Thursday, August 21, 2008

Thoughts on Warhammer Online

I'm not in the Warhammer Online Beta, but I've been watching the various sites post information avidly. Here are some of my thoughts:

Open Beta

You have to pre-order the game to get into the Open Beta. Seriously?

It's a weird decision, because it's a very short Open Beta, so it's more like advertising, only you're advertising to people who've already purchased the game. Seems odd to me, but whatever.

Grouping

The single most interesting thing about Warhammer appears to be their approach to grouping. Open Groups and Public Quests (see Tobold for more info) are extremely unique mechanics. I've posted before about social aversion to asking strangers to group. By eliminating that barrier, grouping might become a lot more common.

I think how loot is handled will be issue that makes or breaks Warhammer's grouping system. We all know the issues with ninjas in WoW; what's it going to be like when the ninja can join your groups without permission? If ninjas become a big concern, then all groups will be closed, and all the advantages of an open system will be lost.

The other loot issue I see is how Public Quest loot is distributed. They use a /roll system with modifiers depending on your performance. There are three concerns here.

First, performance is often very hard to quantify. Already sites like Massively are advising classes to AoE as much as possible in order to push themselves to the top of the meters. I'm sure the tanks will be overjoyed by these tactics. Essentially, it's the problems with damage meters and healing meters obsession in WoW, only people actually get rewarded by being at the top, even at the expense of the group.

Second, it seems like the rich get richer in this system. The better your gear, the more powerful you are, which means you're more likely to top the meters, and get the best reward. That means you're even more likely to top the meters in the next event. It's interesting that almost all player-driven loot systems are designed to prevent this, to spread loot more evenly.

Third, Random + Modifier still has all the disadvantages of a random system. You can be the best player in several PQs and still roll terribly. Given that many PQs will happen, it is probable that some poor sap (probably me, knowing my relationship with Lady Chance) will end up with a terrible loot streak.

Healing

Healing looks very interesting as well. There are three types of healers: pure healers, healers who get bonuses to damage spells if they cast healing spells and vice versa; and melee-healers.

I predict the that the second type of healer will end up as pure healbots. As Keen is finding out, the real barriers to mixing healing and damage are time and resource costs. In Keen's words, "If you’re not healing constantly then people will die. If people die because you were doing damage... it gets ugly."

So, the melee healer is what is really unique here. They look very unusual, as you have to hit the enemy in order to build up the necessary resources to heal people. Despite the fact that I really should know better than to roll a healer, I'm strongly considering trying a warrior-priest when Warhammer comes out.

Mechanics and Gameplay

The basic mechanic for every class seems to be something like Rogue's Energy. This is a very intriguing idea. The Toughness stat also looks like a nice twist on basic combat mechanics.

However, issues like these give me pause.

PvP

Keen has a really good video showing off an in-game siege. It looks very exciting. On the other hand, you can't help but notice that everyone is pretty much in the same position at the end of the video that they were in at the start of the video. (*Memories of 16-hour old-school AV matches rise up*)

Conclusions

Remember that I am not in the Beta, and am just commenting on the info that other people are talking about. Warhammer looks like a very neat game, with a lot of interesting ideas and takes on the MMO genre.

However, the whole "must pre-order to get into the Open Beta" thing is making me slightly nervous, especially after the whole Age of Conan debacle. In the end, I think I'll probably pick up Warhammer two to four weeks after it is released, and more information floods the Internet.

As a complete aside, I don't understand how people say that MMOs are too expensive to try out. They cost the same as normal game, and you get a free month, which is more than enough time to get in some decent hours. It's more or less the same price as buying a single-player game that you ended up not liking.

10 comments:

Green Armadillo said...

A few comments:

-The Open Beta will have SOME keys available to non-preorders, they're just doing their best to quietly not mention this now, kind of like how they hyped a head start program for their Collector's Edition and allowed everyone to assume that it would not also apply to the standard edition. I guess they're under no obligation to help you decide not to give them money, but it is a bit shadey. That said, I personally felt that my time spent camping the website waiting for details on how to get the free keys (they're using Fileplanet for distribution, so there will almost certainly be a Fileplanet subscriber phase before the general public phase) was worth more than the preorder deposit. Oh, and it's a 10GB client that you can start downloading immediately (and supposedly NOT have to reinstall/patch on launch day) if you have a key.

-Ninjas: As far as I'm aware, even the dungeons are public quests, which means that you can't really ninja (except by whoring the damage meters anyway). I think Mythic also WANTS the guy who wanders by and kills one mob to sometimes get the epic loot, so that he'll think PQ's are the best thing ever and get hooked on them.

-The difference in cost between trying an MMORPG and a single player game is that you can bring most new release single player games back to Gamestop and get $30 or so back if you discover you hated the game (provided you're not morally opposed to supporting their pawn shop business model). MMORPG accounts are soulbound to you so to speak, so you're not just out the $15 the month of service would have cost, you're also out the $35 cost of the box itself (again, most of which you can get back on popular console games).

Oh, one more thing on the pre-order, some stores don't really take any action to force you to actually buy the full game. For instance, you can buy a $10 preorder box from Best Buy and play in the open beta (a week) and then in the head start (amount of time not announced, but it will also include a grace period so that people don't get cut off while waiting for their box to arrive). It's not exactly a "free" trial, but the money counts towards buying the full game if you do decide to pick it up, and a relatively cheap expense ($10 for something like a week and a half to two weeks) if you decide to punt.

