Warhammer Online

WAR Becomes the Land of the Dead

Warhammer Online: Land of the Dead PTS
Image by Evan Sims via Flickr

Today, Warhammer Online‘s 1.3 patch becomes fully live with the introduction of Land of the Dead, a zone based upon Warhammer’s Tomb Kings with an Egyptian slant.

If you don’t know the skinny, here’s the bullet point play-by-play:

-Constantly Flipping Control: The zone has a mechanism wherein control is determined by resource allocation. Each side gathers resources by participating in WAR’s normal RvR gameplay. When one side gets the resources needed, they control Land of the Dead unfettered for 30 minutes. Then the resource allocation begins again, with the “losing” realm picking up where they left off and the “winning” realm starting at zero.

-Invaded Instances: The aforementioned control determines a couple things – first, whether or not you respawn in the zone, and second, whether you can invade instances currently occupied by the opposing realm. If you contorl the zone, you can do both, which means if zone control flips away from you while you are in the Tomb of the Vulture Lord dungeon, you’d better be prepared to deal with enemy players.

-Dynamic PQ’s and Encounters: Action RPG is what Encounters Strike Team lead Gabe Amatangelo says was the inspiration for Land of the Dead. From dodging mist and locusts, to traps that require a bit of good timing to get past, to the ability to redirect invading players to trash and hazards, there’s a bit of an Indiana Jones element to the whole zone that makes the experience active.

Overall, Land of the Dead will no doubt be a worthy addition to WAR. No MMO doesn’t add content, so with this being WAR’s first major content addition since the release of the game, all eyes are on it to make sure that it does the job it’s supposed to do, which is revitalize the game for current players and attract former players back. Personally, I’ve played the zone and the dungeon, and both are really fun and engaging. While many people are weary of what WAR has been struggling with since release, I encourage people to give this patch and new content a try. The control mechanics and new quests are different than anything they’ve had before, and focus on smaller groups means less of the zerginess that has plagued WAR’s signature version of PvP.

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WAR’s PTS, LotD, and Other Acronyms

Warhammer Online: PQ Night (2)
Image by Evan Sims via Flickr

So the WAR Herald tells us today that the public test server testing has finally concluded for the latest patch, which will include the new content for Land of the Dead, their first free live expansion. Over the past few weeks, many intrepid expeditioners have signed on to the PTS, bashing the heck out of the code and the mechanics in WAR’s Egyptian-themed dungeon and area so it can go out as bug-free as possible.

If you’re a WAR player and you didn’t sign onto the PTS, you really missed out. There was a good amount of focused RvR going on, as resources necessary to gain access to Land of the Dead dropped off of dead players. Aside from that, I discovered people engaging in duels and practiced fights to test mechanics. Surprisingly, no one interfered with these little tests, which was great. While on the battlefield real RvR is dynamic and spontaneous, the fact that there were players testing changes to stats and careers (though they’ve since been pushed back) can only be a good thing, as such attention to detail is needed to make things feel right.

There was also a lot of testing of the Land of the Dead mechanics from top to bottom, from the fight over zone control via resources to the PQ’s and public area of the new zone, to the 6 man dungeon. If I had to typify players’ experiences with the content, I’d have to say a lot of people needed a little bit of a handle to get it right. The first few nights were filled with players wandering around, wondering what to do and how to do things. Over time, this changed, but I can’t help but think the confusion was a bad thing, not a good thing. The fact that the learning curve may have been a bit higher than Mythic thought allowed them to adjust the way they not only approached PTS but also the upcoming content.

As a result of the testing, the combat and careers changes were pushed back to allow for more granular work, and the amount of resources needed to gather for access to Land of the Dead was reduced. There’s also been a noticeable effort to educate players, either through viral marketing or interviews. I’m thankful that some of the PTS testing was useful and helpful.

To be honest, though, there just weren’t enough players – which is sad, because in an area where there are no consequences in terms of player choice, testing becomes great fun as you try to “break” content to make it better. We need more PTS testers for the next cycle, especially with tons of changes to careers coming, so be sure to fire up that test client and give the new stuff a spin at the wheel. It’ll only help you and your fellow players for a better WAR experience.

