Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (WAR) has been in beta for some months now, and I got a chance to sit down with developer EA/Mythic's head honcho (and huge Warhammer fan) Mark Jacobs to learn a little bit more about what's been happening in the past, what's going on now, and what the future holds for the company's latest project.
RPGFan: So what made you decide to do Warhammer?
Mark Jacobs (MJ): I've been a big fan of gaming since college, when I picked up a copy of Dungeons & Dragons for my girlfriend. I'd seen in a magazine that it was a complicated, intricate game, and I thought, what better present? Since then I've been into all types of gaming; role playing, miniatures, you name it, I probably have it on my shelf somewhere.
RPGFan: How was it working with the Games Workshop folks on WAR?
MJ: It was everything you could want in a partnership. I started out by asking them if they wanted WAR to lean more towards being precise to the mythology or flexible, if the latter meant making it a better game, and they wanted a good game. That's how we could do the Age of Reckoning; there is nothing about an Age of Reckoning in the canon. If we want to kill the emperor (hypothetically) who, in canon, is eternal, we could do that. There were a few things about the IP that they were adamant about, for example, no female greenskins, but overall they let us be flexible, and we did our best to stay close to the source material.
RPGFan: For those who don't know much about WAR, what are some of the features that distinguish it from other MMOs out there in the market?
MJ: There are a number of features that we put in that, I think, will be, if not revolutionary, definitely evolutionary. For example, the first thing you see when you enter the game world is cities; they're large. And I don't just mean large in terms of area; the architecture is large, and it gives the player a sense of really towering structures, and that the structures are important. In deciding to have only two capitol cities rather than 6, we doubled down on those two and the players will really see that in the detail. That doesn't mean the individual factions have been neglected; different areas of the towns have different architecture, such as the light mages whose tower has molten lava and smoke and a very alchemical look to it.
Going over to the Destruction city, now, you can see that we really tried to capture the feel of chaos and madness. The sky is a vortex, the lighting effects aren't quite right for what you'd expect, there are floating eyeballs everywhere.
Also, by focusing on only two capitols (Order and Destruction) we set up a system in which the cities actually level up. As players successfully defend their cities and attack the opposite city, new aspects of the city are unlocked. For example, new merchants become available; you might see a play being performed in the town square, or even a hanging.
On the other hand, if you don't spend time defending your city, the city can actually decrease in level, and you'll lose some of the things that made that city enjoyable to be in. It's all part of getting the player to become invested in helping defend their city. It's easy to get players to attack, but it's harder to get them to be concerned about defending, and this is a way we're trying to do that.
RPGFan: Will the side you play influence the kind of play style you use? For example, if you decide to play one of the Destruction factions, will the game encourage you to be more aggressive rather than defensive?
MJ: The bottom line is, yes, side does influence that sort of thing, but it's also partly what the player wants. You're likely going to play Destruction if you're a more aggressive player, and we want that. We want to create an "us vs. them" mentality among the sides so that players will feel like a part of a group and become more invested in that group.
Another way we're trying to accomplish that is with what are called public quests. Normally, if you were out fighting a horde of monsters and suddenly someone else came along and started fighting the same mob, you'd yell "kill stealer". But in WAR, if you do that, you'll probably say "thank you" since both players get the experience for the fight.
RPGFan: Wait, how does that work?
MJ: When you come into an area, you'll see a notice at the top of the screen about active public quests. These range from killing enemies to finding items, etc. See, anyone who has played an MMO has probably encountered a situation in which they're having a problem finding a group. Whether the person's class isn't what the group is looking for or whether the player is just too shy to approach other players. Public quests are meant to help those players who aren't comfortable talking to other players. It lets people group without having to interact right away and possibly get rejected, and it helps them build up confidence. So, if you help someone and they see that you're a good player, they might ask you to group officially. We want to do what we can to provide a great experience for every type of player, from those who like Player vs. Enemy to Player vs. Player.
RPGFan: So far, who has been playing the beta? Warhammer fans? DAoC fans?
MJ: We don't have a way of knowing for sure, but by the comments on the forums, most of them have familiarity with or are fans of Warhammer, and they've liked what they've seen.
RPGFan: WAR is focused primarily on PvP combat. If I'm a new player and I'm worried about taking on people higher level... did he just turn into a chicken?
MJ: (laughs) Yep. There are people in the game who find that, once they reach higher tiers, they can go beat up on lower-level characters. Well, if you're too powerful and you enter an area of lower-level people, you turn into a chicken. You'll see the Dark Elf has a nice skull head there. As a chicken you have extremely low stats and can be killed pretty easily by even the lowest level players.
RPGFan: (laughs) That's great. Has anyone made jokes about the pecking order?
MJ: Definitely. But we've done this to try and make it as level as possible for players. Same goes for death; if you're afraid that you're going to lose some serious progress if you die, you're going to be less inclined to engage other players, and that's not what we wanted. I personally hate corpse runs, and I think most people do. In WAR, if you die, the only penalty you get is a slight debuff that lasts for a little while. No loss of experience, no having to go on a run to get your stuff.
On the other hand, if there was no penalty, a bunch of low-level characters could just sort of chip away at a high level character and eventually beat him that way, which is why the debuffs stack. So death can be used as a strategy in the short term, but over the long haul it's not worth it.
RPGFan: Do you see WAR providing a transition away from DAoC?
MJ: You mean, will WAR kill DAoC? I don't think any MMO has ever killed any other MMO. Certainly, if subscription numbers stay up, we'll continue providing new content for DAoC, but it's up to the fans.
RPGFan: One of the things I liked most about the ideas you had for Imperator was a political system. Will WAR incorporate that?
MJ: We don't have any plans for politics at this time, but I wouldn't rule it out.
RPGFan: Well, it's been great talking to you about WAR, and I'm looking forward to trying it out.
Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning went into open beta on September 7th, and is currently scheduled for release on September 19th. Thanks to Mark Jacobs and Robert Mull for their time.