Holding Warhammer Online’s Public Quests to a higher standard.

September 29, 2008

One of the early issues to arise in Warhammer Online is the games high reliance on population numbers, and the great importance they play in things like PQs. If you don’t have enough players in the area, they don’t function as planned, and in turn are viewed as wasted content. What I find somewhat surprising is that WAR gets a lot of criticism on this subject, when it reality it is nothing new to MMO games.

Public Quests are in a lot of ways basically re-interfaced group quests. PQs offer higher rewards than normal quests, just like group quests do in other MMOs. PQs require a group, again the same as group quests. The major difference is they are more ‘in your face’, as anytime you walk into a PQ area, the interface instantly tells you about it and shows you the current status and progress being made. Group quests just sit in your quest log, and are far easier to ignore and drop.

This is also true when you compare instanced dungeons to PQs. Both again require a group, and give generally higher rewards while having you face generally more interesting monsters. But like group quests, instanced dungeons don’t yell ‘enter me’ when you are within 100 yards of them, nor do they say ‘hey only 4 more kills and it’s phase 2, finish me!’ If you are a solo-only MMO player, you can skip instances and group quests and never really notice the missed content, while that is next to impossible in WAR.

It’s natural to feel that sense of loss when you can’t get a group for a PQ, especially because they offer a great experience when you DO have a group. But it’s somewhat unfair to hold PQs to some ‘higher standard’ then we do group quests or instanced content, especially because WAR offers such easy to use grouping tools.

Another issue, in my opinion of course, is the shunning of group content until the level cap. Blizzard removed almost all group quests in WoW pre-70, and added solo-friendly methods of acquiring dungeon quality loot pre-70 as well. This teaches many MMO players, especially the WoW-only crowd, that you play 1-69 solo, and then get to the ‘good stuff’ once you ‘grind out’ the level game. In WAR, you are doing the fun stuff right away, and you should not feel the need to grind out 39 Ranks to get to the real stuff. Old habits are tough to break however, and I feel too many players are trying to play WAR is if it’s WoW, and it’s just a completely different setup.

Personally I’ve almost never had an issue with PQs and finding a group, but part of that is due to being in a large guild full of people always looking to help out. Just yesterday we got 10 or so players together and completed all three of the PQs for Chapter 7 of the Dark Elf lands. The design of WAR once again comes through, in that all 10 members were able to quickly fly over to the area, and within a few minutes we were good to go. No quest sharing, no ‘I’m not on that part of the chain’, no race/class/group size barriers. Just join up, fly over, and start earning experience, money, influence, and bag item rewards. We had a great time, and people were able to join us midway through, as well as drop out at any time and still get something for their efforts. Simply put, the ‘barrier of entry’ for group content in WAR is as low as possible, it’s up to the players to adjust now and figure it out.

We talk bugs, but we play greatness.

September 26, 2008

The never-ending debate about how ‘done’ a game needs to be before it’s shipped is often seen on blogs or gaming forums. We all know it’s impossible to ship a perfect game, as even the most rock solid titles have kinks and minor errors, yet we still expect that perfection. Or if not perfection, we expect OUR gaming experience to be near-perfect. As long as OUR video card works, it’s ok. As long as the servers are up during OUR gaming time, it’s ok. Any error is a minor error until it affects us, and then it’s ‘ZOMG THE GAME SUX!’

Warhammer Online had a great launch by MMO standards. The servers were up, the game was very playable, and most features worked. The average gamer was able to log in, create a character, and go off to enjoy a PQ, RvR, Scenarios, or just good old questing, without really noticing anything seriously weird. In MMO land, on day one, that’s very rare.

But WAR is not without it’s flaws, it is an MMO after all. The auction house is there, but actually getting what you want is more difficult than it should be. Crafting is in the game, but is somewhat lacking and uninspiring. PQs are terrific, but some are far too easy, while others are amazingly difficult, and the whole risk/reword ratio is a bit off at times. I’m sure you could name other issues as well.

It’s easy to forget, especially if you read the forums, that the most important thing in WAR, RvR, works. And not only does it work, it works so well it can be called revolutionary. Not because it features a new gameplay style, or because it has an all new, all awesome combat system, or because it has jaw dropping graphics. It’s revolutionary because it pulls MMO players away from solo grinding quests, gets them into groups, and keeps them fighting with there realm/guild mates for hours on end, against other players doing the exact same thing. It’s not about a flawlessly scripted raid encounter you finally mastered and defeated, it’s about that player on the other side saving a Keep by dumping burning oil on half your guild. It’s about raising your guild’s banner on a Keep after an epic 2 hour battle, a battle decided by clever strategy and not who has the most epics. It’s about logging on, asking what’s going on in guild chat, and actually having people respond with invites and not ‘the raid is full’ or ‘we don’t need that class’ or ‘you’re too low for that’.

