Like many MMORPG projects of the time trying to find their niche, Warhammer Online takes many of the best qualities from its predecessors and adapts them for a more PVP-focused approach. Although I didn’t have a chance to play it on its initial release, I’ve wanted to jump into the world of Warhammer for a long time to see what inspired some of my favorite features from Rift, another MMO from times gone by. Public quests, in particular, piqued my interest, as they offer a unique play experience for players who prefer fighting NPCs rather than players of the opposite faction. Like most theme park MMOs, Warhammer seemingly has something for everyone but appeals specifically to those who heed the call to war and fans of the well-established IP.
When the game was originally being marketed, a large part of their outreach went into a series of production updates and videos that highlighted their design decisions and delved into specific details for all of the classes and specializations. This was when I originally heard about the project. The first class that jumped straight out at me was the Chaos Marauder, a melee class who specializes in mutating their body into various horrific forms. Similar to stance dancing as a Warrior in World of Warcraft, the Marauder can switch between several mutations to quickly adjust their playstyle. Needless to say, the first toon I rolled up was a Marauder with a giant mutated arm, so I christened him Fisterroboto.
Once I got over the dated graphics, I was absorbed into the world of Warhammer and wanted to explore all that it had to offer. The normal questing experience is very similar to pre-Cataclysm World of Warcraft, asking players to navigate through areas with plenty of monsters to slay, quests to complete, gather resources, and larger obstacles to overcome as a group. What makes Warhammer Online stand apart, however, is the ability to begin PVPing straight out of the gate and teleport around the world to where the action is actually happening. After leveling from 1 to 10 and figuring out how to play a Marauder effectively, I entered a player versus player zone to see what all the fuss was about.
The War Report offers players the ability to see exactly what is happening on the server at that time and teleport to whatever area or event might interest them most. Seeing that a nearby PvP zone was contested against the Order, I decided to lend my allies aid in battle. After wandering around and sneaking through caves, I found myself teaming up with a few other Destruction players to capture objectives, gather war supplies for our side, and slay oncoming Order players. Although we were outnumbered, my Squig Herder pals and I fought valiantly, using guerilla tactics to target players left out from their group and cut off supply routes for the enemy forces. After gathering a small war band and sieging an enemy watchtower, we were unfortunately defeated by another zerg of Order players. They not only outnumbered us, but they also had plenty of support and healer classes to help keep their melee players alive. After regrouping at the respawn location and trying again a few times, I called it quits and tried a few different classes.
With my melee DPS character out of the way, I wanted to try some of the ranged classes that Warhammer has to offer. First on my list was the aptly named Squig Herder, the Destruction’s ranged pet class. Like many of the class designs in Warhammer Online, the Squig Herder has a unique ability that drastically changes their playstyle on the fly. Called Squig Armor, this ability allows the Goblin player to be swallowed whole by one of their pet squigs while controlling it from the inside of its mouth. Being able to switch from a ranged DPS class to a giant angry meatball at my whim was worth trying out the class alone. I also tried my hand at the Order’s Shadow Hunter, the Elf equivalent of the Squig Herder sans an animal companion. The Shadow Hunter swaps between stances, including a ranged stance for sniping, a melee-oriented stance, and a short-ranged stance as well. Finally, I tried my hands at the Warrior Priest, a melee healing class for the humans. Surprisingly, even the heal-bots have interesting mechanics to juggle while ensuring that their teammates are topped off. The Warrior Priest’s abilities generate Righteous Fury which can be spent on healing spells or buffs, transferring the player’s offense into defense for their party.
If I had any complaint while leveling my various characters, it was that itemization felt strange at times and there weren’t enough reasons to explore my surroundings besides finding a stray public quest across a zone or searching for an opposing player looking to throw down. When a monster drops loot in Warhammer Online, there is a chance that it will not be an item you will be able to use. Since classes are so specialized, both in terms of playstyle and in terms of their equipment, most pieces of gear are only able to be used by specific classes. This means that after an adventuring session, a player may have collected one or two items that they’ll actually be able to use and eighteen others that they can sell as vendor trash. While this felt strange at first, it could just be a case of MMO culture shock since World of Warcraft had me selling just as many gray items to vendors and I couldn’t even trade those off to other players if they really needed them. Theoretically, the design should encourage players to interact, trade, and, hopefully, build connections, but I couldn’t be bothered and ended up selling most of the gear I collected for the spare change they were worth.
Warhammer Online’s streamlined design offers players who are accustomed to World of Warcraft’s quality of life changes plenty of ways to navigate the world with ease. This, however, diminishes the feeling that there is a thriving world out there in the first place, rather than a series of zones connected by flight paths. This isn’t to say that the game lacks areas to explore, but that there just doesn’t seem to be much reason to do it. Thankfully, the landscapes and outposts are well designed both in aesthetics and in function. There’s something oddly thrilling about riding your trusty steed over a demolished siege weapon and up onto the broken wall of an enemy fort or sneaking through a deserted cave to assault the enemy from behind.
After taking a good share of Order and Destruction classes for a spin, I think it’s safe to say that I really enjoy Warhammer. Sure, it has plenty of faults, chief among them that the only way to play it currently is on a private server, but what it loses in graphical fidelity and strange mob pathing/animations, it makes up for tenfold in style, charm, and its overall presentation. For a twelve-year-old PvP-centric MMORPG based on a franchise that has seen better days, Warhammer Online still stands the test of time against stiff competition in the MMO space. The fact that I’m actively playing it over other modern games that I’ve spent a considerable amount of money on is a testament to how well the game was made and how much passion and hard work the community has put into keeping it alive all this time. If you’re willing to delve into the world of private servers, you owe it to yourself to give Warhammer Online a try regardless of whether you’re a returning veteran looking to claim a few more skulls for your throne or an MMO fan looking to sink their teeth into something new.