Friday, September 19, 2008

Warhammer Retail Impressions

I’m prepared to catch hell for this, and it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. If you go back and read anything I’ve written about Warhammer on this website, you can find in every article a sincere hope that the retail game will come out and be worth playing. That said, in the two days or so I’ve had with the game, I can say pretty honestly that yes, it’s a pretty fun game to play. It isn’t going to beat up WoW and take Blizzard’s lunch money, but in the time I’ve been out of beta they’ve honestly gone through and tweaked enough of the game to make it enjoyable.

I’m playing a Black Orc who isn’t high enough for talent points yet (level 9 atm), and has admittedly seen very little of the world. I played a Black Orc in my time with beta, and back then it was painfully apparent that they had a ridiculously long way to go before the game would be something viewed as entertainment instead of punishment. A few gripes still stand, but overall, I would give the final product a thumbs up.

Let’s take a look at some of the expectations I had from last article, and see how they held up.

Playability (including stability, frame rates, and graphics): The game is playable. I honestly don’t think I’ve actuallly crashed out of the game yet, although there’s a pretty obvious memory leak that slowly sucks up resources the longer you play. Framerates start good (XP SP2, AMD Phenom 9850 2.5Ghz Quadcore, 2GB RAM, Geforce 8800 GTX 512 VidCard, Asus M2N-Sli Deluxe Mobo), and slowly begin to drag downward. Playing it on my laptop (Toshiba Satellite p105-9889, Core2Duo 7200 2.0 Ghz, 2GB Ram, Nvidia GeforceGo 7900GS 256 MB Vid) requires throttling the settings a bit, and there are a few wonky settings in the graphics panel that don’t seem to work. Trying to turn off some advanced lighting effects gives a mouseover that “checking this option might not take effect immediately” and I couldn’t even get the checkbox cleared at all. There are some areas on the borders of maps where the game slows to a crawl horrifically; I imagine that it’s starting to spool data for the adjoining zone or something, but it’s something that never happens in WoW (passing from The Barrens into Ashenvale, for example). Also, there seems to be a “spooky cave” lighting effect they throw out when you go into caves that just drags my desktop rig and laptop both to slide show status for a good ten seconds. Maybe my eyes just need to adjust. Also, while I haven’t explicitly crashed out of the game, the client refuses to just quit. Every time I’ve gone and logged out for the evening the game just kills my system and refuses to quit. Even when I get back to the desktop, the WAR little window is sitting on my taskbar, refusing to let me use the start menu or whatever until I try to kill the task over and over, and finally just give up and restart or shutdown.

Graphics wise, it looks good. Not spectacular, but good. I like the characters themselves, but some monsters just look half-assed. There were some horrendously textured and animated monsters in beta, and it’s good to see that those were placeholders for the most part. So far nothing has made me crap my pants with awesomeness, but overall it seems decent. Some of the bigger monsters like trolls or Public Quest NPCs look pretty bad actually, and maybe they’ll just be fluffed up later. This isn’t beta anymore, though, and bad looking mobs kinda jar the immersion overall. When my character runs and jumps, he actually looks like part of the world, which as I type doesn’t sound like it makes much sense. For some games, though, the NPCs and backgrounds don’t really look like they match… like one team was designing and texturing the world, and another team on the opposite side of the world was in charge of characters, and when you lay one on top of the other, it feels… well it just doesn’t look right. WAR seems to have a common unity bringing everything together, so that’s good. I’ve always applauded WoWs distinct art direction. WAR seems to be trying to pull it off as well, but it’s just not at the same level.

Obviously there are some kinks to iron out... I think this is water?

Animation wise, ehhh… they seem to have some Level of Detail thing going where if a group of guys is fighting 20+ yards away, it trims the animation cycles down to give you a better frame rate. That’s good for framerates I guess, but you end up seeing a group of guys fighting on a bridge, and everyone involved looks like animated gifs with 2 frames cycling over and over. It’s wonky. The spell animation bugs I mentioned in the last post are still there, but I’m playing a melee class so it isn’t as readily apparent. I do have a few ability animations, and they do get knocked out of sync from time to time, but I think I’d be more upset about it as a spell caster.

Combat. It’s been tuned up. My main gripe with the beta in general was how lame combat felt. Every class I played seemed to have one button, and you’d just spam it over and over. It left me wanting to play on an NES Advantage with turbo on the A button. On my black orc, it’s somewhat improved, but there’s still a monotony to combat that I’m hoping will disappear as I get more skills, but looks like it won’t. With the black orc, you have a thing kind of like combo points that won’t allow you to do a certain move until you’ve done a different move before hand. In that sense, it’s more like ‘gates’ than combo points. You start out with “no plan” and do a level 1 move that gives you a “gud plan”. From gud plan, you need to do a level 2 move to give you “da best plan”, with unlocks level 3 moves. So far for me, I have two level 1 moves, so I can pick which one will put me into the next mode. I have two level 2 moves now, and two level 3s (just got my new level 3 before logging out last night. Assigning these letters, I can basically perfom combos like a,b,c / a,B,c / A,B,c / A,b,C. Everything I do in combat starts with “a or A”, then goes to “b or B” etc etc etc. It feels better than just doing AAAAAAAAAAA, but still doesn’t translate into very much variety. Add to that that one of my ‘b’ moves requires a shield which I stopped wearing in favor of a 2h, one of the ‘a’ moves gives a minor buff (used at beginning of combat, and then not again for 20 sec), and one of my ‘c’ moves is a gimpy AoE instead of a direct attack for higher damage, and combat is pretty much A,b,c,a,b,c,a,b,c,a,b,c. Yeah. Black Orc. Woo. Haven’t tried any other classes yet, we’ll see…

RvR / Public Quests. Again, I hate to write anything on this game without having spent a lot of time in the PvP side of things, because that’s where the game’s focus is, but I can only comment on what I’ve personally seen. If I play the game for two months to write a first impressions thing, it defeats the point.

