Thursday, August 21, 2008
What's the difference?
Hypothetic story: David Beckham, famous UK "football" (soccer) player, by some terrible mistake gets hired by a American football team. Trainer tells him to have a look around on the field. David goes there thinking that US football must be the same as UK football, and alone on the field he finds nothing to contradict that notion: The ball and goal have a different shape, but it is obviously a game with two teams trying to get the ball through the goal on the other side. He kicks the ball around for some time and feels totally comfortable. Then he goes back out, gives a press conference and says: "I played American football, it was called soccer". Sounds crazy? Well, several otherwise intelligent MMO players just fell into the same trap when comparing Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning with World of Warcraft.
The truth is that if you approach WAR with a closed mind and keep to yourself, you *can* play WAR for quite a long time exactly like you would solo WoW: You grab some quests, kill ten foozles, get a reward, level up, advance to the next quest hub, lather, rinse, repeat. But just like David Beckham in our little story, the surprise will pop up as soon as the other players enter the field. World of Warcraft in its current form is a massively single-player online game. Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning is a massively multi-player online game. The average player in WAR will have far, far more interaction with the other players than somebody creating a new character in WoW nowadays. And in spite all the superficial similarities, the interaction with other players will make WAR play very differently than WoW.
The greatest new feature of WAR is the open group. When you log in and would like to play with others, you simply press the open group button under your character portrait, and you'll see all the open groups in your area, sorted by distance from you. There will be groups just doing quests together, other groups doing public quests, and there will be RvR groups, and the interface will show you what each group is doing, and who is already in the group. Just select one group that suits you, press the join button, and you're in. No need to negotiate for an invite, if the group didn't want you they would have switched group mode to closed. If nobody is around for the activity you want to do, you can just flag yourself as open group, so that others can join you.
If you are still in a WoW mindset, you're probably wondering how that could possibly work. If in WoW you're on a quest to find ten foozle ears, the last thing you want is somebody joining your group unasked, because that would make doing the quest more difficult, as you now would have to kill more foozles, and get less xp for each foozle kill. But WAR did away with that nonsense. You don't even have to click to loot the body in WAR to get quest items, everybody in the group will get a foozle ear on each foozle kill. And combat is slightly different in WAR too: It takes longer to kill a single mob (which is balanced by you needing to kill less of them to advance, so overall speed isn't slower than WoW); with fights taking longer, there is more advantage to doing the fight in a small group. The tank/healer/dps system ensures that the group performs better than the sum of its parts, only that now you aren't penalized for it any more.
It will take some time for people to realize that they could form groups for every quest and be better off. Thus the first groups will form where the advantages of grouping are a lot more obvious: PvP and public quests. WAR makes it easy to find where the action is in open world RvR, again with the open group interface, plus by marking where people are fighting in RvR on the map. And the advantages of grouping with other players for PvP are obvious to anyone, you just don't get very far alone.
Public quests are another interesting way of getting people to play together, because they give two sorts of rewards: Influence point rewards, and the chest with loot that drops from the final stage of each public quest, which is distributed by a "Vegas" system adding your contribution as modifier to a random loot roll. If you are doing public quests solo, you can get the influence points, but it would be impossible for you to kill the final boss alone. Several solo players can take the final boss down, but if they aren't grouped that is bound to be inefficient. If you group you end up getting influence points at the same or slightly higher rate, and you have a much easier time of killing the final boss and getting hold of the extra reward. Most public quests have open groups going all the time, with people coming and going, because every one of them wants to do the same public quest two or three times to max out his influence and get various pieces of the Vegas loot. Public quests are great for xp and getting your character equipped, you can get your first epic as early as level 10. Thus they fulfil the same function as World of Warcraft dungeons, but Warhammer Online public quests are more inclusive by a huge margin.
Open groups in WAR work because in nearly all cases more is better. If the last spot in your public quest open group is taken by yet another dps class and you still have no tank or healer, you just expand the group to a warband (raid group), without getting the stupid WoW penalty that in a raid group you can't earn xp or quest goals any more. In WoW, if you invite somebody into your group who is too low level, not as well equipped, or not playing as well, there is a significant risk that your group will fail to achieve anything, and that everybody gets hurt, so players mistrust each other and put up strict selection criteria to form groups. In WAR some lower level joining your open group is still making the group a little bit stronger, so everyone is welcome. Selection only would make sense if you had a full warband, but usually there aren't that many players around at any given spot. And a full warband will succeed any public quest anyway, even if they are all the same dps class.
Playing together with other people completely changes the feel of a game, in a way which a simple comparison of feature lists can't describe. Heartless nailed it when he said that ultimately Age of Conan is more similar to World of Warcraft than Warhammer Online is. It is just the graphics and combat which make you think at the start that AoC is somehow different, while WAR at first glance looks like WoW. But once you played it a bit longer you'll notice you're soloing your way up to the level cap in AoC just like in WoW, while WAR has a much larger variety of cooperative and competitive player interaction to offer. It is Mythic who are offering the real "next generation" of MMORPGs, the one in which we actually play together and against each other, instead of just soloing online.