Massively multiplayer games have been around for a while, and some skeptics might say that not much about them has changed over the years. You create a single character, use that character to go explore a persistent online world, fight monsters, acquire treasure, and hopefully meet up with other players for some group adventures. EA Mythic's Warhammer Online will attempt to introduce real progress by creating a new game that offers both full-fledged massively multiplayer gameplay--fighting monsters, gaining levels, and performing quests--alongside a full-featured, competitive realm-versus-realm game, in which you can spend your characters' entire careers engaged in battle against other players from enemy factions. The game will take place in Games Workshop's colorful Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play universe, a high-fantasy world with dark overtones that's inhabited by orcs, elves, dwarfs, humans, and demons. At launch, the game will let players create and play as characters from these races, including the already-revealed greenskins (orcs and goblins) and dwarfs. GameSpot is pleased to reveal two of the first professions from the human Empire faction: the witch hunter and the knight of the blazing sun, along with new information on scenario gameplay. EA Mythic's content design lead Doug Woolsey, designer Brian Wheeler, and senior designer Steve Marvin joined us to help unveil this new information.
GameSpot: We understand that EA Mythic is ready to reveal more information about the human Empire. Tell us about this faction and how Warhammer lore helped inform the way the studio designed the way the faction looks and feels in the game.
Doug Woolsey: We really wanted the Empire quests and encounters to tell the story of humanity pushed to its absolute limit. It's all about survival in the face of seemingly inevitable destruction. For the people of the Empire, the Age of Reckoning is the "end times." Chaos is encroaching from all sides, the moon itself has turned blood red, and once-great cities are now smoking ruins, laid waste by slavering hordes. The Empire is hanging on by its fingernails, dangling over the abyss. Against this backdrop of certain doom, humanity fights corruption from within. Corruption is the ultimate weakness of humanity. It's the promise of great wealth, the lust for power. This balance of the need to survive against all odds and the ever-present danger of corruption from within makes our Empire content among the most compelling in the game. We were able to focus our quests and encounters in ways that other races don't allow and explore elements of the human spirit that we found evocative or moving.
With regard to the overall design of Empire content, the Empire is well defined in the Warhammer intellectual property. This allows us to develop our content in a way that is utterly faithful to Warhammer. It can be said that the look and feel of the Empire is that of "gritty Renaissance [Europe]," and this is true in the zones we're building and the content that we've developed for them. For the content team, it's about building great Warhammer content that plays well in the architecture of a massively multiplayer game. It helps that each developer is a rabid Warhammer fan and has access to the full Games Workshop library. It also helps that the developers have access to the folks at Games Workshop who, besides reviewing every quest and encounter written, serve as valuable references. In fact, the content team has, on several occasions, hosted meetings with Games Workshop's Erik Mogensen and Alan Merrett, where the sole purpose was to get inside the Warhammer headspace as much as possible.
GS: We're also happy to reveal two new character classes with this story. First, tell us about the knight of the blazing sun character class. What are the profession's abilities and what role will it play on the battlefield?
Steve Marvin: To anticipate a later question, let me first point out that the Empire and Chaos careers are currently in development, so they're only partially implemented. Some of the issues that remain up in the air with these careers are technical in nature, so they may require solutions that modify the answers given here. So, I'm going to lean a bit more heavily on the role and "feel" of the careers, rather than on specifics.
Knights of the blazing sun are the "tanks" of the Empire's careers, able to absorb incredible amounts of damage while dealing out lumps of their own. They are driven by glory and honor, and their abilities will reflect that. They are the classic knight, wearing heavy armor and wielding great weapons for the greater glory of the Empire. While theirs is primarily a defensive career, protecting their less durable brethren on the battlefield, they will rise to the occasion at critical moments with powerful attacks that inspire their allies and devastate their foes.
She's a Witch! Burn Her!
GS: Tell us about the new witch hunter character class. What are its specialties and what will the class play like in battle?
SM: Witch hunters are somewhere between Van Helsing and a grand inquisitor. They live to "cleanse the heretics," which usually means those tainted by Chaos, but often enough, that definition conveniently expands to include anyone in their way. Armed with pistols, swords, and flaming brands, they are all-out attackers who disdain defense. Once they have chosen a victim, they subject it to torments and assaults that will extract a "confession," at which point they may dispatch the miscreant summarily.
GS: Tell us about how these and the other Empire professions help shape the way the faction will play. For instance, we understand that the greenskins and dwarfs are both very tough factions that like to get close to their enemies and beat them into submission with powerful melee attacks. How will the Empire fight its battles?
SM: Humans have neither the stalwart strength of the dwarfs, nor the potent magics of the elves. What they do have, in greater measure than any other race, is the binding power of their faith: faith in their god, faith in their emperor, and faith in themselves. Humans of the Empire believe in honor, glory, and righteousness with a strength that rivals the lust for battle of the greenskins, and the fanatical devotion of those dedicated to Chaos. But more than any other race, humans work together for their goals. The Empire survives today because of its ability to combine arms and tactics into a smoothly functioning machine, bringing an unprecedented degree of coordination and augmentation to the battlefield for itself and its allies.
GS: Tell us about the game's player-versus-player scenarios. How are they different from the kind of lawless, free-form player-versus-player battles we've seen in other games, where players with high-level characters often go "ganking" (killing defenseless lower-level players who have little to no chance of surviving)?
Brian Wheeler: Scenarios are our instanced battles and feature a variety of gameplay types, including deathmatch, capture the flag, domination, and a mode called "murder ball." All levels of scenarios will feature a matching system that looks at a player's relative power based on their level, abilities, and items to create as evenly matched battles as possible in these instanced zones. Additionally, there are some level restrictions in the lower areas to keep higher-level characters from joining in. The other advantage that scenarios have over open-ground combat is that we can control the number of players on each side's team, for six-on-six, 12-on-12, or larger group combat. This is in stark comparison to real-world assaults, where numbers often win.
