Now on to the nuts and bolts of a Warhammer Online walkthrough, for the benefit of people who weren’t in the Beta and haven’t been keeping up with the copious talk on the subject.
The game is saddled with the somewhat burdensome title of Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, so I’ll be calling it WAR like I and everybody else have been for months. It is essentially an MMO in the EverQuest tradition, and therefore is a cousin to World of Warcraft, to which it’s pretty similar in many ways; both are class and level-based, both use archetypical fantasy elements like Elves and Orcs, and both use the standard method of advancing characters: killing stuff and completing quests. Beyond this, the two games start to diverge somewhat. A discussion of where and how WAR differs from WoW is beyond the scope of this walkthrough, but I love to hear myself talk, so I expect you’ll see a post on that sooner rather than later.
I think it’s important to note, at least in brief, Warhammer’s roots as a tabletop roleplaying and miniatures battle game. The idea of competition between the participants is deeply rooted in the IP, which has a long history and a large amount of lore to draw upon. Warhammer Online is at least superficially a faithful rendition of the source material; I’m sure purists will find fault with many things, but I was never one of those, so nothing bothered me at all – I remember only the highlights of Warhammer’s evocative Old World, and the MMO iteration hits all of those.
When you log in to WAR, you’ll get a server list; if you have no characters, the game will suggest a server and faction to you. Pick a server, and bear in mind that you may encounter login queues, especially in the days around and after launch. But also consider that you definitely want to play on a server with a healthy population, for reasons which will become obvious as this series of walkthroughs continues.
The game’s factions are Order and Destruction, set in opposition – these are the Realms. Each has three races to pick from: Empire (Humans,) Dwarfs and High Elves for Order; and Chaos (Humans,) Greenskins (Orcs and Goblins,) and Dark Elves for Destruction. Once you create a character for one Realm, you’ll be unable to create characters for the other on the same server unless you delete all of your existing characters.
Each race has three or four classes to pick from. I’m not going to go through them; look them over and read the class descriptions and decide for yourself. However, the classes fall into four broad categories, Tanks, Ranged DPS, Melee DPS and Support/Healers. Most but not all classes (the exceptions are Chaos’ Chosen and the Dwarfs’ Ironbreaker,) have a mirror in the opposing Realm, but even within the pairings there is significant variation; the Goblin Squig Herder is a Ranged DPS class, just like the High Elf Shadow Warrior, its opposite number. But the Squig Herder is a pet class, the Shadow Warrior is not, and the two feel and play completely differently.
The archetypes are fairly self-explanatory, except to note that pretty much all classes can contribute to DPS – even the Tanks and Healers. Some classes are hybrids to some degree or another; the aforementioned Shadow Warrior, for example, is best at range, but can also be effective in melee, and several of the support classes improve their heals by doing damage. Even the Witch Elf, nominally worthless outside of melee, has a very nice ranged snare ability that can mean doom to a fleeing enemy. Generally speaking, for your favored playstyle you should be able to find a class that you’ll enjoy playing in either Realm.
Once they pick a Realm, race and class, players of current-generation MMOs like EverQuest 2, World of Warcraft and Vanguard will be immediately familiar with WAR’s interface and the basic mechanics of play. When you first enter the game, there’ll be an NPC with an icon floating overhead; you run up to the NPC, right-click to talk to them, and accept the quest. Then you go kill stuff. Familiar territory.
But it’s here that WAR’s unique features start to come into play. One of the early quest-givers will send you looking for a book; completing that quest leads you to the Tome of Knowledge, a sort of interactive guidebook that you can call up at any time, and which serves as a chronology of your character’s adventures. It incorporates the quest journal, tracks the character’s kills, and will contain after a rather small amount of play a large amount of lore that you can read through at leisure. ‘Tome Unlocks’, as they’re called, serve as something similar to LotRO’s Deeds or Xbox Live Achievements. Mostly, they are bragging points, but they can also net you titles and cosmetic gear. You can get unlocks by killing things, encountering new species, exploring new areas, and doing various other things like taking a certain amount of damage while naked or surviving a certain number of battles at low health.
