October 9, 2008

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Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (PC)
Mythic Entertainment, Sept. 16, 2008, Rated T

By Glenn "WAAAAAAGGHH!!!" Given production@hippopress.com

Dark Age of Camelot devs and tabletop gaming nerds taste great together!

Before you scoff and cry ripoff, you should know that before you were raiding five nights a week in World of Warcraft, Games Workshop was plugging out lead miniatures for picnic table-scaled engagements. While GW’s focus has been on its strategy war games (most notably Warhammer Fantasy Battles and Warhammer 40,000), there has always been a Dungeons & Dragons-style RPG alongside them. Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning is a blend of the two, built on the standard backbone of fantasy MMOs. Initially you may discount WAR as a WoW clone, albeit with grittier presentation, and for a large portion of the PvE game, it is. Remember, though, Blizzard has had literally billions of dollars to throw at developing Warcraft (which certainly did not launch as polished as WAR has) and has spent the past few years cramming every conceivable style of game play in there just to be safe. Unfortunately for WoW, WAR simply does massive player-on-player battles better.

Through WAR’s “Realm vs. realm”  (read: army vs. army) battles, players of the game’s opposing races (dwarves vs. orks & goblins, etc.) will spend a great deal of time skirmishing, engaging in instanced battlegrounds, and pursuing battlefield objectives on the regular map. Long-term campaigns can be fought to invade enemy lands, eventually culminating in the sacking of the opposing capital city (of which only the Human and Chaos town were brought on at launch) and fighting their faction leader.

One of the hooks of WAR’s PvP system is that players gain experience for fighting opposing factions, providing that much-needed alternate path unfound in most MMOs. Your encounters and experience will unlock lore in the Tome of Knowledge, a kind of Warhammer-pedia that keeps personal track of your game play. Also key are the Public Quests, a hybrid of instanced content and environmental challenges where players in certain areas can dynamically group to begin a series of quests. The more you participate in the PQ, the more influence you will accrue and the higher your chance of receiving the loot dropped by the PQ’s completion. It smartly rewards players for cooperation, exploration and perseverance.

Warhammer Online won’t likely chop the head off Warcraft. What it is likely to do, though, is woo a chunk of Warcraft’s more PvP-centered players away, and present for the first time a viable MMO alternative for the fantasy genre. Crashing an army of ork boyz into a dwarven fortress is viscerally fun and the effort that went into crafting Age of Reckoning earns it a solid AGlenn Given