We ventured out to London to get some hands-on time with BioWare Mythic's Warhammer: Wrath of Heroes and to chat with Lead Producer Carrie Gouskos.
There's an aspect of alchemy when it comes to making videogames. An attempt to discover the fragments of gameplay that, when combined, create fun in its purest form. It's this process that's spawned some of the most instantly gratifying games we enjoy.
For producer Carrie Gouskos and the team behind Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes (WOH), it's a mission that's seen them mine through layers of MMORPG, digging up the familiar gems of PvP combat and cutting them to fit into a new, easily accessible and lightweight game. Currently in Open Beta, the development team at BioWare Mythic is honing and polishing the kernel of their creation.
As well as being able to explore the game, I recently had the chance to sit down with Carrie Gouskos and discuss how Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes came into being. As well as sharing some of the choices that influenced the game's early development, Gouskos also explained how the team is learning from the current beta, as well as how the player community helps to drive future development.
In a way that will feel familiar to anyone who's tried MMORPG arena or battleground PVP, Wrath of Heroes offers quick access to team based skirmishes where each player takes direct control of his/her hero. Instead of the top-down RTS-style approach made popular by MOBAs such as League of Legends and Defense of the Ancients, WOH uses the third-person view made popular MMOs, with frantic hotkey combat playing a part.
Gouskos explained that the difference from MOBAs was initially confusing. "We wanted to call it a Direct Action MOBA for a long time. […] In a lot of ways it looks like, seems like, [and] smells like it might be a MOBA with the way you get into the game and the 'gotta catch 'em all' hero mentality." She went on to explain why WOH doesn't fit the MOBA mold: "It's a scenario, 15 minutes or less, that is all about MMORPG combat, with a simplified ability system, so that it's not too overwhelming for a new player."
With existing titles like League of Legends and new entrants like DOTA 2 and Blizzard's DOTA crowding the MOBA market, it's easy to see why Gouskos wanted to avoid going down a similar route. "It's a completely unique experience. And if you're not providing something like that, then all you have to do is be better than someone else. I'm not going to stake my life on being better than League of Legends, and I like that we offer a completely different interesting gameplay experience."
Creating the game that became Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes wasn't something that the team originally set out to do. Gouskos described how the MMO market started changing a few years ago. Players were moving away from the traditionally high demands on time and money that MMOs required. Her team was also seeing several free-to-play games emerge from Korea, as well as traditional Western MMOs switch to a free-to-play model.
This created a dilemma with the team's own MMO, Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (WAR). "We were getting a lot of people giving us feedback 'I like this game, I want to play this game, but I don't have the time, I don't have the money'." After investigating the options, Gouskos felt that converting WAR to a free-to-play game just didn't make sense, especially with PVP playing such a major part in the game. "What were we going to sell? Were we selling power and how did that work, and would that make sense? It just didn't feel right."
It was at this point that Wrath of Heroes started to emerge. "Let's take everything we love from [WAR], and also let's make some changes to it, that we've learned, that we think will be more attuned to the free-to-play market." Gouskos added that one of these changes was the step up to three teams in a game. "We think that works especially for jump-in jump-out PVP, because it adds this layer of strategy. Two lower level teams pitting themselves against the winning team, and that moment of treachery when one turns on the other. That whole thing - Love it! We learned that from Dark Ages of Camelot, and just thought this is something that we've got to do."
As a result, each battle is made up of three teams of six players, with games lasting up to 15 minutes. Three different game types provide a mixture of ways in which your team can achieve victory, including variations on death match, capture the flag and item control. With a lobby system providing support for pre-made teams and match review, WOH aims to provide what Gouskos describes as "fast, fierce fun".
Players can choose from a range of different pre-made characters (the Heroes in WOH), each with its own unique abilities, strengths and weaknesses. From melee warriors to ranged spellcasters, offensive damage to support roles, every single play style is available to pick up. All starting players can customize one character and access a further three, while full customization and additional heroes can be bought with gold coins.
Almost every game played will earn some reward, in the form of gold coins and experience points. Climbing up the leaderboard and bringing victory to your team will increase your reward. As well as spending coins on the aforementioned heroes, an assortment of boosts and buffs can be picked up to improve your post-match rewards.
In another nod to its MMORPG roots, those valuable experience points go toward earning levels for your WOH account. Each level gained earns a Mastery Point, which can then be spent to unlock new abilities in each purchased hero's Mastery Tree. Some of these Mastery abilities can be used by other heroes, once unlocked, providing an incentive to obtaining all the heroes. If there's a particular hero you want and you don't want to spend time earning the gold coins to unlock it, there is also the option of buying it for real money.
Part of the charm of Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes is the instant gratification it delivers. It eliminates the baggage that comes with traditional MMORPG end-game PVP, where collecting the right gear and having the right character customizations are just as important as having skill. By contrast, WOH feels more like Valve's Team Fortress 2 (TF2), with simple tweaks and a clean art style. And just like TF2, it's a game that doesn't take itself too seriously.