Hands-On: Wrath Of Heroes

EA is by no means a stranger to the F2P scene. Aside from the firm’s extensive list of social games, it has also been driving a cluster of premium quality titles under its “Play4Free” imprint. Joining instalments such as Battlefield Heroes and Need For Speed World is BioWare Mythic’s upcoming F2P experience, Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes.

Having developed iconic IPs such as Ultima and Dark Age of Camelot, nowadays Mythic is best known for its work on popular Warhammer MMO, Age of Reckoning. Having worked on the game for the best part of a decade, there are clear links between WAR and the studio’s latest project, the latter being engineered to reach out to a new breed of online gamer.

In a nutshell, Wrath of Heroes takes the core PvP (player versus player) gameplay from the MMORPG genre, isolates it, and develops it into something more akin to you modern online shooter. A MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena game) by definition, WoH doesn’t fall under the same category as other members of the genre such as League of Legends or Rise of Immortals. There are no minions to escort or towers to attack/defend, this is an all out fantasy battle showdown that relies on split-second choices and intuition as opposed to obsessive character development and number crunching.

[drop]At present the game offers three distinct modes, a straight up team deathmatch, a headquarters/zone capture variant, and a tactical twist on capture the flag. What makes these modes even more tense and engaging is that they all accommodate three teams playing against each other in a 6 vs. 6 vs. 6 match.

It’s beguiling at first to say the least. The relatively small size of the maps means that players will often turn a corner and end up getting swamped by an entire mob, but when three full warbands come head to head, it’s savagely intense, each outcome as unpredictable as the next.

It may not borrow the RTS-inspired game design from DOTA, but the preliminary focus on characters is clearly evident. Calling on all four corners of the Warhammer fantasy universe there’s no shortage of robust heroes, each fitting the stylized theme of the original tabletop strategy game.

Each character has five unique abilities (to start) which, when coupled with their in-game stats, dictates their playstyle and role within a team. Heavily built characters such as the Black Orc, Bax, are engineered to take the brunt of the damage, causing a distraction that will allow damage-focused heroes to pick off any caught out by the gambit. Healers do exactly as their name implies, and support characters transmit stat/ability bonuses to surrounding team mates.

There’s a definite MMO vibe, though unlike its much bigger, older brother, Wrath of Heroes doesn’t require hours of character development, it’s all been done for you. The same applies to gameplay as well; a persistent third person perspective tails you in-game character, an on-screen toolbar displaying their five chosen abilities.

Combat simmers down to clicking on a target and letting rip on the keys numbered 1-5; it’s a happy medium between your conventional PvP affair and the recent trend in action MMOs. Wrath of Heroes isn’t the most demanding MOBA in circulation, but it will take at least a good few rounds to get a feel for it and understand which heroes are suited towards particular situations.

Out of the arena, players can converse in the central lobby, review stats, form warbands and develop their stable of heroes via the in-game store. Aside from cosmetic items, currency/XP boosters are also on sale as well as the heroes themselves. Though there will be a number of trial characters to experiment with, before you can alter their appearance or upgrade their “masteries” they need to be purchased.

Not only does Wrath of Heroes present a fairly welcoming introduction to the realm of online PvP, it also scratches an itch felt by some MMO players too. Despite its overwhelming popularity, the PvP activity in World of Warcraft (and similar MMOs) is disproportionate with too many variables and obstacles to make it a worthwhile endeavour for lower-levelled players. WoH detonates this barrier, presenting players with a level playing field in which the only significant advantage to be had is co-operative teammates.