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WAR’s Viral Infection

Virus logo.
Image via Wikipedia

So for those of you who don’t know, Mythic and GOA have been hyping up WAR’s upcoming Land of the Dead. Certainly the traditional buzzworthy articles, tease interviews, and testing has been done, and there are a lot of folks talking about it. But what you may not know yet is that there’s a viral marketing campaign consisting of mailed cartouches, skulls, and bones being sent to various folks in the blogosphere. Together, all of these can be combined and interpreted into rewards and in-game items. If you’re curious, there is a consolidation thread on the Land of the Dead puzzle on Warhammer Alliance about it.

Sending skulls and bones, and strange things in the mail might seem like a waste of time to some, but to be honest, viral marketing in and of itself has taken hold pretty well. This isn’t the first time WAR has sent out promotional items. Back before Valentine’s Day there were a bunch of bloodied valentines sent out to hype WAR’s Night of Murder event. Before Land of the Dead came mysterious packages of red hair dye and DVD’s with timestamps, a way to hype the insertion of new classes into the game. And now, bloggers and fansites find themselves in an Indiana Jones-like Egyptian puzzle (whip and fedora not included).

If not for the digital age, viral marketing wouldn’t have been as worthwhile. But in a time when you can find out about anything instantaneously, the fact that Mythic is doing this has created a lot of interest and curiosity that normally would not be there. Sites like Kotaku, who normally wouldn’t carry a WAR article unless it was a major news piece, are now publishing pictures of their packages and nodding approvingly at something to break up their mundane routines. Small sites and blogs who are dedicated to WAR benefit from a boost and a recognition by the developers that they’re reading them and that they matter in the game’s overall voice. I know that being recognized by a company for what you are essentially writing and promoting for them is always more motivation to write more.

Non-traditional marketing for MMOs can really take hold in the next couple years as the various online games out there jockey for position. What if you saw some feathery wings sent to blogs by Aion’s NCSoft, or perhaps an audio-recorded message of assistance sought by a Republic senator for Star Wars: The Old Republic (“help me Obi-Wan Kenobi…”). These are the kinds of things that while short term, will be memorialized and remembered for being innovative, fun, and interesting.

Whether or not WAR’s Land of the Dead will succeed remains to be seen. But Mythic is certainly doing the right things by getting the word out in unique, viral ways. Certainly, if you’ve thought about WAR, and skulls with sunglasses made you smile, then you’ve been summarily “infected”. As far as MMO publicity goes, that’s not a bad thing.

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WAR’s Dead Sexy Content

Fat Bastard (character)
Image via Wikipedia

Let’s hope that you don’t associate “sexy” with the picture.

With WAR’s Land of the Dead coming out in just a short while, excitement is building among the community about the brand new content. Now, there are a lot of people out there who are committed to fixing bugs and issues with the game before releasing new content. That’s all well and good, but I don’t think there is any MMO out there who has waited to put out the new carrot on a stick out there for players.

Even people who are a bit turned off by the fact that their character has issues are ultimately going to be curious about the introduction of new content. New content is fresh, interesting, and engaging to people, as is the marketing and hype leading up to it. Casual players, most of whom aren’t really into specifics or granular details, are the ones who are most likely to be excited about the prospect of doing something new that is adding on to the existing game experience.

In the case of Land of the Dead, you have a zone that is going to be continuously flipped through resource gathering. The resources are gathered through WAR’s signature RvR system, so participating in that will be essential. The zone itself contains Public Quests that are an evolution of the system itself – not only can you deal with loot better, but the PQ’s themselves are “thinking” PQ’s – meaning you’ll have to understand the mechanics in order to finish properly. Lairs, dungeons for which access is granted through glyphs acquired in the PQ’s will be present. But the crown jewel is an instanced 6-man dungeon called Tomb of the Vulture King. This is a dungeon that has traps that require disarming and encounters that are literally massive. But the twist comes when the zone flips to your opponents’ control, and your enemies can invade your instance and engage you.

Even people who are all about the existing gameplay will ultimately be curious enough about Land of the Dead to read about it and participate in it. Obviously, the key is that Mythic needs to bugfix quickly, work to ensure stability, and keep working on other issues – but the new content is awesome, it’s sexy, and it’ll draw people in. Everyone who’s been on the fence about it should try it when it comes out. After all, where else can you set swinging blade traps for your enemies and dodge boulder swarms? Count me in.

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WAR’s Career Cautiousness

Image by jluster via Flickr

Warhammer Online has been chugging along lately, with upcoming live expansion Land of the Dead the major thing on the horizon for WAR players.

