WAR’s Three Stooges

ThreeStooges-backgroundWhat were Warhammer’s three biggest mistakes?  Mythic’s Jeff Hickman recently engaged in that sort of Monday morning quarterbacking we so love — seeing a developer critique their own product.  From an educational standpoint, it’s fascinating to read these sorts of interviews, because you grow to appreciate just how complex and difficult these games are to make and predict.

So what are Hickman’s three mistakes?  Let’s take a look, along with my commentary:

1. PvE In The Beginning Was Too Easy

I guess soloing is bad now?  I get that we should be challenged and whatnot, but I never thought WAR’s starting zone PvE was way too incredibly easy, especially with the PQs.  Whether this is true or not, I would debate that this is a major mistake of the game — it’d be worse if the beginning PvE was so punishing that players gave up.

I can see a bit of additional challenging PvE, especially with mobs who did more than just run at you or run away when their health is 20%, as being beneficial, but I wouldn’t catagorize this as a big mistake, by any means.

2. Little Incentive To Group or Socialize

Hm.  I grouped a lot in WAR, especially for PQs and PvP content, so I wouldn’t say that I was devoid of a grouping experience.  But I would agree that their PvE dungeons were lacking in quantity, and that could have encouraged far more grouping to take place.

I will fully agree that WAR failed to promote and encourage a social atmosphere.  It was a world where there was combat and only combat, where other MMOs at least make a token effort to provide fluff, RP and social elements.  In fact, one of the biggest things that hurt the game was its lack of zone/tier-wide chat channels at launch, which led to a silent, “empty” feeling world where players felt disconnected from each other.

3. It’s The Economy, Stupid

Hickman nails it as he states, “Economy brings people together.”  It really, really does.  And WAR had almost no economy to speak of — a half-baked auction house and two crafting professions that offered very little in terms of manufactured goods that people hotly desired.  People didn’t craft, buy or sell too much, and the sense of isolation instead of interconnected dependance grew.

All in all, it’s a thoughtful list, but… the three biggest?  Perhaps I’d lump in the social/economy as one big mistake, for sure, but I’d put these two as the others:

1. A Lack of a Third Faction

It’s been said before, and Bootae said it again, but Warhammer simply and most assuredly needed a third faction. The two-faction struggle stripped away a lot of the uncertainty of PvP, as one side could simply dominate the other in terms of numbers, without any potential alliances or wild cards to spice things up.

I was asked a few months ago what it would take to draw me back into WAR, and while I stand by my answer of “I don’t think anything can”, I do believe that a third faction would be a crucial, deciding factor in getting a lot of players back into the battle.

At this point in the game’s development, I can appreciate that adding on a third faction presents a difficult task for Mythic — perhaps impossible, considering that they built the game from the ground up to be a two-faction conflict.  But their decision to actually reduce the number of player factions from DAoC’s 3 to WAR’s 2 has proven to be a bad one in terms of Realm vs. Realm conflict, and that needs to be reversed.

2. Meaningless End Game PvP

What’s the point?  That’s the question we started asking ourselves by the time we re-conquered the same keeps, flipped the same zones, and made the same attempts on fortresses and cities that we’d been doing for the past couple months.  WAR had promised a world where your PvP mattered to some degree, but any impact you made was temporary and largely inconsequential.  It really, really didn’t help that they nixed four of the capital cities — the end-game targets for PvP — and never put them back in.

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14 thoughts on “WAR’s Three Stooges

  1. I’d go back to the game with your above two points. Especially a 3rd faction. However the level of content for a 3rd faction would probably be wrapped up into a full blown paid expansion so we’d have to plop down more than just to re-up for a month to get back into WAR.

    Some folks list that they want the other capital cities back in the game but I just don’t see how having all these cities will help the war effort. If nothing else I think it will hurt the overall scheme of things and due to not being able to launch with all the cities I don’t think WAR can go back to having the six capital city schema.

    3rd faction all the way.

  2. My biggest complaint with WAR remains that the baseline quality of PvE was so poor, in aggro, threat and mob AI it felt like playing an outdated game.

    For PvP it was just such a Zerg in open world, a third faction is almost required on that sort of model.

    I hate to be so critical of WAR honestly because I never intended to play it more than casually. That said, even when devs are trying to be honest and self-critical it’s frustrating to see them miss some major issues. It’s not as bad as Brad McQuaid is with Vanguard tho (he’s still convinced the only serious problem was high minimum specs).

