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Hands On: WAR – Land of the Dead [PC]

Nothing ever stays dead in videogames. Villains pop back up multiple times in some games, and frequently in sequels. Fallen heroes mysteriously turn up later. And you never, ever, ever want to go into a graveyard or tomb, because the dead there are usually suffixed with “un.” All of this said, you can imagine my trepidation when I booted up Warhammer Online to check out the Land of the Dead area which will soon be added to the game.

Added to the game for free, no less, and it’s a sizeable chunk of content. I can happily reel off the numbers – you’ve got 18 new Public Quests (four easy, and 14 normal), four instanced Lairs, a whole host of enemies, quests, and gameplay elements, and the gigantic Tomb of the Vulture Lord dungeon, which contains eight PQs on its own, along with multiple paths, timing and puzzle-based traps, and at least nine bosses.

It’s the gameplay elements that are the intriguing part, though, with a fair few borrowed from Dark Age of Camelot’s Darkness Falls expansion. For starters, there’s a bit of an open progression system, and reason to repeat the new PQs. Rather than just providing you with items or a bit of equipment, you’re generally rewarded with glyphs and tokens. The tokens are traded in to vendors in exchange for bits of equipment, while the glyphs are one-use items that provide access to the Lairs.

Each Lair requires a specific set of three glyphs to enter, but in a nice touch, the glyphs aren’t removed from your inventory until the Lair’s end boss has been defeated, so going in with the wrong group or having people leave doesn’t spell disaster. While we didn’t get a chance to see any of these in action, we’re promised that each will have a proper end boss encounter, with some interesting mechanics in play – mechanics which, I can happily state, we did see.

Before we get onto those, though, there’s one huge element that really needs to be addressed, and that’s the Purge system. The Land of the Dead area can only be accessed by one faction at a time, with the control shifted by murdering players, capturing keeps, and generally taking part in RvR back in the original areas of the game. It’s when control shifts that things get really interesting, though.

If you happen to be in the Land of the Dead when control shifts to the other side, then you’re given a warning, and shortly thereafter, enemy players will begin entering the area. At this stage, respawning won’t take you back to your camp – you’re kicked out of the zone; you have to respawn in your capital city and recapture the Land of the Dead before you can get back in. That’s interesting enough, but the best idea is with regards to instances.

If you happen to be in an instance when control of the zone shifts, then an enemy team can head into your instance. When they do, a 30 minute timer starts, and you need to survive; if you die, you’re back at the capital city, so keeping healers and classes with the ability to resurrect alive is vital. If you survive for the 30 minutes, you can carry on with the instance unmolested. If you fall, then they can take over the instance from where you left off – and the winner of these little in-instance Purges is rewarded with an additional chest. Things will be balanced due to the added mechanics for dungeons and boss fights, with traps and the like on full display. Trying to kill an enemy team while avoiding swinging axes is complex enough; throw in a group of mobs and we’re really interested.{PAGE TITLE=WAR – Land of the Dead Continued}But enough of the data: this is a hands-on. Rolling Rank 40 characters in ridiculously good gear, three other journos, two European community managers and I rode into the sands to check out some of the new PQs and areas on display.

The first we saw asked us to gather jars on a pedestal, which were sufficiently heavy that the carrier was slowed. Snakes constantly appeared and attacked those holding the jars, so half of our group set to taking them, while half protected them. Once we got ten of those in, we suffered another attack – this time, creatures trying to steal the jars, which meant that killing them quickly and taking the jars back to the pedestal was the order of the day. And then, er, a boss spawned and killed us all. Oops.

What was immediately obvious was that the Egyptian theme works well. The enemies here are new, the vistas in the desert are wide open and spectacular, and there are plenty of lovely graphical touches, with fallen pillars partially covered in sand contrasting nicely to the gigantic pyramid that dominates the west of the area.

Of the other PQs we saw, a few stood out. One, which we actually won, involved a staggeringly large bone giant, with plenty of knockback attacks that defined our tactics. Another had to be completed while dodging lasers that fired out of an obelisk and blasted across the terrain, which did negligible damage in the first phase, but were almost instant-kills by the third, which could be a worry for those with latency issues. (“I love this PQ,” joked Magnus Aalto, one of our community manager guides. “It lets us say that the Land of the Dead has lasers.”)

The most interesting to me, though, was one we didn’t fully see. This was set in the Library of Zandri, with the second phase of the PQ revolving around portals going into books – literally. If the book is about yetis, then the portal will transport the player who enters to a winter wonderland full of the hairy beasts. Each portal is a very short one-man instance, and as soon as player enters, every undead creature left in the Library rushes to attack the portal, so it’s all about that one player completing the instance (which shouldn’t take more than two or three minutes, we suspect) while everyone else in the group defends it as hard as they can.

There’s a lot of imagination and a lot of mechanics that feel genuinely new in this area, and I can’t help but think that it might give WAR a bit of a boost in player numbers. Once it’s sharpened up and the remaining bugs are polished off, there’s going to be a lot of innovative gameplay here, and the ability to access it at level 25 means that the majority of players can find a reason to head here.


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