The public apology starts here. Mythic copped a fair chunk of flak for the late revelation that they'd axed four classes and four cities from Warhammer Online. The grand, sprawling world we'd been anticipating suddenly seemed smaller and more ordinary. Indeed, MMOs breaking their own promises is something that happens with depressing regularity - look at the difference between what Conan was meant to be and what it is. Whither those severed limbs?
To Mythic's credit, it's gradually working on reinstating the cut content, and it looks as though it'll be free rather than in paid expansions. Take last week's much-anticipated 1.1 patch, which introduced two new tank classes to the game. You really don't get many MMOs that offer up a new class for no-pennies, let alone two of the beggars. Mythic's developers haven't broken any promises - they're just taking their time.
These are not just throwaway bonuses, either - the new classes are about balance, levelling out the playing field, and bringing the slightly unruly team-play closer in line with MMO tradition. It seems incredible in retrospect that WAR had fewer tank classes than it did healers (4 to 6, to be precise). This is, after all, a game about constant fighting. With the Dark Elves and Empire humans finally having a front-line beefcake amongst their number, the player-versus-player game's set to become that much more visceral.
These tanks can dish out a fair amount of damage, but their main purpose is to hold the line - to absorb the slings and arrows of their enemies, and to act as a meat-shield for their frailer allies. Warhammer has that collision detection in PVP for a reason, after all, and it comes into its own when applied to a tall fella with a massive shield.
The new classes are interesting, and possibly game-changing. Like so many of WAR's 22 careers, while they're rough mirrors of classes on the opposing side, they're definitely their own entities. The Dark Elf Black Guard is perhaps the most conventional class in the game to date, and that's not said in a negative sense - just that this is a pure front-line assault troop without the funny business that characterises his peers and foes. Like World of Warcraft's Warrior, he (or she) builds up a special energy bar as he fights - here known as Hate rather than Rage - which powers his more devastating attacks. So it's vital to take a Black Guard down fast, before he builds up so much Rage that he becomes an unstoppable force.
The closest analogue is the Dwarf Ironbreaker, but this guy's a whole lot more self-interested than that redoubtable shortie. The Black Guard has no powers that aid his allies - simply ones which increase his own offence and defence. Crucially, the Guard's naturally quite resistant to magical attacks - something you can increase significantly if you take his talents down the Path of Anguish - which means he's not fodder for all those back-row mages while he's busy holding the front line. His presence could really shake up the PVP game. Those Bright Wizards might not look so smug now.
The human Empire's Knight of The Blazing Sun is a fresher take on tanking, and as a result his effect on the war effort is subtler, but likely to be hugely effective as players get to grips with him. It's possible, though, that you won't see too many Knights wandering about, as playing one requires a certain degree of philanthropy - while powerful, they're certainly not an ideal class for lone rangers.
The Knight's abilities focus as much on buffing the rest of his party as on doling out damage, so they lack the more immediate appeal of the Black Guard. It's the thinking man's Tank, in other words. They have a few similarities to the Paladin archetype of MMOs - decent enough powerhouses in their own right, but they need to balance the offence with caretaking their fellows. For instance, head down the Path of Glory and you'll find yourself casting buffs that increase the amount of healing your party enjoys, and decreases the enemy's. Not that a Knight has any healing abilities himself - he's a sort of front-line commander character rather than an armoured priest.
So, two pretty meaty additions, and certainly not token efforts to bolster the ranks. The sometimes bewildering pile-ons of Scenarios will hopefully become more colourful and more tactical affairs now that there are six remarkably distinct flavours of tank to choose from. Whether or not they're exciting enough to help repopulate WAR's flagging servers remains to be seen. Everyone currently playing is bound to roll one as an alt, and definitely should, but it's not as though they're shaking the game up enough to lure back lapsed subscribers.
It'll likely take the restoration of the axed Greenskin, Dwarf, Dark Elf and High Elf cities to do that, as they're the best hope of amping up the personality of what's otherwise a somewhat functional world. At present, the starting areas are still pretty desolate, despite the new classes. That's no doubt why one of the less headline-making aspects of the recent patching is the reduction in the difficulty of Public Quests. There just aren't enough souls around, especially in the earlier zones, to complete the PQs, so making them more achievable for smaller groups is the best hope of keeping this great but currently faltering idea relevant.
Mythic has been claiming that is plan is to ‘fix' WAR before working on a full expansion, and that hopefully means we can expect more patches of this magnitude. While this one may not address some of the more fundamental problems with the game, it's an incredibly generous freebie that definitely adds real worth.