Over vacation I read a good chunk of Vampire Wars, a collection of books set in the Warhammer universe all about the von Carstein vampire counts. Considering I’ve been reading Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series almost exclusively for the last… well it’s been a while, the change to a different writing style took a little getting use to, but overall I still enjoyed the read, and Vlad von Carstein has always been one of my favorite characters in that setting. But reading the book also got me thinking once again about MMOs and what a great setting Warhammer is for one. Which of course got me thinking about Warhammer Online, and just how far off WAR is from how the Warhammer universe should look and feel.
I think the main issue is that in WAR every player character is playing the role of a flawless hero, which does not work out great in a setting where most ‘heroes’ are ordinary people who occasionally do something special (usually to die quickly afterwards), and the real heroes are not only uncommon but highly flawed. Vlad for example is a great character because he is that rare, very powerful individual who alters history, and those who stand against him are usually ordinary men who just happen to pull off some great feat to stop his terror. In WAR you can roll someone who is Vlad’s equal, and go off to fight with/against hundreds of others like you. This is how most MMOs function (everyone is ‘epic’ in WoW for example), but it’s not how the Warhammer universe should be, and by changing this fundamental aspect you lose a lot of its charm and feel.
In addition, Warhammer is all about the little stories that add up to write history, rather than a set series of ‘epic’ events (city siege). It’s about a small town in some random swamp dealing with a plague, it’s about some random priest with a secret, and it’s about local lords and counts just trying to maintain their little corner of the world. Of course major events do happen, but they are the exception rather than the rule. And when translated to an MMO, this would work beautifully if pulled off correctly.
But it won’t be, at least not for the foreseeable future, because we already have an MMO using the Warhammer IP. And in a way, that’s almost worst than an IP like Wheel of Time, which again would make for a great MMO setting. At least WoT has yet to be made and the dream of that world remains intact, yet to be shattered by the reality of what is actually created. I know I won’t be able to roll a character in the Warhammer universe and play out some adventure like I just read, while I can still hope for one when I read WoT. I think it’s this fact, among others, that makes creating an MMO based on an existing IP all that much harder. People go in ‘knowing’ how the world works, how things SHOULD be, and what to expect. And almost every time, you are not going to be able to deliver on any/all of that, and regardless of how fun or entertaining your product is, it still won’t be someone’s idea of that world made real. And once the game is out and the IP is used, it’s very unlikely fans will get a second shot at getting what they expected.