The 1.3 patch, which was supposed to be a massive patch that not only introduced this new content but fixed bugs and balance careers, has been decided cut in half faster than an Orc Choppa can spam their blade abilities at you. Seems that in doing the career changes and balancing, Mythic has found players a little, well, passionate about some of the fixes, which include an overall AoE reduction, single-target damage increase, toughness and statistical improvement on a mass scale, and other things. So to give it more time, Land of the Dead will now be the primary component of the next patch, while Combat and Career changes will be pushed back to another cycle.

I have to give kudos to Mythic for this decision. While Combat and Careers is something that someone will always have something to complain about, the bigger issue with such changes in the 1.3 patch has been their scope and widespread effect. And by effect, I mean both player perception and actual data.

I have combat logs from some of the changes, and the PTS numbers are a bit staggering – with large crits from certain spells, a toughness increase that made some toons extremely difficult to kill, and the healing reduction, there were just way too many cooks in the kitchen as far as the changes go. As a technology professional, one of the things you learn is that when you patch something, you do not add too much into the mix – because the more you add, the more likely something will break and the less likely it is you will be able to efficiently find the cause of it.

Mythic has taken some heat for shorter testing cycles that haven’t given the time to truly test and gather the feedback that is needed, so to see these changes pushed back and a more cautious approach taken is a good thing. The patch is already going to be huge with 1.3′s new Land of the Dead content, and with the launch of that needing to be as smooth as possible, removing career changes is a good step towards that.

So Mythic did good as far as I can tell with this decision. But that being said, the introduction of their “controversial” changes should really give them pause as to the scope under which they should be changing stats and dealing with existing issues. I am personally hopeful that they will take a more surgical approach to the changes, but in lieu of that, more testing of them is sufficient.

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The Bright Side of WAR

You are in my Heart till the sun will never sh...
I love the smell of cheesy images in the morning.
Image by Thai Jasmine via Flickr

 Lately there’s been a bit of a spat of the negative around the WAR community. You’ve got 3 different bloggers all putting down the pen or looking to other endeavors, a slew of articles met with constant skepticism, and a lot of pain and frustration from a patch that seemed to cause more problems than it fixed.

Over at Bootae’s Bloody Blog, an attempt to look at the brighter spots of WAR has been made. Of course, this is something that is right up this blog’s alley, because sure, the game has its problems, but there is plenty that works, despite its current issues.

So without further ado, here are 5 things that are right about WAR:

  • Casually Playable - of all the MMOs currently on the market, WAR is the one which provides the best mix of an overall goal to strive for and the lack of pressure to get there. There are MMO titles out there that compel you to login and sometimes spend more time than you have. WAR is no such title. It is, truly, a title where you can login, play for an hour, and log out, and still feel like you were able to get in some progress. People who have trouble managing their time will love WAR for its “come play for however long you want” attitude.
  • Mid-range PvP Concepts - Making a PvP title always brings with it an issue of having mechanics that are too intimidating to new players or put off people who can’t keep up with the hardcore. With experience as part of the RvR system in WAR, a gear-to-skill ratio that doesn’t make the best geared player the immediate victor, and a way for players across all levels to contribute in PvP situations, WAR has good, basic PvP concepts that make PvP natural to even the most anti-PvP player.
  • Developer Distance - The developers for WAR are among some of the most personable and social people. They have a passion for their product and work hard, but know that jokes, humor, and other such casual behaviors are all a part of the process. WAR’s developers have been knee-deep in the community, supporting blogs, fansites, and interacting with the community on a level no other developer can match. So while they have their work cut out for them, you’ll never feel like the developers are aloof or hostile towards player feedback – and you might even catch them on places like Twitter and Facebook, promoting their game.
  • Overall Popularity – Despite perceptions to the contrary, of all the recently released MMOs, WAR is in a really good place. Initial shrinkage of servers aside, WAR has healthy populations across most servers, and compared to other titles such as Age of Conan and Darkfall, WAR is doing quite well. While no one knows subscription numbers, look for WAR to either have a slight decrease or increase, and stabalize itself in the next couple months as new content arrives. Outside of the WAR community, WAR is considered second or third in terms of perceived subscriptions, so one can only hope it gets better. And with deep-pocketed EA in its corner (WAR having made up a lion’s share of EA revenue last quarter), you can count it having the support to continue.
  • Meaningful Progress - For a game that was perhaps released a bit too early for its britches, WAR has made immense progress. Re-introducing classes that were to be in at release, creating major tweaks to the RvR system, generating new content, and fixing bugs – all of these areas, WAR is at least doing decently in. The small minutiae of WAR may have many frustrating, and no doubt important, flaws, but the overall big picture shows WAR running the MMO marathon at a good pace. If the upcoming Land of the Dead does even decently well, WAR will have a foundation upon which to build on and can then divert resources into fixing existing gameplay issues into the next cycle.

