Sunday, March 07, 2010

Return to WAR: 10-day trial on Shadow Warrior

After having been absent from Warhammer Online for a year I decided I would take up Mythic's offer on a 10-day trial. With this trial you are able to return to your previous account and continue where you left off. My goal was to not only investigate new content as well as Mythic's claims in regards to upgraded performance but I also wanted to get an inside look on class balance, particularly in reference to my beloved main class, the Shadow Warrior.


I did notice slight improvements to performance but I am going to be blunt, the game still severely lacks when you immerse yourself in large-scale RvR keep sieges. As any Warhammer Online player knows, the performance at launch during large battles was dreadful and it still is. Even on my Nvidia GTX 260 with a quad-core machine I am having mass lag when taking keeps. The strange thing is that with the same amount of people (approximately 40 Order) we could capture battle objectives with zero lag. I say the same amount of people because Destro rarely is there to actually defend keeps anymore so it becomes a strictly pve experience but once you get up into the closed corridors on the main floor where the keep lord resides the lag kicks in. On the plus side, a lot of old bugs have indeed been squashed. On the Order side our main city Altdorf was in shambles at launch and was very choppy and I kid you not, I even found a cat in sleeping position sliding all through the streets one day. At certain locations in Altdorf glitches would occasionally even crash my computer to desktop. A lot has changed since launch though, I found moving through the city much more smooth and this was also the case in many other zones. On the flip side, many bugs still exist. To list a few, keep doors still bug out frequently, scenario queues occasionally bug out and you have to log out to ensure you are queued properly, certain class abilities do not work or still have incorrect tooltips, crash to desktop, etc. The list goes on with both smaller, annoying bugs to large, game-breaking bugs. Even the bugs that seem would be easy fixes have not been dealt with for extended periods of time as if they are actually unsure how to fix them. It is almost as if a lot of the developers on the Mythic team are inexperienced as they struggle time and time again with making edits. Sometimes I question whether or not the developers truly understand the coding of their own game.


I was saddened to find out that my chosen server at launch Dark Crag, which became the most heavily populated Open RvR server in North America was now closed! In fact, out of the mass amount of servers they began with only four remain and they are ALL core servers. The remaining four are Iron Rock, Badlands, Volkmar & Gorfang.

Luckily Mythic allows you to transfer your characters for free to any of the four remaining servers with a fairly easy process done on the Mythic master account page.

I decided to join Iron Rock & found that due to the server mergers the population still seems very large. Mythic has made changes to the scenarios and they pop very frequently in Tier 4. At peak times I found that scenarios can pop anywhere from instantly to within two minutes. Late in the evening I still found them active within every 10 minutes. The same times unfortunately do not apply to Tier 2 & 3 though. I found a few people complaining one day that they had not seen a Tier 2 scenario pop for over two hours around 11pm at night. Considering scenarios are one of the only ways to get through Tier 2 & 3 without killing yourself from the monotony of doing quests it is quite hard getting past those stages of the game for any new player or a returning player that has re-rolled.

If that wasn't bad enough news, due to Mythic's new endless trial a new problem has arisen that many previous World of Warcraft players were already familiar with from the days of old. Tier 1 TWINKS!!! You heard me....the infamous twinking community that was finally shunned in World of Warcraft with the addition to battleground experience points have now found a new home in Warhammer Online. Due to the fact that you can not level beyond rank 10 on an endless trial there is now a brooding community of max level characters in Warhammer that now buy up all of the rank 10 and below rare & epic weapons/gear for inflated, ridiculous prices and they send them to their "twink endless trial account". Thus creating supremely overpowered rank 10 characters that camp the Tier 1 scenarios demolishing any new players who might actually be testing out the game for the first time. Nice oversight Mythic! It doesn't surprise me though, Mythic has made bad decisions since launch and developing a system where twinking is possible is just another step backwards for this company. Even Blizzard had the gall to step up and eliminate twinking from their game once and for all after several years of abuse so what does Mythic do? They delete the Open RvR servers and then they give the griefers a comfortable home in Tier 1 to welcome any new players that might be testing out the game. There is nothing like testing out a game just to get one-shot repeatedly by a scenario filled with twinks. I am sure this new system is going to ensure a lot of new subscriptions (Can you smell the sarcasm?).


