Saturday, August 23, 2008

Warhammer Online: Guild Beta Impressions - Part III

Phase 3.3 saw the opening of the Tier 4 zones, along with character wipes and the ability to make level 31, templated characters.

Seeing the Tier 4 zones and getting a chance to try and push the zone control so that your side can assault new zones was interesting, but it also revealed some flaws with the system.

For example, its possible for your side to gain control of all the objectives and keeps in an area, but still lose control of the zone. I know that PvE and Scenarios also have an effect on the zone control, it just feels kind of weird to have physical control of a zone, but the magic meter tells you something different.

Keep combat is very one-dimensional. Attack the front gate, run in, attack the keep lord. The only difference with the higher tier keeps is that they require you to bust down two doors. The keeps look fancy, but 90% of the area is never used. It's also odd that there are no NPCs on the walls. You would think they could stick in some static archers.

Tier 4 areas have a bit of an interesting setup. In the middle there is a zone that is 80% RvR, flanked on either side by two PvE zones that feed into the middle zone for control purposes.

Thunder Mountain is the central Tier 4 area for the Greenskin/Dwarf pairing. It is a badlands type area, with a volcano in the center. Very cool atmosphere, very crappy for actually getting anywhere. Due to large chasms dominating the landscape, you often have to take a very roundabout route to get to where you need to go (note: this is for the RvR area. The PvE areas of the zone don't have this issue), resulting in a lot of running around. This is especially annoying because it is the RvR area. I don't want to spend more time running back to the combat than I do actually fighting.

The Empire vs Chaos area of Praag on the other hand, is a great RvR setup. Almost the entire zone is encompassed by the town, which each side having a warcamp on the outskirts to give them easy access to the interior. Objectives are on a general line through the middle of town, with one keep at each end. This is much more fun than running around on windy paths in Thunder Mountain. It also gives more of a feeling of an actual war, since you're fighting in a city instead of out in the middle of nowhere at some random spot.

I really think that Mythic will have to revisit the RvR zones for the other two pairings to make them as interesting. Currently, 90% of the outdoor PvP action happens in the Empire vs Chaos areas.

Another thing that really bothers me is zone control resetting periodically? I find this feature a bit odd. Apparently, you are under a time limit in regards to gaining control of zones. Otherwise, the zone resets entirely. Pretty lame design, IMO, but I guess it goes along with the theme park style of gaming. After several posts about this issue, I finally got some details from a Mythic employee. Once you start a keep assault, you have 60 minutes to win before it resets (though I'm not sure what exactly causes the timer to start. Hitting the front door? Destroying the front door? Attacking the keep lord?). Also, once one of the final fortresses is taken, you have 36 hours to take one of the other two, which will then open up the capitol for attack. If you don't beat the time deadline, the Tier for which the fortress was taken resets back to its default values. All objectives in that zone become neutral and the keeps revert to initial ownership. I find this to be a pretty lame mechanic. Maybe if they had an NPC spawn that retook the keep, that would be interesting. But as it is, it just suddenly pops back and you have to start all over from the bottom. My preference would be to leave it in the hands of the players to retake the keeps. Make the players actually fight for what is theirs rather than just resetting the pins for another round. But, I guess that goes along with the themepark MMO.

Leveling is definitely slower post 30. But its still not too bad. Definitely much quicker leveling than any of the other fantasy MMOs on the market.

I continue to be impressed with the whole open party concept. It works very well, with most successful open Warbands being formed around a small core of guild players. There are a few issues. The main one that bothers me is that I cant always see where everyone in my warband is on the map. But, this is a bug that affects all warbands, not just open ones.

Talisman making is still not in game yet, but drops for it have begun to appear. Some items have enhancement slots, so I am assuming that Talisman making will create items for these slots, kind of like Jewelcrafting in WoW.

Got a chance to play with some of the dye options. The colors seem to be a lot more apparent on the higher-level gear. And it does make your avatar stand out. Unfortunately, there are only a dozen or so color options, and some of them are priced differently. I've seen some hints in-game that they plan on letting Apothecaries create their own dyes, but it seems that this feature isn't fully implemented as noone has managed to actually make any.

The game has improved quite a bit over the last month. Things generally seem a lot smoother, particularly client-side. I still get occasional graphics lag, but it is vastly improved.

And before I finish up this post, I suppose I should talk a bit about the guild system. Forming a guild in WAR requires a full party of 6 players to gather at the guild registrar in Inevitable City. You then pay a fee, pick a guild name and you're all set. The guild window has several tabs, including one for managing alliances. The UI has a few issues, but all-in-all, its well laid out and fairly comprehensive. One of the more unique aspects of WAR is its Living Guild system, whereby your guild gains levels. Each level opens up something new, from standards, to special access to the guild area in the capitol, to designing your own, personal heraldry (which has quite a number of options to choose from). This system seems to work pretty naturally, and quickly as well. We had to remake our guild several times during the beta, but we were always able to gain back the early levels rather easily. The highest level our guild achieved was 9, so I cant comment too much on the details above that, but it definitely was a source of pride for us to see our guild growing as a result of our efforts to bash in some stuntie heads!

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