LOS ANGELES--We can't quite place it, but there's something strangely ironic about seeing Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning at E3 2006 in the Los Angeles Convention Center. It is, after all, a massively multiplayer game that lets thousands of players become armies of angry, belligerent, hostile, ugly monsters who jockey for position in loud, chaotic, head-to-head skirmishes in predetermined battlefields. (We'll let you decide whether that last sentence refers to Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, or to E3 2006 in the Los Angeles Convention Center.)
As for the game itself, it seems to be shaping up quite well. Mythic has primarily taken the time between our last look at the game in March until now to fill out the features it had described to us earlier. For instance, the orks are now joined by playable goblin characters, which are in the game, playable, and working. Considering their tiny stature, gangly frame, and scrawny and protuberant facial features (which, like for all characters, appear prominently in a close-up view of the portrait window at the bottom center of the game's interface), they will likely be as annoyingly endearing (or endearingly annoying) as the developer seems to intend them to be.
Mythic has also completed much of its in-game "compendium," an all-in-one information resource that you can consult at any time while playing. The compendium includes, among other things, sortable lists of quests so players can easily keep track of their current tasks, as well as complete information listings for monsters, items, and maps (although some of the more exotic content in the game may not appear in full in your compendium until you've seen it, owned it, or killed it). The idea behind the compendium is to keep players inside the game and playing, rather than to include vast lists of quests, items, and character skills that compel players to stop playing the game and consult a third-party fan Web site to make sure they're completing their current quest just right or that they have found the right character or item. And interestingly, Mythic has also modified the game's inventory system to make your character's backpack sortable by item types (so that you can browse only the potions you're carrying, or only the weapons). Perhaps more importantly (and more wisely), the studio has also decided to keep all quest-related items out of your regular backpack so that you'll never find yourself in the ridiculous position of being unable to take on an interesting new quest because you had only two slots left in your bag.
In addition, Mythic has fully fleshed out the game's three-tiered combat system. It includes "tactics" abilities, which can be preloaded when you're not in combat into a "tactics bar," which will expand to hold more slots (while you yourself learn more tactics to load up your tactics bar) as your character grows in power. Tactics will generally provide passive benefits, such as protection against specific types of attacks or enhanced combat skills. Mythic expects most players to switch them out every five to 10 minutes and expects head-to-head player-versus-player experts to carry multiple tactics configurations into battle and switch them even more often. Combat's second tier includes standard hotkey abilities, which appear in another bar of hotkeys and are specific to your character's profession and acquired skills.
The game's third tier of combat is the "morale bar," a meter that gradually fills up over time while you're in combat (and fills up more quickly when you're grouped with other players--one of the game's many incentives to join up with others online). The meter is marked by several special morale abilities that can be used once the meter fills past each one; the strategy behind using morale abilities will come down to deciding whether to quickly use your weaker, lower-level abilities immediately or hold off until your meter is completely full to use your most-powerful attack. Since your morale meter depletes when your character isn't in combat, you'll be encouraged to make frequent use of these powerful abilities, which will appear onscreen with bright, colorful particle effects, such as hovering runes for dwarf priests or cascading meteor showers for goblin shaman.
Finally, Mythic is continuing to build out the game's base of content. While much of the game's development is focusing on the conflict between the dwarves and the "greenskins" (the orks and goblins), the studio is also building out new areas, like Blackfire Pass, a well-known locale from Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play lore.
Warhammer Online seems to have a lot going for it, and its great variety of content and its heavy emphasis on competitive PVP play should hopefully help set it apart. The game is apparently planned to go into closed beta this fall.