Skaven And The Red Headed Step Child
Although I haven’t played Warhammer Online for a while I still follow news about it and have a second account setup for their endless trial (although I did receive a curious email not so long ago saying that my trial had expired meaning it wasn’t quite so endless after all… not quite sure what that was about). It’s a game that I remember being very, very excited about before it came out but then, after a flurry of passion, lost interest with it pretty quickly. Much like Age of Conan, a peer of its time, I always assumed an expansion with some juicy new races or classes would entice be back but so far there’s been nothing of the sort. Until kinda now there is.
In line with the two year anniversary of the game, Mythic are introducing a new campaign with new zones (check out Bootae’s blog – who actually asked for my thoughts on all of this via Twitter – or Werit’s site for some truly knowledgeable information on the subject instead of my half-informed ramblings) along with, drum roll please, the Skaven. Any fan of the Warhammer fantasy universe (does anyone know why they don’t exist in the WAR 40K lore?) will probably love these pesky rodent people and I have plenty of fond memories of painting Skaven figurines back in my incredibly exciting youth. Suffice to say my interest has been thoroughly piqued over the last few months what with all of the not-so-subject hints Mythic have been dropping about them making an appearance in the MMO.
Unfortunately though I can’t say I’m now overly thrilled at the way they are going to be implemented in the game. They aren’t a third faction, they aren’t even a true playable race or classes yet instead their accessed in a fashion akin to monster play in LotRO, granted to both Order and Destruction sides as temporary characters. Either due to time or money restrictions (probably both), the Skaven have been resigned to living on the porch back step like some sort of unwanted red headed step child. Gotta say, this makes Gordon sad.
Personally I’ve never been a fan of this type of thing in MMORPGs. To me, characters are a virtual avatar that the player wants to bond and grow with over the course of a long period of time. Jumping into the shoes of a temporary character or beastie has never appealed to me in the slightest and seems to contradict the whole roleplay ethos. It’s also, well, kinda lazy and just an easier alternative to providing the full well nourished content, backstory, equipment and abilities that a true playable race should have. No doubt Skaven will be fun to play and prove very popular initially but I have to wonder how many of them we’ll see running around in six months time.
I’ll probably talk about this more in a future article but I do think that the position with the Skaven is partially due to the fact that Mythic shot themselves in the foot a bit with their original race and class architecture. By integrally locking classes and races together and setting a precedent of four classes per race they haven’t given themselves much flexibility or room to maneuver. I mean, if they wanted to add proper new races or classes in the future (i.e. via an expansion) how would they do it? Would they have to add a new class for each race in order to keep things balanced or an entire new race with a complete four classes per side? That’s a vast undertaking for any developer and probably a large contributing factor as to why we’re seeing the Skaven appearing as an unwanted orphaned race. Let this be a lesson to all designers – keep you’re race and class set up flexible so you can easily accommodate the addition of a single one in the future.
However, oddly enough, none of this has actually put me off the idea of giving Warhammer another shot and seeing how things have progressed since my last bash. Maybe time for me to necromance my trial account and see if I can get my blasted EU client to hook up to our new US patch servers without re-downloading it all.