I was keen to see as much of the game as I could, so rather than trying out a whole variety of classes, I chose to pick and level a sole character as much as I could before Tim started shouting at me about graphics card benchmarking and thermal paste.
Taking your first tentative steps into the game world involves a minimum of hand holding, although unobtrusive gameplay tips constantly appear whenever you encounter a new gameplay mechanic or feature, and the first few quests are a good mix of usual MMO fare of “go here and kill X number of these” and quirky fun like collecting ammo for then firing a piece of artillery at the nearby town.
It’s all very gentle without being condescending, and it was a good hour before I died for the first time. The developers have obviously gone out of their way to make those first few levels both memorable and enjoyable, easing you into the Warhammer universe without going too crazy on the mountains of lore at their disposal.
And there is indeed lore-galore, with every creature, place and notable personality creating an entry into your Tome of Knowledge, a depositary for the fantastic amount of lore and background behind every location, hero and beasty, including a lot of unique artwork commissioned just for the game. Needless to say Warhammer fans are well catered for, but if you’re more interested in the next quest than the lifecycle of a Squig, the Tome is easily overlooked and isn’t central to the game experience.
While the user interface immediately strikes you as astonishingly similar to WoW, with the character controls and hot bar especially familiar, that’s certainly no bad thing, and there are actually plenty of extra UI utilities which you’d need to use a custom UI in WoW to unlock. Inclusions like a co-ordinate display when you open the map which is perfect for finding those tricky to find quest mobs, highlighting map areas where quests are located so you don’t wander the world aimlessly looking for more boars to kill and colour coordinated minimap symbols for quest NPC status seem simple, but make the whole process of questing and levelling much simpler, with you rarely needing to ALT-Tab out to visit FAQ websites for help.
It isn’t long before you encounter one of the WOAoR’s unique features, public quests, normal game world areas in which your faction has a united PvE goal to accomplish in varying stages, usually starting out simple and developing into taking on elite NPCs and then usually champion (double hard) NPCs. Anyone who wanders into the immediate area automatically joins the public quest, and they repeat and reset every few minutes, with players able to dip in and out as they choose, and rewards decided by a rolling system based on your contribution once the quest is completed.
Public quests are the replacements for group quests in other MMOs and work very well, instinctively grouping players without the hassle of spamming “Looking for one more” in chat. However, they seem a little subject to abuse by higher level players, as the roll system at the end of the quest is based on your contribution to it – if you deal the most damage, you’ll receive a roll bonus which puts you in good stead to get the top loot.
Sadly, other than the public quests the game soon develops into the standard MMO affair of get quest, kill stuff, cash in quest, gear up and repeat. The levels pass surprisingly slowly (although thankfully when you need to collect ten wolf paws, every wolf drops one!), and getting around the impressively large game areas soon becomes frustratingly slow by foot. You’ll need to run almost everywhere in WOAoR, albeit with flyers available in larger camps to take you instantly to other game areas and mounts available at higher levels. I don’t mind a quest having me go somewhere far away, but cashing it in only to be told to go straight back to the same place to do something else causes some serious frustration.
Saying that, there is at least a constant feeling of progression in the game, and you’re rewarded experience points for doing almost everything, from discovering new game areas, to speaking to important NPCs, to the standard grind of killing mobs and cashing in quests. It’s just that when you die for the third time trying to complete a particularly tricky quest and once again have to run for five minutes to get back to the quest area you start to wonder how you’re spending your game time. In those five minutes you’re doing nothing but steering your character around mobs and it’s obviously just a time sink element to draw out the process of levelling.