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28 Reviews

Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning

Has World of Warcraft finally met its match?

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Its Realm vs Realm aspect is a river that runs deep, not a superficial trickle of extra features. It isn't MMO v2 by a long shot, but it is a response to rather than simply an imitation of WoW. As well as incorporating Mythic's own RvR concepts from Dark Age of Camelot into a current-gen game, it's identified much of what has and hasn't proved successful in the last three years of MMOs. As a result, compared to all the other post-WoW MMOs, WAR is both dramatically more ambitious and an odd admission of failure on the entire genre's part. Where others have tried to set themselves up as huge worlds full of discovery and mystery, a place for adventurers, this is perhaps more cynical.

Most people don't want that, as evidenced by the likes of Thottbot.com. It was never hard to work out where to go and what to do for an MMO quest, and even if it was, you could always ask other players - the risk of someone calling you a noob aside - but the last few years have proven that a lot of people don't want journeys of discovery. They want constant achievement and progression, and they don't want to get lost or confused in the process. If WAR were a buffet, it would have a neat little label in front of each plate stating exactly what's in it, how many times you should chew it, and directions to the next plate.

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It's not that the game is easy or moronic, but rather that a philosophy of no time-wasting underpins it. Everything is clearly marked on the map, tracked on the HUD and written up at length in the Tome of Knowledge. Throughout the game, giant messages spam your screen, forever keeping you aware of exactly what's going on. The more organic carnage of RvR scuffles aren't quite as prescribed, but even so to achieve the larger goals you need to grab precise locations and monitor a tidy little list of exactly how many NPC guards are left to kill. Even the siege machinery is limited to a fixed number of 'siege pads' - this is no organic war, but more a sport with specific rules and specific goals. There are two good reasons for that: balance and focus. It might be artificial, but it keeps things fair and thrilling.

Whether your preference is for PvP or PvE, the frustrations of aimless wandering and vague directions are gone. It is, though, a reflection of arguably WAR's greatest failing: it doesn't create much of a world, a sense of place. It leans on the constant war for this, expecting the omnipresent factional barney to be atmosphere enough. In a way it is - it's logical to argue that eternal conflict is the only preoccupation any player or character would need. It's presented as fundamentally game-y though, and for all the tight integration of PvP with PvE, there's no potential to convince yourself that this is all really happening. Stumble into an RvR area or Public Quest and the game as good as pops a neon sign announcing it out of the top of your monitor.

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It might well be necessary, but it's an overly-obvious, immersion-breaking way to go about it. WAR's mechanisms have received far more attention than has its polish - it's cursory in much of its presentation. There's also no potential to explore or to be surprised. WAR is a sequence of combat-pockets, chained together and rarely far apart. You stumble from fight to fight to fight, with no stumbling off the beaten track. There is some genuinely incredible architecture to be seen, squeezing remarkable sights out of the toonish engine, but you're invariably shepherded to it. There is only war, and that's certainly a better thing than solemnly mining rocks or sewing cloth, but sometimes a boy just wants a jolly adventure.

WAR's real adventures come from personal narratives, not from its pre-generated world or narratives. An intense duel with an enemy player or a push-'n'-pull siege that lasts long into the night - the stuff you'll relate with friends after a long session. Don't believe the Angry Internet Men who scream that WAR is a PvP game and thus shouldn't be compared to WoW or LotRO or Conan. It's at least as much a PvE game as it is a PvP one - the telltale green icon marking a new quest is omnipresent, while achievements and XP can be had on a near-infinite basis from quests handed out by Kill Collectors and The Tome of Knowledge's Bestiary. So long as you're happy to grind away at infinitely (and frankly too quickly) respawning NPC mobs for long enough, anyway.

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