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WAR: Stories from the city

Why the MMO's overlooked capitals are its heart.

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.

Superifically, the human capital could be straight out of Saltzburg. Peer into any alley, however, and the period movie gleam disappears.

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.