The European games press congregated in Paris this week to see EA Mythic's forthcoming massively multiplayer fantasy game, Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. Mythic, respected for its work on Dark Age of Camelot, picked up the Warhammer licence from Games Workshop in 2005 (after Climax had dropped it). The studio was purchased the following year by EA, the super-publisher in search of its first MMO hit.
Although fans were disappointed to learn that the game would suffer a further delay to the end of this year, Mythic offered details of the Collector's Edition as a consolation. It also went into exhaustive detail on several interesting features of Warhammer Online's game design that set it apart from genre bedfellows World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings Online. These include the "Realm versus Realm" (or RVR) system, developed from Dark Age of Camelot's, that pits the game's six races against each other in epic war efforts to sack each other's capital cities; the Tome of Knowledge, a slick combination of character profile, achievements system and in-game wiki; and Public Quests, which are dynamic encounters for large groups of players that anyone can walk into and join at any point.
We sat down with senior producer Jeff Hickman to discuss these features, the reasons for the delay, and life as an EA-owned studio. For more detailed info on the game and hands-on impressions, look out for a full preview in the coming days.
Eurogamer: Warhammer Online seems like it's aimed mostly at Warhammer fans and hardcore MMO players because there are a lot of interesting new mechanics in the game for them. Is that a fair assessment?
Jeff Hickman: I don't know if it's a fair assessment - but I don't necessarily think it's unfair. Let me expand on that a little bit. I think you're right that first and foremost, our market, the people that we're looking at: Warhammer fans. Of course. We want every single person who's ever played Warhammer to come and play our game. All the people who sat down and painted and loved their miniatures, or played the Warhammer fantasy, or read the books, we want them to come and see the world for the first time, to feel what it's like to run around in it.
Next, I think we look at PVP [player versus player] fans. Our PVP is something that sets us apart. RVR is something that is so deep and so detailed that nobody else has done before, and that nobody touches. You go look at some of those other games, especially those other big games, and you look at how many PVP servers they have, there are a lot of PVP players out there. And our game is for them. The way we do RVR is going to blow them away.
But beyond that, there is definitely an accessibility element in our game where it's very solo-friendly, we have a huge PVE game that you can play through and have a great time with, that you can solo all the way through if you really want to. In a lot of places it's quick in and quick out, and public quests are an example of that. On the RVR side, you can enter any scenario as a solo player... In many respects it's probably the most casual-friendly PVP game that's around.
Eurogamer: Where do you stand on the MMO grind? It seems to be a contentious issue - at the moment, developers are falling over themselves to say that players hate it and their games won't feature it. But is that true? A lot of people seem to really love one particular game that features a fair amount of grinding...
Jeff Hickman: That is a very, very difficult question to answer, not because I don't have an answer, but because it's my opinion. And it really is. You will find people within EA and within the Mythic studio who will say everything you just said - "Oh, we're trying to get away from the grind," that kind of stuff.
The way I look at it - I think [Creative Director] Paul Barnett said it best. We think of our games as a hobby, just like any other hobby that you do. Let's just talk about golf for a second. So, as a golfer, the game is about hitting the ball and putting it in the hole. How about walking between the holes? Is that a grind? Isn't it part of the game? Isn't being out on the fairway, walking along, talking to your friends, the stuff between hitting the ball - isn't that part of the game too? Isn't stopping at the ninth hole and getting a beer and a pack of smokes and washing your clubs, and washing the ball and teeing up and all of the stuff that you do as a golfer - isn't that the game?
I look at our game that way. All of the stuff you do in the game is the game. I want to give a lot of choice, I want to give you a lot of things to do, and I want to leave it up to you how you want to play it. Now I think that there is a limit to that. When people say grind to me, it's a consistently repetitive, non-fun activity where you're just doing the same thing over and over and over.
Eurogamer: Sitting in the practice nets, just hitting ball after ball after ball after ball.
Jeff Hickman: Exactly. You're not playing the game at that point, you're just hitting the ball over and over... Does that mean that there's not going to be times that you don't kill the same monster ever? Of course not, and as a matter of fact, some people really like that. That's fine, we wouldn't mind that, if that's how they want to have fun in the game, I don't care.