Last month Mythic Entertainment quietly renamed itself as BioWare Mythic, and emerged as one of four BioWare studios currently hard at work making videogame magic happen.
A basic rule of thumb you'll need as you explore the Land of the Dead, the Egyptian-esque new area due to expand the world of Warhammer Online later this year: if it's big, you can bet it's going to take a pop at you sooner or later. Whether it's a giant, apparently long-dead skeleton, a mighty obelisk with a strangely glowing light at the top or a skyscraper-sized statue of an evil pharaoh, it has little interest in simply being architecture. The Land of the Dead aims to impress, and few things achieve that more successfully than giant stuff coming unexpectedly to life and clobbering you.
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?
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.”
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.
How to play Warhammer Online alone, but together: a beginner's guide to Public Quests.
Mythic boss Mark Jacobs is a busy fellow this week, as Warhammer Online launches globally tomorrow. The last thing he needed to be doing was clarifying sarcastic quips made by Paul Barnett about owner EA and its competency at launching MMOs in Europe, then. Well, not exactly; for Jacobs this is all part of the run up to launch. And, after all, he should know, having been at the helm of arguably the smoothest online world arrival with Dark Age of Camelot nearly seven years ago.
Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning launches this week, and its outspoken creative director and frontman Paul Barnett is reaching the end of an exhausting, interminable PR tour. We followed up our review (Barnett: "You're very naughty!") with a chat at the Games Workshop Games Day, held last Sunday at Birmingham's NEC Arena.
There's nothing quite like an MMO launch. These games are laden with so much detail, have been in development for so long, have so much blood, sweat and tear-soaked money stacked up behind them, that the run-up to launch takes on a momentous significance. While it's true that all MMOs - subscribers willing - have long developmental journeys ahead of them, that only seems to add more weight to the occasion. If an ordinary game launch is a sprinter leaping out of the blocks, an MMO's introduction to the world is more like an ocean liner easing out the shipyard for the first time, while a crowd of thousands waves little handkerchiefs in black-and-white.
When we last played Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning a few months back, we came away impressed by the Mythic MMO's ideas, but concerned about its look, its basic combat mechanics and its feel. Like it or not, this is a game aimed at World of Warcraft's heartlands - a colourful, traditional, grind-happy, high-fantasy RPG romp. That means it's bound to be judged by the highest standards of quality and polish in the MMO world. If it's found wanting, the battle could be over before it's begun, and the announcement of feature cuts didn't do anything to assuage fears.
Looked at from one angle, Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning is a game with everything going for it. It has a licence perfectly suited to a massively multiplayer RPG with the kind of classical high fantasy setting that has been the basis of virtually every successful MMO to date, from Ultima to Lord of the Rings. It has an experienced developer in the form of Mythic, creators of Dark Age of Camelot, and the bottomless resources of Mythic's new owners EA (although GOA will publish and operate the game in Europe). It has another few months in development to ensure it's as good as it can be. It has a wide-open path to the mainstream, conveniently bulldozed by genre phenomenon World of Warcraft. It has simple, familiar basics backed up by a truckload of big and rather brilliant ideas.
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.
It's fair to describe EA Mythic's Warhammer as one of the most keenly anticipated massively multiplayer games on the slate right now - so the groans and frustrated harrumphs heard when the company announced a three month delay to its launch schedule earlier today are only to be expected.
Written on the whiteboard in executive producer Jeff Hickman's office is the legend, "Fun, you f***ers." It was scrawled there - unsanitised, we might add - as a reminder by Mythic's eccentric and excitable British-imported creative director, Paul Barnett. Jeff and Paul, along with the more sedate and composed producer, Lance Robertson, present a force to be reckoned with. They intend to make an MMO that won't get crushed under Blizzard's might, instead helping the genre take an evolutionary step forward. Their emphasis, driven by the long-established character of the Warhammer licence, is on brutal fun.