How to play Warhammer Online alone, but together: a beginner's guide to Public Quests.
There are four kinds of conversation in MMOs: terrifyingly complicated strategising, endless moaning about imbalances, enthusiastic but awkward roleplaying and total silence. That latter is surprisingly common, a vast number of players choosing to get on with things in their own time rather than acknowledge the existence of anyone else. Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning respects that. In fact, it's quite a quiet game throughout, as it's so focused on constant conflict and activity that there just isn't time to hang about complaining that the Shaman is overpowered. Crucially though, it's found a way to merge that total silence with group play.
There's a lot of talk about how WAR is a player-versus-player game. Certainly that's going to be the case in the long run for most of its players, but nonetheless an enormous part of the game revolves around traditional questing and looting, which is what quieter players are likely to stick to.
There's been this problem in other MMOs that a fair old whack of players are, for one reason or another, anti-social. They want to keep their heads down and crack on with tasks under their own steam. The trouble is that this way they miss out on the bigger baddies and bigger rewards of group quests. Public Quests are an answer to that: they're mass-scale group quests in which you don't have to share a single word with anyone if you don't want to. Just within the space of WAR's first few days they've proven one of its biggest draws.
All you have to do is stumble over to one and start hitting things: your actions automatically add to the overall task for everyone. So there's no need to roll your eyes in disbelief when a note saying you need to kill 100 militiamen pops onto your screen - even with just half a dozen players, that'll take no more than a few minutes. Once done, there'll be a second stage, which generally involves slaying just a few super-tough baddies. There's a bit more emphasis here on working together, at least compared to the wild free-for-all of the first stage, but all that really means is hitting the same thing as someone else rather than tackling an enemy on your own.
It's subtly introducing the rudiments of team-play to those who usually hate and fear it, but again, absolutely no communication is necessary. Which makes a lot of sense, really: WAR is a war, and wars generally don't involve soldiers introducing themselves to one another and politely inviting them into their party just so they can go fight the enemy together. The final stage is always something substantial: a boss foe, whether it's a hard-as-nails hero character, or some epic monster like a dragon or demon. Cue a massive pile-on and, presuming the fight goes well, a sense of heroism generally reserved for the climax of a three-hour dungeon run.
Only, this whole process has taken less than 20 minutes, and didn't require any of the tedious organisation and hanging around waiting for people to fly over that your everyday raid does. It's one of the reasons people play MMOs: to fight something really, really big. At last, it's something you can just go and do, rather than put the amount of effort required to organise a charity fun-run into it beforehand.
While you're earning XP and gold from all your Public Quest kills, there's also an extra something you're building up. Influence is only available in PQs, and is what you need to unlock some of WAR's best non-PVP rewards. Each PQ kill or stage completion earns you more Influence points, which like the Public Quests themselves, span three tiers. Winning enough Influence for tier 1 unlocks a token potion; the second tier gets you a choice of minor gear such as gloves or boots, while tier 3 will have a particularly saucy piece of armour or a shiny new weapon.
That's the short-term personal goal that will drag you into PQs, even if you're traditionally a solo MMO player; everyone wants that sweet, sweet loot. It's a cunning system because, as much as giving PVE players something to do outside of the usual kill'n'collect quests, it's gently involving them with the massed battles WAR is founded on. So, when they finally do stumble into a Realm-versus-Realm Scenario or Battlefield, the switch from PVE to PVP will feel a little less jarring.
Public Quests are generally one big pile-on, but there are definite ways and means to make them more productive. First and foremost is grouping: you don't have to do it, but you'll earn more influence and XP if you do, as you'll get a share of everyone in the party's kills. That's where Open Parties come in - groups you can join without an invitation. In fact, all parties are set to open by default, so remember to uncheck the option if you don't want random weirdos joining you and your chums.
When you wander into a PQ, though, just click the party button underneath your character's icon and you'll get a list of any open parties in the area. Then you can wordlessly join one and profit from their killing. It's not necessary, but it does mean you'll earn influence that much more quickly. In fact, in those PQs that are right next to quest hubs, being in a group is pretty much the only way to achieve anything, as they're currently so overpopulated that it's hilariously difficult to get a few swipes at a monster before a dozen other players wipe it off the face of the planet. In the best of all worlds, almost everyone involved fuses their groups into a Warband, but then you're into the realm of organisation and - gasp - actually talking to other players, so this will likely be a relative rarity.
Which leads us onto another tip: avoid those Public Quests. By all means give them a single run-through just to get a crack at whatever its end-boss is, but if you want to earn enough influence for the maximum reward, you might have to run that that one PQ five or six times. No doubt it'll calm down a little once the game's been running for a few weeks and every player isn't progressing at the same rate, but right now the PQs within sighting distance of respawn points are far too crammed.
What people either don't realise or can't be bothered with is that there are multiple PQs per ‘Chapter' of the game. While each Chapter has its own Influence bar and rewards, every PQ within a Chapter pools together. Take the time to run a little further out and you'll soon find another PQ with just a handful of savvy players in it. It'll take longer to complete, but you'll contribute so much more that you'll only need to run it a couple of times to win the mega-loot. Again, expect this to sort itself out over time - indeed, there's a risk the early PQs will become entirely redundant if there aren't enough new players wandering through them once the majority of WAR's populace hits the high levels.
Until then, just go enjoy beating up a whole lot of stuff. Killing 100 Dog Soldiers isn't a grind when two dozen people are doing it with you: it's a circus.