Nothing says "summer" quite like having a bunch of video games in one place. At a recent press event at which publisher EA Games showed off a great many of its upcoming games, we had a chance to take an updated look at Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, the upcoming massively multiplayer game from developer Mythic and its brand-new publisher and corporate owner.
According to Mythic's Jeff Hickman, much of the content for the game's first "racial pairing," the dwarves versus the "greenskins" (a faction of orks and goblins), is complete, including many of the lower-level areas and items. In addition, though we were unable to see it in action, Mythic has begun production on the game's high-level player-versus-player content, such as capital city raids, which will offer multiple types of treasures (including open, undefended loot and special items that can be obtained only by defeating specific enemy characters, such as merchants, barkeeps, and kings). These raids will let you capture enemy dignitaries and hold them hostage (and for some cheap humor) until they can be rescued by players from the opposing side.
In addition, the game's expansive "Tome of Knowledge" journal system is now nearly complete. The Tome not only offers up an encyclopedic reference of Warhammer lore, but it also tracks each player's battles and accomplishments, which makes the system a virtual trophy case for players and a powerful feedback system for Mythic to track which content is most popular and which isn't. The Tome will expand as players further explore the game's vast online world, encounter new monsters, accept and complete new quests, and meet key characters. As Mythic has told GameSpot previously, this feature is intended to be completely comprehensive in order to render external information sources, such as fan sites and item databases, obsolete. This bold move may seem alienating to players who create such resources, but Mythic has stated that the idea is to keep players in the game and playing, rather than making players feel as though they have to quit playing every 15 minutes to look up the solution to a quest or to consult an item table.
We also had a chance to see one of the game's "public quests" in action. As we've mentioned in our previous coverage, the game will have many different types of quest content, including traditional quests given out by key characters to perform basic tasks, like killing a set number of monsters or delivering an item. However, the game will also have player-versus-player-focused quests, larger-scale "scenario" quests that may culminate in the aforementioned capital city raids, and public quests, which are essentially communal, cooperative quests that any player belonging to one faction can take on. The quest we saw was a greenskin mission that required all players in the area to aid a friendly (but exceptionally ugly) giant who stamped about the greenskin encampment, pursued by annoying "squig" monsters (Warhammer's wormlike vermin with a bite like a snapping turtle). All greenskin players were allowed to contribute to the quest to kill a total of 20 of the little varmints--and any players who contribute to such quests will apparently be able to reap shared rewards.
In other news, the Mythic team seems to be cranking away at all aspects of the game, constantly adding new content and tuning and tweaking existing content. For instance, the game's unusual character advancement system is apparently more or less in place and will be developed further as new character classes are rolled out for new races. The game's character advancement system, as we've mentioned previously, will make much more use of "lateral" advancement--that is, adding new skills and abilities that give your character flexibility rather than raw power--over the course of your character's career.
Aside from letting players create highly distinctive characters with unique combinations of abilities, this approach will (hopefully) go a long way toward keeping players with different preferences more or less in line. After all, Warhammer Online will focus heavily on PVP combat (though as Hickman pointed out, the studio is committed to making sure the game offers an enjoyably competitive experience, rather than an unpleasant one marred by "griefing" from obnoxious players who use underhanded and abusive tactics to ruin PVP). In fact, the game's emphasis on PVP is so heavy that it's Mythic's goal to let player characters spend their entire careers, from level 1 onward, doing nothing but fighting PVP battles, gaining experience and even loot over time. The task of keeping players who prefer PVP combat in line with players who prefer the more-traditional player-versus-environment gameplay that pits players against monsters and quests, rather than other players, will most likely be exceptionally challenging, and Hickman concedes that the team has allotted many months in its schedule to hammer away at that potential balance issue.
Otherwise, the game's vast and colorful environments look like they're coming along fine. If all goes well, Warhammer Online will take all the strengths of a traditional massively multiplayer game and combine them with new and exciting ideas and a distinctive emphasis on head-to-head competition. We'll have more updates on the game, which is planned for release in 2007, as we get closer to beta this fall.