Sunday, February 24, 2008

Snorehammer Online

Once upon a time, there was a game I’d been waiting for. A game I was terribly, terribly, excited for. A game whose website I used to frequent, eagerly anticipating the newest “podcast video update”... There's this guy that works for the marketing department of this game, his name is Paul, and listening to his little videos about the game made me smile in my apartment. This is the the kind of guy that gets religious folks all worked up and wanting to puhraize the lawd when they hear his gospel. This was a game whose email newsletter I had voluntarily signed up for, for fuck's sake. This game was going to rise up and blow Blizzard's World of Warcraft out of the water once and for all. It was going to do everything right that WoW does wrong, and it was going to do it with a vengeance.

I got my email for the Warhammer Online: The Age of Reckoning closed beta on August 27th, and just about crapped myself in anticipation. I literally squealed with joy when I checked gmail that day, and immediately set out to download the 5 gigs of ZOMGBETALOVIN that I knew I so richly deserved. It was midnight, and the beta client servers were probably swamped with other people downloading, so I went to sleep, dreaming of deleting my WoW characters and canceling my WoW account for the final time (But Isobelle! You're making the peon cry! Fuck you! I got in the beta bitches! Muahahha!).

So, how does it play?

Is it as awesome as I had anticipated? Were smiling angels birthed from my computer's floppy disk slot? Did my computer shudder in ecstasy as the last file was installed and the desktop shortcut created? Did Chuck Norris die just a little bit on the inside, feeling a disturbance in the force field of the Barrens, as if one soul had somehow escaped its bitter grasp? Let me put it this way: my resto Druid alt farmed up 8 Primal Lifes last night in the Outlands of Warcraft last night.

Let's just dwell on that point for another moment. I have a protection specced tank, and a combat rogue that are both already pretty well geared and enchanted up. I decided to roll a healing class to round out the options I could present to any raid that needed me for a slot. I'm running around Zangarmarsh as a fucking Tree That Heals, trying to kill things, instead of playing the Warhammer beta. "Entangling Roots > Moonfire > Bug Swarm in the Face Whatever > Wrath Wrath Wrath > Repeat" is more exciting than the supposed New World Order of upcoming MMOs.

To say that Warhammer is a disappointment would be like saying women are mildly disinterested in my buddy Ripperjack. The fact of the matter is that WAR (as they call it, and so shall we) is a runny pile of shit, and women avoid Ripperjack like the plague.

I really wanted this game to shine. I practically needed it to, and had convinced myself that it would. Perhaps I had unrealistically high expectations. I would love for the retail version to come out and prove me wrong. I will happily eat my words and sing its praises then, but for that to happen a few things need to go down first:

1) Everyone currently working on the game would need to be fired.

2) The source code would need to printed out, deleted from every hard drive, and the last hard copy stomped on with cleats, soaked in gasoline for a week, then set ablaze inside a functioning blender while thrown off the White Cliffs of Dover.

Then they could maybe start fresh, and get it right. For inspiration, they could watch all the podcasts they created that are full of Paul spewing lies and deceit, and then try and fabricate that game from what they see talked about in those videos. The game in its current state certainly isn't what they're talking about.


No. Reread that last part again; the part about the cleats and the White Cliffs of Dover. This isn't gonna be "fixed". It's beyond that. The last three versions of the beta have shown me they're content to just crap something together and hope the first week in sales recoups the losses. In order to succeed, it needs to be destroyed and started anew.

I've begun seeing the inevitable posts popping up across the internet that say I'm not alone, that even the game's own developers know it sucks. The ones where the devs say "Oh, we aren't trying to compete with WoW, we're creating a whole different experience". Yeah, that's a fucking copout and you know it. That's like starting a ketchup company, people saying it tastes like tabasco flavored ass-juice, and you coming out and saying "Oh, no no no! You use it as shampoo! Put it in your hair! Don't put it on hamburgers! Lord, no! We aren't trying to compete with Heinz 57! LOL! That would be silly!"

