Three Isn’t The Magic Number – Warhammer Online

One bit of common criticism I’ve seen about Warhammer: Age of Reckoning (WAR) is that its PvP failed because it had only two sides, not three. Mythic’s Dark Age of Camelot had three realms and reputedly had some of the best PvP experiences of the MMO genre; meanwhile, Mythic’s WAR only had two opposing sides and its PvP experiences were considered exceptionally disappointing. The argument goes that the lack of a third realm was a major problem for WAR.

RvR keeps were a late addition to WAR, which was one of the reasons they were so badly handled.

RvR keeps were a late addition to WAR's design, which is why they were so badly handled.

Although not having a third realm could have been a problem for WAR, it wasn’t the critical failure point for the game. Where the major issue arose is that WAR’s original design didn’t include realm-vs-realm (RvR) keep fighting. RvR was designed to be more of a meta-game, where what was going on within each realm contributed to an overall realm score. It wasn’t meant to be DAoC 2 and RvR combat was going to be more focused on scenarios, with no keeps in sight. WAR beta-testers hated that – they wanted DAOC 2 and WAR to be DAOC: RvR Evolved. Over the course of WAR’s beta, enough pressure was placed on Mythic that they added in keeps for more DAOC-style RvR.

Shoehorning in this mechanic late in development didn’t work at all – the beta testing of this feature was flawed because it didn’t follow close-to-real-life conditions (level bumps and focused testing on areas aren’t real-life conditions) and because ex-DAOCers were so happy to see the keeps and / or Mythic didn’t have time to properly test the systems, it appears that obvious issues were missed. Obvious issues, like it being more rewarding to take a keep than defend it, meaning that keep-flipping (take the keep, get the reward, abandon it, let the opposing side take it for the reward, let them exit, re-take the keep) was common. There was no value in defending keeps, no reason outside of immediate rewards to attack them. The mistake in WAR’s RvR / PvP was set from the moment that keeps were implemented without consideration for how players would behave towards them. A third realm would have done nothing at all to fix that mistake.

Oh, on top of that were WAR’s player distribution issues. WAR had been heavily tested using focused testing that saw lots of players test an area at once – this is great, but post-launch players were spread throughout the game which saw small numbers of players enter unable to perform in areas optimised for larger player numbers. Too many players in one area was also a problem – post-launch player number limits were put in place within certain areas to try to make RvR even playable. For a game that marketed itself as being a war, called itself WAR and repeatedly stated “War is everywhere!” it probably isn’t surprising that players expected, well, a war, which generally involves two or more large sides fighting. They don’t expect to find large areas that are empty of opponents, or locations that are unplayable with large sides and / or lock them out of the fight. Again, a third realm here wouldn’t have solved WAR’s problems with player distribution; in fact, it could have made it worse.

A triangle

The opposite side and the hypotenuse are going to team up to kick the adjacent side's ass, then steal its relics.

Although DAoC RvR is generally considered to have worked because it had three realms, there isn’t necessarily that much evidence that three is the magic number when it comes to RvR. First off, there aren’t that many data points for it. DAoC is pretty much the only one (it coined the term RvR) I can think of that had three hardcoded sides. Secondly, DAoC had its own population balance issues that Mythic had tried to address. Players reminisce of equally matched sides going at it, but plenty of people experienced being part of a weaker realm that was dominated. “Ahh!”, some former players will say, “but that is where three realms works best! The two weaker realms will team up to take on the stronger realm!” Perhaps. But that isn’t a given. It’s equally likely that the two strongest realms will team up against the weakest realm and pick it dry – that’s actually the lowest risk option. Finally, players like to be on the winning side most of the time – whether it is two realms, three realms or thirty realms, success attracts more players to the winners. Mythic never really learned to deal with population imbalances in DAoC and that blindspot carried through to WAR.

Memory serves (meaning: I can’t find a link) that someone like Mark Jacobs indicated that Skaven were strong candidates for the third realm, which also strikes me as a race unlikely to draw huge crowds to them, meaning realm player distribution issues would still exist. Maybe the third realm would be a mix of races, but even so, with three realms you have to try to make all three realms equally appealing to play in and / or have some meaningful population distribution mechanics. Mythic failed in the latter for both WAR and DAoC while it didn’t quite grasp the former for WAR.

Putting all of WAR’s issues into a bucket marked “didn’t have three realms” is a massive misunderstanding of why WAR failed as it did. I understand why people do it – it’s a nice and simple soundbite, they liked three realms in DAOC, it sorta sounds like WAR’s problems would be fixed if a third side was suddenly introduced and sudden all those expectations will be met – but it’s a huge oversimplification. WAR’s issues stem from a late-game change in their RvR systems, compounded by non-real world testing and a game engine that couldn’t allow the combat experience that was promised on the box. A third realm wouldn’t have made a difference to these issues as they stood at WAR’s release.

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