Rohan said...

-Ninjas: As far as I'm aware, even the dungeons are public quests, which means that you can't really ninja (except by whoring the damage meters anyway). I think Mythic also WANTS the guy who wanders by and kills one mob to sometimes get the epic loot, so that he'll think PQ's are the best thing ever and get hooked on them.

Interesting. That eliminates ninja concerns, but is there no room to just do something as a small group, without other people? I mean, sometimes you just want to work on and achieve something with your friends, without every Tom, Dick and Harry coming along for the ride.

Hanna said...

Think I heard something about different settings for groups. Open groups, guild groups, closed groups etc.

The random loot from PQ's is not the only way to a reward from PQ's. You also build something like reputation for that PQ, which will let you aquire items from a vendor.

Haven't seen any information about loot distribution in groups for random drops, if there are random drops?

I've heard about people doing PUGs in WoW to meet new people to recruit, open groups should be great for this! Everyone is not a ninja?! :)

Tobold said...

I don't think ninjas will be a problem, because at least for the first 20 levels I've played the random loot A) sucks and B) is class specific, e.g. can only be worn by a shaman, not any other class, even if that class has a similar function.

The main activity for open groups will be public quests, and there anyone not pulling his weight will get less contribution points and thus have a less good chance to come in a top spot in the Vegas Loot system. There is no situation where the group kills the boss mob, some epic drops, and some ninja can need roll for it. All the good loot is either distributed with the Vegas system, or given as influence / renown reward for points you accumulated.

Rav said...

Performance is always a problem to measure, be it in WoW or basketball. Numbers, while awesome to look at, don't tell us the whole story.

For example, who contributed more, a player that scored 35 points, or a player that scored 10? Numerically, 35 contributes more than 10, but what happened? Did the 10 point scorer held down their rival's best player? Did he hustle for lose balls for his team? What else did the 35 point scorer did?

sid67 said...

It's a weird decision, because it's a very short Open Beta, so it's more like advertising, only you're advertising to people who've already purchased the game. Seems odd to me, but whatever.

There have been boatloads of people in closed beta (including all the prominent bloggers/press) and anyone in closed beta also gets into the open beta. With the NDA down, anyone who “could” tell you bad things about the game will be telling you those bad things. The pre-order deal is part marketing and part logistical I think. The marketing benefits are obvious, the logistical benefits are a bit less obvious.

Mythic has stated that the beta client will be “patched” into the release version. I bought mine from Direct2Drive, so that’s huge. But I also think part of the reason for the open beta is to get the pre-orders patched with something as close to the release version as possible. More importantly, anyone who pre-ordered and participates in open beta needs to create an account and deal with the account management stuff first. They opened that up on the 15th and OB isn’t until the 7th – that gives plenty of time for people to set things up and avoid the inevitable website type crashes that can happen at launch. Since my account is already flagged Pre-Order, I seriously doubt I’ll ever need to enter another “key” to get the account ready for release.

Relmstein said...

I think the real problem is that it's expensive to try to play more then one MMO during the same month. This can add up quickly especially when a couple or a family with kids are trying to find a new MMO they like.

Rorik said...

It's funny, Rohan, seeing you post after your Warhammer post about all the nerfing in the lich king beta and asking yourself if the devs really play paladins regularly. I think they don't and they don't care about paladins. Some of the Tom Chilton quotes I've seen make my blood boil. I've been fed up with it for a while now, which is why I decided to preorder Warhammer Online back in July, which got me into the closed beta. I'm playing a Warrior Priest in the beta, which is the closest thing to a paladin in Warhammer and I think they got the mechanic right. I also think that your concerns about Warhammer are valid ones and I wish there was a way for people to play the beta or preview the game for a week without buying it. The grouping/loot concers seem to have been addressed by other posts and I'll just say that they're right, there really is no issue with loot ninjas as the loot system is completely different from the WoW loot system.

The best thing I can say about Warhammer is that its fun and it cuts out all the BS that I don't like in WoW. I think overall if you're the type that hates PvP in any form, WAR will probably not be for you. If you find yourself doing BG's and Arenas in between raids or just love to PvP, then there is a lot WAR can offer.

Arenwino said...

I did the preview weekend in WAR. Mythic has great ideas, but they don't work very well in game.

First, the first PQ you do is great, the second is fun and when you realize they are about 3 in every zone, you loose the feeling of special. Also the roll for the loot just plain sucks. I got first place and I had gotten in the last stage of the quest and only had time to hit the boss 3-4 times. And if nobody's in your zone doing the PQ, it's impossible to do. After 3 months all low lvl PQ's will be empty.

After a weekend of non stop WAR, it feels like the game still needs a good 6 months of work to feel like a finished game. Lot's of good ideas, but not done well in game. I'm goin to bet that all of those great ideas will be in WoW in about 6 months!

Orwin said...

The PQ loot is specific for the class you play. If you are a Dwarf Tinkerer, you will only get loot for the Tinkerer and no one else. However the loot drop is only awarded to the top three at most of the PQ's. Plus some PQ's are too short, you may not earn any points because the objectives may be completed before you can hit a target.