Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning - hands-on

After finishing up Mount Gunbad, Oneye and Skullsmasha head off to Bastion Stair, an open-world dungeon targeted for levels 33 through 40. Warhammer lore is deep and plentiful - so deep and plentiful that providing the full backstory behind Bastion Stair would take more space than we have here. The very short version: A rift has opened in the fabric of the universe, thanks to Khorne, who is basically the god of murder and battle. In addition to facing off against Khorne’s henchmen, we’ll also be battling soldiers from the Empire of Order who came here to rescue an artifact and then became corrupted. Bastion Stairs’ setting is a blood-hued ancestral hall filled with members of Khorne’s bloodherd. In the first wing, we’re battling against ungor (evil dudes with small devil horns), gor (bigger evil dudes with bigger ram’s horns), and tuskgors (their pets, which look like warthogs with a dozen tusks sticking out of their faces).

Another of the team’s goals: player-versus-environment tactics escalate as you make your way through dungeons. Earlier stages give you the chance to learn techniques and practice them, but by the time you reach the end of the third wing, you’ll need to have these fighting tactics down cold in order to complete the dungeon successfully. Happily, if you die in the learning process you’ll respawn in the dungeon, so you won’t have a long trek from a graveyard to rejoin the rest of your party. We fight our way through a trail of ancestral halls, against an assortment of enemies and minibosses, culminating in the end boss, which is a gigantic naked, red, horned, and hooved Bloodthirster demon that towers over us. In Warhammer lore, Bloodthirster demons are far too powerful for mere soldiers to actually kill, so, instead of him dying at the end of the boss fight, he is sucked back into the rift, leaving only his giant battle-ax behind.

The last dungeon we visit is actually the final instanced dungeon of the game, called Lost Vale. As with open-world dungeons, the most people you’ll need to run an instanced dungeon is six, a decision that was again motivated by accessibility. Lost Vale is a green, lush outdoor area that was the home of the Everqueen, leader of the High Elves; however, Dark Elves have made their way in and have now enslaved the Everqueen. Since it’s the highest player-versus-environment instance in the game, Lost Vale is larger than the average dungeon - each wing here will take about two hours to finish, and in addition to the wing bosses and final end-boss, there are also three sub-bosses in each level.

Like the open-world dungeons, you can choose to tackle instanced dungeons in sections. In fact, since each wing has multiple sections, each with its own sub-boss, you can even choose to complete only a portion of a wing in a single sitting.You can also swap out party members from one session to the next, so if three members of your party can’t make it on the second night, you can find three other people who have already run the first wing and sub them in. The team considers Lost Vale one of its proudest accomplishments. Says Bales, “We’ve spent the most time of any of our dungeons on Lost Vale. Often, in other MMOs, the company will spend a lot of time making sure the beginning of the game is wonderful, but the rest of it can sort of peter off. But we haven’t done that with Warhammer. From start to finish, all the way through, we’ve spent the time and resources necessary to make the entire game compelling.”

If you spend the time, you’ll also find little extras scattered throughout the dungeons. For example, one of the wing bosses you’ll encounter is the White Fire Queen, a giant spider who can ensnare you with her web. However, before you reach her, you’ll find mysterious menhir shards that can ultimately be traded in to get a torch that helps you burn through her webs and defeat her more quickly.