A large part of a Massive Multiplayer game involves a hobby I like to call "Digital Barbie". Investing a lot of time into an MMO takes the true grit of a genuine gamer and at the end of the day we have epic loot to show-off how awesome we are.  We all know there is nothing like getting your wife or husbands attention to say "Hey, look at the new fat loot I just got, doesn't it look great on my character?" just to have them reply "I never knew I was marrying a nerd". All jokes aside, being rewarded with epic, sparkling new gear that replaces your old equipment gives a real sense of accomplishment and is an excellent meta-game that all MMO's share due to the game structure.

Unfortunately Mythic doesn't understand just how important that aspect of the game is for many. I recall leveling up and acquiring new bows or armor just to equip them and notice that the item had the exact same model as my old piece of gear.I realize that to some extent all MMO's have this issue but not as drastically as I have seen in Warhammer Online. Sometimes I would upgrade my bow, sword or any other piece of equipment up to four times in a row over the course of ten levels and see the same model every single time. As I neared endgame I stopped expecting new models and was surprised when I put on a new piece of gear and actually saw the difference on my character.

To make matters worse, at launch many complained that the stats for their gear and weapons didn't make any sense at all. Occasionally we would even see the opposition gear drop for our faction. If you were unlucky enough to find those items they could not be converted to your faction and therefore could not be equipped. I remember hearing somebody rant in general chat one day about how they had spent four hours in a dungeon and killed a raid boss only to have it drop a piece of gear usable by the other faction only. Back to the matter at hand though, even though I did not witness any pieces of the opposition gear drop this time around, the itemization has not improved. Sure it is easier to obtain (acquiring various tokens from scenarios & keep sieges which can be traded in for gear) but the question you want to obtain it? For example, my Shadow Warrior was wearing a piece of gear which only required RR 33.  When I dinged RR 41 I was ready to equip a new, upgraded piece of RvR gear until I realized that it had reduced stats from the old piece of gear. How does that make any sense? Eight RR levels higher and the replacement gear is actually worse. I spoke with my guild about this and apparently all classes have similar issues. Whether the stats are worse or just not relevant for their build or even their class it is common across the board that itemization in this game was rushed and executed very sloppily. From what I saw during this return, they have not taken any time to work on this issue.

Class Balance from a Shadow Warrior perspective

As for class balance, Mythic has consistently shown that the development team has no real clue what they are doing with each patch. Every time new patch notes have been announced the Warhammer community has been baffled by mind-blowing nerfs for underpowered classes, buffs for overpowered classes & various other ridiculous changes. That isn't all though, alongside each patch has come new bugs & the reappearance of old bugs. When I envision the Mythic office I can't help but picture a thousand monkeys sitting at desks with Commodore 64's. Firing nearly all of them didn't seem to help either.

As for the class that I painstakingly took to end-game in hopes that one day the developers would listen to the community I have to say that almost nothing has changed. Shadow Warriors (SW) may possibly be the worst class I have ever played in any MMO and that is saying quite a lot considering I have dabbled in nearly every MMO created. Since launch I have wondered how Mythic validates this class as a viable aspect to any team. Our dps is the weakest out of all the dps classes and our survivability isn't any better. They have no escape mechanics, extremely low dps (damage per second), and to top it all off their cc (crowd control) is bypassed too easily. They have one tactic that effects their parties crit rate but is that all they can really contribute? Playing on my Shadow Warrior I couldn't help but think that they should either have more dps or more team mechanics/escape abilities to become remotely viable. Since launch I continued telling myself all the way to rank 40 that it would get better and if we were not a viable class the developer team would work on us and bring us up to par.

Nonetheless, the Shadow Warrior remains widely regarded as one of the weakest classes in the game. A few trolls may not agree, but the majority of the Shadow Warrior player base, not too mention many players of other careers, appear to feel this way. Considering the general opinions of the players and the statements of the game's developers, for the purpose of this post, let's assume that the SW needs to be improved to match their mirror career. Discussions about this career always seem to be plagued by a select few players vehemently disagreeing but without any explanation why, beyond the typical rant about festering arrow which is unjust as I will outline below.

