In this tour of Warhammer Online's "New User Journey," ZAM takes a look at Mythic's new free-to-play Tier 1 experience, from the perspective of both a new and returning player.
Ever since ZAM brought you the news that Warhammer Online had switched to a partial free-to-play model, we've been eager to jump into the MMO and check it out from the perspective of a new player. Last month we interviewed Mythic Entertainment producer Josh Drescher about the new "Endless Trial" implemented in patch 1.3.2, and why it might be the glimmering spark of hope the MMO so desperately needed (last winter, droves of players left WAR to face down Arthas in WoW's Wrath of the Lich King).
The new Endless Trial converted about a quarter of the game—Ranks 1 to 10, or "Tier 1"—into a free-to-play MMO. Just as its name implies, it's a never-ending trial that offers nearly-unfettered access to Tier 1 content without requiring a dime for the game itself or a subscription fee. In addition, the developers went back to the drawing board to improve the early game experience (as well as enhancing some existing mechanics), and came up with the "New User Journey". To get a better understanding of these new features from the standpoint of both a new and returning player, ZAM signed up for the Endless Trial and went back to WAR.
Our first step in touring WAR's New User Journey was a simple one; grabbing the game itself and installing it. Part of Mythic's sales strategy during the past year was to slash WAR's retail box price and focus more on digital distribution, improving its accessibility across the board. Still, even in the case of a new trial account, downloading a four- or five-gigabyte game client wasn't exactly an "impulse-friendly" decision.
As a solution to this problem, Mythic recently developed a smaller, bite-sized version of the WAR client, created specifically for the free-to-play Tier 1 content. The new installer is just 1GB, so it's quite a bit easier for players to download it on a whim and jump into the game in under an hour. As players progress through the various Tier 1 zones and ranks, the client streams the additional game content in real-time; it's not always 100 percent seamless, but it's pretty convenient compared to the alternative.
After signing up for a new account at the WAR website, we were able to download and install the Endless Trial game client in about 30 minutes. A few mouse clicks and a couple of minutes later, we landed at the character creation screen. If you're not familiar with WAR, there are two player factions; Order and Destruction. Although the dynamic isn't as polarized as "good and evil", it's close. Order consists of the Dwarves, the Empire (humans) and the High Elves, while Destruction is home to the Greenskins (Orcs), Chaos (cultists and mutants) and the Dark Elves.
We rolled up a quick Dark Elf and chose the Black Guard career (class), which is one of the four newer careers Mythic added in content updates after launch. The first thing that returning players will notice is that everyone enters the game in the Empire and Chaos starting zones now, regardless of their race. The Dwarves, Elves, Greenskins and Dark Elves still have access to their original respective starting areas via Flightmasters—but by concentrating everyone in a single, paired zone, there's a lot more potential for new players to experience open RvR (and in WAR, RvR is a huge part of the game).
As Drescher explained in our Q&A, the idea is to "make sure that new players were entering the game would be able to easily find one another, regardless of the race or career they chose." And so far, it seems to be working. We didn't have a hard time finding oRvR skirmishes at Battlefield Objectives, especially during peak hours. Surprisingly, Order and Destruction were still going at it during off-hours, even if there weren't always enough players to fill a warband (but still, that kind of around-the-clock activity is a vast improvement over the deserted RvR lakes we've seen in the past).
The denser zone population also means that Public Quests are much easier to complete, because there are more players already participating at any given time. Open Parties are a bit more plentiful, too; we didn't come across near as many "dead spots" as we used to. Even though it's strange to see all your faction's races running around together in the same zone from the very beginning, you can't deny the result; open RvR, Scenarios and group play are finally starting to perform as they always should have.
Also as a result of the shared starting zone, the developers heavily updated Tier 1 content, enhancing the progression experience. The flow between quest hubs feels faster and more direct, with less straggling. Many quest and influence rewards were upgraded as well; the amount of itemization throughout Tier 1 is huge compared to what it used to be, and now includes higher-quality gear, set pieces and powerful Talismans (stat enhancers). There's even a dungeon in Tier 1 now; the new Hunter's Vale from the Wild Hunt event.
If you're brand-new to WAR, you'll need to learn the ropes before you can jump into everything Tier 1 has to offer. A small—but vitally important, in retrospect—part of the New User Experience is a series of graphic tutorials that appear on-screen as you're playing. Most of these tutorials will seem like common-knowledge to veteran MMO players, but a few of them cover important mechanics specific to WAR, such as explaining how oRvR War Camps and Battlefield Objectives work. In fact, some of these tutorials probably would have saved older players a lot of time and frustration in the past, instead of trying to figure out the finer points of battlefield combat via trial-and-error.
The original popup-tips and in-game manual have been updated too, offering more detailed information if you need it. On a related note, the New User Journey also introduced the new "Advice" chat channel, where you can ask as many noob-like questions as you want without hijacking the other channels. There are even separate Advice channels for Tiers 1 to 4. Just type the "/a" command to access it; the glaringly-yellow-colored channel text (soon to be orange, apparently) is impossible to miss.
The New User Journey was definitely created with accessibility in mind; almost everything that a player needs when starting a new MMO is accounted for, and Mythic's latest patch added the right tools for the job. Although we can't truly play WAR from the perspective of a brand-new player, we can clearly remember our first steps in the game back in November of 2008—and the road from Rank 1 to 10 has changed a lot since then. Coupled with the freedom that the new Endless Trial offers, there's never been a better time try out WAR.