Five Things To Do In Altdorf When You're Dead: What I Like About Warhammer

People might get the cursory impression, from reading my blog, that I like making fun of Mark Jacobs. This is, in fact, true! Duh. I mean, come on, I used to work for the guy. Tell me you wouldn’t mind poking fun of your ex-boss on the Internet when he wears goofy glasses during an interview. There are some temptations man was not meant to pass up. And of course, before that I wrote a lot of pointy things about Paul Barnett. This was mainly because, at a certain point, 87% of my Google Reader headlines were various permutations of “OMG I WANT TO HAVE THE BABIES OF THIS BLOKE THAT TALKS ABOUT SETTING HERETICS ON FIRE WITH A FUNNY ACCENT” and I like to be different.

That being said, people might also think I was turning into some sort of bitter detractor on the Internet of all things Mythic in general and Warhammer in specific who does nothing but posting bitchy notes about how your online game of choice turns you stabby and full of hatred. You could call such a collection of vitriol a… hm… maybe a “rant site”? That could work. And I’m sure they are out there! But I don’t really have experience with writing one of those, so in the meantime, I’m going to point out things I actually like about Warhammer and why.

And yes, there is another, darker, harsher list – but ironically, it’s shorter. Today we are THIMKIN POSITIVELY.

So: my list, of all things great and small, what other MMOs should take away from Warhammer.

Instant PVP. You can do the PvP thing immediately following character creation, and what’s more, not completely suck.  Thanks to upranking you can sort-of kind-of contribute from level 1. Which is appropriate – the game still gives you a reason to level upward. The same applies to equipment – you gain access to a baseline of equipment through “renown gear” unlocked through PvP, but you’ll want to supplement it.  And entering a “scenario” (instanced PvP battle) is as easy as clicking a big helpful logo button. No fuss, no muss, no running somewhere, you get teleported to a battle, then teleported back. Makes no sense from a fantasy immersion standpoint, but then again, neither do instanced battles, so whatever!

And most importantly, you can advance your character this way as well. You gain experience and money through simply competing in scenarios, and level-appropriate gear can drop from other players as well.

So in short, you’re not waiting on the “endgame” for the fun. The fun’s right there. This is HUGE. This is your takeaway. Get players into the fun bits quickly and they can see whether or not it’s for them. And if it is, they’ll stay. This is Warhammer’s greatest triumph – in a class/level/combat-centric MMO, the “you must be this high to enjoy yourself” signs have been removed from the amusement park.

Open groups. A lot of people (including at Mythic) talk about Public Quests as Warhammer’s big innovation. I’m going to disagree – as implemented, from what I can see, they aren’t that different from other quests, and have issues of scale when no one else is around to help in completing them.

However, it does leverage Warhammer’s grouping paradigm — where most games default to “closed groups” where you invite other people to your party, in Warhammer the default is for all groups to be open admittance, and you can just decide which party to crash. The game’s interface shows open parties in your area, and critically, how far away they are and what they are doing (be it public quest or open-world PvP). Click a group, and you’re in it.  That simple.

Other games have had open groups, but critically, I think, Warhammer’s had them from day 1, built into the interface, so the game’s community has adopted them. The hit most designers make against open groups is that you are just a faceless mob, and this is for the most part true of groups that I’ve joined, but it isn’t always the case. I spent the better part of an evening on an RP server as an irritated Black Orc in an open group looking to kill as many people as I needed to to get a new choppa. (Because, hey, what else do Orcs look for in life?) This worked, partially because I was on an RP server where everyone believes themselves an actor, and it’s on the Greenskin side where all you have to do to be in character is talk like a British soccer hooligan.

Open groups encourage socialization, and in the long term draw people into guilds. And being part of the core game from the start instead of the result of various reactionary patches (such as WoW has seen) ensures community adoption.

I’m busy, and also, I’m dumb. No, really, I am. I don’t want to spend hours to figure out where something is. Warhammer understands this. I can pop open my map and it’ll tell me where I need to go to finish a quest. There are addons for WoW that do this – in Warhammer it’s inherently part of the game. It saves me the step of looking up online where I need to go to do something, which everyone does anyway, so acknowledging this is a good thing. No really, we can’t do everything. Have at it. Speaking of addons, Warhammer also has opened up their client scripting interface, and quite a few useful things have already been crafted up. This really needs to be a requirement from every game going forward – the client is how we interface with the game, and everyone tends to have different preferences with how all that information flows from server to eyeballs and fingertips.

Tome of Knowledge = Concentrated Awesome. What happens when you keep a quest journal in the basement, feed it the blood of pixies and write in it with the ink drawn from the tears of Nobel laureates? You get something much like the ToK, which effortlessly unlocks tons of backstory for wherever you are at any given moment, but in a very passive behind the scenes way so it isn’t just WALL OF TEXT IN YOUR FACE when you’re trying to play. It also steals very smartly from Xbox Achievements, giving you the Pavlovian ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED dialogues whenever you do… well, anything.

And yes, I spent half an hour on a character doing swan dives off a cliff, just so I could have AAAAAAHHHHH show up as a title under my name. Because it’s always key to get things exactly right.