Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Warhammer - RvR and PvP

I’ve had a chance to dive into some player versus player conflict in Warhammer, and have got to say that they seem to have a clear vision of what they wanted to do with regards to this. Whether or not that vision is fully realized or not is up for debate, though. It reminds me of my brief stint at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. My father is an illustrator, and I went to art school for two years before I decided it wasn’t my thing, and then went into IT for a while. At the academy, there were hundreds of kids complaining that they didn’t get any hands on lessons with Photoshop, and instead were ‘wasting all their time in Figure Drawing classes, drawing people’ or ‘dragging their heels in Analysis of Form classes, drawing bowls of fruit’. The point is that companies like Pixar don’t care if you can apply a lens flare filter; they’re more impressed if you can hand draw a walk cycle animation that looks believable. Fancy effects don’t mean much if the underlying principles are flawed. In that respect, Warhammer has pulled it off with their PvP. The soul is present. Now they need to patch it up and work on frame rates and the finer polish.

Scenarios – a.k.a Battlegrounds.

For each tier of gameplay, you move to a new zone. Tier one is level 1-10, two is 11-20, three 21-30, four 31-40. Each tier also has its respective conflict: the Dwarves vs. Greenskins, Dark Elves vs. Something Else, and Fruit Salad vs. Ice Cream. I dunno, I play a Greenskin, and have kinda stuck to my zone. As you run around in your zone, questing or whatever, you can queue up for a scenario. You don’t need to go to a battle master, just click an icon by your minimap and queue up for that zone’s queue (as solo or a group). For example, the Greenskin’s tier one scenario is a Battlefield type ‘capture the three points and hold them’ thing called Mount Ekhorn. The Dark Elf tier one scenario is different. They all are based on the actual zone they take place in, so the Greenskins get a properly ‘Greenskin vs. Dwarf-y map’. If you wish to queue for the Fruit Salad vs. Ice Cream map, you need to go to that zone to queue, or party with someone in that zone and have them join the queue. When it pops, you click to enter it, and when it’s over you’re back wherever you accepted the invite from.

There are various modes of play, from the above mentioned ‘cap and hold points’, to ‘pick up the item and run around with it, earning points for your team as long as you hold it’, to ‘grab this item, and run it to three various locations on the map within 30 seconds, at which point it will reset back to its starting location’. Keeping in mind, that in addition to doing the objectives, all the while people are just killing each other randomly. It’s fast paced, and frantic, and the variety of each map is a huge refreshing breeze to OMFG ARATHI BASIN AGAIN KILL ME PLZ. The fact that you eventually out-level tier one and are forced to move on to tier two seems to make it fresh, but eventually everyone will end up at tier four and stay there, so I dunno how fresh those will remain to be. People in general chat complain loudly about being steamrolled by premades, but…. Uhh… that’s kinda the point of this game… to coordinate with your guild and kick everyone’s ass. Unguilded people don’t seem to ‘get’ that, and I’m sure the game is probably 3000% less fun running around alone.

I accepted the first guild invite I got way back at level two (“Bloody Hands” on Anlec), and it surprisingly turned out to be a pretty awesome guild. Guilds earn XP, and actually level up as you get new members, or do quests together. You can even impose a guild tax (ours is 2%) and every time anyone loots 62 copper off a dead mob, one copper goes into the guild vault. It’s a much better system than begging for (or demanding) donations after a raid, and it’s small enough that it doesn’t matter, but adds up the more members you have. Guilds can also designate Bannersmen that can carry the guild standard into battle and drop it on the ground. The buffs given by the standard range from extra XP given per kill to extra rep gained during quests, and others. Our guild standard currently gives 15% extra influence (or infamy) during Public Quests, and 9% extra XP per kill. We have a guy named White that’s our carrier, and questing with White is the way to go. You can designate five people in your guild as carriers, and if White were to die during a Keep siege taking, the enemy could destroy our banner and we’d be out 2g to buy another one. Banner placement becomes an interesting tactic, as picking it up and moving it isn’t instant, it’s like a 10 second channel.

RvR – Taking Keeps, etc.

I partook in my first (attempted) taking of a keep last night and hot damn… it’s kinda crazy. Again, the soul of the implementation is there. I had a blast, and working together with the guild really builds ties. The framerates, though, suffered horrendously at points, and I can only imagine it’s going to get worse as the struggles get larger. We had about 10 guildies, and a bunch of pugs from the zone filling out a warband (raid), and we tried to take Mandred’s Hold. And failed. Miserably.

