When Warhammer Online first launched, Keeps were little more than just another objective on the battlefield. There was little incentive to holding onto them, as they were worth more renown to players to just abandon them, let them flip and then recapture them. As you may recall, it was this situation that caused me to leave the game late last year in what might be described as a rage quit. =)
Luckily, Mythic wasnt blind to the issue. They introduced improved renown for capturing and defending objectives, and the domination system to push players into defending their captures. The changes they introduced changed the fundamentals of realm vs realm conflict in the game, and for the better. I was pleasantly surprised to see how far Mythic had come when I rejoined the game a month and a half ago.
Still, there is always room for improvement. One thing that has always bothered me about Warhammer is the lack of player ownership in the game. If youre familiar with me at all, youll know that I teethed on the earliest MMOs, on titles like WorldsAway and Ultima Online. The lead designer of UO, Raph Koster, has built a set of “laws” (guidelines based on experience) of MMO design, my favorite of which is:
You have to give players a sense of ownership in the game. This is what will make them stay–it is a “barrier to departure.” Social bonds are not enough, because good social bonds extend outside the game. Instead, it is context. If they can build their own buildings, build a character, own possessions, hold down a job, feel a sense of responsibility to something that cannot be removed from the game–then you have ownership.
This is one aspect that Warhammer severely lacks, and something that kind of shocked me considering the game was developed by the studio currently in charge of the game that inspired that principal, UO itself. Theres no player housing or guild halls (the tavern is not instanced or customizable in anyway) so the extent of ownership in the game is keep claiming.
So, what are the advantages of keep claiming? Your guild banner is prominently displayed, your guild is mentioned in the tooltip on the battlefield map, the defending NPCs have your guild tag and your guild gets a stream of XP towards leveling up. Nice? Sure. But wheres the customization- that basis for that sense of ownership in any game?
Enter Keep Upgrades, the headlining feature in 1.2.1. In this update, every keep will have a Upgrade Merchant NPC at the top level (along with the other NPCs you normally have, i.e. renown trainers.) Guild Leaders and Guild Officers will be able to purchase upgrades to existing keep aspects or add entirely new elements. These purchasables range from boosting the hit points on doors (20% per rank, up to 5 ranks) and enhancing the number and levels of NPC guards to adding Healer NPCs, access to your guild vault and more. Other planned upgrades include Guild Bind, which allows players from the claiming guild to respawn inside the keep (this will be a huge game changer) and magical barriers to help absorb damage to the keep doors.
Mythic is also introducing a bonus for max-level guilds, Altars. At Rank 40, guilds can add Divine Favor altars to their claimed keeps. These altars can have up to 5 charges on them at any time, but each charge requires 500 dropped skulls from the enemy faction to be donated to it. Once a charge is ready, a Leader or Officer from the controlling guild can activate these charges, doing a tremendous amount of damage to an invading force.
Needless to say, these changes are going to once again dramatically change the course of the struggle in Warhammer. Keep struggles have always been tough, but they are going to become dramatically more difficult the longer guilds manage to hold on to their claims after 1.2.1. There will also be a renewed interest in getting guilds leveled. Overall, Im excited to see what kinds of conflicts this new system will breed. I am a little bewildered about the altar system- in particular requiring guild rank 40. Im not aware of any rank 40 guilds on my server. Heck, there are only a small handful of rank 30s that I know of. Clearly this Altar system is meant as incentive for guilds to level up, but I have to question if this wont be more harmful than it is positive.
Assuming the system affects ORVR the way Im imagining it will and keep defense will begin to take days instead of hours, I could see players who have reached the end game leaving their guilds in favor of the highest level ones on their server. A single rank 40 guild on a server could potentially have a monopoly on Tier 4 players. This could do tremendous damage to guild recruitment, and potentially eliminate the formation of new guilds- which is essentially killing the very heart of what Warhammer is.
Why not introduce tiers of Altars, beginning with the same level as the first guild mounts? In my eyes, any guild thats made it that far deserves more than just more color choices for their mounts. This would ensure that players remain flavorful of their current guilds, and a guild rank that is within reach for those interested in building a new guild in the game.
In any event, Im excited to see what 1.2.1 holds in store for the future of Warhammer. Im hopeful it will be a change for the better, and if Mythic makes just a few small tweaks like the ones Ive suggested here, I have no doubt that it will. Ill continue to hold out hope for instanced/customizable guild halls and player homes, but this will hold me over until that day arrives. =)