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Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning - hands-on

Warhammer Online may focus on realm-versus-realm (aka, Order versus Destruction) combat, including epic raids on enemy keeps and large-scale battles between opposing races, but it’s hard to imagine an MMO without a little dungeon crawling. Fortunately, EA Mythic has more than a little planned for WAR, and while you’ll definitely recognize some elements from MMOs past, the team also plans to incorporate modifications that will evolve the concept of dungeons. We played through three different dungeons with the EA Mythic team, and tried out some of these new ideas.

We’re standing in the lobby area for the first dungeon, Mount Gunbad, which is for Destruction characters at levels 23-30. Gabe Amantangelo, WAR’s encounter lead, is playing as Skullsmasha, a hulking Black Orc tank, while I’m suited up as Oneye, a little Goblin Squig Herder about half Skullsmasha’s size. One of EA Mythic’s primary goals for dungeons is lowering the barrier to entry, to encourage more people to play them. One way they’re doing this is by shortening the amount of time you’ll need to commit to a single sitting. While dungeons are still full, rich experiences, they’re all split into three different wings, and an average wing in an average dungeon will take about an hour-and-a-half to run. The great thing is that you don’t have to run the wings all in one sitting - you could choose to do them over three separate nights.

While WAR definitely has its share of instanced dungeons (more on that later), Mount Gunbad is actually an open-world dungeon. This means anyone on the Destruction side can enter it at any point and find themselves playing with other people who are running it as well. “One of the nice things about an open-world dungeon is that you can go in and meet people,” says Destin Bales, the game’s expansion producer. “It has a more alive feel to it. In Dark Age of Camelot, all of our dungeons were open world, and they would become places where people would meet and group and find friends and form guilds. It’s more spontaneous in nature.”

Mount Gunbad is located in the Marshes of Madness, an area that was once a necromatic empire of the Morcane, but is now overrun by goblins. Longtime fans of the Warhammer series will see how the lore influences the stories behind the dungeons and the content within them. Here in Mount Gunbad, the atmosphere is a classic dark and cavernous setting, which seems fitting for our introductory dungeon. Each of the wings is governed by a theme of sorts, meaning you’ll encounter different enemy types in each area. In this first wing, we’re fighting night goblins and spiders, but Amatangelo tells me that we’ll start seeing trolls and undead pop up in later wings.

While two people wouldn’t actually be able to run this dungeon alone (thanks, invincibility cheat!), we’re not as far from the requirement as you might expect: EA Mythic has designed the dungeons so that the maximum number of people you’ll need to successfully complete them will be six. Bales explains, “We wanted to lower the barrier to entry so more people can enjoy the content that we have to offer. I’ve got a family, and many other people here [at EA Mythic] do as well, and we know how difficult it is to commit the time. Even if the dungeon crawl itself isn’t several hours, the process of getting 40 people together can be a multi-hour experience, and we just didn’t feel our game needed that.”

After checking out some of the creatures in Mount Gunbad, including risen undead and redeye mixas, we reach the final section. Each wing of a dungeon has a boss at the end, and at the final stage of the dungeon, you’ll enter a room and encounter the six-man end boss. In Mount Gunbad, this is a giant squig (a big fleshy ball with two gigantic mouths crammed with super-sharp teeth); he happens to have a Morcane artifact nearby that powers him up. That Morcane artifact also provides you with the boss battle’s main challenge: if you let the squig stay too close to it he’ll become empowered to erupt projectile vomit and other equally lovely substances, but keep him away too long and he becomes enraged, upping his damage-dealing level. It requires a careful balancing act to finally take him out.