmoth suggests, why do you need to talk to someone to start a quest? Just stick everything in the Tome of Knowledge automatically, tweak the interface a smidge so quests are divided up by zone, default view being the zone you’re in, track ’em all on the map with the nice red splodges, make the on-screen tracker a little more intelligent to only show relevant immediately local quests, and Bob is your proverbial uncle. Does it make sense? How would you know that Neville T. Arbitrary really needed a box of vital supplies that had been on a wagon that lost a wheel in a rogue hamster attack somewhere in the north east? You’ve already got “Wanted” posters in games that give kill-quests, is it such a stretch that villages extend the system with lost and found, domestic help wanted and assorted other small ads? One click on the notice board, you jot everything relevant down in the Tome of Knowledge (three good leads for quests, one opportunity to make easy £££ at home and a possible bargain if the L-reg Ford Fiesta really is in running condition), and from there it’s hardly a huge leap to just *assume* the click, and automagically populate the Tome as you wander around the world, it’s no more immersion-breaking than joining scenario queues and randomly teleporting off to fight them. Granted if you did that for *everything* it would rather take the mystery out of it, you wouldn’t want to totally eliminate fun for Explorers by labelling everything with a big red arrow, so leave a good sprinkling of conventional quests and items to find around the world (as WAR does, with various tome unlocks for mobs and items all around the place), but the basic nuts n’ bolts “do this scenario, scout this objective, go to this place” stuff, there’s just no need for it. The supreme irony in all this, of course, is that somebody has effectively pointed this out before. Some “Paul Barnett” bloke, something like that? He really ought to implement those ideas in a game, it’d be great[1]…

[1] This is irony, by the way. Kill Collectors are in the game, and they do work, but there’s one of them standing next to seventeen other people with glowing green “git yer lovely quests here” icons, which if anything makes it all the more annoying when one of *those* is to kill ten of something you’ve just been mowing through.

War has a momentum of its own

A month in to an MMO, the question is usually “do I want to start subscribing now?”; for Warhammer, though, I don’t really have to decide for the best part of another month (not that it’s stopped me, look out for a State of the WAR Nation soon). Thanks to the headstart, grace periods and bonus days, I seem to have a subscription until early November, and as the EU billing system has only just become available I haven’t needed to hand over any credit card details to be playing. I doubt we’ll get any detailed official figures, much less broken down by region, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this caused a higher than average drop in EU subscribers as the month-with-the-box draws to an end just from impetus, you have to go all the way to the account page and type stuff into boxes to keep playing, whereas usually you’d have to go all the way there and click a couple of boxes to unsubscribe. Even if it’s not outright laziness, it’s all too easy for it to be one of those “oh yeah, must remember to…” jobs that have a habit of slipping through the gaps, and if your timing’s slightly off you end up subscribed to Age of Conan for an extra month. I had a quick look at the account screen, just to check it was up and running and see how long I had left before having to hand over some cash, and something else that struck me was a little tick box labelled something like “Recurring subscription?” (or similar); without actually trying the process, I presume the default option is that you just pay for your 1/3/6 months, rather than the usual set-up (in every other MMO I can think of) of “we’ll keep taking money until you tell us to stop”. I’m not sure if this is a laudably ethical decision or some legal requirement, but again it seems like the path of least resistance might be to stop playing, rather than keep paying. Or perhaps I’m massively overestimating the number of people for whom going to a web page and clicking a couple of links is a bit too much effort.