3.) Warhammer: Age of Reckoning (Mythic, PC)
Cryptic might have months to tighten up Champions, but Mythic is rapidly running out of time before servers go live on September 18th. For many MMOGamers, Warhammer is a special case: for all the games that have been hyped as would-be successors to the World of Warcraft throne, WAR has stood out beyond the rest. From Guild Wars to Age of Conan, games have come and gone, eventually settling down with their own playerbases as Blizzard's behemoth grew and grew ... but with all of them, there seemed to be a sentiment of "Oh, but just wait until Warhammer...!" Further fueling the fire was the subtle if constant undercurrent of rivalry that seems to run between diehard fans of the respective Blizzard and Games Workshop franchises.
I'm a WoW fan, but I was looking forward to WAR as much as anyone ... which is why I can't help but feel let down by what I saw on the PAX show floor. The amount of time I was actually able to spend with the game wasn't much, and judging any game on the first three levels of play would be hasty, let alone an MMORPG. Even with that in mind, though, WAR was underwhelming. This isn't to say that it's a bad game by any stretch of the imagination; I was simply hoping for the title to wow me in a way that it didn't.
Rather, the game "WoW"ed me. It's a comparison I really hate to draw, but one that's unfortunately accurate: of the three levels I spent with my Witch Elf, the game felt like a slow, clunky, and unpolished World of Warcraft clone. The UI was similar (down to the quest tracking on the right side of the screen), and the gameplay followed suit. It didn't help that the career mechanic specific to the Witch Elf class was practically identical to the Combo Point system Rogues use in Warcraft. All in all, combat in WAR feels like combat in WoW, only slower and less slick.
I was further underwhelmed visually, and the comparison keeps coming: WoW might not be the best-looking game around, but the cartoonish graphics have a sort of innate charm to them. It might look dated, but in combination with superb art direction it doesn't look ugly. WAR goes for a more "realistic" look (though it's all relative, of course), and falls flat. The landscapes are dreary and the colors washed-out, and even on maximum settings the draw distance is limited and the character models bland.
I do get that WAR is trying to portray a world ravaged by conflict and as such bright flowery fields with happy bunny companions wouldn't make much sense ... but it was already getting old by the time I logged off, and that doesn't bode well for a game I'd been hoping to spend months playing. WAR is falling into the same "brown and gray = mature!" pitfall so many other games have succumbed to these days, and it's unfortunate that everybody has suddenly become so deathly afraid of color. Heck, in some ways having some bright, colorful areas would make the transition to the battle-scarred wastelands that much more jarring and impactful.
There is the excuse floating around the Internet that graphics in the Beta stage are hard-capped on the lowest settings despite what the in-game sliders say - and if that's the case, Mythic is running out of time to show gamers and the media what WAR is really capable of looking like. Time is the crucial commodity here, and I'm left wondering if Mythic feels their game is really ready to launch, or they're just shoving out the door as quickly as they can. I have no doubt that once players are max-level and can engage in the PvP that makes up the core of the game it'll likely be a blast; if getting there feels like a chore then the game will be in trouble.
I feel slightly more let-down by my short experience with WAR because there are genuinely great and solid ideas beneath the surface. Showing quest areas on the map is awesome and makes for a more intuitive experience, proper collision detection between players means that tank classes can actually act as tanks in PvP, and the RvR concept that is the core of the game should appeal to disenfranchised WoW PvPers who want a reason to smash in enemy skulls other than the pursuit of phat lewts.
WAR has potential to be phenomenal, though it desperately needs more polish and tightening before it can even think about realizing it. As it stands, while its core PvP base will likely still play and love the game, more casual gamers drawn to the MMO genre by WoW will almost undoubtedly draw the same comparisons between this and Blizzard's 600-pound gorilla - and not in a favorable way, either.
If Mythic can get the game up and running in the few months immediately after its launch, it stands a shot at success, and hopefully a solid second-place ranking in the market. But polish takes time, and time is one thing that the developers do not have a lot of.
That said, there is still time to maybe get a few last-minute changes out the door, and I'll see how the game plays with more time spent with it during the game's Open Beta Test. (If you're looking to try it out for yourself, our sister site WarCry has a few thousand keys to give away!)