If you played Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, you’ll know that it’s a solid, entertaining but ultimately uninspired MMO that’s had more than its share of ups and downs since its release almost three years ago. Now, a group of designers within Mythic (the developers of WAR) have revealed what they’ve been working on: a stripped-down version of the game that will be free-to-play. It’s called Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes. I had a chance to play the game in its closed beta form at Gamescom, and I was thoroughly impressed with not just the game itself, but the attitude of the developers and their approach to this uniquely-positioned title.
Wrath of Heroes takes WAR’s engine and assets, and rips out the role-playing, questing, NPCs, experience system and anything else you can think of that doesn’t involve PvP arena-based battles – that is all that Wrath is about. Even the control system has been stripped down. Players join in the 6v6v6 capture-and-hold-based battles, select from a pool of predefined characters (there are currently seven available), spawn at their team’s base and head into battle to capture the three flags in each map and the artefact at its centre. Each character is based on a class from WAR, such as a Goblin Shaman or Dwarf Slayer, and begins fully kitted out with standard weapons for their class and five skills. Those skills don’t rely on mana to be activated; instead they each have their own cooldown time which is seldom longer than 15 seconds. As it uses a trimmed-down version of WAR’s assets, you can expect to fight in arenas from the main game, although they’ll be given a makeover to adjust for the brighter visual style and three-way combat.
So how does it play? Well, rather a lot like Team Fortress 2, actually. There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that Wrath is an action game, with gameplay that’s designed to give you a quick fix of this combination of strategic and button-mashing combat that’s about positioning, teamwork and clever tactics. Since each character is predefined, the goal is to release the game with all characters perfectly balanced, whether it’s a support/healing class, tank, ranged or melee damage-dealer. At a later stage, the team will reveal details on their player progression system and freemium pricing model. This will allow players to broaden their options either through hard graft or microtransactions, but the developers are adamant that these options won’t give players huge advantages over those who don’t have them – much like Team Fortress 2’s selection of both cosmetic and gameplay-related unlockable content.
Mythic is following the trend we’ve seen lately of big budget studios delving into flexible, “indie-inspired” development models. Much like Crystal Dynamics’ Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light and Avalanche’s Renegade Ops, Wrath is a side-project title that is designed to complement the studio’s main offering. It’s an experiment in gameplay and content ideas that have been swimming around the Mythic offices for some time, and the studio will use public feedback to drive the game forward, adjusting the development team as the need arises. Their goal is to release a simple but solid version of Wrath that will give players and the developers a base from which they can grow the game. The game client in its current closed beta form sits at a tidy 1GB download, includes a single map and mode, and seven playable characters, but there’s no telling how far it’ll come along by time the final release version lands.