Again, organization prevails, as the guild defending the Keep had little trouble fending off what was basically a PUG attack group. The Keep itself is full of NPCs, and a Hero status ‘Keep Lord’. It’s basically like the final push in Alterac Valley. The enemy is trying to screw up your chances of killing the Boss NPC, but there are just way more options available. There are certain spots marked on the ground where various forms of artillery or whatever can be installed. You can’t just throw a cannon on the ground wherever you want, which sucks, but again kind of makes sense because otherwise rich guilds would just buy 800 cannons and it would be impossible for a ‘normal’ guild to ever hold a Keep. But you can install them on these launch pad things, and use things ranging from cannons to battering rams, or vats of hot oil that can be poured on people storming the gate. All these items cost money, and can be purchased from a quartermaster in your town closest to the keep (using guild tax money, hooray).I can see people saying "USE MONEY?! Why would I waste cash on something that's going to be recaptured when I log out?" Because you earn Renown, and renown is a separate leveling system that actually earns you separate stat enhancing talents (think: +HP or +crit%, not new moves, just stat boosts, or new tactics).I'm currently Level 17, Renown Rank 10. I have a few +STR boosting renown points.

Using an item like the cannon gives you a different HUD with a crosshair, and various actions like rolling the mouse wheel will affect how far it shoots, to how hard it hits, or whatever. The Battering Ram I used last night (and failed to take a screenshot of) had four ‘seats’ where people could use it, and once it had people using it they each got a golf swing timer kind of thing on their screen. You’d click to begin the swing, click at max power, and again at the bottom of the swing. Then it would show what each person swung (player 1 hit for 67% of full power, you hit for 32%, the third guy hit 98%), then average out their swings to be the final calculation. Of course you can just whack the front door with your sword to break it down, but using a ram is obviously going to cut that time down to a fraction. Skilled and coordinated rammers will be even faster. All of this is happening while hot oil is being poured down from the ramparts, and people are free to just run up and attack your toon as well while you’re doing all this stuff. It’s crazy.

Once finally inside the place, you still have to contend with getting up the stairs (player collision works), then finally engaging the boss and his body guards, all while suffering harassment from enemy players. I imagine taking a keep that’s completely undefended by players (with just NPC defenders) would be something unto itself, but with enemies present it becomes a real challenge. If those enemies are all coordinated, in vent, and familiar with their ‘keep siege’ roles, it could get hairy. I can’t even imagine what taking a city is going to be like.

There are a few kooky bugs that need to be ironed out (engineer turrets ignore LoS and shoot through walls), and in general framerates go to hell once you get inside the place. This is frustrating for melee, as I’m chasing someone trying to put my snare down, and I’m either too far, too close, or the previously mentioned animation bugs are just rearing their heads. Often, the animation will go off regardless of whether or not the move landed, the only way to really know is to see if the target is actually walking slower or to check debuffs. With the black orc’s gated combat system (have to do move one, before I can do move two, before I can actually do a good damaging move three), this becomes frustrating. Maybe a ‘standing back and nuking’ caster would have a better time of it.

I also find myself just using my tanking gear during PvP, which unto itself is pretty sweet. I’ve been building up two sets of gear, tank and DPS, but actual prot tanks can play vital roles in PvP. I think I’ve mentioned before how they’ve implemented various tanking ideas, but it bears mentioning again.

In addition to tanking’s main stats (toughness and wounds) being applicable to PvP, taunt WORKS. It won’t force anyone to face you, but if they don’t, it’s only doing you a favor. My damage is increased against taunted targets by 30% for 15 seconds, or until they whack me in the face three times. By continuing to ignore me, and go after my healer, they’re only making it harder on themselves. Body collision also works, and in the BGs especially (where frame rates aren’t as bad), there’s very few things as satisfying as physically placing my big black orc ass in between someone trying to go after my pocket healer. I ran with a shaman guildie last night named Cheerup, and the combination of me getting between someone trying to hit him, while they ignored my taunt, was brutal. He’d just start to kite them, and I’d step in between, and they’d stop moving. I could see their little legs going, but they weren’t getting anywhere near Cheer. Strafing from side to side to stay in front of them added a huge element to PvP, and allowed Cheer to get out and heal himself up a bit. It sounds so minor, but it just works.

Anyway. With some work on the engine, and various bugfixes, this is going to be a whole new ballgame. I’m still pretty far from endgame (level 17 of 40 now), but with a good guild this is going to be huge. My guild is big enough that we will be able to pull this kind of stuff off, last night was just my first go at doing any of it. We’ve apparently taken a keep before, it just didn’t come together last night. Participating in RvR or world PvP earns individuals renown points, which is a separate leveling system unto itself. Read this LINK for the full breakdown, I’m not going to retype what’s already there.

This is my second full on endorsement of the game. I still haven’t reached the endgame, but if it keeps up this pace, I can see it replacing WoW for a good chunk of people, and that’s a pretty bold statement to make. I mostly just need to see what the city sacking adds up to be like, and if it’s worth bothering to sack a city, or what.

Stay tuned...

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