Goodbye Warhammer… Hello Aion!

Well, I think I am done with Warhammer.  My hand is still messed up (though improving!), so I can’t play yet, but having not logged in to war for over a month I don’t miss it.  So what better time then now to take a look back at the journey =)

The Early Days
I followed Warhammer Online since the very day it was announced.  In the beginning I was extremely excited, convinced this would be my dream game.  I love PvP, I love Warhammer, I love Orcs and Goblins and I liked a lot of what Mythic did with Dark Age of Camelot.  How could it not be my dream game!?

The first year and a half of Waiting on Warhammer felt like f-o-r-e-v-e-r, but there was little to shake the faith that it would be a game worth waiting for.  I remember my only two real concerns back then were when Mythic announced there would be only two realms, which everyone seemed to be pretty against and I still feel was their single greatest mistake, and that the PvP would be heavily dependent on scenarios, which was also hotly contested on fansites at the time and something I disagreed with (I detest scenarios/instances for PvP).  Still, given all the excitement abound for the game, in no small part due to the great videos by Paul Barnett and the rest of the staff, you couldn’t help but give Mythic the benefit of the doubt and continue with high hopes.

Beta Access!
The second year and a half was much more interesting for me, because I was one of the very first beta testers – 16 months prior to launch!  When I first got in I was ecstatic!  Everything was fun due to the initial rush of trying a game you waited so long for.  I would “oooo” and “aaaah” at everything, even the loading screens, in those first few weeks.  But after that initial excitement wore off and I saw more of the “vision” for Warhammer, I grew more concerned with the game.

The game was still very much in development, so there were the expected bugs, lack of polish and missing features; but I was mostly concerned with their PvP design.  Their concept for PvP seemed bizarre to me for a game being marketed the way it was.  PvP felt so disconnected from the game; the RvR lakes were separated from the PvE environments, and they contained absolutely nothing to do.  I often roamed the RvR lakes in beta only to find them empty; no quests, no mobs, no npcs, no outposts, no shops, no keeps, no mobs – literally nothing!  Unless there was enemy players standing around in that void, you had nothing to do, but as anyone who entered had no reason to stay, they were always empty in beta – it felt broken and wasn’t much fun.

As launch approached things improved a little, with keeps and a few PvP quests added to the RvR lakes, but still no where near what I was hoping for.  By launch my hopes for the game were far down from what they once were; but I still had some hope, perhaps it would improve after launch, and perhaps it would be more fun once I got to play with some friends..

Launch And The First Few Months
The launch of Warhammer Online I can only categorize as a disaster.  Going from 1.2 million boxes sold to only 300k subscribers within 4 months, it’s clear Warhammer Online wasn’t the game many were hoping it would be.  The loss of so many players so quickly I attribute to at least two big mistakes Mythic made.  The first was they did far too many things to make the game world feel empty, launching with too many servers, splitting up players too much between tiers, fronts, instances and scenarios, and not having enough social aspects (remember when chat channels didn’t even work across the whole map you were on?).  The second was their love of scenarios they tried to force on the players, by making them the best path of advancement for your character, sucking more players into instances and simplifying the game world to basically a lobby waiting for a team fortress 2 map to launch; and likely burning out their playerbase quicker as they played the same instanced map over and over.  The plethora of bugs and broken combat didn’t help either.

We had a strong guild going into the game at launch, and recruited quite a few players in the first few months, but our playerbase dwindled far too fast; within about two months our 60 some players from our guild resulted in usually less than 5 online at a time.  It wasn’t just our guild, it happened to everyone.  Mythic started merging servers to try and keep healthy populations, but the retention rate was just too low.

Mythic realized many of their mistakes early, fixing some of the social aspects, and putting less emphasize on scenarios and more on Open RvR by adding more PvP quests and influence gear to the RvR lakes, and enhancing gains from killing players within the lakes.  But by this point they were fighting against their own original design, which was a more scenario style pvp game, and the maps and game design with only two factions just do not support it well enough.

The Final Months of WAR
In my final months of WAR I was actually having a fair amount of fun, but I was seriously fighting the game’s design to accomplish it.  I roamed solo in the RvR lakes looking for solo or small groups of enemies I could attack and hope for a fun fight.  I gained nothing for doing it, would sometimes be critized for not helping “push the campaign”, and often got ran over or chased all over by large zergs, but despite all that it would still be enough fun to still play, though I knew it was never going to be the game I hoped for by this point.

Originally I had hoped Warhammer would be something like WoW’s Alterac Valley, but non-instanced, out in the real world.  Each RvR lake would be this interactive battlefield like Alterac Valley, with mobs you can summon and rescue, quests, buildings to destroy, resources to collect, just tons of things to do; and actual objectives, like capturing a mine that provides gold to your npcs who eventually use it to build a giant battering ram that gets pushed down a road where you must destroy an outpost for it to get past, so it can knock down a gate to a keep that you then invade and sack, which then captures the map; Alterac Valley had real objectives and goals, and I thought Mythic would basically pull that concept into the real world, make each map have unique objectives and goals.  Instead we got empty maps with a few rocks and keeps plopped onto them which had no meaning or purpose, that often flipped or got captured for no apparant reason.