General issues

SW damage capabilities are unimpressive. The idea seems to be that we sacrifice the last edge of damage that a WE or BW might have in exchange for versatility, but this versatility is rarely applicable. Outside of the occasional Festering Arrow with its three augmentative self-buffs, the SW can do little to threaten an equal opponent compared to what other DPS classes are capable of.

Arrow flight times effectively add to the already long cast times of bow attacks. When shooting from maximum range (generally around 100ft), the time between the arrow being launched and hitting its target can be upwards of two seconds. Not only does this hinder damage output and burst reliability, it also frequently renders the attacks futile because the target may become invalid (dying, moving, healed to full etc.) before the arrow lands. In fact, more often than not the target becomes invalid rendering your cast time wasted as the arrow never fires even though you sat immobile for 2-3 seconds.

The SW appears to be the only career in the game without an escape mechanism or a level of survivability that compensates for the lack of one.

Our Rank 4 Morale abilities are poor. Two of them are channeled but deal no more damage than what other careers get as instant attacks. Another is half direct damage and half dot. The last is a melee attack. Also, the mastery trees are outlined in such a way that there is no good spec which can get a M4 mastery ability because it isn't worth the things you'll have to sacrifice.

The stance mechanic is a restriction, and with the exception of Assault Stance's strength conversion, the stance bonuses do not make up for the fact that we can at any given time not use half of our abilities. Also, with a 5s cooldown on stance switching, changing stances in combat is impractical. This is a problem because many of our utility abilities are stance-specific. It is also possible to become stanceless by accidentally clicking the stance twice (this is not uncommon in laggy situations) and thus rendered completely useless for 5 seconds as virtually all of our abilities require a stance to use. The only other class in the game that uses a stance system (Marauder) does not have the ability to become stanceless by accidentally double clicking so why does the Shadow Warrior?

As we know, Shadow Warriors are High Elves which is just another kick in the groin becauase the High Elf racial tactics are unbelievably poor and never worth using.

We are forced to fight with one single-handed weapon at all times. Bows have one-handed DPS, and we use a single one-handed sword for melee. Our ability damage values do not compensate for this, and the lack of the +10% innate parry bonus from dual-wield is a concern as well.

There is an overall conceptual problem with the hybrid class idea. Since a SW can only ever do one thing at a time, forcing us to perform sub-par at each thing makes us sub-par at all times. Also, there is poor synergy with our tactics as they generally only affect one aspect of the class, and are in fact sometimes detrimental to other elements (see Expert Skirmisher).

The class seems to have been designed in a hurry. We have duplicate skill icons (Exploit Weakness and Whirling Pin), duplicate skill names (two abilities named Steady Aim), unfinished mechanics (Vengeance) and other signs of insufficient design effort.

Tree-specific concerns


Outside of the every-two-minutes buffed Festering Arrow, a Scout SW does very poor damage. This is a combination of low ability damage, long cast times, long arrow flight times and few tactics that augment the damage output.

The AoE capabilities of this tree are very poor as we have only two AoE abilities (Flame Arrow and Glass Arrow) neither of which are much good. Part of the problem appears to be that the total damage of these abilities have been divided into direct damage and splash damage components, so when the splash damage is what you want, the damage is lacking. These AoE attacks also have less range than other Scout attacks, negating some of the advantage of long range.

The direct damage abilities are unimpressive as well. Festering Arrow is good, but the rest is barely worth using. Eagle Eye, unlike its mirror SH ability, does not get its cast time halved and is nearly worthless. Rapid Fire is decent, but only because it's the Scout SW's only way of dealing damage immediately without the cast+flight delay. It hits for under 200 even on the squishiest targets, and easily for less than 100 on a tank. This is quite funny because the SH ability does upwards to 3x that amount of damage for the exact same ability all the meanwhile they have a Squig pet harassing & adding extra damage at the same time. Also, Eagle Eye is the only Scout attack without a cooldown & that is only the case if you purchase and then use the tactic from the scout tree.

Many feel that Scout Stance's range boost is not enough. 10% is very little, and we have no abilities with a range greater than 100ft. Several other careers have 150ft abilities and/or tactics that increase the range of whole trees by 50%. Considering that the Shadow Warrior is the archery class, the lack of range advantage is peculiar. We go into Scout stance for a +10% bonus to range and still have the shortest range of the ranged classes in Warhammer...because once again that makes a lot of sense.

