Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning Updated Hands-On - More Player-Versus-Player Impressions

Warhammer Online is a new take on the MMORPG genre, and as the name suggests, it's all about war.

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As its title suggests, Warhammer Online is all about combat. At a recent presentation given by Electronic Arts in London, fighting and destruction was the main focus of the day. We were shown how realm-versus-realm combat, rather than the traditional player-versus-player combat, will help form some of the most epic battles yet seen in the massively multiplayer online role-playing game genre. We were also tantalised by large-scale battles that will see entire cities burnt to the ground. We spoke to Mythic about how it intends to differentiate itself in an increasingly crowded genre, and we got a hands-on with what appeared to be an advanced version of the game.

No matter which character you choose to play in Warhammer Online, war and combat will be at the centre of the experience.
No matter which character you choose to play in Warhammer Online, war and combat will be at the centre of the experience.

Currently running in closed beta stage, Warhammer Online follows a world in eternal conflict, a place where war permeates every place and character within it. This is a game that takes itself seriously, and the team is passionate about the fact that that there'll be no knitting, no flute-playing dwarves, and absolutely no post-battle dancing. The main idea is that everything you do contributes to the overall war effort, which means that all of the quests that you take part in will assist that in some way. Even characters that have more peaceful origins are involved with the war effort in some way, given that warrior priests will need to go into battle, club their enemies to death, and then help heal other characters in the team. Thankfully, there's a targeting system that lets you have both a hostile target and a friendly target at the same time, so you're able to switch between the two to attack and heal simultaneously.

The Warhammer universe is so rich that the development team had too much source material to include in the game. They were forced to pick the races that made the most sense for launch, so even though some of the team loved the Skaven race, they aren't featured as a playable race. The beauty of creating a persistent online world means that other races may be added postrelease, and the team is intent on supporting Warhammer Online in this way, but the subject isn't something that they're prepared to talk about at this stage. With the game only now approaching open beta, the team is currently focusing on tweaking the content that is already in place. The closed beta programme, which is currently ongoing, has apparently produced a lot of suggestions for changes. The last few months have been spent reacting to these suggestions, and if you preorder the special edition of the game, then you'll be able to enter the open beta later in the year.

With all the core systems in place in the game, the team is now in what it calls the "polish and iteration" stage. They're currently focussed on testing specific sections of the game (for example, levelling up between levels 20 and 30, and burning a city to the ground). The developers see the key to the success of the game online as the realm-versus-realm system; consequently, the need to work with other players in your team is vital to progression. You'll never be able to attack a city without working with other people on a mass scale, and other mass-organised groups may well be working together to put a stop to you accomplishing your goal.

Success in the game depends on your ability to join with others, especially as you take on some of the larger-scale enemies.
Success in the game depends on your ability to join with others, especially as you take on some of the larger-scale enemies.

After hearing about Warhammer Online from the team, we were able to dip in for a quick play through a couple of quests. The game uses the same basic mechanics as many other MMORPGs, with a simple left and right mouse-button interface to move about the world, and attack and spell icons located at the bottom of the screen. We started out by using a level 20 warrior character, but even someone with excellent strength and armour didn't last long when faced with the enemies in the game. As we explored the world, we came across a large settlement of human characters, as well as some big spiders that quickly cut us down to size. After respawning back at our base and requesting a little help from Mythic, we were able to use some more effective throwing attacks to destroy enemies from afar, as well as incorporate spells to lower the confidence of our enemies and make them more vulnerable to attack.

One of the other ideas behind combat is that you'll always be rewarded with some sort of cinematic at the end of the battle. If you invade one of the cities, the resulting carnage could last for a long time, but you'll have a reward for completing it in the form of a cinematic that will advance the story. Although we didn't get to see one of the cities in the game, from sketches they look as if they'll boast an impressive amount of scale, considering that they represent the settlements of one of the six factions in the game. From the sounds of it, these city-siege missions will be one of the highlights of the game, and we look forward to seeing them in action in the future.

You can read lots more about the specific races and combat situations in our many other previews on Warhammer Online; this London demonstration was intended as a catch-up on the current status of development. From what we saw, it looks as if it's progressing well for the planned Q3 2008 launch, and although EA will start the open beta only when ready, we're hopeful that fans won't have too long to wait. We hope to bring you more on Warhammer Online in the coming months, so keep an eye on GameSpot for additional information as we get it.

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