So while we might bitch (it’s what we do!) about the side stuff being broken or in need of a tweak, the fact is we can still log in, ask what’s going on, and get sucked into a great social gaming experience night in and night out, instead of putting in more time ‘grind x’ to reach some carrot we never really wanted in the first place. And while the idea of gaming with others got lost for a bit during the solo-MMO reign, I for one am glad social MMO gaming is back in the forefront!

RvR joy comes in the form of burning death.

September 24, 2008

Videocard update: (if you are sick of hearing about it, image how sick I am of dealing with it) Went to Best Buy with the 9600GT that was purchased about 2-3 months ago in the hopes of exchanging it. The girl working the return counter gave me some crap about it being beyond 30 days (she was right…) and that I did not have a receipt. Playing dumb, I said all I wanted was to exchange it as that one was faulty (clearly it was), and finally she agreed. Off I go to grab the last 9600GT by BFG Tech, and once back ask if it’s at all possible to get a different model because I don’t want to risk the new one being faulty. She talks to another employee (and this kid had NO clue what was going on, but faked it anyway), he agreed, and back we go to grab a 9800GT by BFG Tech instead of the 9600GT. Price difference was $80 due to the 9600GT being on sale at some point for $150 and not the $180 I paid for it before, and the 9800GT was $229. Sucks to pay a bit more, but I was just glad they were letting me exchange the 9600GT for something else, when they clearly could have said GTFO and had me deal with BFG Tech to send it back for a new one. Got home, put the card in, drivers done, played WAR for about an hour without an issue. Too early to say 100% that the comp is going to play nice now, but so far so good.

Switching computers (the one with the issue is the older one, and hooked up to a 21″ monitor, the newer is my Alienware hooked to the 24″ beauty) I logged in as my warrior priest, and as usual in WAR, RvR was going down. A quick /join, followed by a short flight over to the Dwarf/Greenskin tier 2 area and it was time to get down to business. Casualties of War had a nice sized warband going, sieging a keep as I got there. With minimal resistance, the keep soon fell and our banner went up on the walls.

The group then flew over to Troll Country (Empire T2) and started capping objectives. Slightly more resistance this time, but still not enough to stop us, and soon enough another keep was ours. It’s at this point that things got interesting. More Destruction players were showing up in the RvR area, and for a while they were unorganized small groups that got rolled by our warband. Objectives secured, we turned our attention to the second keep, and noticed it was swarming with Destruction players, both on the walls and in front of the gate. We laid siege, deploying cannons and clearing out the space in front of the gate. It was tough going, as the Destruction players rained death on us from the walls, both with their own siege and with their ranged dps classes. They would also skirmish out from the keep with melee classes, breaking up any momentum we had going on the keep gate.

The back and forth bloodbath lasted for about 30 minutes, at which point the tide looked to be turning in our favor. We had the entire space around the gate cleared, and our ranged dps was doing a good job keeping the enemy on the walls busy. Lacking a ram for the door, myself and 7-8 other CoW members began beating on the keep door, getting it to about 60% in short order. And then we died. Quickly. In the span of about 2-3 seconds, all of us save the Ironbreaker lay dead at the keep door, burning oil covering us. Seems the Destruction players had a trick up their sleeves, and we paid the price. After that moment we never really recovered, and while we kept at the siege for a bit longer, we never managed to get another good push at the gate, let alone take it down.

That single moment, dying rapidly at the keep gate from burning oil, has been the highlight of WAR for me so far. It was just an extremely in-your-face example of RvR, Keep sieges, guild groups, all that stuff working together to make one of those amazing MMO moments. Right after it happened, instead of hitting release and running back, I just looked at the screen, the bodies laying around me, the siege in the background still firing away, the Destruction players on the walls raining death, and the keep door defiantly still standing. Pure MMO awesome.

More freaks than elves, what happened to the NE Huntard kiddies?

September 23, 2008

During the Warhammer Online beta, each poll showed Destruction being more popular than Order, sometimes vastly more popular. These numbers were always taken with a grain of salt, with the common response of “it’s beta, the casuals don’t play beta, and the hardcore like evil”. We all thought once the game went live and the casuals arrived, Order would see a spike in popularity from all the Alliance players jumping from WoW to WAR. We are still waiting for the kids bus to drop them off…

In a somewhat unexpected development, Destruction dominates most servers in total population, and this has created some very notable problems. Scenario queues are quite long for Destro players, server queues generally only affect Destro players, and Order gets dominated in open world RvR, with Destroction holding control of most areas 90% of the time.

Now the big question for both sides is whether the casuals who will play Order are still coming, or is this just a rare case of the majority picking the bad guys? Warhammer has had a phenomenal launch, and the total number of players is sure to continue to rise, even with the ‘ten of the same’ expansion coming in November, but I’m not convinced those new players will pick Order over Destruction in any amount larger than beta or first week players did.