So that’s that – 5 things that are good about WAR. Are there problems? Absolutely, and anyone who has put down the subscription has their own reasons and they are certainly legitimate on some level. But, in the overall scheme of things, WAR is doing as well as it can be in the current climate, and while we can’t really predict its future, I can say that it isn’t all doom and gloom out in WAR-land.

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Grumpy Old MMO’ers

You wouldn’t like me when I’m grumpy.
Image by egg on stilts via Flickr

 Over at Warhammer Alliance, where I write things that are not always as sunny as this little space of the internet, I wrote a piece about the lack of pride in WAR these days, where it went, and what we can do to get it back.

On a side note from that particular article is the idea that people who’ve played MMOs for longer than a few years or so, and remember, with pain but fondness, the need to go retrieve one’s own corpse, are getting a bit frumpish in their old age. Glory days of unforgiving mechanics aside, it’s just darned difficult for the MMO geriatrics of the world to keep up with this new fangled attitude of gear and achievements.

As much as MMO grumps of yore would like to continue being so, let me introduce to you a bright ray of sunshine, as I always do.

For one thing, in your older age, aren’t you glad that your progress isn’t wiped out by a few careless deaths or a mechanic that perma-loses your gear if you don’t do something successful? After all, you’re not a spring chick anymore. I daresay some of you have found such inconvenient things as a “real job”, “bills”, “responsibility”, and for some of you, the dreaded “children effect”. With your all-nighter college days behind you, do you really have time to play a game that punishes you for being just a little bit unaware?

And what about the “massive” in massively multiplayer. Sure, you may shake your cane at those young whippersnappers who zip around you like they were playing Counterstrike and mash a button like they would suffer a heart attack if they didn’t. And yes, there are plenty of new generation MMO players that are just not the kind of people that would sit down with you for a game of canasta and roleplaying. But the charm of MMOs is the critical mass of people that are playing them. As long as you’re selective with your canasta and roleplaying partners in the vast world of MMO population, you should do just fine.

Finally, there’s the ease of participating in what we all play MMOs for, character development. Do you remember what it was like to raise your statistics in a game like Ultima Online? Sure, you relished the moment you gained a stat after countless whacks of the practice dummy in your house, but damn if it was hard to just get done. MMOs these days make things easy – so easy even a trained monkey can do it. You could be brain dead and still level up certain classes to your heart’s content. How convenient is that?

So the next time you’re having a hankering for the good old days, I have a bit of advice for you. Try to load your character with no armor or weapons and get into a fight. Then roll your face across the keyboard and when you die, bash your face on it repeatedly. You’ll get the same sense of burning inconvenience and physical pain from dying as you did in one of those early old school MMOs. 


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RP’ing It Off In WAR

An example of shrugging.
If this guy can shrug off looking like this, so can you.
Image via Wikipedia

 As with any MMO out there, WAR has its frustrating moments. Whether it’s getting  a beatdown in a scenario, getting killed over and over again, or experiencing the long, hard grind to that next level and feeling bored, there are just some moments in the game where you just feel bleh about it all.

Don’t worry guys and gals – I feel it too. But I’ve discovered a way to deal with the pain that doesn’t involve multiple shots of alcohol or bingeing on Twinkies. And that’s roleplay.

No, I don’t mean THAT roleplay, gutter-minds, I mean the kind of in-character shenanigans and different personalities you created in that D&D game you played but will never tell anyone about. I’m talking about dropping yourself into the role of your toon at the very moment he or she is getting the begeezus kicked out of them and saying in chat that glorious death is imminent…again.

If you’re a dwarf, you can rush in, declaring how it’s a good day to die. Or perhaps you’re an elf and would prefer to haughtily declare that your teammates can go first so you can die without having their blood on your clothes. Or maybe you’re just a plain old human or goblin and you just have to weep about being sent in again by commanders and warbosses that don’t respect you.

You know that inevitable breakdown in friendly communications that losing a scenario or ORvR tends to do to a team? When people tend to get frustrated with one another over not being able to win their way out of a paper bag? Those are the times when RP’ing it off works especially well. Got two pissed off people arguing and typing more than fighting? Break up the hostile e-toughness with a little humorous comment about parents needing to wash their mouths out, or if you’re playing a Destruction race, to complain about some nonsense buzzing about “l2p” and “lol ur retarded” that is driving you more insane than you already are.