GS: We understand that two new scenarios are being revealed at this time. Tell us about them, where they take place, and how you expect the battles to unfold in each.
BW: The first scenario is Mourkain Temple. Mourkain Temple is a remnant of the defunct Mourkain civilization. All that remains of the once-mighty complex is half-sunken ruins. Pillars, collapsed buildings, and large swamp trees surround it, obscuring it from the rest of the swamp. The temple itself cannot be entered. However, a wide ledge runs around it, with sets of stairs winding down into the brackish swamp water.
A crafty goblin shaman of the Black Skull tribe recently discovered a strange artifact near the temple. He learned that while he carried this glowing artifact, he became more powerful in battle, as long as he did not stray too far from the temple. The dwarfs, who have clashed with the shaman and his band more than once, have pieced together that the artifact is a source of magical power and must be taken from the greenskins.
The two sides will square off in a battle around the ancient temple to fight for control of the artifact. Walking around in this terrain, you'll find that it's definitely a close-quarter combat zone. That's not to say there isn't room for ranged combat, but the metal meets the meat here, more often than not! The backbone of this scenario is team deathmatch with a variable thrown in to give you more points. That variable is the Mourkain Temple artifact. When you have this artifact, your kills will give you more bang for your buck...but if you're killed, the other realm can grab the artifact and get that same bonus for itself!
The second scenario is the gyrocopter rescue. A squadron of gyrocopters from the king's flying corps has been dispatched to Kadrin Valley, where Slayer Keep has come under attack by the greenskins. As the gyrocopters draw near Slayer Keep, a storm forces the gyrocopters to the ground.
The gyrocopters are damaged but not destroyed. Among themselves, the pilots decide one of them will go for help to Slayer Keep. A rescue party is sent to repair the downed gyrocopters so that they might aid in the fight against the greenskins.
While the rescue team makes its way back to the gyrocopters, goblin scouts stumble upon the crash site and eagerly return with the news to their boss. The greenskins assemble a warband to deal with the dwarf pilots and see what can be scavenged from their vehicles.
The two sides will fight for control over the downed gyrocopters amidst tall trees, rocky outcroppings, destroyed ruins, waterfalls, flatlands, and on a dwarven bridge! This zone is in stark contrast to Mourkain Temple in terms of feel and gameplay. At its core, this is a battle to hold more locations than your opponent and kill the enemy in the process. A few locations are close-quarter battles, but the majority of this scenario is an open field and standoff paradise!
The Future of War
GS: Now that we're starting to take the wraps off a new racial pairing, tell us about how the factions are all starting to stack up against each other. We understand that characters from each racial pairing, such as dwarfs and orcs, will begin their lives in areas that are right next to the territory controlled by their immediate rivals, but as the game matures, players will start to travel across the land and take on new enemies. How is the balancing process going so far?
DW: The great part about the Empire and Chaos factions is that they are two edges of the same sword. This lends us the ability to tell intertwined stories of faith and corruption, survival and grim death. We are able to build multidimensional characters that rise to valor or plummet to corruption within a quest series.
The Empire has it all. It has steam tanks, bright wizards, and witch hunters. Each of these inventions was born of desperation, created by sheer force of will, forged by human spirit facing obliteration at the hands of Chaos. It will take these inventions and the indomitable human spirit to defeat Chaos in the Age of Reckoning. But the Empire will not be able to go it alone. They will need the stubborn, iron-clad valor of the dwarfs and the high-brow nobility of the elves to win over destruction. This is why you'll find dwarfs in Ulthuan, the high elf realm, and humans in the deep vaults of Karaz-a-Karak, the dwarf capital city. In the Age of Reckoning, the war is fought not on a single field of battle but across the entire world of Warhammer, and players will be able to quest in their home realm or in far-off allied realms at will. Not only does this help spark the fires of great adventure, but it creates opportunities for a gaming experience that can be played time and time again and stay fresh.
GS: In other news, give us an update on the game's development. What aspects are you all working on? Are the Empire and its rival faction already implemented in testing? If so, how are those battles playing out?
DW: The world is growing larger every day. In fact, there's so much content being implemented each week that it can be a challenge to run through and play-test it all. Despite the challenge, we work long hours ensuring that everything we put into WAR meets a high standard of quality before we ship it off to our quality-assurance team. We are nearly finished writing and implementing Empire and Chaos zones, and the first maps are being tested by our quality-assurance team for inclusion in the next beta experience.
We have a very streamlined workflow on the content and art teams. It's assembly-line-like in its efficiency. The writing team generates chapter texts that the content-design team uses to build quests and encounter designs. These designs are passed to our content-implementation team that then brings the designs to life. Working ahead of the implementation process is the terrain-art team. They use the story and quests to build the terrain so that the world is really very much tailored to the content. They have incredibly high standards and the results of their work are the beautiful zones that you've seen in some of the screenshots. It is because of this assembly-line-like approach that EA Mythic is able to create beautiful zones and compelling content quickly and efficiently.
GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about WAR at this time?
DW: Now that we're nearly two-thirds complete, it is overwhelmingly obvious that WAR will not only give players epic player-versus-environment content and fast, fun realm-versus-realm play, it will lead players through engaging quests and multilayered encounters that are certain to leave a lasting impression. We've produced our finest content yet with the Empire and Chaos factions. Next, it's onward to the elves!
GS: Thanks, gentlemen. Looking forward to it.