Table-top strategy turns to fantasy role-playing and an online audience.
I usually tend to associate, in a down-right narrow-minded fashion, the wares of Games Workshop and their Warhammer products with a band of bearded-types who tend to have a penchant for real Ale. The games have always been similarly styled, but since the explosion in popularity of Harry Potter and the renaissance of all things Tolkien, the similarly mythic games, creatures and environs of Warhammer are undergoing something of a resurgence in fame. This new found popularity and acceptance should be helped in gaming-circles no-end by the arrival of Warhammer Online too, a new ‘social’ twist on the theme, as the Warhammer world makes it into a massively multiplayer role-playing title, based on the original table-top fantasy game. Warhammer Online is currently in development at UK-based Climax, most notably famous for such titles as Theme Park World and Populous: The Beginning. Redmond’s own, Microsoft, are also lending a hand, to help Climax perfect the net side of things thus ensuring a (hopefully) smooth massively-multiplayer launch. Which would be something of a first. Indeed, Games Workshop appear to placing a lot of faith in the success of Warhammer Online, with the formation of Warhammer online Ltd., the corporate bracket under which the new game will fall. General Manager Robin Dews had this to say, “The success of our Lord of the Rings game - based on an exclusive license from New Line Films - has encouraged us to take a more cheerful approach to media relations rather than simply communicating directly to customers through the pages of our own White Dwarf magazine or website.” Thusly I begin this preview… The game itself originally began life as a 3D strategy affair, based heavily on the world and tactics of the table top games, however this has rapidly evolved into a game that “offers players cooperation and competition in equal measure” – hence a fantasy RPG was the logical choice, with players entering the game as humble adventurers. Through exploration, co-operation and occasional dismemberment, the adventurer will then battle against his environs, rising to fame to become an eventual hero. It really is quite a prospect, but not one without some very stiff competition, the apparently fairly traditional RPG ethics behind Warhammer being very similar to the likes of Everquest II and Dragon Empires, two other high-profile role-playing games competing for subscriptions. Those who are familiar with the creations of Games Workshop, will be pleased to note the familiarity of the world in Warhammer Online, the landscape for the first episode being the area of the Empire between the River Reik and the Grey Mountains, stretching from Marienburg in the north to the foothills of the Black Mountains in the south. “This is a landscape that is well known to Warhammer players be they tabletop gamers, role-players or simply fans of Games Workshop’s comic books and fiction.” Sadly, I’m neither – but it promises to be a truly vast area and diverse fantasy realm to explore. Climax are also promising to expand this explorable world into other reaches of the Warhammer landscape, ensuring that as the player-base grows, so will the number of challenges, etc. Warhammer Online will employ a ninety-minute day/night cycle, which will be reflected in the activities of the world’s inhabitants and the scenery. Indeed, Climax are promising a world so huge that it will take the hardened adventurer approximately eighteen hours to cross the playable world. Apparently, the most fearsome races of the Warhammer world have been reserved for the game to deploy itself, thus challenging the player, however you’ll still be able to pick your character from a number of races – Human, Dwarf, Elf, Halfling or Ogre, but whether you play them as ‘good’ or ‘evil’ is really up to you. Though both choices offer new numerous pros and cons. A traditional class system won’t feature in the game, however, we’re promised a system based on three player attributes; “friends, possessions, and skills”. From these a player’s ranking, or power, will derive. A number of particular attributes in the game are still to be decided upon, for example what happens when you die, as Robin Dews says “…in terms of its feel, the Warhammer world is brutal, grubby, frequently cruel, often absurd and inevitably uncaring.”, and it this ethos that will prove problematic to implement, whilst still maintaining enough incentive for the adventurer to keep adventuring. So now I leave you with that puzzle to consider, whilst we await a little more information on this darkly gothic offering from the champion of all things slightly mysterious, Games Workshop. In the meantime please enjoy this article’s screenshots, taken from around the world of Warhammer Online; a place many MMORPG’ers may soon be journeying if Climax have their way.