This is a review of a beta version of a game. I haven’t had access to the release code, nor have I had access to a lot of the features that will be available in the final release code. I will detail my experiences based on what part of the code I have seen, which is limited to the Guild Closed Beta. Obviously there’s going to be a lot of changes right up to the release of the game on September 18th, so by no means should you take this as the full scope of the game. I’m mainly posting this as a gamer, not a game designer or hardcore enthusiast. I treated this as a casual experience and that’s the context in which you should read my impressions. I am not all over ‘epic lootz’, nor am I heavily into ‘teh raidz’ That disclaimer readied, I’ll move onto the meaty bits.
Public Quests and Open Parties:
All publicity is good publicity
If you’ve been following WAR at all, you’ve probably already heard of the open party and public quest mechanics, but if you haven’t I’ll quickly recap.
Open parties are Mythic’s answer to the problem of trying to form groups with strangers. Pick up groups are notoriously hard to initiate and manage, having to first advertise that you are looking for a group in a chat channel, spend anything upward of hours waiting for more players, then try and organise those players into a cohesive whole. Put short, it’s a pain in the arse.
Open parties looks to put that process to bed by introducing the concept of parties that are open to anyone to join. How this works in-game is that you rock up to an area you want to quest/explore and click a little three skulls icon to view the open parties in that area. A list of open parties will show up telling you how many are in each group, what sort of activity they are engaged in (Public Quest, PvE, or Realm vs. Realm), and roughly how far away they are. You can also get more details if you hover over their name. When you find a group you want to join, you click the join button. And you’re in. No mess, no fuss, no needing to have people invite each party member individually. And if you find you have a good group going, you can close the group to be private. Obviously you can also make a group the old fashioned invite way if you only want your friends to join.
To start an open party is similarly easy, with just a click of a button in the open party box resulting in you showing up to everyone else. Open parties are limited initially to six players, but can be expanded by converting them to ‘Warbands’ which can hold up to 24 players. This is good for allowing people to join your group for public quests. Which leads us conveniently onto the public quest mechanic.
It’s good to play together
The thing players need to keep fixed firmly in their minds is that WAR is a PvP oriented game. It is designed from the outset to get you used to the idea that you are going to be facing other players for the majority of your time. It has a whole variety of mechanics whose purpose is to take you by the hand and lead you into giant open RvR (that is, realm versus realm or order versus destruction) situations. One of which is the public quest system. The public quest system is essentially both a nod to the PvE raiding ways of yore, but with the aim of getting people to play with other people and develop a sense of the group mechanics that will get them to play more effectively in the larger scenarios that await them.
A public quest is essentially a designated area within the world that contains a set of tiered quests that can be completed by anyone. By that I don’t mean to say that any one person can walk up and complete them, because they are definitely group quests. What I mean is that anyone that is within the area that the quests are automatically becomes part of that quest and can contribute to their completion. And by doing so get rewards of experience, infamy, and items. I’ll give you an example of how a quest may play out. Let’s take the very first public quest (PQ) in the first ‘chapter’ (that is, the first large area) of the Chaos race.
The very first PQ you encounter as a Chaos character involves a group of your fellow Chaos summoners attempting to raise a demon to help with the war effort against the Empire. They are being beset by riflemen of the Empire and require your help to drive them off and complete their incantations. Starting from scratch, as soon as I step within the area the PQ is in, I am presented with a small dialogue box that tells me the current aim of the PQ. The first tier of this particular PQ is to kill 60 of the riflemen. 60 sounds like a lot, but remember that anyone can step in and start helping out with this quest. So you can have as many people as will theoretically fit inside the area participating. I’m not sure how this will work upon release, but in my experience there is usually always at least a dozen or so people working these quests. Anyway, so as a group you dispense with the riflemen. That’s tier 1 of the quest completed. Once this is done, the riflemen retreat. A new dialogue box appears and you are told that the 2nd tier of the public quest is to gather souls from the surrounding gravestones to help in the incantation. While you are doing this, the Empire sends out their champion swordsmen to try and drive you and the summoners away. These swordsmen are Champion classed, so they are stronger than regular enemies and therefore usually need to be dealt with on an individual basis. Once the champion swordsman are defeated and the souls harvested, the third tier begins with a small real time act for you to witness. The summoners declare they are ready to complete the spell they have been preparing, but before they can do so a ‘bright wizard’ (read: poncy british wanker) from the Empire appears and disrupts their chants. This results in the summoners being killed by the demon they have summoned, and said summoned beast turning on you and your public questing buddies. The summoned beast is of Hero class, and therefore can take quite a beating in order to be killed, but it feels great to see it finally keel over.