    Speaking of which, WAR never performed well in FPS for many of us. I wonder if that has improved?

  3. I would say you only grouped during the initial rush to 40

    After that….the game was dead. I would have to agree with 2. Also add to 1 that the PVE content was dreary and boring

  4. The article at Gamasutra was quoted poorly. There wasn’t a direct question asked about what Hickman thought were the three major problems in WAR. It was more about design issues that they should have changed since the game launched. Obviously as the game evolved over time, the real problems we all know became prominent. The things he pointed out were relative to pre-launch ideology, not the live game.

    He was only saying that these were mistakes they simple should not have made, but as with all things, it required a lot of balance and they tried to adjust it over time. Look at the three things he talked about, and he was referring to things they HAVE made changes on. There’s now an Easy, Normal, Hard PQ for each chapter to handle the PvE issue. The missing social tools have been implemented via the Guild Search and Friends tab. Adding more variation and simplicity to crafting, albeit only with talismans and potions, with the Liniments and a simplified path the top-end +24 talismans. None of those things existed at launch, and that’s what he was talking about.

    It just wasn’t about current issues, it was about overcoming past issues, and it certainly wasn’t about their WORST issues.

    However, the media saw a faltering MMO, and listened to the producer at a DEV conference spouting off such things. Of course they had to twist it and make him look like an idiot. It draws attention, page hits, speculation, and conversation. Hickman is not an idiot. They took him entirely out of context and made him look like a fool.

  5. I love it when you talk WAR Syp… it’s been too long!

    I pretty much agree with everything you have to say, and am pretty shocked that these three issues are what Mythic thinks borked up WAR from the get-go.

    Saying PvE at the beginning was too easy is just stupid. I don’t play games because they’re easy, but because they’re fun. WAR PvE was neither overly easy or overly fun in my opinion, but when given the option of doing balanced PvE versus getting your @ss handed to you by overwhelming numbers at the Festenplatz BO (or finding NOBODY to fight in the entire Elf T1 RvR zone), I’ll choose PvE every time.

    I totally disagree with Hickman’s (Hack-mannn? Any South Park fans out there? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?) comments on little incentive to group. If I remember correctly, there’s a T1 PQ that has waves of Chaos punks to slaughter my arse, or a giant to bite my head off if I tried to run the PQ on my lonesome. Grouping (or finding an high-level altruist to help you out) was the only way to take that big biatch down. And heading deep into the RvR zones on your own at T1? That’s like suicide.

    Agreed that the socializing aspects were poor however. As much as I grouped, I rarely spoke with anyone in my group and there was rarely any coordination to be spoke of. I’d like to think I ran above-average warbands when I had to take the mantle of leadership, and really tried my best not to bark orders at everyone and be fair to everyone’s desires for choosing the next BO/zone/dungeon. But Vent-using guildie warbands would pretty much mop us up every time because they were so much more coordinated – WAR didn’t offer anything that made me feel I could be part of a coordinated warband without Vent (or some similar form of communications).

    The economy never bothered me one bit. In fact, I thought WAR was supposed to be about smashing face, not about butchering dead animals or brewing silly potions. If anything, the economy should have been driven by player kills – trade in your Goblin heads, or Orc teef, or stuntie beards at a local marketplace for more gold/goods. I guess the medallion system was a step in the right direction towards this, but still left me feeling short-changed.

    Don’t know (can’t remember) that I’ve ever seen you 100% say that WAR needed a third faction before Syp, but I’m glad to see you support this notion. Having WAR as a two-sided game was one of the biggest blunders Mythic made, and I’m still not sure how they didn’t see that one side would get disheartened and continue to lose their player base before giving up completely. Quite honestly, I wish they would have had all 6 of the current races as their own factions, with Skaven/Undead/Ogres/Bretonnians/Wood Elves as NPCs that either help or hinder the PCs (Skaven and Bretonnians being my best choice for playable races if Mythic ever wanted to make it an 8-way Battle Royale). But maybe I’m just a Warhammer purist who likes to see Elves battle stunties, Orcs get squished by Chaos, etc.

    I never actually made it to end-game myself… I think given how much griping I had read that end-game was pointless and crappy kept me rolling alts and living it up in the tiers 1 through 3. Though I suppose had I played for long enough, I would have had to gone into T4 and endured the horrible end-game that so many other WAR players despised. Glad I never made it that far…

    As far as going back to WAR, I think you nailed it on the head Syp – without at least a third faction, there’s really no point in even considering any of Mythic’s call to arms. As cruel as it sounds, I can only hope Mythic continues to drop the ball until their player base dries up and the game dies. At least that way, Games Workshop might sell the rights off to another MMO developer who might get it right next time… or at least closer to the Warhammer world I’ve grown to love.

