While all games elicit a range of opinions, the range of opinions on any specific game is usually narrow. You get a range of 60-83 on a scale of 100, with more than half between 65 and 77. You get numerous mentions of that one cool gun, the fact that they used the wrong button for crouching, or how the options are limited. Games are scientific that way; we're conditioned to like the familiar, comfortable and workable, and to only accept the new if it's an improvement or amusement.
Perusing the comments made on the dozens of videos, previews, and features about Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, you'll see two common and fiercely defensive sentiments: Warhammer is a copy of World of Warcraft, cheap and derivative, or WAR is an improvement on WoW, the next big thing.
I'm in the latter camp. WAR has very little in common with WoW, but you'd not think so at first. One or two hours of WAR won't impress you if you still like some things about WoW, but try playing about ten hours of WAR and going back to WoW, playing a low level character. That's what I did.
WAR is for the informed, tasteful, higher-thinking MMO player. If you're older and more critical of games, if you often have the contrary opinion or are quick to find fault with what everyone says is awesome, you'll love it here, even if everyone is saying it's, well...awesome.
Here's why it's slow to impress: it does play a lot like WoW in some conventions. The action bars, bag space, and looting system are obviously influenced by the greats before it. There is some reorganization: different hotkeys, XP bar on the top, that sort of thing, but really, when you immediately start to kill 3 marauders or 4 squiggs or 4 guards, 5 ghosts and rally farmers and plant pikes with heads on them, your first thought has to be "Oh, God, this? Again? Nothing has changed!" then, you'll go back to your other MMO.
If you play for a while, different things happen, like public quests, dying, or (of course) PVP. One of the first quests is to do a scenario, which is a battleground. If you're unwise enough to choose the cool side, destruction, and to do so on a server which has a hell of a lot more of them than they do order, you may have to wait. Some people claim to have waited for hours. I've played on four different servers and not had to wait more than 10 minutes.
At any rate, the bell dings in your head if and when you reach another rank through doing some RVR (realm vs. realm, the game's term for PVP). A scenario was the first thing I did on one of my characters, and he reached rank 2 within minutes, because we were winning. In the permanent world, I hadn't moved more than 50 feet from my starting point, and I'd already gotten to do some instant RVR.
This is the first moment of realization: player against player combat gives everything to you. It is not an option. It is required, and you won't be punished for doing it. If you play WoW for the PVP, there's no reason to stay there and not go to WAR. The tank classes have the choice of being damage dealers, debuffers, choke point holders, or protectors. The non-clipping means a melee class can literally get in the way of enemy players. The healers aren't instant meat and can actually kill things. At this point, the dps classes sound like they've been hung out to dry, but they are still very popular and worthy of choice; they don't die easily if they fail to get the quick kill, and they're still necessary against any targets that are difficult to take down. The mechanicis and workings of these mysteries will doubtlessly be unfolded in the near future; already, message boards and guild chat is inundated with statisticians obsessed with the numbers as if they represented baseball.
RVR is tired at first, but only because (or if) your rank is so much lower than everyone else's. So it's back to the PVE, killing things for credit. Back to the tedium. Perhaps it's only WoW with a better PVP system, with a handful of features being an improvement. But the public quests come quickly enough; these are fun. Remember how in WoW, if there's a huge thing out there, some group quest, you must talk to the leader, must get in some preformed group? Not here. If there are 100 things to kill, and that cap is reached, everyone gets quest credit. Then, a huge dragon or giant, or some tough wizard comes out and bellows threatenings. Groups are open to join, and someone who isn't the party leader can "refer" people to join, helping the party combine at a quick level. WoW has never generated raid groups so quickly. And even if you're not in the group, every point of damage and healing goes toward helping your rank in rolling on the public chest for the public quest. That's right--after this awesome huge guy goes down, you're all rolling for the right to pick your item of choice from the chest. And no matter who was in whose group, everyone rolls, and everyone's stats count for assisting in that roll. By the way, you might be a mere rank (level) 3 at this point.
