Tuesday 30 November 2010

Wars teach us not to love our enemies but to hate our allies

I haven’t really written about Warhammer Online since returning to it six months ago with Van Hemlock & company, partly because Tim has the escapades of the Hipster Battalion covered on the podcast, and partly because things hadn’t changed an awful lot since my first stint back when the game launched, playing on the Order side with a splendid bunch (“shout out”, as I believe the correct vernacular to be, to the Insult To Injury posse. Word. Noun.)

Digging around in the archives I found a post from a couple of years back that still holds true for the most part. WAR has a nice mix of content flexible enough to take account of varying sizes of group; solo you can run some pretty traditional “Kill 10 Foozle” quests, join scenarios, perhaps do a bit of crafting. Groups have got dungeons, public quests and the massed battles of Open Realm vs Realm to pitch into without having to worry in most cases about perfect party composition. The annoyance of the plethora of potential quests, of which you can only have a fraction in your ever-stuffed quest log, is still there to an extent, though at least mitigated slightly by an increased quest limit.

Course there have been tweaks and changes since then; there are the appearance options that now allow you to wear one piece of gear for its stats but with the visuals of a different item, something that’s always appreciated. Slightly ironically character visuals are something I’ve always felt WAR has done well with its strong tie to the Games Workshop source material (so long as you’re happy with the race/class your desired role is linked to), so appearance options aren’t nearly as vital as in some games (the prosecution presents Exhibit A, m’lud). Still, sometimes there’s a bit of set armour you just don’t really like the look of, and combined with the dye system gives plenty of tinkering options for those of us who like to look fabulous when slicing and maiming. It’s leagues ahead of World of Warcraft, but shaded by the wardrobe and extensive selection of cosmetic options of Lord of the Rings Online; LotRO could take heed of WAR’s inventory system, though, which now has multiple tabs for general stuff, currency (medals, tokens and such), crafting gear and quest items.

Another addition is the “Endless Free Trial”, quite a good way of keeping starter areas populated where in many established games they’re all but deserted (unless new race/class combinations have just been introduced and wave after wave of Dwarf Shaman suddenly pitch up in Ironforge). The RvR lake of the Empire & Chaos Tier 1 zones, where the free players of the two factions clash, tends to resemble one of those peculiar medieval mob football variants like Shrovetide football, two big groups of players smashing into each other and shunting back and forwards a bit without much in the way of overarching strategy, with the notable difference that committing murder or manslaughter is positively mandatory in WAR rather than prohibited.

Perhaps most fundamentally, the recent 1.4 patch has overhauled the ORvR zone control mechanics. As we haven’t got to Tier 4 yet this time around I haven’t seen how city sieges have changed over time, and we don’t get to play with Skaven, but ORvR before 1.4 mostly involved either seizing unprotected battlefield objectives or keep sieges, and the sieges were pretty repetitive (lots of standing around shooting doors). Sieges had their moments, if they didn’t bog down into complete attritional grindfests, especially Hipsterball (a sport where an attacking tank stands next to the keep door, waits for a defender to sally forth and take a few swipes at the battering ram, then a ranged DPS type shouts “Pull!” and the tank knocks the interloper in a graceful arc towards the waiting archers and spellcasters with a cry of “Fore!”) A successful keep defence for either side was something of a rarity in Tiers 2 and 3; with most players either in the free trial of Tier 1 or the endgame of Tier 4 there were seldom enough tanks for a really solid tank wall once the keep doors had been battered down, though the couple of times we managed it were truly splendid, standing shoulder to shoulder in the doorway bellowing “NONE SHALL PASS!”

The new mechanism adds many elements to the mix; Van Hemlock has produced a most excellent guide to it (remember: B.A.S.T.A.R.D.S!) Having only taken part in a few battles under the new system it’s a bit early to reach a definitive conclusion, but it certainly seems to offer more scope for smaller organised groups; the other night a large Destruction force seemed to have the upper hand in Troll Country, grabbing all the objectives fairly quickly, but then the majority decided to stand outside the Order keep dicking around while groups of three to six Order players went out waylaying Destruction resource carriers, taking back objectives and escorting their own resources, allowing Order to upgrade their own keep and eventually take the zone. The keep sieges themselves tend not to drag out so long, and dropping bombs (or indeed yourself) from a manticore onto the enemy walls is most enjoyable. Roll on the Skaven!

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