Massively multiplayer role-playing games let you explore and adventure in huge virtual worlds populated by thousands of players. And the massively multiplayer RPG genre is going to get an influx of orcs, dwarfs, and other fantasy creatures next year when EA and EA Mythic release Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, a game that's set in the popular Warhammer Fantasy universe. Warhammer is better known for its tabletop miniatures game, but in Warhammer Online you will be able to create a fantasy character based on some of the universe's most popular races and then select a career path that lets you really explore the different facets of Warhammer. For more details, we turned to lead designer Steve Marvin.
GameSpot: Could you give us a brief update on the status of Warhammer Online in development? What aspects of the game is the team working on now?
Steve Marvin: Warhammer Online has just begun its internal alpha test, giving individuals within the EA family access to the game, and the response has already been gratifying. With a year still to go in development, we're excited both at how well it's being received and at how much more we're going to be able to do with it.
The team is working on all aspects of the game, of course, but we're particularly delighted with the progress on our public quests and with the feel of the careers. Our art team continues to amaze us with the spectacular look of the world and characters; personally, I believe that Warhammer Online will be the best-looking massively multiplayer RPG out there.
GS: At this time, we understand that EA Mythic has revealed its first "racial pairing," the greenskins and the dwarves. Tell us about the differences in these two factions, and why they make a good match for each other on the battlefield.
SM: Careful there, it's "dwarfs" not "dwarves" (or "stunties," as the orcs call them). These two races have been mortal enemies. The dwarfs because the orcs have invaded their lands and pillaged their ancient keeps, and the orcs because they just love a good fight, and "da stunties gives as good as dey get."
Dwarfs are tough and stubborn, as well as fiercely loyal. Dwarf tactics tend toward working well together and maintaining a solid defense until the right moment arrives, then striking with shocking strength. The ironbreaker and the runepriest units are excellent examples of this, as they maintain group integrity and health, so that the hammerer and the engineer can take opportunities to inflict maximum damage.
Orc tactics, on the other hand, are simple: scream and leap. However, they are so ferociously strong and seemingly unstoppable that this works for them. The terrifying assault of a berserk orc choppa can cut through the most stalwart defense, and the fearless might of a great black orc gives him astonishing staying power.
Goblin tactics are more of the "scream and leap away" sort; goblins aren't meant for front-line fighting. But they are quick and quite clever, and unlike their bigger brethren, they have the brains and the patience to use magic. Waaagh! magic, to be specific. Shamans' spells gain in strength with success in battle, allowing them to aid their allies and strike their enemies from a distance, while squig herders' mastery over their gruesome pets help keep them out of the killing zone.
GS: Tell us more about the orc choppa character class. What role will this class play in the game against environmental monsters and in player-versus-player battles? What kind of players will want to play as choppas?
SM: I think "scream and leap" says it all. Orcs aren't complicated, and the choppa likes it that way. They glory in the heat of battle and actually get stronger as the action gets thicker. When they go berserk, they begin to gain size and strength, their eyes and hands begin to glow with power, and they become a whirlwind of steel and fury.
Choppas will revel in mowing down one monster after another. Their strength is actually in staying in combat at all times...the longer they fight, the stronger they get. Choppas love nothing better than a field full of enemies, since that means they are going to get to fight for a very long time and get very, very strong.
Players tend to be tougher than monsters, but that suits the choppa just fine, since that means each individual fight is going to take longer. It's all the same to choppas, as long as they get to keep fighting. If you like handing out lumps, you'll love the choppa.
GS: How does the choppa fit into the orc faction--what role does it fill out for that side, and how does it fit in with the orcs' belligerent philosophy?
SM: The choppa is the epitome of the orcs' belligerent philosophy. The choppa can hand out more punishment than any other greenskin, while the black orc can soak up more damage than any. Shamans can heal and assist their pals, but aren't to be left out of the mayhem. Their spells can wreak havoc on the battlefield, as the ground-pounding fists of gork give testament. Squig herders are just plain fun, with a variety of squig pets they can send out to die for them in amusing and horrible ways.
Here Come the DwarfsGS: And if you would, tell us about the dwarf runepriest class and its role in player-versus-environment and player-versus-player. Is the runepriest just another healer class?
