It takes a while before you notice that you've bumped into someone. You're trying to run forward, and annoyingly something seems to be blocking your path. A lump of rock on the ground, perhaps, or some errant clipping. A forwards jump should sort it. Hmm, no. How about a step to the left? Wait. What? A person. It's a person that's in your way.
It's really a shock to encounter that physicality, partly because we're so accustomed to MMO characters being spookily intangible, all ghostly goblins and spectral superheroes, and partly because all of WAR's beasties are similarly fog-like when in regular questing. There's no more potent sign that you've stepped into a proper fight than suddenly finding your formerly ethereal enemies have turned rock-hard. Character collision detection is not simply WAR's signal that you're now in a player-versus-player situation: it's also a proud statement that this is where the game really is.
It's one of many reasons that Scenarios, WAR's instanced player-versus-player battlegrounds, are proving one of the game's biggest draws. At your own request, you're dropped into an enclosed, evenly-matched conflict free from the usual aimless wandering and killing x of x for x experience points, where the frontline is something real. Or at least it is if the opposing "tank" classes are doing their job: a wall of meat between you and your goal, be that their fragile healers and spellcasters, or one of the Scenario's objectives. You can push through them, but you'll be slowed down by their armoured bulk, making you easy prey for the slings and arrows of your outrageous enemies.
Speaking of those objectives, they're a symptom of what WAR gets both most right and most wrong. Right: always ensuring you've got something fast, satisfying and combat-centric to achieve, with none of the waiting around and grinding of... well, I won't bring up That Other Game here. Wrong: guarding capture points for a set number of seconds, or running a flag to specific spots to score points is so inescapably gamey, so artificial. That's WAR all over, the most instantly gratifying MMO around in its UI-cluttering, clearly-marked maps and objectives - but a less organic world for it. It's a place of inflexible rules.
Which is no bad thing. The Scenarios are, after all, very much a sport. They're a contest of will and skill between two teams, with the winner decided by the points scored come the final whistle. There's push and pull, there are last minute shock comebacks, and there are very real effects of demoralisation. Marvellously, WAR does its best to level the playing field every time: players at a lower level than the Scenario's average are bumped up a few levels for the duration. They won't have access to abilities they haven't earned yet, but they'll be rendered hardy enough to survive, and even to win. A player more than a couple of levels higher than that average, meanwhile, won't even be allowed into that Scenario. Instead, he'll have to head off to the next one, where he'll find he's the relative underdog once again.
Players have nonetheless complained that there's some imbalance, with some forming unspoken gentlemen's agreements that anyone higher than the Scenario's recommended doesn't step into it, but for the most part these battlegrounds are a very fair fight. They're a contest of ability and astuteness: anyone can achieve great things, so long as he's good at his class and good at communicating with his group.
This focus on player skill as much as on character skills has inevitably led to some elitism. There's often someone barking orders or criticising failure, while Guild members will bitterly relate community tales of hopeless groups they ended up in to the rest of their WAR community. WAR's a very young game, but it only took days for the first accusations of "noob" to appear.
The Scenarios (and in fact, the game as a whole) are built in such a way that reckless pile-ons aren't entirely unsuccessful, in the same way that button-mashing pays off to a point in Tekken, but there is this lurking sense that at the high levels they'll revolve around very complex and very careful strategies. There's an element of American football's plays to it: who goes where, the best route to take, prediction of which points the enemy will charge first.
Scenarios are all built around the same rules and skills as WAR's PVE, and, refreshingly, each player-kill earns standard experience points as well as the PVP-specific Renown points, but in many ways they're entirely different games. The American football analogy applies again: what looks to a casual observer like an almighty scrum of brawling titans is (if you are in a decent party, or better yet playing with trusted guild-buddies) underlaid with careful tactics.
While it remains to be seen if WAR's somewhat rudimentary PVE (outside of the excellent public quests) remains much of a draw once its early months are over, it's very clear Scenarios aren't going anywhere. The overarching Realm-versus-Realm metagame promises to move into something similar to Planetside, a slow shift of territory ownership, but at the moment it's tricky to find a guaranteed fight out in the open world, and certainly not a balanced one.
Scenarios offer definite action in large groups, something that can be time-consuming and awkward to bring about in other recent MMOs. Still, they're not as instant as anyone would like - WAR is somewhat defined by its queues at the moment, both to access your server in the first place, and to join Scenarios. An imbalance in the number of players wanting to join one can lead to huge, miserable waits - and the players' general favouring of the arguably more characterful, cooler Destruction races over the Tolkien-straight Order factions means this is happening far too often.
It may sort itself out as the initial frenzy around the game settles down and, hopefully, the sides even out. Or perhaps Mythic can come up with an ingenious way of alleviating the hanging around. Better yet, get out an expansion pack featuring an incredibly awesome new Order race as soon as possible. Lizardmen, anyone?