Share and share alike
Once you do eventually defeat the beast, the public quest is over. You receive experience and infamy for its completion (which you do for each tier that you took part in). Now comes the best part. A large chest will appear in the middle of the PQ. As is standard in distributing loot in MMORPGs, each player that has contributed enough to the PQ will get to roll on the treasure contained within this giant chest. This roll is between 1-1000. However, you also get a modifier to your roll depending on how much you ‘contributed’ to the public quest. The exact algorithm is unknown, but if you consider it to be how much damage you do as a melee character or how much healing you do as a healer/buff character then you wouldn’t be far off. This modifier can be anything up to 400 to your initial roll. Once the rolls have all been decided, the top three or four players will be able to dive into the chest to get a ‘loot sack’. A loot sack is essentially a personalised treasure chest. It contains a list of around half a dozen items tailored to your class and level. Waht this means is that you can use the items immediately, and they are usually quite good for the area that you are in. Generally speaking, the higher you come in the placing for the treasure chest roll, the better the type of loot sack you will get. Loot sacks come in a multitude of different colours depending on how well you performed. In my experience, Gold > Purple > Blue > Green > White, but I believe there is also a red in there somewhere.
On flaw that critically minded players might raise is that if the roll is random from 1-1000, even if you are the best contributor (earning a bonus of ~400) you may not get the top prize. This is entirely correct. However, if you don’t earn a loot sack the first time, there is an inbuilt modifier to the roll such that if you are consistently doing well in public quests and not receiving loot sacks, you will eventually be guaranteed one. Don’t ask me for the algorithms for this because I don’t know, this is just what’s been related from the developers.
But that’s not all. The ‘infamy’ you get from completing public quests in a particular chapter (that is, larger area) contribute to filling up an ‘infamy bar’ that is divided into three parts. Basic, Advanced, and Elite infamy levels are available to be completed for each chapter. Once you have filled up any of these levels, you can return to a specially designated Rally Master to collect infamy rewards corresponding to that level. In my experience, Basic corresponds to a choice of one decent potion, Advanced gives a choice of a decent minor piece of armour (shoulders, or boots), and Elite corresponds to a choice of main armour (chest) or a weapon or off-hand charm. These infamy items are usually not as good as the loot that you might obtain from, say, getting a blue/purple/gold loot sack from a quest, but they are usually better than anything you can buy from a merchant or find off a monster drop.
Combining Open Parties and Public Quests means that you are hardly ever solo questing while you are playing WAR. This is such a refreshing change from the regular mode of play, and it really does prepare you for the larger scenarios that you will eventually face. Healers get the opportunity to fine tune their skills, melee players can test out different skill combinations, and you can play competitively while still having that sense of cooperation that comes with completing a raid. Without a doubt I believe the PQ/OP systems to be the best feature introduced in WAR.
‘Scenario’ is the name given to the set-piece battles that mimic the style of the Battlegrounds of World of Warcraft. For those that haven’t played WoW, this means that players queue up to join a battle that contains a set number of players and objectives, and resets once these objectives have been met for the next round of players to join. If you think of them as like the individual rounds of a first person shooter like Halo or Counterstrike you wouldn’t be far off.
Each race pairing, of which there are three in WAR, has it’s own unique scenario for each ‘Tier’ of game play. When I say ‘Tier’, you should know that the world of WAR is split into four regions, each containing higher level combat than the last. Each player starts at Tier 1 and should transfer to a new tier every ten levels or so. When you enter a Tier you can sign up to join a queue for a scenario straight away by clicking on a small icon near the minimap and selecting to join as a solo player, or with your entire party if you are part of one.
Again, I find it easier to describe these things with examples, so I’ll use the example of the Tier 1 scenario of the Empire versus Chaos (EvC) race pairing. Keep in mind that any race can sign up to these scenarios, and you can queue multiple scenarios at the same time; you just need to be in the specified Tier to do so. So you can hop flights between all the race pairing areas to queue up for all your current Tier’s scenarios if you like.
Each scenario has a unique win condition. These usually consist of amassing enough points to reach a points cap, but to do so generally involves different activities. For the EvC pairing, this consists of a Capture Point mechanic. What this means is that there are three flags in the scenario map which can be controlled by either side. While these flags are being controlled by a side, that side receives a regular flow of points into their points balance. The more flags you control, the more points flow, the faster you win. You also get points for killing enemies, so if you manage to capture all three flags and then start a massacre of the opposite team, it’s going to be a quick game indeed.