SM: By no means! In fact, I should point out that no career in Warhammer Online is "just another" anything, by intention. Every career in the game is also a solid combatant: There are no "pure support" careers in the game.
The runepriest is no exception. Dwarfs don't have traditional magic and spells like the other races, but their skill with metal, stone, and runes approaches the supernatural, and the runepriest is the master of this discipline. Runepriests can place powerful runes on items and people, both for good and for ill.
By placing runes on allies (or themselves), runepriests confer a powerful bonus, such as strength or armor. Additionally, because runepriests maintain a connection with all of the runes they create, they can channel health and vigor into the allies who have had a rune placed on them. Finally, any player with a rune on them can break it themselves, releasing even more powerful magic. This enables runepriests simultaneously to prepare and assist their allies.
And of course not all of their runes are friendly...
GS: How does the runepriest class fill out the ranks of the dwarfs? If it's not just a requisite healer class, how does it embody the virtues of the tough and pugnacious race?
SM: Runepriests are both the wizard and the priest of the dwarfs. Their various runes of healing and improvement are not their entire arsenal. They have explosive runes, runes that bind, runes that disorient and blind, and more.
What's more, they can bind runes to stone and create physical objects that they can give to others for use in critical moments. In some ways, they can be seen as the supernatural counterpart to engineers, who are renowned for their powerful gadgets and explosives, to say nothing of their deadly accuracy with a rifle. With ironbreakers at their sides to blunt the enemy attack, and hammerers striking back, the dwarf forces are tightly coordinated, heavily armed and prepared, and well nigh unbreakable.
GS: Now that the various character classes for both races (ironbreaker, hammerer, engineer, and runepriest on the dwarf side, and black orc, shaman, squig herder, and choppa on the greenskins) have been revealed, can you tell us about how the different races will stack up against each other in PVP with these character classes? Give us an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of each side, and what you expect skirmishes between the two factions will be like.
SM: Full skirmishes go on every day, in fact. One of our daily routines is to pit the design team against others on the project, such as the programmers, or most often the test department. We crush them, of course, because we are awesome. But the challenge of achieving career balance and at the same time keeping the flavor of both the careers and the races is a daunting one.
In general, the dwarfs lean more toward resilience than aggressiveness. Dwarfs are more likely to let (and better served by letting) the enemy come to them. A group of dwarfs is better off working together than separately. However, individually, the careers favor aggressiveness versus caution to varying degrees. A hammerer is a powerhouse who moves into the fray, while an engineer should hang back and snipe from range. It's all variations within larger variations, in the manner of the race and career.
Orcs, by contrast, tend to bring the fight and keep the pressure on. Choppas really only come into their own when the steel is singing, and black orcs are very aggressive defensive fighters. Goblins are too small to mix it up with the big people, of course, but they get their mad on like all greenskins through powerful ranged attacks and pets.
Dwarfs are more likely than orcs to be tripped up through attempts to be too clever. Runepriests can be caught flat-footed if they don't pay attention to keeping their runes fresh. Engineers can start to rely on their emplaced turrets and bombs too much and find the battle leaving them behind.
Orcs are more likely than dwarfs to get their blood up and be defeated in detail. Choppas love to get in and amongst enemies and start swinging all around, especially as their berserk rage is making them bigger and more powerful, but even the toughest orc can't take on an army alone. Black orcs can get caught up in their powerful long combos and stick their neck out too far or fail to keep their eyes on protecting the goblins. Even dwarf hammerers have this fault, as delivering smashing finishing blows to downed enemies is nearly irresistible.
The ranged and spell casters have their own concerns, but Warhammer Online's commitment to making every career potent (and fun!) as a combatant can have an equally distracting aspect. Our healers don't just heal, but they had better not just fight, either! But traditional massively multiplayer RPG tactics have been updated for Warhammer Online, not tossed aside. Ranged and spellcasting characters are more fragile than the front-line troops and need protection or they will be squished.
GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about the new classes, the greenskin or dwarf factions, or the game in general?
SM: It's a blast bringing a fresh take to the Warhammer world, but at least half the fun of working with it has been how much we try to make our new choices fit with the atmosphere and humor of Warhammer. It's my opinion that a good chuckle is worth more than game gold, and we're trying hard everywhere to make a game that makes you laugh as well as cheer.
GS: Thank you, Steve.