So say you complete the first couple of quests and poke around in the Tome of Knowledge for a few minutes. The quests themselves will lead you around, moving you from area to area to pick up new quests. By the time you reach level 3 or so, the natural progression should take you into a Public Quest area.
This is the second innovation that WAR offers, and probably the biggest departure from what’s available in existing MMOs. Essentially, a Public Quest is a quest that you automatically pick up just by being in the area, and can participate in and receive rewards from regardless of whether you’re grouped or not.
There are a couple of important asides here. First, groups in WAR are automatically tagged as ‘open’ unless the group leader specifies otherwise – anybody can join them, and a window that you can call up from the UI lists nearby open groups, how far they are from your current location, and what kind of activity they’re involved in. Anyone can invite to a group, not just the leader, although the leader has to approve invites sent by other members. Being in a group is useful for buffing and healing purposes, and while you might not have to split your XP gains if you’re not in one, it’s likely that you will anyway, so you may as well group – believe me, it’s worthwhile when doing Public Quests, and if no open group exists for whatever the PQ you’re doing, form your own (which is as easy as clicking the grouping window and checking the box that says “interested in forming an Open Group,”) and invite everybody in sight. Standard groups are limited to six players, but you can expand a group with a couple of clicks into a Warband, which accommodates 24 people. For most purposes, being in a Warband is exactly like being in a group, and the interface will be reminiscent of WoW’s raid window.
The PvE questlines of WAR are divided into Chapters, which encompass a range of roughly 3-4 levels each. Each racial starting area has its own progression of Chapters; Chapter 1 contains one Public Quest. For each Chapter, you accumulate Influence by participating in Public Quests; you can cap this Influence out, and at one-third, two-thirds and full, you unlock the ability to acquire Influence rewards from the Rally Master at the Chapter’s quest hub. The lowest-level rewards are consumables; the middle and highest ranks are gear, which is better than the gear you get from doing regular quests in that Chapter.
Public Quests occur in stages; the early Chapter quests generally have three of these. The first phase generally involves killing a large number of mobs, anywhere from 25 to 60. Every mob killed in the area counts toward this goal, however, and even a smallish group can generally finish the phase up fairly quickly. Phase two generally involves either collecting some objects, killing some Champion mobs, or both. Champions are mini-bosses that are much tougher than standard mobs of their level – they’re not impossible to solo, but it’s difficult for many classes. In Phase three, a Hero mob will generally spawn… sometimes two. These are true bosses, impossible to solo at anything like their intended level, and which require either strong teamwork or a great deal of DPS to take down. DPS is not lacking in most PQ situations, however – a single group of six can generally handle them, and there are usually more players around than that – sometimes a lot more.
Completing the final phase of the Public Quest spawns a loot chest, sometimes in a location that may not be obvious, but the chest itself is a big glowy thing with a pillar of light shining from it, so they’re easy to spot. A loot roll is made, with individual players (again, anybody who participated in the quest regardless of their grouped status) getting bonuses to the roll based on their relative contribution. This is not measured strictly by DPS; healers contribute for healing and tanks contribute by taking damage. The highest rolls will get loot bags which contain some desirable piece of gear generally comparable to the Influence rewards. You do need to right-click on the chest to get a loot bag, so random passers-by that killed a mob on their way through won’t actually get anything even if they qualify for a bag. It’s important to note that being in a Public Quest doesn’t lock you out of any other kind of progression; you still get regular XP and can get Tome unlocks, and in fact the XP gains for doing PQs can be very nice, especially if you’re grouped and can get a share of the kill XP for the mobs other players are downing.
Since there’s only one PQ in Chapter 1, you’ll probably need to run it a couple of times to max your influence out and get all the rewards; if you don’t, though, it’s no big deal – Chapter 2 has two or three PQs available, and the Chapter 1 gear won’t be missed for long. All PQs in a single chapter contribute to the same Influence tally, so you combine your Influence from all the PQs.
Around the time you’ve hit your first Public Quest, though, you should have found an NPC who gives you a quest to participate in a Realm vs. Realm scenario. But that’s a lengthy discussion in its own right, and it’ll be the subject of Part 2 of this walkthrough.