While I’ve continued to piss off people who simply take the game just a little too seriously with my weak attempts at witty repartee, there are always inevitably a few lols from the other members of the team, which makes the loss just a little bit easier to bear. And if you can make other people understand that it isn’t such a big deal and that they’ll live, all the more better.

Let’s be honest here guys – no one wants to lose, and even moreso, no one wants to lose badly. But a little bit of fun and RP’ish humor in the face of such a crushing defeat is a nice little bit of sugar to make the bitter medicine go down just a touch better. So have those witty in-character one-liners ready, kids – you might have to type them while a ton of AoE or DPS pain train classes are beating on you for the 500th time.


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Hybrid Head-Scratcher

Hybrid Re_mixed EP 1 album cover
Remixed, indeed…
Image via Wikipedia

 One of the breaking news things that came out of some recent news regarding WAR was a change to the Archmage and Shaman on a variety of levels – career, mastery, and most of all, something that will make their core mechanic different. Instead of damage feeding better healing and vice versa, damage will cause better damage and healing will cause better healing.

Just like with any hybrid change, there’s a bunch of people who are gnashing and wailing regarding the change, although some of them seem to think that the mechanic will make more sense.

You have to feel sorry for hybrid classes, because they don’t fit into any particular role. Hybrids are the middle children in the family of any MMO’s class makeup. They can’t do any one thing particularly well and they are sometimes ignored for the more outstanding and overachieving older siblings or the extremely cute younger ones. Hybrids are often pigeonholed into one role or another, despite being able to do multiple things. And this isn’t even counting when hybrid middle children become petulant and demand that they can do one thing particularly well when in truth they can’t do it better than someone else who’s focused on it.

But hybrids like the Archmage and Shaman should be looking forward to this change. After all, it focuses their role so there’s no ambiguity. Now, if you see an Archmage and they are shooting pew pew laser beams, you know they’re out to kill something. If you see a Shaman with a green beam shooting out like the Ghostbusters, then you know you shouldn’t be waiting around for a heal.

I think what people tend to forget is that hybrids provide utility, not necessarily effectiveness at one role. If in the course of a battle you have a swiss army knife that can cut with one blade and bandage with another, consider yourself lucky that the battle might just turn out in your favor because of it. Sure, the cynics might say the swiss army knife is broken and only contains one tool that is bent and the other that is twisted, but the utility and potential is nevertheless there.

Hybrids should feel happy that they can provide a dual role. Sure, that role is probably not as exciting as a button-spamming melee dps’er or a dedicated healer saving the day for their group, but the little things are important. Like any middle children out there, Hybrids can be meaningful and unique in their own way, and heck – if they end up being the butt of jokes or taking a dirt nap, they at least provide some kind of interesting entertainment trying to be viable. Doesn’t every child in a family?


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WAR of Sig Images

max size signature images
Because a guide is clearly needed.
Image by In Da Midst via Flickr

 Since I’ve been trolling around trying to find a guild for myself in WAR, I’ve had the pleasure of checking out other forums besides the one that I obviously deal with on a daily basis, where we disallow signature images for fear of being assaulted by a bevy of Photoshop-created colors, cropping, and layering.

I do have to say that there are really some interesting signature image policies out there when it comes to WAR forums. I’ve seen sigs that were at least 600 pixels wide by 400 pixels tall, featuring some huge picture of a Chosen with a sword that clearly couldn’t be displayed in all its glory at normal size. I’ve seen sigs that have the closest thing to the randomized picking of fonts that you can have and I’ve seen yet others that write the character name in flowing, almost hard to read script yet have trouble spelling “Destruction”.

Clearly I’m impressed, because if I hadn’t seen that picture of the warrior priest raising a book that takes 30 seconds to load on my page, then I probably would have failed to read the person’s post, which said, quite intelligently, “lol wut”. I would never have been able to judge the person’s Photoshop skills and whether or not their cropping and cutting looked like a 4 year old did it, were I not to see the 1000 pixel wide monstrosity of the sig. Nor would I have been able to tell what their character name is for real, even if their username is the same thing.

I should make one for this site. I can see it now – it would be bright yellow, with my characters against the backdrop with an Outer Glow filter set to maximum, with text in flowing cursive. And I’d animate Hello Kitty jumping across the letters just for good measure. Maybe then I’d have more readers!

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