There’s not a lot more to say about scenarios. You earn experience and renown points (different to infamy points, and I’ll explain those in the next section) for doing whatever it is that your class does best (damage, debuffs, buffs, healing), and if your team wins you get a big bonus to those as well. Scenarios are the next step up from public quests in enabling players to be able to see where their class fits in in the grand PvP scheme of things. Running in to the frontlines as a healer isn’t going to do you much good, and scenarios enable you to try out new techniques and styles of play in a controlled environment. You will learn how to play your class, or you’ll be horribly ineffective and die. Simple as that.
Obviously the usual caveats of grabbing a whole bunch of strangers together and getting them to play as a team apply. Anyone that has played on a public server in any multiplayer game that involves teamwork will know that it is never as simple as everyone being able to do their job. But on the whole it’s a positive experience, and at the very least if you have a crap group going through one instance of a scenario, there’s no guarantee that it will be the same on the next time. Obviously if you’re joining as a party within clanmates you’re going to have a more enjoyable time, as you’ll know that the people you’re with are at least half-decent.
One small note: don’t bitch when the flow of battle doesn’t go your way. As with all multiplayer games, you can’t control everything and if a healer doesn’t see you in time, or that melee doesn’t turn around to slap the guy on bugger all health that manages to critical you, you can’t complain. There will be times when that healer doesn’t save you from being nuked, or the tanks don’t adequately shield the melee characters, or that little Gobbie bastard baits your arse then takes the kill. Too bad. Suck it up and accept the fact that shit happens sometimes. </rant>
Ranks and Renown Ranks:
Ranks are levels and there are 40 ranks in the game. Every time you rank up, you should visit a career trainer because you’re going to get a new skill every level until the last one. There are two things you can train at the career trainer: career skills and mastery skills. Career skills are your simple spells and abilities that you’re going to be using every time you come up against something.
Mastery skills are where the customisation of your particular character comes into play. For every rank from rank 11 and upwards nets you a mastery point which you can assign to a mastery skill tree. For each class there are three mastery skill trees that you can progress through. Generally they play on aspects of your class, so for example a healer might have a set of mastery trees that enhances their damage output, debuffs, or healing. So inputting mastery points into the healer mastery tree will increase the effectiveness of all the spells that that tree is associated with, as well as given you additional spells as you progress up it. For example, putting points into the Zealot healing mastery tree reduces the cast time and increases the hp healed for their 1 second heal until it’s an instant cast that does a fair thunk of healing. Obviously there’s scope for combinations of trees to get the best set of skills you think is available. This is the bread and butter of every MMO out there, so there’s not a lot that’s going to be new and exciting for old schoolers. But it’s an easy progression and provides a framework for further customisation through tactics and renown rank rewards.
It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you
Renown ranks are the same as ranks, but they are earned through PvP. So whenever you damage a player, kill a player, heal a friendly player, debuff/buff, you are earning renown rank (RR) points. Completing a scenario will also net you a bonus, obviously with a larger one for the winning team. It should be noted that you get a lot more RR points for doing all of the above in open RvR areas than you do in scenarios. This is to make it worth your while to forgo the convenience of scenarios in order to defend your particular homeland.
RR rewards are quite varied. The obvious rewards are the special armour and weapons that you get from vendors in Tier 2 and above fortresses that are controlled by your faction. Let me just say that in my opinion, even the first RR armour and weapon rewards look awesome. I can’t wait to see what the higher up rewards look like, but if the first ones are anything to go by, they’re going to be truly epic. I mean come on, the Zealot gets a foetus to swing around. A fucking foetus! Nothing cooler than that.
The RR item rewards were also considerably more powerful than all but the purples (white < green < blue < purple) that I’d found. So this is just another way of encouraging players to jump into PvP and earn themselves some great stat bonuses. I found myself a lot better equipped to handle Pve and RvR, and could finally understand how people were able to get 20k + damage or healing in the Tier 1 scenarios. So my advice would be that the first port of call for all players should be to grind out renown to grab these.
Die stuntie scum!
The other rewards of RR come in the form of stat boosts or tactics (which I’ll describe in the next section) bought from a RR vendor found in Warcamps. Warcamps are small establishments just outside open RvR that provide the usual features of a town: healer, merchant, flight master, etc. The RR vendor trains player upgrades in return for RR. So if you have RR 6, then you have 6 points to train in different personal buffs. At the time of writing, I had RR 8 and had invested 2 points into a tactic that gave 5% more gold in RvR, 4 points in a Willpower buff, and 4 more in an Intelligence buff. The rewards are quite varied, and you get more powerful ones as you get up to 20 and 40 RR. Especially welcome are the buffs that work towards a particular race. so for example you can purchase tactics that result in radius damage to a particular race when you kill one of them. I really like these abilities, as it means you can customise your character to really want to target a particular race to get the full benefit of their tactics. It’s another level of customisation and a welcome one.
