Image: Warhammer Online
Electronic Arts
The forces of Destruction join under one banner to rid the world of the weakling Order races in Mythic's new MMO, "Warhammer Online."
By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 10/3/2008 8:54:19 AM ET 2008-10-03T12:54:19

After more than three years of development, Mythic’s “Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning”  has finally arrived to satiate the unquenchable appetites of online gamers the world over.

Based off the Warhammer Fantasy tabletop warfare game and novel series created by Games Workshop, the new games has been touted by industry watchers as the massively multiplayer online title that could finally dethrone Blizzard's “World of Warcraft” as king of the mountain. 

Quite the prophecy, but the game — called “WAR” for short —  mostly delivers on the lofty goals promised early on by Mythic’s development team:  To craft an MMO that brings both hardcore and mainstream gamers together while avoiding the boring, “grinding” aspects that make most other games of the genre eventually feel like a second job.

For those of you who don’t speak MMO, “grinding” means endlessly repeating tasks just to level your character and remain strong enough to stay competitive. To be an elite player in a traditional MMO can require 10 to 20 hours of grinding for each five to 10 hours of glory. But “WAR” avoids the grind by integrating leveling, acquiring new equipment, and player vs. player combat into one massive war effort that your entire faction is perpetually working to advance. 

The factions themselves are comprised of three armies each: The Empire, Dwarves, and High Elves make up the Order faction and the Chaos, Greenskin, and Dark Elves make up the Destruction faction. After choosing one of a staggering 20 individual career classes and customizing the look of your alter ego, you’ll be plunged into the chaotic fray alongside warriors with names like Shabutie, Niteflyx, and Evenstar. Together with your new allies, you’ll work to bring glorious victory to your forces and crushing defeat to your enemies, eventually culminating in the siege, conquest, and pillaging of their capital city.

The game’s beautifully intricate and massively scaled environment immediately gives you the sense that you’re one piece of a massive war effort, and that feeling of companionship and purpose never leaves you as you progress through the game. Mythic pulled this off by carefully structuring the game’s story chapters, which you progress through by completing public quests.

Along with the normal quests that you’ll be tasked with from characters throughout the world, “WAR” features multistage communal public quests where you will have to band with players in the area and work toward a set of specific goals. As you work on public quests, you gain influence points, which can be used to gain access to other sets of powerful equipment and weapons.  In “WAR,” everything you do pushes you closer to some attainable reward.

Even player vs. player combat in “Warhammer Online” offers a wide variety of experiences while appealing to multiple play styles. Mythic coined the term “Realm vs. Realm” in its last big MMO, “Dark Ages of Camelot,” and that translates into gameplay that includes open-world skirmishes, capture-the-flag scenarios and battling it out for control over enemy camps.

If you’re successful playing RvR, you’ll get victory points, which tip the balance of the constant tug of war between Order and Destruction for control over zones.  If your faction gains enough victory points to tip the scale in a particular zone, you gain zone control.  This gives your allies in the zone bonuses and your realm moves closer to unlocking the greatest conquest attainable: laying siege to your enemy’s capital city and breaking their lines to sack and pillage all the spoils.

As you level your rank, you will gain tactics to augment your core skills and powerful morale abilities to unleash at the peak of combat glory.  As you participate in RvR, you’ll also unlock more tactics and increased opportunities to specialize your character even further.

The amount of character customization options offered by “WAR,” such as armor dyeing and accessories, are another nice touch, though it does seem that much of this hardware looks identical early on in the game. That changes as you progress into the higher ranks, but it does make player characters in low level zones look somewhat the same.

I was truly impressed to see the quality of service your $49.99 for the game and $14.99 per month for a subscription buys you with “Warhammer Online.” Though the client software crashed once or twice in the first week of release, neither I nor any of my guildmates experienced a single server crash. Considering that most new MMOs have many bugs and poor server reliability following release, this reflects well on Mythic’s preparedness and focus on customer satisfaction. 

If you’re a fan of MMORPGs, get this game. If you’re a fan of the Warhammer universe, get this game. If you’re a fan of games that let you create an alternate, more powerful image of yourself to wreak havoc across the world, get this game. 

Will “Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning” usurp the crown of from the mighty "WoW?" EA and Mythic Entertainment have certainly laid the foundation — now you and your fellow gamers just need to populate their world. One last warning:  If you see a Chaos Chosen named Velarius stalking up behind you with Chaos energy seeping out of him — you might want to run.

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