Another realization: WAR brings people together, if not personally. There is no penalty, no reason not to be in groups.
The regular quests, it must be admitted, are not very engaging or original. If you like the huge PVE "raids" from WoW, this game will disappoint you. But if you are sick of them, if you are tired of waiting around wondering if anything is going to happen or if you will even get to do anything interesting tonight, WAR is the place to go. Unlike that familiar place, your guild will always want you. Rank 6 and I'm already in a group of 5 to do a scenario.
I've gotten farther into the world at this point and I finally make a mistake. I die.
What happens? Do I take 2 minutes and 15 seconds to walk back to my body, make sure I won't be attacked, resurrect, then wait for my health and mana to go back up using materials I bought or looted? This is what happened when I went back to my alt, a level 17 mage on WoW.
No. I get a debuff. Minus ten percent to my total health for 15 minutes. Also, I can pay to remove it.
I'm back where I am and realized I wandered into an area with creatures that were a bit higher than normal. I must have taken a wrong turn. I look at the map again to see where I should have gone. Then I see it. Red patches.
I'm not kidding here: when you are told to talk to a person, it's marked on your map. When you do a quest, the area where that quest is located is marked on your map, even if you haven't been there yet. This game helps you level. And anyway, when you are killing things it's usually not 12, it's 3-5. You aren't collecting 15 or 20 of something. You're collecting 1 or 2. You don't have to walk far into the barren Barrens, halfway across the zone. You aren't redirected every which way so you can waste your time. You don't have to eat food. You don't have to drink water. You don't have to walk 20 minutes to "get the flight path"--when you arrive at one of them, you get the equivalent flight path in two other areas. Your progress in flight paths is linear, not lateral--you go from point 1 to 2 to 3 to 4 until you are ready and done.
Your gear doesn't need to be repaired. There is no aristocracy of players where the people who have the most time are the wealthiest and best-geared, where there are disparate gaps between hardcore and casual.
The best thing about WAR isn't public quests, awesome as they are. Those are there to ease the pain of leveling. The best thing about WAR is that it doesn't act like an arcade game, there to suck the new version of quarters, 15 dollars a month, by forcing you to stay on and take longer for various arbitrary reasons. Your time is not wasted with graveyard runs, getting flight paths, repair bills, quests whose directions are unclear and require long bits of travel, eating and drinking, weapons and armor that aren't ideal for killing both players and monsters (why would an awesome shoulderpad be like that?), and doing business in the city all day. Don't mistake me: there is a very large city, and there are items to sell and buy. But let's be clear: this city is not the city of bored people lounging around drinking, arguing, and trying to find someone who wants to buy their enchantments. This city will be a base under siege, a place to restock your potions and potion materials and then get back to the fight. There is a crafting system, but it's not there to make you stay on so that you can eventually find a group in a world where it's increasingly difficult to find one.
WoW's got character, sure. The Postmodern worldview is cleverly applied in a fantasy setting where Alaskan-style pipes erode Netherstorm and the definition of who is good and bad is fuzzy. The difficult grouping system makes WoW feel like you are on New Jersey street at 3 AM, frequently bumping into people but rarely into someone who you want to communicate with.
WAR, on the other hand, is simple; it's fantasy, where there's good and evil, us vs. them, with all the objectives and desires in the game being circumscribed into one great whole. Everyone's on the same team here unless they're on the other team. You can't be lonely here, not from a gaming point of view. WAR is neat and tidy; it knows what it's supposed to do, and does it. It doesn't distract you, it doesn't try to buy more time so you'll buy more time, and it doesn't make you stressed. Perhaps best of all, you can play it at your own pace and at your own dosage without regretting it or without missing out on what's best in it.
WAR makes it fun to roll alts. People are already doing it. WAR doesn't make you regret a short economic attention span. WAR doesn't separate people from each other. WAR doesn't have any content that conflicts with itself.
Unlike WoW, WAR is war done right; not at war within itself. It's people fighting the right people. It's an MMO that has beaten WoW at PVP and at managing to reduce conflict amongst players, and that's why it is an impressive achievement.