  6. For me, it was the Scenarios that killed it.

    They didn’t feel “massive” so I wasn’t interested in doing them, but everyone else was, which contributed more to the ‘open world’ feeling empty and solitary.

    I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority in this, though. At times it just felt like they should’ve just built a lobby and more scenarios and just not bothered with the rest of the world and the PvE.

  7. A third faction would have been rather difficult to fit in with the Warhammer world. About the only thing to springs to mind would have been a sort of “mercenary” faction, with skaven and disaffected humans and such, maybe one of the various undead. But they wouldn’t really have much in the way of land to conquer, and having skaven out in swarms taking over Altdorf doesn’t fit the lore very well. You might consider it a sacrifice worth making, especially since such a small portion of the playerbase are actually previous GW players, but I think the Shadowrun FPS showed that making such players mad can have perceptual impacts FAR beyond their numbers.

    I’ve seen the complaints about the meaningless end game PvP a lot, but… How do you fix it? Actions you take in MMOs are, by the nature of the game, meaningless. You save the princess, and she’s there waiting to be saved again by the next guy coming along behind you. Maybe the mistkae Mythic made was in promising something that you really can’t deliver in an MMO at all.

    I really am curious for people’s ideas for meaningful PvP that will have enough mass appeal to hit the targets they were aiming at with WAR.

  8. Don’t, Syp. You’ll make me weep.

    Well, I am man and therefore I don’t shed tears. Maybe my biceps will sweat or something…

    I loved almost every second I played WAR. I thought the art direction was great, the small scale open world PvP (when you could find it) was thrilling and there was a great sense of conflict. I ignored most of it’s faults ’cause I was having such a good time. Especially playing as a Shadow Warrior, which everyone dismissed as a broken and needless class. The Witch Elves sure got a surprise when I charged at them instead of fleeing, rooted them, hit them up with some dots, disarmed them and then melted their face before they could scream “HAX!”.

    But then it all hit me at once. I can’t play the higher level dungeons because I have to grind Keeps to get the armour sets in order to enter them. I can’t grind keeps ’cause the chance of receiving a drop when there is a zerg of 100+ (or whatever) attacking is very low and is utterly boring. The only reason I want to run the dungeons is so I can get a better armour set and can take on the City instances. The only reason I want to do the City Instances is so I can kill the King.

    Then they reset the server.

    What’s the point?

    I could play alts all day long in this game. The first 20 levels are excellent accross the board but as you get further into the game, there is just nothing to play for anymore.

    One of the flaws I think stood out for me the most is there is just TOO much momentum. Everyone is rushing to level and to take keeps etc. No one chills.
    Although WoW destroyed my a little inside, what I did like about that game is you could just chill out. Do some crafting and wonder around or, like, totally whatever…

    WAR needs to allow people to feel settled, rather than always on the march. They also need to kill that zerg. It was sickening.

    I really hope they pull it through ’cause it was a blast whilst it lasted.

  9. I didn’t find the PvE easy as much as I did boring, it was the same old thing as every other MMO.

    With the exception of the PQs. However, outside of tier 1, those became empty wastelands and largely unplayable. I remember in multiple occasions running through tier 3 areas and finding a dozen PQs, all empty.

  10. more like one factions classes were better than the other and had more group synergy that became glaringly apparent when things started to skew heavily to one side.

    I’m looking at you, Order.

  11. I think all three of the issues mentioned (particularly the PvE) were very relevant in terms of the intended audience, perhaps moreso than for the current players (of which I am one, with no intention of leaving shortly). I would have said that the issue wasn’t that early PvE was too easy, but that by and large there was only easy PvE, and that the quests weren’t always sufficiently engaging relative to the competition. And I suspect this probably really hurt them in retaining players tired of WoW, EQ2, LOTRO who were willing to give WAR a try, but wanted more than, or weren’t totally drawn into, the PvP aspects.

