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Thursday, September 26, 2013

WAR's Impact on the MMO Genre Part II

As promised, here's my second post highlighting the impact that Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (aka WAR) had on the MMO genre.

Better PvP Maps System

Back in the day, these actually had a purpose.
If you've ever played WoW (and you most likely have), you know how the battlegrounds system works now. You queue up anywhere in the game for the map(s) of your choice and duke it out against the opposing faction in your level bracket. If neither faction wins the game in a certain length of time, the match ends. It didn't used to work that way, though.

Plenty of time to level fishing, I guess...
In the past, you had to visit the entrance to the battleground you wanted to join (kind of like a dungeon/raid instance portal). A few years later, they added NPCs in the city capitals you could queue from, but that meant you were stuck in town waiting on your BG to pop (there was no LFG or LFR then either).

Once in the battleground, you might be stuck there for hours. There was no time limit, and if either team decided to farm honor instead of go for a full victory (which was often), you were in for a long night. In addition, it was usually a bad choice to even join a battleground unless you were near the high-end of the level bracket for several reasons.

Welcome to Nordenwatch!
Then WAR came along and changed it all. You could start joining for scenarios (their term for battlegrounds/PvP maps) from the moment you rolled your toon, before doing any quests! Also, you could queue from anywhere via several clicks in your UI.

When the scenario popped, all characters on the map got scaled up (at least in terms of the basic stats) to resemble the top of the bracket. Your level one now had at least a fighting chance in the battle!

Each map had its own objectives of course, but if a side hadn't won by a certain time (typically 15 or 20 minutes), the match was over. In any event, after it was done, each player would be dropped back into the game right where they left off. Sound familiar? Yeah, that's WoW's BG system as it is today (sans the player scaling). You have WAR to thank for that.

Open-World PvP via the RvR Areas

WAR didn't use the phrase "player versus player" (PvP), instead choosing to use their own term of "realm versus realm" (RvR) combat. At first, this sounds like a cheesy gimmick, but if you got to experience the system you found there was more to it than most games offer.

The area in the middle (shown with the red border) is the RvR zone.
The zones for each race were paired with an opposing faction, and in between them was a shared RvR zone. Inside these zones were the objectives of a number of quests, a public quest spot, and several strategic locations to capture.

You could ignore these quests and the RvR area entirely if you so chose, but you'd be missing out on content, rewards, achievements, and the chance to engage in enjoyable open-world PvP.

These kind of areas could be found in games already - WoW had the Plagueland Towers (pre-Cata), Silithus, the Hellfire Fortifications, Halaa, etc. - but they were often not highly-featured. In most cases, you could go sightseeing in those zones and never have to participate in PvP. The rewards were often minor, and mostly skippable.

By comparison, WAR's RvR zones were often worth doing, and once you got to enjoy the PvP opportunities of the zone, you'd be sad to leave it to venture into the next tier of content.


Anti-Griefing Mechanic

I've been talking about how great WAR's open-world PvP was, and I'm sure many of you are skeptical. If you've ever rolled a new toon on a PvP server, you've probably been griefed and ganked dozens of times by some high-level d-bag that thinks killing lowbies constitutes "balanced PvP". Heck, I'm sure most of you scoff at the very term of "balanced PvP" like it's a misnomer... but it's not. WAR had it, and it wasn't hard to accomplish.

There was a mechanic in place to stop griefing dead in its tracks, known as the "Chicken" debuff. If you took your higher-level toon into a lower-level area, you'd get a warning on your screen. If you ignored the warning, you'd soon be turned into a chicken, with huge stat penalties that turned YOU into the prey of lower-level players! In addition, you couldn't use items or special abilities, and you couldn't gain XP, Reknown, or Influence, so you either ran through the zone as a chicken, or went somewhere level-appropriate to remove the debuff.

This one simple game mechanic was pretty much all it took to have balanced open-world PvP.

Capital Sieges

I killed the leaders of each enemy capital,
and all I got was this crummy t-shirt mount.
Whether you actually enjoy PvP or not, any WoW player worth their salt has at least attempted to get the For the Alliance/For the Horde achievement(s), and you probably remember the day you completed it fondly. Getting that Black War Bear mount is a red-letter day that's hard to forget. You and your crew rolled into each capital city, fought through waves of guards, battled enemy players, and assassinated the city leaders. What happened then?

Depending on how well the last city was defended and the strength of your team, you either stuck around a little bit to rub salt in the wound, or you found a convenient hiding spot to hearth home and enjoy your new mount (which was really just a status symbol, as you already had access to better mounts both in terms of performance and appearance).

In WAR, each faction had only one capital city, but it was freaking HUGE (there were plans for more, but they were shelved). Your faction had to push forward into enemy territory, capturing two fortresses before you could even attempt to besiege their capital.

Once inside, you didn't get to head straight for the city leader, oh no. You had to fight to lay claim to the city - killing NPC bosses, taking control of locations, and fending off opposing faction players - public quest style. The defending faction meanwhile got a public quest of it's own to attempt to kick you out of town.

Assuming your team could accomplish this task, you then got to fight the capital leader in a PvE boss encounter. Instead of a mostly worthless mount however, you had a chance at some of the best loot the game had to offer.

But it didn't end there. For successfully conquering the opposing capital, your faction had up to 24 hours to loot and pillage the city! Special NPC fights, missions, and other goodies were all available. Meanwhile, the opposing faction is locked out of their own capital and forced to make due in a refugee camp until everything resets. How's that for insult to injury?

As awesome as that sounds, things didn't go quite as planned. Some servers got to the point where one side's capital was almost on permanent lockout, due to population imbalance. While locked out of your capital, you lose access to a number of important resources, further ruining your faction's chance to defend against future assaults. In the end, this turned out to be a great idea that was poorly thought-out for the long-term, and was detrimental to keeping the players subscribed. Had it been better implemented, this would have been one of the most glorious faction PvP features of an MMO ever. Hopefully a developer will someday fix the mistakes made there and produce something amazing.

This concludes my look into how Warhammer Online influenced the MMO genre, but I'm not quite done talking about WAR just yet. Expect a couple more posts in the near future where I'll recount my most memorable moments of the game, and possibly go into detail on the issues that plagued WAR and helped lead to its end.

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