But after playing Warhammer i now realize that isn’t what I want; I hate objective driven, guided PvP where you are expected to work towards a set goal.  What I want is a well designed world with a lot of things to do in it, where you can explore, quest, gather resources, kill bosses, group up and venture into dungeons, fight mobs; just a well-designed immersive world that encourages people to wander through it and be active.  And then I just want that world to be PvP-enabled, with some rewards for doing well at pvp (titles, points, etc.).  I like questing while being on guard for ambushes in a PvP area, I like ambushing groups while solo, I like hunting for prey..

The Approach of Aion
I never really knew about Aion until a few months ago, but after some research into the game and their “Abyss” setup,
I became absolutely stoked to try it.  The Abyss is really exactly what I want to play in, one large pvp-enabled map with the best of everything in it, xp spots, quests, dungeons, flying raid bosses, crafting supplies, artifacts, and even a few keeps.  And the game is built as a vertical world where everyone can fly to add even more variation and tactics to it.  Hawt!

Their PvP setup I absolutely adore.  You gain points for killing players, and lose them when you die; making you actually have to think about who you attack to advance.  And the pvp ranks have limits to them, only 1 person can be the top spot at a time, 3 the rank below, 10 the rank below, etc.  A real ranked pvp system!  You also gain titles, visual enhancements and even gear from pvp.  woot!

Aion is already doing incredibly well everywhere it has launched, and those that have tried it rave about how smooth and polished it is.  Monkeyfish made a nice post with some videos from a beta event recently, and he states “Combat is more involved and engaging than WAR even at this level”.

It seems a lot of Warhammer players are planning to give Aion a go, which is not good news for Mythic.  When Darkfall came out, the amount of players on my server in War felt noticably diminished for a few weeks; and that’s from a small PvP game not even released in North America.  The Phoenix Throne subforums on Warhammer Alliance has an Aion thread with over 600 posts already, and there is over 500 active threads discussing Aion on Warhammer Alliance just within the past month!  Interest in Aion has definitely picked up in the past few months!

So with that, I suppose I shall say “Goodbye Warhammer, thanks for the fun!”; I’ll be shifting my blog to post more about Aion now as it nears release and my hand gets better, and to those going to Aion hopefully I get to see a few of you in game =)

My most anticipated MMO for 2009

aion-anticipated

The more I read and see of Aion, the more I cannot wait to play it!  What is Aion?  The short version is its a PvP focused game, where you battle in a celestial war between the Elyos and Asmodians (if you want more info try here and here).  So why am I looking forward to this game?

Flight!  Every character in Aion can fly and the game is built from the ground up to support it!  The world is divided into two halves, with the Asmodians living on the upper half and the Elyos living below; the center is called the Abyss and is where all the real action happens.  Because of this setup, Aion has a huge amount of vertical space to discover, which makes flying very useful and the game much more unique.  Full Aerial combat is supported, some keeps you have to dive into to attack, and even some boss encounters take place in the air.

Advanced Combat!  The combat system in Aion seems amazing.  Certain abilities can trigger combos allowing you to chain together powerful attacks.  Moving around while fighting is encouraged, as movement affects your performance in combat, moving backwards increases your defence, moving forward increases your offence and strafing sideways increases your dodge.  Aerial and ground combat are also quite different, as you have less defence but more offensive capabilities while in flight, and aerial combat adds that extra dimension you must watchout for, the first few times you get attacked from above will likely take you completely by suprise!

The Abyss!  This sounds like my dream PvP playground!  It is a huge, open concept space with a ton of content in it.  Anywhere in the Abyss you are vulnerable to attacks from enemy players, making it a dangerous area.  But it has the best of everything in the game!  The best leveling spots, item drops, crafting materials and even many of the Raid Bosses are located right in the Abyss, giving you lots of reasons to want to get out there, and many opportunities to encounter enemy players!

aion-pvp-rankings

Meaningful PvP rankings!  Killing players in the Abyss awards you “Abyss Points”, except unlike most recent MMOs, Aion does have a death penalty!  When you die to enemy players you lose “Abyss Points”, making you perhaps think twice about how you may approach certain encounters.  The rankings in Aion are also limited in number, only 1 person can be the top ranking, Commander-in-chief, at a time, two people can be Commander, 6 can be Warlord, etc.  I love this concept as it makes your ranking that much more special!

Seamless World!  One of the things I perhaps miss most in Warhammer is the lack of a seamless world.  Warhammer really feels like a bunch of disconnected instances; there is no way for you to walk to the Inevitable City.  The lack of being able to approach major landmarks like that really disconnects you from the world.  Aion has a huge seamless world you can wander about and explore, much more similar to WoW, and exploring will feel quite unique due to the flight abilities and huge vertical spaces.

Polish!  I never quite understood why World of Warcraft was so popular until I played Warhammer.  Having a polished game that plays smooth and has few bugs is extremely important.  Warhammer sorely lacks that, and while I’m still enjoying Warhammer, I hate how unpolished, buggy and poorly done the game feels.  Nearly every review I’ve read of Aion raves about the amount of polish and how smooth the game plays.

That about covers my main reasons I’m looking forward to this game.  There are, of course, many other great aspects to Aion as well; amazing graphics, great character customization, detailed story sequences and what looks like a great crafting system.  It really looks like it may be an amazing game, is already massively popular in Asia, and can’t arrive here soon enough =)