The Scout SW's saving grace is the big Festering Arrow crit. It's the only thing people seem to notice, and some have in fact claimed that the class needs to be nerfed because of it. Since some are still unaware of the specifics of this process, let me explain that it's more than just an attack that crits for up to 4k. First of all, the 4k crit is only possible for extremely well-geared SWs; the "normal" SWs usually crit for 3200-3500 on non-tanks, and considerably less on tanks or anyone who has stacked toughness. To get this crit, it takes the 3s-cast Festering Arrow as well as three short-duration, long-cooldown buffs: Vengeance of Nagarythe, Steady Aim, and the Morale 2 Unshakeable Focus (6s duration, +100% damage). The last two abilities must be activated after the arrow is launched and before it lands. It is literally impossible to do this if you're not at long range, and it still takes a good deal of precision. Under high-stress circumstances such as large-scale ORvR, fortresses and city fights, it is simply not possible due to how poorly the engine handles performance.

Scout attacks are very slow and laborious to use. We have to stand still and we have to struggle with range and line of sight with abilities that have up to 3s cast and 1-2s flight time. It's very, very common for a target to become invalid in the time between an ability is activated and the arrow lands, in one of several ways:

1) The target leaves range or line of sight. With up to five seconds between successfully executed attacks, it leaves plenty of room and time to evade the SW, and often the flow of battle itself will render a shot useless.

2) The target dies before the shot lands. This happens very often, and with a string of bad luck, the SW can go for a long time without dealing any significant damage as he repeatedly goes through the slow process of firing a high-damage attack only to see the target taken down before it lands.

3) The target is healed. Since a Scout SW deals damage in spaced-out chunks, it's incredibly easy to heal through. The time to land a Festering Arrow from maximum range is upwards of five seconds.

4) Abilities with long cast times are easy to interrupt, and the SW is very obvious when he arches his back, lifts his bow into the air and slowly pulls back the string. If you're not left alone while attacking a target, the above problems only become worse. As a light-armored DPS class, you are rarely left alone.


We lack many of the tools that make MDPS careers work. We have no CC removal, no Charge! and no way of fetching an opponent or catching them save for our single snare ability which has a cast time, a long cooldown and most importantly, is not available in Assault Stance. We do not have an armor debuff that works in melee or is any good without a heavy Scout spec for that matter, and we can neither dual-wield nor use great weapons.

Very few tactics help melee damage. Expert Skirmisher (+25% damage if the target is within 45ft, -20% if they are not) is required in order to do respectable damage, but it makes us very weak at range, removing much of the hybrid essence of the class. We do not have a +160 strength tactic, no reliable +crit tactic, no +50% crit damage tactic and no flanking bonus. We don't have a pet that we can choose not to use for an extra +25% damage. We only have Sinister Assault and Wrist Slash, both of which boost only a single skill, and the latter is generally not considered worth using.

Our standard melee attack, the only one without a cooldown, is Grim Slash. The damage is quite low. Compared to something like Razor Strike, and combined with the fact that we normally have less strength and less damage boosts from tactics, the Assault SW's damage output is very low.


Skirmish is the SW's mobile, medium-range line. It's the least common spec and is often viewed as nothing but a secondary supplement to a main Scout or Assault spec. It provides Shadow Sting, arguably the best skill the SW has, but not much else.

We do not have the +50% range tactic that our mirror has, leaving us at a 65ft range max, and the designers seem to want us to limit ourselves even further to 45ft with tactics like Expert Skirmisher and Charge Forth (which have been bugged since launch and do not work together, though this is rumored to have been fixed on the PTS). 45ft is a suicidally short range for a DPS class that lacks the core MDPS survivability skills, and is in fact so short that another melee player can often move towards you and disable you faster than you can avoid it.

Our Skirmish abilities lack any form of burst damage. They all have cast times, except for the dots, making them universally worse than melee attacks for the purpose of dealing quick damage. Flanking Shot has a 10s cooldown, and positional attacks are even harder to use from range since you can't easily circle around to an opponent's back. Our 13-point ability Barrage is nearly identical to the free R40 attack Lileath's Arrow, and both have issues with targeting and terrain. It's also extremely difficult to use frontal cone attacks while kiting.

