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July 31, 2007
ComicCon 2007 - Warhammer: A Sneak Peek with the Producer

by Mark Arsenault

I had the pleasure of stopping by the EA / Mythic booth at ComicCon in San Diego. There was a dazzling array of flat panel monitors and PCs showcasing their upcoming MMO title of Warhammer. The booth itself was packed with a horde of avid fans, all clamoring for a chance to play the beta of the game that was running. Producer Lance Robertson was accommodating despite the frenzy, and granted me a brief interview. Read on for the juicy details!

Mark: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today at ComicCon San Diego. I know you have a lineup of people behind me, so I'll be as concise as I can. I read on the Warhammer web site that you expect players will be able to avoid either PvP or PvE entirely, is they so desire. How much of the game really are they going to miss? Are they going to feel like they are still taking an active role, or more of a sideline role in aiding the war effort for their realm?

Lance: The way it works is that everything is geared around the war, all the quests you can do contribute to the overall war effort. Everything is intertwined, but you can dodge the RvR if you want to and play solely PvE, or you can play solely RvR. Either way you can level up without a problem. It's our intent that we would see a mix, but we're not going to force anyone's hand, because some people just may not enjoy that. We'd prefer to see a mix, because the game is geared for that, and we think they'd be missing out. Players are not going to be gimped, it's not like they are ending up with something less, as there is a full plate of PvE content available throughout the world.

Mark: The RvR style of combat and the use of that term on your web site implies that you intend it to be somewhat similar to what those familiar with Dark Age of Camelot would expect to see. Will there be similar RvR ranks, with skills and abilities available at certain levels?

Lance: Some of it will be similar, there will be renown ranks, but it's not meant to feel segregated. Like here I am with RvR stuff here, and here I am with PvE stuff over here - it's very much blended between the two. You get experience from killing players, you get loot from killing players, very much like you do on both sides.

Mark: So you can progress from level from 1 to whatever the cap will be essentially either way?

Lance: Ideally we'd have a mix, but you can do it completely either way.

Mark: For all the Warhammer 40k fans, which I know is a separate license, the scope of battle that they will expect would be thousands and thousands of players on the battlefield at the same time. You're obviously not going to be able to do that here, so how will you make players feel immersed in that sense of chaotic combat?

Lance: Well we learned a lot from Camelot, which can have huge battles. A lot of what we did was geared towards that, with huge sieges and the like. We wanted to ensure that the up close fighting was really, really fun in Warhammer. So, we're not stressing the giant numbers thing, we're more interested in ensuring good fights with the right amount of people in the right places. The capital city fights will have on the order of 100, 200, 300 or however many we can fit in there, and we want those to be the giant fights. The scenarios we have implemented are about 8 on 8, or 16 vs 16 and 24 vs 24.

Mark: Scenarios are instances, separate battlegrounds for RvR combat, and not part of the persistent world?

Lance: Yes, there is open field combat which was more or less the standby for Camelot. You go into these RvR enable areas and you take objectives. Within those areas you can jump into scenarios which are more hand-crafted, and finely level designed areas that are geared up for that particular fight and are meant for a certain number of people. The key thing with the scenario system is that you are guaranteed a fair fight there, and so it's not just about who has the most numbers in their raid. Going from that, the scenario system contributes the most victory points [for your realm], and that is how we balance it.

You have implemented two distinct features in your combat system called Player Tactics and Morale Points. What exactly are they, and how do they contribute to battle?

Lance: The combat system is a 3 layered system. Tactics are like buffs - they can be stat increases, they can modify things, they can enable other abilities that you normally don't have. It's meant to be like a prep layer. So I set up the tactics the way I want them before I go into a fight. Let's say I'm an orc, and I know I am going to fight a bunch of dwarves. I'm going for numbers and I want to be able to deal with as many guys at once as I can, so I might set up a certain tactic a certain way. If I am fighting one solitary giant with a bunch of other guys, I might set up my tactics a different way. Then you have your bread and butter abilities that define what your career is, or make sense for the job that I have - certain slashes and hacks and all that kind of stuff, or be able to go berserk. Those are your basic abilities. Then on top of that layer is morale, which is this little extra bit on top of it all where you gain morale abilities. As you fight and have success in battle, the morale bar goes up. If you leave combat, that will decay, but what we want you to do is go from fight to fight to fight as quickly as you can and fill that up. The higher that gets, the more effective, cool and grand the effects are. So it's a game of how can I stay alive long enough to get the uber heal, or the mass area of effect destruction around me that will save my group, or do I nickel and dime the lower level morale abilities instead.