    As you note, there were the PQs which were the “hard” PQ content, but at launch you either had an open warband farming one PQ which rendered it trivial, or none there which made it more or less impossible. Combined with the fact that the 1st 6-man dungeons are by far the worst in the game (compare the Altdorf sewers to Deadmines), and epic quests which are quite well written text, but still boring kill evil villain X (who can be soloed without any real difficulty, or uses any interesting tactics and AI), I do think that easy PVE was an issue at launch. At this point, they’re player base has changed so much that it probably isn’t anymore (very few people still playing have any interest in the PvE for its own sake), but in terms of retaining the “WoW tourists,” then yes.

    Other thoughts in my wall of text-
    – I think their open groups/warbands was actually a mixed blessing, because it seems to often cut against the fostering of building a community. In particular for PQs in the beginning, you could jump into a warband, start grinding away with very little interaction, and leave whenever you were bored/done grind inf. And so there was never much need to build realtionships in game.

    -I’m unconvinced that a third realm would have helped. I can easily imagine enough players flocking to one of the three realms to dominate the other two. If I was a cyncial forum poster, I’d say that the BW bomb group would have destroyed two opposing realms just as fast as 1.

    – I don’t think the endgame RvR aspect is any more or less meaningful than the endgame of other games. Whether I’m moving up through a series of endgame dungeons to get better loot to kill the final “boss”, or killing players to get renown/crests to improve my gear to kill the enemy king isn’t really any different. I do think there was/is an issue in the definition Mythic used for RvR- which explicitly included the much-maligned “RvE” aspects, and what many players wanted which was what I would call straight large-scale PvP. This has led to what are some real endgame issues for the current player base, namely the very slow and limited gear and character progression once you hit rank 40, particularly if you don’t PvE significantly in Lost Vale/LotD.

    Anyway, sorry for the wall of text, but just some thoughts that have been stewing in my head the last few days.

  12. I agree with his points, however i think their biggest problem was the client performance. Nearly everyone i played with (including me) stopped because of unplayable rvr. A pvp game with incredible low fps is realy not funny to play :(

    Which is a shame i do like warhammer very much. Also a lot of class roles realy didn´t deliever the playing experince the wanted to deliver.

    Ah Warhammer, the IP is realy realy unlucky when it comes to computer games :(

  13. I don’t think it’s an interview. It’s some kind of extract from his talk. Since no one so far has pulled a video/transcript of the talk, we may never know the exact wordings.

    Seriously, from the title of the talk and the contents of the article, it sound pretty useless to talk about “third faction” or “end game” as an example. His point of the talk seems to be that interaction is even more important in mmorpgs than before, and his three points are extension of that concept.

    I do agree PvE being easy isn’t a big mistake by itself. There are two ways to look at that sentence.
    First, a hidden meaning – PvE being too easy let people rush into R40 and find no one there, and thus has nothing to do. It also completely removed the time their development team expected to have in developing follow-up/missing content.
    Second, he is talking about challenging GAMEPLAY instead of just PvE. I think some agreed many things are very easy in WAR. It has easy dungeons, as you said (probably the reason they implemented wards), and easy RvR. It is very easy to beat an undefended BO/keep, and it is extremely easy to defend or attack with a sufficient force. People don’t have to do much but zerg. To some, small groups fighting would be far more challenging, since the individual counts for more in such situations.

    I also agree with your accessment to the other two mistakes.

    Though I would say that, from an armature game developer’s perspective, there are two “mistakes” that are interesting too, and he can properly talk about in the talk.

    One, “iterative process and bug fixing”. WAR players lost confidence when a bug keep coming up after being fixed, or just get straight ignored. Their process doesn’t seem to be able to react to player’s concern fast enough, it may be because QA cut during the economy downturn, but whatever the reason it will still be very interesting for others to learn from whatever happened.

    My guess Jeff didn’t talk about this because he either can’t zero in on the solution yet or he does not want corporate politics into a gamedev talk.

    Two, “performance”. Mythic seem to assume everyone to have the greatest machines capable, or are some kind of computer guru. There is a reason the (almost) universally-despised Korean mmos have better performance in general. To allow games to run in internet cafes (commonplace in Asia), they have to limit the polygons shown on the screen, and do heavy instancing, while maintaining the quality of art.

    Having more polygons is not in itself a selling point, as evidenced by both the PC and console single player games. And limiting the amount of players in a single area is essential for server stability, unless you have some way to beat this networking problem. Mythic paid a heavy price in this area, it would even be a big enough topic for a talk focusing on this one apsect.
    I’m guessing he doesn’t mention it because it is a common problem nearly every mmo has to face, from UO to Champions Online.

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