It’s a pure grind, the most cynical of all MMO conventions, but done at such high speeds that it’s very difficult to be annoyed by it. Aside from a bit too much cheerless back-’n’-forth running, quests are over almost before you know it. There’s also none of the “collect 20 ToothBeast teeth” rubbish, only to find that only one in every eight ToothBeasts have teeth. If you have to collect something from something, each instance of that something will have it. WAR doesn’t jerk its players around, and that’s very much something to be grateful for. With that, though, comes a bit of a shortage of imagination. It’s not without its playfulness – early tasks such as firing yourself out of a cannon or mounting an enemy chief’s head on a pole once you’ve vanquished him amuse the first time around, but generally quests are there to give you XP and nothing else.
Again though, Mythic have observed what hasn’t worked out so well in earlier MMOs and come up with a few solutions. By far the best example is the Public Quests (whose inclusion are also all the proof you need that PvE is an essential part of WAR). Most people aren’t playing MMOs to socialise. They’re playing MMOs to play the game. In a public quest, you can achieve something larger (i.e. kill something massive) than you ever could on your own, but with none of the hassle of talking to anyone else, and associated risk they’ll turn out to be a nutter who keeps talking about their foot fetish.
Players turn up individually but are all contributing to the same objective simply by being there. Everyone’s rewarded for their individual efforts, while those who do choose to group do better out of it because the XP and influence is shared. The initial stage of killing 50 to 100 Somethings builds to just a few harder Somethings and finally to a really massive Something that requires everyone to pile on. It’s a Raid with none of the organisation, essentially. You get the sense of accomplishment that only comes from group play, but you don’t have to talk to anyone.
To sound all supervillain for a moment, this is brilliant in its simplicity. It extends beyond the PQs too – you can form an open group that anyone can wordlessly join if they’re in the area. It’s not just about avoiding talking to strangers, but also about not having to muck around with invitations and OK/Cancel boxes when you’re in the middle of smacking a snotling around the chops. Especially during PvP, which open groups carry over into. A passer-by can come save your neck without worrying that he won’t get any XP or renown out of it, and without distracting you with on-screen prompts.
So what of the Realm vs Realm itself? It’s definitely the game’s heart even if it’s not as much its majority as you might think. It’s fairly evident that’s where the developers’ love lies, as it feels much grander than the shallow PvE. This is the aspect thatwe're most reticent to pass judgment on just yet, as it likely won’t be until a couple of months into the full release that the whole picture becomes clear. The high-level keep and city sieges could well be the most spectacular fights any fantasy MMO has ever offered, but it’ll take a large, experienced population to make them work. The earlier, lower-key PvP definitely makes it an exciting prospect, however. There’s a sense of intertwining to it, everything working towards a single purpose rather than being a collection of smaller, standalone tasks. Whatever your PvP activity, be it ganking RvR-flagged enemy players, seizing objectives in the open Battlefields or piling into all-out war in the closed Scenarios, it’s all adding to your Renown points and your side’s power.