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Warhammer: Wrath of Heroes preview – throw down in 6v6v6 combat

BioWare Mythic’s about to expand the horizons of the Warhammer franchise, with the fun-sized PvP of the free-to-play Wrath of Heroes. That is, fun-sized when compared to an MMO – the game’s 18-man melees can make MOBA teamfights look downright tame. Check out our impressions of WoH’s sword-and-board, spell-spamming insanity.

MMORPG players might remember Mythic’s Warhammer Online, a game that was praised for its invigorating, easy-access PvP but was lacking in the PvE department. BioWare Mythic took that core gameplay and shrunk it down, mixed in the three-faction gameplay of Mythic's previous MMO, Dark Age of Camelot, and littered it with heroes from all corners of the Warhammer universe. It's a cool concept for sure, though we kind of view WoH as a free-to-play fish that’s about to jump into a shark tank full of killer competition.

Battles are constant tug-of-wars, with 6v6v6 combat raging from start to finish. The Blue, Green, and Orange teams have to stick together to be effective, making sure not to run willy-nilly into the fray only to be instagibbed by six enemies. Though it feels a bit like a three-team version of League of Legends, there aren’t any creeps to kill, lanes to push, or items to buy – just you and your opponents duking it out. There are currently three maps: a simple deathmatch in a circular arena, capture-point gameplay in a dimly-lit swamp, and capture-the-relic in a ruined city. Despite the different objectives, matches usually come down to which team has the most effective, well-balanced kill squad.

With the game currently in open beta, the general public’s getting the chance to take the 10 available heroes (with three on free rotation each week) for a spin. Roles boil down to DPS (swordplay, spellcasting and archery), tanking (buff dudes who can self-heal), or support (complete with area-of-effect healing and some crazy-strong disables). Each hero has five abilities (with the inclusion of an auto-attack) which are only bound by cooldown timers, so there’s never a dull, out-of-mana moment during a match.

When we don’t feel like taking enemies head-on, Ikkrik the Skaven Gutter Runner is our go-to hero – a dirty rat who hurls poisoned glaives from a distance, and can dish out some mean damage up close if he’s not being focused down. Each hero has a suite of fairly unique spells - like Ikkrik’s panic-button Smoke Bomb escape or the Scorpion-esque “Get over here!” grab from Volrik Clawhand - that help players pick a hero that best fits their playstyle, be it aggressive, sneaky, or supportive.

Having three teams and the ability to change your hero during respawns makes for some involved mind-games: Do you let the two enemy teams duke it out, then capture objectives while they’re distracted? If one team has a substantial lead, is it worth it to make a temporary allegiance to take the winners down a notch? When the other teams switch their heroes mid-match, should your team change up its roster to counter them? While we wouldn’t call these problems particularly fun, they’re definitely a change of pace from the one-on-one encounters found in other games.

But despite the unique concept of three-way warfare, WoH never quite feels like a game worth spending money on (which is good, considering it’s free-to-play). A lot of the graphics and assets from Warhammer Online have been ported over, and they’re looking quite a bit worse for the wear by 2012 standards. It could also use a few balance tweaks here and there – some heroes feel unkillable unless ganged-up on, while others (like the obese ogre Drulg) feel plain useless.

Hopefully, these issues will be smoothed out as WoH approaches an official launch, as it’ll have to compete with the F2P greats like DC Universe Online or the upcoming Smite. But, if you’re a diehard Warhammer fan who’s been itching for some quick-and-easy PvP action, Wrath of Heroes might be up your medieval fantasy alley.

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