I’ve done a few public quests, and a few scenarios (battlegrounds), but haven’t gone off to storm the castle yet since I’m still just level 8. The public quests seem very similar to what I saw in beta. The concept is there, but whether or not people take part in them is going to be the biggest deciding factor in whether or not they succeed as a concept. The very first one I came across had a bunch of people playing it, because it was opening weekend in the starting zone. After passing into zone two, and finding about 3 of these spread out around the map, I saw less and less actual groups tackling them. The groups in Warhammer are public, unless you specifically block out joiners, so you can just mash yourself into a group if you see people doing a public quest. Even if their group is set to private, you can just go along with the flow of action and contribute, and you’ll be given a chance to roll at the end. The rolling system itself is kind of interesting, and the loots they distribute bear commenting.

If you partake in public quests all day long, and keep getting screwed out of loot by bad rolls, the system recognizes this, and will boost your roll accordingly. If you stand around AFK in a public quest zone, you will also not receive any ‘participation’ bonuses. The more you do, the higher your initial roll will be. Then your ‘I got screwed the last two PQs’ bonus gets tacked on, and you end up with some 4 digit number. The chest that spawns contains loot bags of varying uberness, from white bags containing silver and vendor trash, to green ones with (surprise) green items, to later blue and purple bags containing rares and epics. Usually the system breaks it down like ‘this quest awards 5 green bags and 2 whites’ and if you place in the top seven after rolls go out, you get a bag out of the chest. Even if you die at the last instant before the quest completes, you still see your roll happening, but you have to make it back in time to loot the chest or your bag disappears when the public quest resets and starts again (as I found the hard way last night, by about 5 seconds).

...looking inside one of the loot bags, you can choose one reward from a few choices inside.

The rewards inside these bags usually match up pretty cleanly to your infamy rewards. Infamy is a special kind of rep that gets shared between PQs of the same chapter. Chapter one is the very first starting zone, two being ‘across the bridge in zone #2’ etc. Within each chapter, there are usually a few PQs to be found, and so if you get sick of doing the same one over and over, you can do do a different one and bring your points with you. After earning infamy, there’s an infamy vendor in town that will give (not sell) you items based on what level you attained. It’s usually 3 tiers of rep, first tier being a pot, second being a piece of armor, and third being a weapon or whatever. The interesting thing to note is that the PQ chest loot usually is the exact same level of gear as your rep reward. You could convievably get lucky on your first PQ in the zone, and get a piece of gear out of the chest that’s the same (basically) as the tier 3 level of what you’d keep doing the quest over and over to earn the hard way. In this way, you’re guaranteed the loot. If you suck for rolls you can just do the PQ 5 times over. If you get lucky, don’t bother doing it anymore, as you already have the reward. It’s kind of a nice system, I think.

You get unlocks in your tome by ding each PQ in the area, so I’ve already begun to see completionists trying to egg the group that finished PQ1 to go with them across the zone to ‘do the other one now!’ etc.

You get unlocks for doing ANYTHING. Seeing a wolf, dying ten times, blowing your nose...

Scenarios are like loose battlegrounds. I say loose, because the one I’ve done is pretty basic ‘cap three zones and hold them while the timer ticks’. I only see these getting tougher as time goes on, and people learn the quirks of each one. There are bunches in the game, so maybe they aren’t as well thought out as Arenas / BGs, or maybe Blizzard is just lazy and hates us. Overall, combat in them is fast paced zerg tactics. I’d be really interested to see a coordinated group go at it with vent etc, but the only ones I’ve been in are zero communication chaos madness while everyone just tries to nuke everyone else at the same time. Fun, but shallow. Once I get my hands on actual RvR, with the taking of keeps and everything, I can see that being meaty enough (or not) for an article unto itself. I just haven’t done it yet. I rolled on an Open server, which is supposedly the PvP of WAR, and have been steamrolled once or twice by 5 man groups, but haven’t actually partaken in any real RvR yet. I’ve had four quests to go ‘scout these towers’, but the zones were totally empty save for a few random scrubs. Either the whole headstart set of people outleveled me, or no one is bothering with RvR yet. I seriously just walked straight into the middle of the RvR zones, scouted the towers, then just turned around to go turn the quests in. All the towers were already controlled by my team, so it may have been different if the enemy controlled them. I came across two people, and they attacked me until they realized I might win, and then they ran off to the ‘guard NPCs’ and stood around regenning health while /taunt-ing me. Zzzzz.

The map shows where quests can be done without needing an Addon.

If I had to sum it up in a sentence, I’d just say go get a copy and check it out. That’s an endorsement, as with Age of Conan I’d just tell you to not bother. I’m going to be checking it out over the next few weeks, and it will be interesting to see once the world at large has their hands on it (I’ve been playing the preorder headstart). The beta was awful during the time I played it. I’m sure the comments section will fill up with I TOLD YOU SOs by jackasses that never had the game back then, and still haven’t even played it now. I kept hoping they’d make it work, because I’ve wanted something not-WoW for a while now, and with the kid at the apartment, having something a step down from end game raiding is nice. Once you’ve been there, you can’t go back to being a casual, but RvR sounds more like something you can throw an hour at whenever you feel like it, and still have it feel like you got something done.


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