CATSUP or KETCHUP? the debate rages on!If you have no intention of being the best, why bother at all? Oh, wait... yeah. There's a little part of the development cycle I've glossed over. This used to be a game made by the people who made Dark Age of Wolfenstein or whatever; but it isn't Mythic developing the game anymore. They got bought out, and now it's an "EAMythic" title. It's all suddenly so crystal clear. They're going to just shovel shit into pan, throw it in the oven, let it bake for 5 months, then cross their fingers and hope that a lemon meringue pie pops out at the end. Oh, they'll make their release date. Don't worry about that. If the game sucks, there's always Tiger Madden Beach Frisbee 2014 to recoup losses on.

So... that's great, but what's wrong with the game? What makes it so horrible? Just saying "fucking everything" isn't very descriptive, so let's take a few examples.

Combat. This is an MMO. Let's not be trite. Ninety-nine percent of the "fun" part of the game comes from combat. I know there are people who love to stand around and bitch in LFG about Chuck Norris or whatever (I do it myself from time to time), but the general population is in it for the actual ‘game' part.

So let's just be clear on one thing: The Combat In Warhammer Sucks. Fucking BLOWS.

I touched on this in my LotRO review, and I'll say it here again just to be fair: Maybe it takes some getting used to, but the timing of combat feels all wrong. When I hit a button, it doesn't feel like I actively did anything. In WoW (not their competition, apparently, but hey), when I Gouge an opponent on my rogue, a series of events takes place. I hit the button, my character does a flip, a sound byte is played, the enemy is stunned, and I can tell because of the little swirly "dur, I'm dazed" animation twirling abover their heads. It all feels very tight. In WAR, I don't feel the same connection between button press and on screen action. LotRO had me excited about a few things, though, like the visual "sticky web debuff" I got while fighting a spider. After spending some time with LotRO, the timing did become more natural. It wasn't WoW, but I got used to it a little bit more. So maybe that could be tightened up before release? Okay, sure. Sounds like a pretty big adjustment to "tighten up combat and make it not feel so lame", but okay, whatever. It doesn't change the fact that combat is a snore-fest.

On all of the different classes I rolled, there was one button that got spammed over and over and over (and over and over and over) until the mob died. BUT ISO! Don't rogues in WoW just spam Sinister Strike over and over? To a degree, I suppose that point could be argued, but I'm also Gouging, Kidney Shotting, Rupturing, Slice and Dice-ing, Cheap Shotting, Vanish-Garroting, Blinding, Kicking, Making Toast and Shaving the Chickens. Combat in WAR is just hitting the same button over and over, and hitting a random other button once in a while just to relieve the monotony of it. Not because OH I NEED TO DO THIS OTHER MOVE NOW, but because Fuck My Index Finger Needs a Break.

As a fight goes on, you earn Morale, which can be spent to perform uber moves. I had a Sweeping Strikes type move that would have attacks hit an additional enemy for 7 seconds. Earning that move took way too much time, and even the execution of that move was still just spamming 1111111 again, but now I was hitting two enemies. Wow. 7 seconds of Awesome. You seriously need to SPAM your first move to build up morale, because if you don't do it fast enough it decays.

In the top secret beta forums for the game, threads stating this exact thing were abundant, and would generally be just locked out by the forum admins with a comment stating "This topic has been beaten to death. Thread locked." Nothing like sticking your fingers in your ears and NaNaNaNaNa-ing to beta testers offering feedback on core gameplay issues, eh? I'm honestly really upset I don't have a screenshot of one of these threads, it would have shaved about about a billion words off this article. The whole article could have just been "the game sucks, the devs know it, and this is how they react" [SCREENSHOT]. I honestly gave up on the forums after reading a few of those, and since going back to find one, I found instead that they tend to just delete the threads now. Progress.

Character Advancement. This ties into combat, sort of. Each level you ding, you go to your trainer and might have a new rank of "that one button". That sentence about sums up the excitement of character advancement. They apparently ‘don't want to overload users with too many useless fluff moves' (another quote from the devs). The result is one single move you learn at level one and use until you're viewing the world thru a pair of self-inflicted steak knives.