The Art of WAR
Every player gets three tactics slots. Tactics are personal buffs that can be swapped in and out periodically (as in, there’s only a limited number of times you can swap per hour) to best suit the type of battle you are engaged in. There are three ways you can earn tactics: as career skill progressions, as mastery skill progressions, and as RR rewards. I haven’t had a lot of progression, so I can’t give you a full opinion on what the main differences are, but essentially think of them as the tweaks that might give you that extra oomph depending on where, what role, and who you’re playing against.
Ooh boy. This is a big one. In explaining open RvR it helps if you think of the world of WAR as one massive battlefield. This battlefield is then broken up into four smaller battlefields, and each of those battlefields contains a number of different skirmishes. The progression of the huge world-spanning battlefield depends on that of the smaller battlefield, and so on to the smaller skirmishes.
So that’s the sort of perspective you should keep in mind. From Tier 1-4 there are multiple open battlegrounds that can be fought over and won, earning you bonuses for your realm and the ability to buy renown gear, stake a claim as a guild, and contribute to your realm’s domination of their opposite. As far as end-game content goes in RvR, I’ll take the lazy option and link you to an interview with one of the game’s developers, since they can tell you about it a bit better than I can.
Essentially the word I’m thinking of here is ‘epic’. By the time you hit Tier 4 RvR, you’re going to be seeing a lot of siege weapons, mounts, and highly geared players going head to head on a grand scale. It has yet to be seen how this will translate into a full-scale battle, but I’m excited for it.
So with all this said about OPs, PQs, PvP, Scenarios, and RvR, where does that leave the humble solo quester? Well, rest assured because there are still plenty of solo quests to be completed, and you can quite happily ignore all of the above if you feel like having a break and some alone time. Every city hub or roadside encampment has a bundle of quests to complete to get experience, gold, and items. That said, if you are a player that is looking for a PvE experience, you’ll be hard pressed to maintain that in the face of the shiny PvP action. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Raiders of the Leeb Lootz
I’m not one to comment to heavily on this, because I’ve not been privy to the raid dungeons that are available at later Tiers, but from all accounts they are a respectable difficulty and result in some nice loot. I’ll reserve further explanation for those more qualified to do so. I do consider PQs to be the raid replacement for earlier levels, and I believe they should be thought as such. I wouldn’t be surprised if raid dungeons later on just consist of multiple PQ style areas and maybe a big end boss. Have to wait and see.
Guild Levelling and Mechanics:
Stop playing with yourself
As with most titles of the MMORPG genre, it’s always more fun to play through with mates. WAR is no exception, and they’ve added a few features that make the activity of being in a guild a more dynamic one. Instead of just getting a few mates together, forming a guild and obtaining all the features, your guild will dynamically level up. This levelling is based on members joining, levelling up in both rank and renown rank, and generally growing the guild. Each level brings with it more expanded functions. Guild chat, an in-built events calendar, officer ranks, the ability to form alliances (alliances being a joining of guilds to form larger, more powerful entities), access to a guild-only pub, standard bearers, guild-wide tactic slots, and the list goes on.
Maintain your standards
Standards are probably the only thing in that list that needs explaining, so here we go. The ability to use standards are achieved once your guild levels up a few times. Once you reach this level, you can assign a couple of members of your guild the role of ‘standard bearer’. This means they can buy and use the standard item. Each guild also gains access to guild tactics, similar to the individual tactics that players earn, that can be placed in slots on the standard. What this means is that the standard bearer is a mobile buff centre for their guild mates. Always a bonus, plus I can only imagine how fucking cool it’s going to look to have entire guilds, all custom dyed to have the same colours, with their uniquely made heraldry on their battle standards (oh did I not mention you can customise the standard with a unique image–well you can), rolling into battle. Very droolworthy mental image there.
Standards also play a part in RvR play in that they are used by guilds to capture keeps. Keeps give guild-wide buffs once captured, and must be defended from retaliation by opposite realm guilds. I can see this being one of the more fun RvR options out there, as opposing guilds build up rivalries over particular areas.
Player Experience–Dark Elf–Disciple of Khain