With the Warhammer:Age of Reckoning Open Beta underway I am curious what the initial impression is from the typical (ie: people without a preconceived fanboy or doomsday view) gamer. As mentioned before, I am looking forward to it’s release. I also have to come clean and share that my perception perhaps isn’t a very fair one. I have been exposed to the game since sometime in Beta 2 (servers currently running 4.1) and as such my perception of the game isn’t from a fresh clean slate – it is from a much different viewpoint.

When you are invited into a beta you expect there to be problems – that is why you are there. Since it is just a beta you tend to roll with the problems and issues and playtest the game realizing that it is going to change an awful lot before it is released. Beta testers are also exposed to the improvement process. From my first beta build to the current point the game has improved immensely and since I experienced that change first hand it gives an optimism of what else is to come (something a new player just hopping into the game for the first time hasn’t experienced). Beta testers also have an in depth knowledge of gameplay mechanics, general knowledge of different class strengths and weaknesses, and a true feel for the game – all things a fresh new player hopping into the experience for the first time doesn’t have. Because of this your typical beta player already has an opinion on the game both in it’s present and future state.

New players have only been exposed to the opinions of those who have beta tested and may have already formed their opinions based on NDA lifted information. So, what I am most curious about today, if you just booted WAR for the first time and have kept an open mind before doing so, what is your perception on the game? More importantly, what did you honestly expect?

With each new MMO released we old crotchety gamers always face disappointment. Yet another Fantasy MMO. Just the same as [insert existing MMO here] with a few extra fluff items, the same old release bugs, yadda yadda yadda. Being critical of the design and release process is important as it should garner improvement with each new release. By now, surely we should be wearing virtual reality goggles and LARP’ing are way (alone in our rooms, of course) through the MMO grind. Every single game genre has improved this way. First Person Shooters have evolved tremendously. RTS games have a completely different mechanic and gameplay than in the old days. No, I am not oozing sarcasm here, honestly. Our forms of entertainment in their most base form, from movies, to music, to gaming genres really haven’t changed one bit – yet we expect some sort of miracle innovation with each new release. Crysis is not really different from the original Doom. Sins of a Solar Empire is not really all that different from Command and Conquer. World of Warcraft is not all that different from Everquest. Of course you can point to graphical improvements and other things that are different but at the core of it all we are playing the exact same games today as we did 10 years ago with a few extra mouse buttons to click and prettier scenery to watch while doing so. Welcome to the entertainment business.

Movies haven’t evolved at their core. At this stage in our entertainment evolution surely the audience should be immersed in a virtual reality setting as part of the movie, not just zombies staring at the screen. The entertainment industry finds what works and rides it as long as they can. Guess what – MMO’s are core entertainment now, not an underground economy of geeks and visionaries and new titles are going to cater to the core audience. Regular folk who have a comfort level with how these games present themselves, how the UI works, what a quest is – these mechanics won’t change unless the core audience changes. Unfortunately that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. We spent so many years hoping to be mainstream so better games would be produced that we could enjoy. Look at where that has taken us.

I think I have lost my bite with new releases now since I pretty much know what to expect and have lowered my expectations of gaming in general – so much so, that as long as the game is fun I may play it. I don’t let myself get disappointed expecting true innovation. On the micro level, I still want to know your thoughts on Warhammer. On the macro level I would love to know your perception of the MMO and entertainment industries as a whole and what you really expect.

3 comments / Add your comment below

  1. The one spot I disagree with you on is the “WoW is not all that different from EQ.” While I never played EQ, I played DAoC for a little while, and at that point, there were differences in the genre that, for me, turned out to be high barriers to my enjoyment of the game.

    For starters, there was very little solo content, which meant that you had to be grouped for everything, which meant that if your friends were playing, you had to be playing to. Otherwise, you’d risk them leaving you behind and you wouldn’t be able to progress through the game. Secondly, there was no instanced content. I remember heading into dungeons and standing around, waiting in line for monsters to pop. That was simply frustrating, and a waste of time. Lastly, and most importantly, the penalties for dying. Yes, that’s more “hardcore,” but that’s why I didn’t like it. Everytime you died, you’d lose XP. It was awful. One night I came home from work after a bad day, looking for some relaxation. After a bit of gameplay, I ran into a bad streak that wiped out all of my experience for the night. I ended up with less than I had before. That was the end of my MMO experience until WoW.

    That being said, WoW became the standard with its success and accessibility. Because of that, it’s the MMO that all MMOs are judged by; and, like you said, those looking to be “WoW-killers” will always build their games in the WoW template. Otherwise, the game only appeals to the niche of MMO players that consider themselves “hardcore” and won’t attract the following that these companies anticipate.

  2. Perhaps I should have expanded a bit on “more of just the same”. All the games have the same UI and basic core elements. In DAOC you make a character, run around, do quests, hit buttons that have cooldowns and perform specific functions. Exact same as EQ. Exactly the same as WoW. Sure, there are major differences in how things look, how mechanics work, etc, but strip it down to the bare basic bones and if you can play WoW, then you can certainly play EQ, or for that matter, every other MMO out there. When I talk about innovation I would love to see gameplay without the MMO-standard UI, the concept of hit points and healing, etc. Capture that in a fantasy setting and you might actually have a revolutionary game – until then it is all the exact same game in different skins and spreadsheet values.

  3. Ahh, that makes sense. The typical, tank/melee dps/ranged dps/healer archetypes. To come up with something outside the box that didn’t use that basic formula would indeed be something revolutionary. It would also probably be a very hard sell at first, since people are incredibly used to that sort of setup.

    If I recall, Bioware tried to go outside the typical framework for an RPG with Jade Empire, and it flopped pretty badly. I think.

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