The trouble with ravaged fantasy worlds locked in constant battle between man, monsters and short beardy fellows is that they don't leave a whole lot of options for socialising and sight-seeing. “Fancy meeting for a coffee? Great. I'll meet you by the torture pits. Wear something you don't mind getting splattered in ichor.”
WAR really isn't geared towards hanging out, or even simply taking in the world. It is a player-versus-player world, and it's singled-minded in living up to its acronym. There's a reasonable chance that this competitive intensity will keep a lot of potential players at bay. At the same time there is one specific area in which it puts a lid on its temper and relaxes into some expert world-building. Much has been made of its two capital cities being the ultimate goal of the looping Realm-versus-Realm conflict, but they're also something else: the social and architectural heart of WAR.
If you've ever visited The Inevitable City, the sprawling Chaos fortress that's the bastion of the Destruction forces, you'll know that it's almost like stepping into a different game. WAR's open plains give way to a warped amethyst monolith, locked in darkness and towering over the skyline. It's huge, and it'll take many visits before you can navigate by memory rather than by map. World of Warcraft's capitals, by contrast, look like comfortable hamlets, tiny and convenient where this is massive and wilfully disorientating. This is truly a city.
Of course, it serves many of the same purposes as traditional MMO capitals do. It's a hive of trainers and traders, it's home to guild registration and banking, and it's got a few quests for players tired of the main world's sprawl. These are the reasons to visit it, but they're not its real purpose. What it really does is define what the Destruction races are, and what they're trying to turn the Warhammer world into.
Wander around its centre and you'll see barbaric types battling each other for the sheer hell of it, legions of Nurgle Plaguebearers lurking malevolently on thoroughfares, and sheer drops into some nameless abyss. It's weird, demonic and hostile, and it's what Chaos want to turn everything into. You only get an inkling of that in the main world.
For Chaos specifically, it's also proof that this demon race aren't solely the surly blokes with tentacles that WAR's player classes suggests they are. As every good Warhammer geek will already know, there are four major Chaos gods. They're vaguely thematically akin to the four horsemen of the apocalypse, only Famine and Death are replaced by an S&M hermaphrodite and Evil Big Bird. The lore behind these gods is so long and complex that at least 80% of the above generalisation will be immediately picked to pieces by Men Who Know It All.
WAR's playable Chaos are servants of just one god - Tzeentch, lord of change. Hence all the stuff with the tentacles. In the Inevitable City, however, you'll find enclaves of the others' followers - the sordid sex-mutants of Slaanesh, the pestilent people of Nurgle and the war-obsessed soldiers of Khorne. This isn't a city where friendly NPCs hang around offering cod-Shakespearian soundbytes. Instead, it's huge rooms of constant, malevolent activity, showing Chaos at its most chaotic. Sure, the Dark Elves and Orks get in on the action, but they're plain and obvious in their motivations compared to this madness.
It's reflected in the nature of the city. You can easily get over to it as early as level 10 or so, only to find yourself assaulted and almost instantly killed in a corridor by an escaped level 30 Chaos Spawn. Your initial reaction will likely be outrage: “it's not fair!” It's really not. And this never claimed to be a fair place. Capering, deadly horrors suit it utterly. You can hang out with other players in The Inevitable City, but until you're high level the place is so risky that you're better off doing it in Khorne's perpetual war room than in alleyways and dark corners.
The Order Capital, the human Empire's Germanic city of Altdorf, is a very different place. It's just as big and, like everything in WAR, lacks some of the gloss and charm of WOW or Lord of the Rings Online, but it's recognisably a fantasy city. Cobbled streets, chunky stone buildings - very European. This is what Order are fighting for. Well, except it's really dirty. Altdorf is not a picture postcard - it's grim and crumbling, full of squalor and fear - as much because of the ongoing war as because of the despotism and aggression of the Empire's rulers.
Beggars are everywhere, the docks are patrolled by thugs, vicious Skaven hide amongst the rubble, and the sewers... well, don't go into the sewers if you want to live. Wander into the Blow-Hole Tavern, built from the hull of a great ship, and you'll likely kick off a mass bar brawl. Which means a Public Quest, a free-for-all fight against a legion of boozy ne'er do wells. That's just the kind of place Altdorf is.
WAR's player-versus-environment content largely hasn't been realised anywhere near as well as its PVP. Its general questing quickly becomes lacklustre and there's a saminess even to the ingenious Public Quests after a while (that's presuming there's enough players around to tackle one with in the first place). The cities, though, are a statement of what WAR could and should be. Warhammer's isn't a world of men slapping each other for points in ever-resetting scenarios - it's two diametrically opposed empires whose attitudes are reflected in the very walls around them.
The original plan was for each of WAR's six races to have their own capital, but the Greenskin, Dwarf, High Elf and Dark Elf cities were controversially cut during development. There's still talk of plans to reinstate them, and frankly it should be a top priority for Mythic, more so than the new classes they've got in the pipeline. All those really mean is more man-slapping. WAR's character, world-building and socialising is at its absolute best in Altdorf and The Inevitable City - again, to the extent that they feel like you've just strode into another game entirely. More of that, please.