Thursday, August 7, 2008

WAR thoughts

As a disclaimer I must admit I'm a Paul Barnett fan, I do think that his boundless enthusiasm and qualities as a public speaker are something that the genre sorely needed. But being a fan of the man doesn't mean I'm completely convinced of his game yet. So here are my thoughts on the recent developments, as far as I can say things without breaking the NDA, but just referring to publicly available information.

I got the WAR July newsletter yesterday. It was late because the announcement of the WAR release date was only this week, and apparently they held back the newsletter to include it. In the newsletter another of the excellent WAR production videos explains how the game will be working with 2 cities instead of 6. That one convinced me. The 6 cities will in fact be replaced with 6 fortresses, and the two cities will be a "tier 5" level on top of that. And as the quests etc. from the cut 4 cities are moved into the remaining 2, we don't really lose any content here. I'm still not convinced that cutting 4 classes will have no negative consequences, but the 4 cut cities I can live without. As a general remark I think that this was a typical case of Mythic promising too much, and then being hit by fan disappointment when they couldn't deliver. One should be careful with promises.

So open beta will begin in August, the NDA will drop maybe as early as next week, and the game will be released on September 18, with early access already starting before. Both collectors edition and standard edition preorders will get early access, but probably a day or two more for the CE. As WAR has been delayed quite often, one has to ask the question: Is it ready this time?

My gut feeling on this, based on all what I read about the game, is that WAR is ready and relatively bug free, but the high-level content might not be complete yet. One strong hint for that is that the open beta has a level cap of 20, which to me sounds like a great device to keep people from finding out that content beyond that is lacking. Age of Conan had the same level cap in their open beta, and disappointed me after that level, although of course in AoC it was level 20 out of 80, while in WAR it's level 20 out of 40. There are no reports suggesting that WAR would be as bug-ridden as AoC. A friend of mine is still playing AoC, and was farming epics all week from specific open world mobs with his guild, until a hotfix patch fixed that loot table bug yesterday; that should tell you something about the quality level of Age of Conan, and I haven't heard anyone saying that WAR will be as bad. Nevertheless I would be surprised if there weren't some server problems and bugs on release, even WoW had those.

So I'm optimistic that WAR will have a good start. I'm not sure at all about it's future after that. How much will the WotLK release, probably 2 months later, hurt the WAR server populations? Can Mythic do something efficient against one side winning all the time due to population imbalances? How long will people enjoy the PvP endgame without having PvE raids to keep themselves occupied? I don't know, and probably even Paul Barnett doesn't know. I am looking forward to this big experiment, because it's outcome will probably determine whether we will see more PvP or more PvE games in the future. If WAR can make PvP succeed in a mass market, it'll have gained it's place in MMO history. The best case scenario would be WAR breaking the illusion that only Blizzard can make big-earning MMORPGs, and thereby starting another wave of investment into new games. Exciting times ahead, indeed.

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