The morale moves mentioned above are a chance to differentiate yourself from the next guy, but doing the moves doesn't feel very... good. I dunno how to really put it. Combat starts, and your little gauge is on E. At 1/4 tank, you can do a rank one morale move, or save your juice until you reach 1/2 tank, and do a rank two, etc. I found myself always using it at 1/4 tank, just because 111111ing had already made me crazy by that point. You can have 4 morale moves on your bar, big deal. Zzzz.

The other customization comes from Tactics, which is a cute way of saying Talents. In WoW, you earn a talent point each level, to use to specialize in some aspect of the game. Sometimes you get a whole new skill (Ghostly Strike, Summon Felguard, etc). Usually, though, you just got something like 1% chance your frost spells won't be resisted. Yeah, it kinda sucks to level all the way from 67 to 68 just to get a .1 second casting speed increase on Flamey Flame Royale or whatever, but that talent is meant to be the sum of 5 points into it, to reduce the cast time by half a second.

WAR takes a new approach, by having these tactic sets you can have that offer (usually) passive abilities, like "when struck in combat, 5% chance to regen 100 HP" or whatever. You buy these tactics, and arrange a little tactic set that can be activated or deactivated depending on the situation at hand. Did you DPS all the way thru trash, and now want to suddenly be a healer before the boss pull? Um, ok. Activate your Healing Tactics set and woopty woops, heal the tank. Instant and Free respecs in the middle of a dungeon, as long as you're out of combat. Okay, sure, I guess? It was something that people have been wanting in WoW, but the WoW devs try to say that respeccing should mean something (nevermind that 50g is a pittance at level 70). In the end, though, everyone still feels pretty cookie-cutter-riffic, but I won't say WoW is any different on that point. The Tactics system could be either loved or hated by some. Loved by those who make threads about Ghost Points and free talents respecs, hated by anyone who feels like people should play a certain role and stick to it.

RvR. Oooh! Realm versus Realm conflict! Here's a big one! This is supposed to be a huge defining characteristic of what makes WAR different! I honestly wish I could really go into detail here but I never made it more than 4 or 5 feet into the "RvR Zone" for the area without having 40 people jump into my asshole and proceed to cut their way out. Essentially, each map has a designated "pvp area" where you can engage in meaningful World PvP objectives (lol?). It's literally like a gate or arch you pass through. Imagine if Ogrimmar was 'safe', and the instant you passed outside the gates to walk to the blimp 800 alliance were out there waiting for you. They seriously just sit there, jumping around like idiots on the other side of the gate waiting for you to cross the line. Yeah, it would be awesome if there were 800 fellow teammates that were ready to cross over with you, but you know it never lines up like that. So instead, whoever kinda got there first just sits at the gate and chomps at the bit to gang bang the unlucky sap that doesn't know what RvR is yet.

Public Quests. Another interesting concept botched by horrible execution. The first public quest I did involved just killing a few melee NPC schmucks standing around a barn. I didn't even know it was a public quest until I realized each dude I killed added up at the top of my screen. After around 20 or so dead, "phase 2" started, and backup arrived in the form of mages. Ohh! This looks kinda cool! I killed them, along with a few other beta testers that were curious what I was doing, and eventually we had to protect some guy. Okay. He's protected. Phase 4. An ogre bursts thru the trees, and he was pretty big.


Not really!

I pretty much soloed him at like level 3 or whatever, and he drops a chest. Loot windows pop up on the screen, various needs and greeds are performed, and Huh What Was All That About? We stand around trying to figure out what the hell we just accomplished, when we notice the same melee NPC schmucks are back. Hey, let's do it again! Yeah! Okay! Fourth time now and it's getting boring!

Completing these public quests earns you some sort of rep for the zone, where you can go get a chestpiece at "honored" and a sword at "revered" (not the exact levels of rep, but yeah, you see where I'm going). The next zone I go to has a flaming windmill. Oh boy. Another of these things. Yawn. As I make my way around the world map I notice more and more of these zones, and less and less people that can be fucked to participate in them. One asks you to kill 80 of two different types of mob before phase 2 can begin. This might be ‘fun' with a solid 4 person group mashing thru it, but the loot system is strange. If I was solo up to the very last phase, and then Billy comes up and shoots an arrow at the last boss, he can roll on the loots. That makes it pretty public I guess, sure... maybe that was a bug. I honestly dunno about these. They have potential, but the current implementation is pretty lame.