Mark: So you consume these morale points as you use the abilities?

Lance: Yes, you burn them off as you expend the skills. As the bar goes up, more options become available, so you really want to progress from fight to fight to have the most effective ones available to you. And that's really a goal of ours, to have little downtime - we want you to try for that next fight even if you don't have all your wounds cleared. It's a fun kind of balance point to add on top of combat. There are big signature showcase effects for each class that add a sense of glory on top of combat.

Mark: One of the interesting features that I have seen in the game was that as players gain levels, skills and ranks etc, their avatar actually changes over time so that their power becomes visually recognizable. Is this something that is noticeable enough to provide for strategic preparation in the heat of battle in RvR?

Lance: Yes, players get bigger as they get more powerful. Orcs get larger, dwarves have their beards grow, and the other races will do some other different things that we haven't really talked about yet. And absolutely, that's the total intent - the effect is about the intimidation factor, or bragging rights. The artists have what they call the 20 foot rule. From 20 feet away, or really even further, you want to be able to tell not only what race they are and what kind of career they are, but how much of a badass they are. So you will see the orcs start to get giant spikes and stuff on their shoulders, with trophies and things - hands on the spikes, or dwarf beards hanging off their belts so players will say "Oh man that's a badass, I should avoid that guy", or "Maybe we need 2 or 3 to take him down" - we're really excited about that. We always want the player to have that feeling that there is more to be had there, that there is something to strive for, so that when you see the higher rank guys walking around you'll say "Yeah, I'm going to be like that."

Mark: What about level discrepancies - if somebody is considerably higher or than a lower player, are they still going to be able to attack? Are you going to have higher level players travelling to lower level areas just to grief people there?

Lance: We're going to protect against that - we don't want the high level guys wandering around lower level areas. For example, if a high level guy goes into a lower level RvR area, he turns into a chicken. What happens is he gets debuffed so that he will just get one-shotted by the low level players there. So, we have some fun with that - for us it's all about what's fun. In the campaign system or city capture, we don't want one side to just dominate and own a city, so we're not going to let you keep it forever. The system will start incurring curves for defenders, or reward them for pushing attackers out. What we want is for you to capture the city and get your fun - you go rampaging through there, lighting things on fire, burning stuff down, kicking doors in, pillaging - all those kind of things. That's kind of the fun, joyous end game to the city capture. You'll know out in the world exactly how long it's been since that city got sacked, because it will visible in such a way that player's will go "Yeah I'm going to go take that city."

Mark: Does the whole realm get bonuses for holding onto cities? The more you have, the more cumulative the bonus?

Lance: Yes, if you're successfully keeping the enemy out, you're going to get rewards, or if you successfully attack somebody else, you'll get rewards. Monetary rewards, abilities, realm buffs - it's all there to be had, and it's an ongoing fight. We're trying to make a city a living, breathing thing that will make players want to defend it. There's no benefit to being rolled by your enemies, so we'll do things that will make players want to fight off the attackers. It's won't be like "Oh we lost the campaign game, what about the city?" You're never going to want to do that, you'll want to get in there and fight the battle.

Mark: Well thank you very much for allowing me some time to quiz you on Warhammer. From what I have seen here in the demo, it certainly looks like it will be quite entertaining for PvE and PvP gamers alike. Have you decided on any firm release date yet?

Lance: Nothing firm, but I can say early next year. And it's been my pleasure, thanks for the interview.

Warhammer definitely has aspects that seem to appeal to every type of gamer. Whether it be softcore vs. hardcore, or those who prefer PvE or PvP, there is content built in to provide entertainment in many fashions. Gamers everywhere have been looking forward to this title for quite some time, and from what I saw, they are not likely to be disappointed.


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