Skirmish Stance is so poor that even Skirmish-specced SWs use Assault Stance for its armor bonus. The ~20% physical mitigation that our light armor affords us just doesn't work at such a close range without the tools given to WHs and WEs, and the 5% crit bonus is an insignificant damage boost.

Non-tree abilities

Vengeance of Nagarythe seems to have been a planned class mechanic that wasn't fully developed. The 15s duration on a 2m cooldown is pitiful, and it really limits the usefulness of the "when vengeful" effects that some of our abilities have.

Whirling Pin, our sole method of survivability besides our standard detaunt, can be parried and blocked. Roots are not very effective in the first place, and this will rarely save your life because 98% of the time it doesn't work...and if it does you more than likely have a DoT on your target which will break it anyways. Considering that Whirling Pin is based off of strength you have to be specced Assault for this to have any effect at all on most classes which makes it absolutely useless as an escape mechanic for scout & skirmisher.

Hunter's Fervor is nearly useless as an AP management tool. You don't start to regenerate AP until like two seconds after you've stopped using abilities, so this is largely worthless. It barely covers its own 25AP cost.

Steady Aim is useless. It has a chance to improve the possibility of a crit at the cost of adding 1.5 seconds to all cast times which makes this ability more of a debuff than a buff.

As for our Morale abilities, our rank 3 morale "Instill Fear" is supposed to serve as another escape mechanic staggering all opponents around you for a short period but during my trial I never staggered one single opponent during the entire course of my return. In fact, it didn't do anything except waste my morale and ensure my death. Our rank 1 morale "Point Blank" is our knock back ability and though it can be effective when it works I noticed that it simply would not knock back Choppa's which are a class that when they get in range can kill you in two hits. Our rank 2 morale ability gives us a substantial increase to our damage but for such a short amount of time (6 seconds) that it largely goes to waste trying to trigger it and then a festering arrow which due to the problems with cast time & arrow travel times does not actually complete as your target is now out of line of sight, out of range or dead. So the 6 seconds of a substantial damage boost and all of your accumulated morale is wasted on this ability more often than not.

The importance of joining a guild

On the plus side my brother also returned to his Arch Mage just prior to me and he had joined a guild of friendly players. I was invited to the guild and found doing scenarios as a premade kept my Shadow Warrior a lot safer and overall made the game much more enjoyable. When you are talking in vent and joking around even the mindless duty of riding the zerg train doing keep sieges and battle objectives can be fun. The difference between playing solo & playing alongside a group of other friendly gamers is like night & day. Warhammer Online was created as a team game and it comes across quite clear when running around solo.


If anyone out there is considering Returning to WAR I would highly recommend you find an active guild. If your main character was a Shadow Warrior or Magus I would recommend re-rolling as these two classes fall short on multiple levels. Most of the other classes seem to have their pluses and minuses though occasionally one class will seem much worse than it's mirror which can be frustrating for a lot of people who have dedicated so much time in a character that doesn't compete with the oppositions mirror.  Rest assured though, if you are anything other than a Shadow Warrior or Magus your class is still manageable and if you feel weak just remind yourself that there are other classes much worse off. A couple classes are still overpowered and if you played Warhammer Online at launch you already know who the culprits are. I am not going to direct people to those classes though, I feel you should roll something that interests you outside of the two most widely known as "weak" classes that I listed above. Overall, Warhammer Online has some excellent elements and can be enjoyable when you play with the right attitude.

The unfortunate thing is that class balance is a major issue for quite a few classes and even worse for the unfortunate people that rolled the weakest classes in the game and placed hope in Mythic's ability to adjust the game and balance the classes over time. It didn't happen and we have to face the fact that Warhammer Online is now in maintenance mode and no further major balancing will be done.  I say this because of the fact that they fired the lead designer Mark Jacobs when Mythic joined companies with Bioware and they removed a lot of the other developers that were around at launch. In my eyes this is a good thing but I can imagine the new team assigned to this game is more than likely baffled by the jumbled code that the game was founded on and it will be a learning curve for them to actually sort out all of the problems...which I don't think they are willing to invest the time on. The games code is probably a mess and changing one thing always seems to break another. We can only hope that the masters from Bioware who created such titles as Mass Effect & Dragon's Age as well as many other amazing titles from the past does not allow Mythic to touch the upcoming Bioware game "Star Wars: The Old Republic".

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