So what does Warhammer do right? I'm honestly not trying to be a dick here, but I'm really drawing a blank. The models are stuck between trying to look realistic, and just being awkward. I honestly prefer a more stylized approach to art direction. You paint yourself into a corner when you strive to look realistic, but then the avatar looks retarded when he runs. It's jarring, and interferes with the ability to just lose yourself in the game. I get the same feeling everytime my tauren gets hung up on a doorframe in WoW. The Greenskins look pretty cool, but a bunch of the other races are really not very interesting to look at. One class floats around magical pillows the whole time, and it's not as interesting as it sounds. It's actually pretty lame. So I rolled a Greenskin, but ended up being annoyed at every line of text I came across. Moves are called things like "Grab dem in da Gibblies", and quest descriptions read like 2nd grade essays. It's cute to read quests that say "Gon get sum shotis and grab der stufs in dese barels ober by te wadder"! Yeah. Awesome.

There have been entire podcasts about how they aren't going to do the same old quests, but there hasn't been anything terribly revolutionary thus far. Go talk to this guy, then come back and tell me you did so. Go kill ten of these guys and three of these other guys. Go talk to farmers and discover which ones are working for the enemy. That quest is a prime example of Warhammer logic: after discovering one of the ‘bad farmers', they become hostile and are suddenly wearing black leather outfits instead of whatever tattered clothing they had on before. Why did they not just turn hostile and attack you with a hoe while wearing the same clothing? Would you, as the player, become too confused by this amazing turn of events? It all seems a little silly to me.

I said a few things before, and I'll say them again. I really really really wanted this game to be good. LotRO I kind of expected to be bad, and was pleasantly surprised by. It was a little clunky, but I actually played a full ten day buddy pass trying to figure out if it was something I wanted to play in the long run. It wasn't. The day I decided to go back to WoW after playing LotRO I realized just how polished WoW really is. At this point, logging into the WAR beta is done purely for the benefit of our readers. I certainly don't derive any sort of joy from it. I have my fingers crossed that maybe the next build will be the one where they figure it out, but I'm not holding my breath.

Blizzard is good at what they do, and WoW is the best game available right now for the MMO market. That is a given. People can complain that dying in WoW isn't really a big deal. Thugs don't show up at your front door and kick you in the groin when you die, sorry. They can say WoW's instanced PvP implementation is like using Red Koolaid instead of Tabasco Sauce on your tacos, or that the game in general has been toned down for mass appeal. The fact stands, though, that WoW is leaps and bounds above ANYTHING else on the market.

Warhammer is not going to change that; if anything, it's only reinforced the dominance of WoW in my own mind.

The whole 'I'm running around killing things as Tree that Heals instead of playing the beta' thing pretty much sums it up. The beta just went through another build, where I had to download the entire thing again. I got excited because an entire new download must mean something's changed, right? Wrong. Nothing really seems to have changed. I'm sure John Madden is beating the war drums in the coding room of EAMythic right now. Maybe they're 'done', and the pan full of crap is heating up in the oven already; the devs are all huddled around the window pressing their faces up to the glass, trying to see if it's transformed into a pie yet.

Mmmm! Tastes like chicken! I wanted Warhammer to shine. It doesn't. Perhaps I'm being overly negative about it, since I wanted so bad for it to be so good. I honestly don't care if you guys think this 'review' is biased, as this isn't an objective review, it's a rant about how much Warhammer sucks. Just try to keep in mind that if it fucking ruled, I still would have wrote this piece, but everywhere I said Lame, I would have said Rules instead, and everywhere I said 'fucking blows' I would have just inserted pictures of Samuel L Jackson whipping Vin Diesel across the face with a snake.

On a plane.

But, no.

Warhammer just sucks, and that's the long and short of it.

Sorry. :(

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