So what of the Realm vs Realm itself? It's definitely the game's heart even if it's not as much its majority as you might think. It's fairly evident that's where the developers' love lies, as it feels much grander than the shallow PvE. This is the aspect that we're most reticent to pass judgment on just yet, as it likely won't be until a couple of months into the full release that the whole picture becomes clear. The high-level keep and city sieges could well be the most spectacular fights any fantasy MMO has ever offered, but it'll take a large, experienced population to make them work. The earlier, lower-key PvP definitely makes it an exciting prospect, however. There's a sense of intertwining to it, everything working towards a single purpose rather than being a collection of smaller, standalone tasks. Whatever your PvP activity, be it ganking RvR-flagged enemy players, seizing objectives in the open Battlefields or piling into all-out war in the closed Scenarios, it's all adding to your Renown points and your side's power.
Most of the game's loot is purchased via Renown, which reduces the obsessive drop-hunting of other games but does homogenise everything somewhat, as so many folk of the same Career and level as you will be picking up exactly the same kit. It's hard to feel like an individual in WAR - at first, at least. There is definite scope for difference in both your abilities and your appearance, but generally it's quite a templated game. That's not necessarily a failing - you are, after all, a foot soldier in a vast war, not the hero come to save the world. Another reflection of that is the class design. While they do all ultimately fall into the comfortable boxes of tank, DPS, ranged and healer, they really aren't the same old stereotypes. In how they look and how they play, each and every one feels versatile, powerful and an agreeably long way outside of the ancient D&D blueprint.
Similarly, despite their geographic separation, the PvP and the PvE are very much thematically intertwined - you're always fighting against the opposing faction, whether it's an NPC, a player or a mixed army of both. Maybe it reduces the variety a little, but it definitely strengthens the sense of purpose, and when you do take those first steps into RvR they feel natural and in keeping with the monster-bashing. Aside from that calamitous beta launch and the occasional minor bug, what WAR also is, or at least seems likely to be from where we're standing, is the most polished, complete MMO launch in history. With proper PvP and PvE there from the off, a vast choice of classes and a hatful of new ideas, it makes the likes of LotRO and Conan seem like footnotes, and even WoW's initial launch seems pedestrian by comparison.
Its similarities to and improvements on WoW - most especially in PvP - make it the natural next home for anyone either dispossessed by Blizzard's effort or who has held out from all MMOs in the hope of something a bit meatier. Playing Warhammer Online, it's easy to forget that this game stems from a hobby so often accused of nerdiness. It shares design values, fiction and certain concepts with the Warhammer tabletop game, but really it's only the name that binds them. Conan was supposed to be the so-macho MMO, but against this it seems a bit Sealed Knot. WAR is war. The associated intensity of this means it probably won't pick up anything like the audience WoW has, but it will get a large one. And a very, very satisfied one at that.
Rejoice: The finest MMO since WoW