Orcs, Elves, and Commander Shepard!


Mass Waauuuggghhhh.

I got a chance to check out two big games last night: EA Mythic's much-anticipated MMO offering, Warhammer: Age of Reckoning , and BioWare's "port" of the award-winning Xbox 360 RPG, Mass Effect . Both titles look interesting -- in the sense a reviewer uses that word to note when something looks both cool and flawed. I'm nevertheless excited to get some extended playtime (read: final versions) of both, and I think gamers will be excited by what's to come in the next few months.

Warhammer: Age of Reckoning

While I wasn't very impressed by the gameplay per se , given that level 1 "newbie" quests do not an impressive demo make, I think that the Mythic folk have certainly made some progress towards creating a game that isn't just a carbon copy of that Warcraft thing.

How so?

It's been known for awhile now that Warhamer is going to be a bit more PvP focused than your average MMO. I was a bit suspicious that this would turn away a good chunk of players who don't like being smacked with a purple Warhammer of Asskickery every time they venture out of their starting zones. But my chat with EA Mythic Content Director Destin Bales helped alleviate my newbie fears: the game's mission-themed PvP content is stratified by leveling groups, so you'll be competing with other players near your abilities. And high-level players attempting to gank in newbie zones get turned into chickens. No, really. Chickens. It's a clever, albeit zany way to deal with griefers.

Player-versus-environment gameplay coexists alongside the PvP and realm-versus-realm offerings, with the latter giving options that are similar to Warcraft's battlegrounds. Just click a button in the corner of your HUD to signify that you're ready to go, then go about your normal business. The game will pull you into the fight once both sides have enough evenly matched players. You can still contribute to the realm-versus-realm gameplay through normal PvP and world-battlefields, but these scenarios will give you a chance to go about your PvE ways before jumping into a bigger fight.

What isn't so familiar is Warhammer's focus on the "grand struggle" between its factions. No matter what species of character you roll--Orc, Elf, Chaos... thing, et cetera--you'll be able to join the fight between the individual factions. You aren't just limited to, say, fighting Chaos if you're a Human. These epic conflicts are set up in a push-pull kind of environment. You win a battleground area by amassing more victory points than the other side through your PvE, PvP, or RvR actions. You'll then push one step closer to the enemy's capital. Sack that, and you'll get a set time period of complete and utter insanity to burn the place to the ground, destroy objects, and generally make a mess of things.

After 24 hours have elapsed, the previous defenders are given the chance to retake the city with the help of a little boost, or buff, to ward off the conquerors. According to Bales, the game will progressively make these buffs higher and higher until the city is recaptured--at some point, he joked, a level one would be able to take our a level 40 (the game's top experience level).

Speaking of, I also asked Bales how Warhammer is planning to stave off player boredom: the endgame apathy that sets in once you've hit the proverbial content wall. The game will include a separate Renown system that will track your exploits through 80 levels of experience -- in essence, it's the PvP version of an MMO's typical experience bar. And Warhammer will include a large amount of stats-tracking that's also tied into experience and rewards. Yes, that means achievements: you'll get bonuses for killing x amount of a race or joining x battlegrounds, for example, and the game will track seemingly everything you do (or kill). Chickens included.

When I actually got to sit down and run through Warhammer for a bit, it made me feel like I was playing a better version of Lord of the Rings: Online with less-entrancing graphics. The designers are still working on adding more effects to the game -- lighting in particular. But nothing I saw, strongholds included, made me weep tears of joy and immediately cancel my WoW subscription (had I one).

Of course, Warhammer is still in Beta, so these are the earliest of comments based on a grand total of five minutes of playtime. I think the Warhammer designers have touched on a new style of gameplay that could conceivably coexist alongside the mighty World of Warcraft--everyone loves battlegrounds, after all. And I'd much rather feel like I'm contributing to an effort all Ahn'Qiraj -style than farming random trash mobs to appease a random questgiver. Time will invariably tell: look for Warhammer to hit in Fall.

Editor's note: Altered some of the wording from the original article's posting to better reflect the contributions one can make to the game's RvR content -- this ain't Warcraft, folks!

Mass Effect

As a loyal member of the Mass Effect 75-hour club , I'd like to think that I have a certain expertise with this game that few others have been able (or crazy enough) to achieve. That said, I was quite impressed with the PC "port" of Mass Effect. Although it's not really a port in the sense that I'd normally use the word--the game is a carbon-copy of the Xbox 360 version at its core, but the upgrades to the user interface and graphics are enough to set this title apart in its own spotlight.

You access the improved UI by slapping the space bar on your computer -- up pops your quick-launch options, AI commands for your teammates, and your weapon selector, amongst more options. It's as useful as the game's new inventory system, a much-needed improvement over the critical unwieldiness of the Xbox 360's inventory screen. Selecting (and selling) your equipment and upgrades takes far less time now, although I still wish there was some kind of sorting option to rank your items by name, power, or selling cost.

The improved graphical upgrades to the game upgrade an already mesmerizing experience. Everything just looks crisper and more defined--I enjoyed my (fourth) romp through Noveria as much as my first. While the game itself can be tedious and long for those who have already sunk days' worth of playing into it, I think the upgrades and tactile joy of using a keyboard and mouse to shoot baddies might be enough to pull gamers in for one more romp through the galaxy.

BioWare has also separated the camera from the rear of the Mako driving sessions. Driving the mini-tank is a little tougher using WASD controls instead of an analog stick, but being able to spin around your viewpoint without the butt of your tank wibbling back and forth is a welcome improvement.

Mass Effect contains the same in-game achievements as its Xbox counterpart, only the title itself isn't Games for Windows. Thus, you'll have to show off your efforts at ridding the galaxy of the Geth on the Insanity difficulty to friends that come over -- there won't be a way to display this on the Internet for all to see. Bummer.

We'll have a review of Mass Effect in Maximum PC's August issue, so be sure to check out the final verdict then!

Mass Effect's new UI packs every option imaginable in an easy-to-navigate display.

The inventory system has been redesigned to better fit the PC experience. Now that's how you make a game cross-platform.

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