If we assume new players will follow the current trend, and go more towards Destro than Order, what can Mythic do to remedy the situation? Clearly in the long run, WAR needs both sides more or less even for the overarching conflict to work, and Mythic can’t just let the current imbalance persist. I’m not saying make any drastic changes right now, as the dust of launch is still settling, but in the coming months something needs to be done.

The first and most obvious change is adding back the previously cut classes. Empire missing a tank is killing them, and who would not love to play a psycho melee dps dwarf? The Dark Elves will get a flimsy elf tank, and the Greenskins will get… well ok most likely a badass melee dps orc that will own, but still… If those added classes are slightly overpowered in favor of Order… well that should help the population balance right? You can always nerf stick them later once things settle down.

The other option would be to offer in-game bonuses to under populated Order servers. Perhaps each new character would start with one of those bonus xp books with three charges, or some kind of underdog title/trophy/tome unlock. History has shown it does not take much to influence MMO players (see every game with pointless fluff that people chase for hours/days), and a small bonus might be the tipping factor for someone deciding to roll Order or Destro.

It’s an issue that I’m sure Mythic is monitoring closely, and I would be very surprised if they don’t already have a plan. Lets just hope they roll it out before all the weakling Order players pack up and go back to Power Ranger land. Oh and if you are thinking of playing WAR, roll Order on Thorgrim so CoW can beat you up. We might even blog about your epic fail!

The true value of the CE edition of Warhammer, and my busted 9600GT card.

September 23, 2008

I received my Collectors Edition of Warhammer Online over the weekend, and it was $30 well spent. All of the in-game stuff is hit or miss depending on preference (I like the DE face, most don’t), but at worst it gives you a few simple quests and some fluff stuff for your character. The real value of the CE, for me, comes with the art book. I still flip through my WoW CE art book, and I know I’ll be doing the same with the Warhammer one.

One of the really cool things about the art books is that not everything in them is in the game yet, but will be at a later date. It’s almost like getting a sneak preview of future patches. Looking through the WoW art book, a ton of stuff that is in that book was added much, much later to WoW. I’ll have to really sit down and look over everything in the WAR art book to see if I can get a feel for where Mythic might be going with the game.

On Monday we also received the regular edition of the game in the mail from Gamestop, meaning we avoided any account interruption. It’s funny to look at the size of the regular box and compare it to the behemoth that is the CE.

Finally, I believe I’ve identified the issue with the second computer always crashing. It seems a slew of 9600GT cards are known to be defective, and I get EXACTLY the error (black screen, no signal) that people are reporting. I’ll make a trip to Best Buy tomorrow and see if I can swap it out, or get store credit and buy a 9800GT instead. Worst case scenario, I’ll have to send it back to BFG Tech and wait for a new one. Oh, and if a new graphics card does not solve this issue, expect to read about a murderous rampage in the MA area, as I’m well past the breaking point with this whole ordeal. (note: not really, so in the rare event that there is a rampage in MA, it’s not me)

Weekend of WAR

September 22, 2008

Warhammer Online has been out for a full week now if we count the Collectors Edition head start date, and generally the response has been overly positive. There is little doubt that WAR is indeed the next ‘it’ game in MMO land, and if momentum continues, it could indeed provide a challenge to WoW. It will be interesting to see what happens when the Wrath expansion is released; will WAR players be too deep into the game to care, or will the now common ‘cap and done’ syndrome effect WAR and have players jumping back to WoW?

WAR has its share of issues of course, from imbalanced scenarios to server population concerns, and more will crop up as players visit the higher tiers. Some are frustrating, like waiting 30+ minutes in a scenario queue, while others could potentially spell disaster, such as Destruction dominating most servers in terms of population. It’s far too early to hit the panic button, but it will be something to keep an eye out for.

On a more personal level, Aria and I are a quest or two away from Rank 11 with our Dark Elves, and I got my Warrior Priest to Rank 14 as well. CoW did some keep raids over the weekend. We took down four (I think), but had little resistance from other players, despite it being peak time on Saturday. Perhaps the other side just did not want to step in front of a swarm of players, who knows… I also got a taste of some early level dungeons, and they play as one might expect a typical WoW instance to play. Nothing amazing, but a solid experience as long as you have a capable group. The simplified class selection of WAR works well here, as it’s fairly easy to come up with tank/healer/dps, and you don’t need to tinker as much with having the exact combo of classes for an encounter. We will see if this holds true at higher levels.

This might be a problem…

September 19, 2008

The SE version of Warhammer was ordered through Gamestop, and even though the order has shipped, it was shipped using the then promotion (free) value shipping, which according to Gamestop means 5-10 business days. Mythic turned off pre-order accounts this morning. If I don’t have that SE box in the mail today, shits going to hit the fan…


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