Is BioWare's Wrath of Heroes Lazy Development, Or Amazingly Innovative?

By Adam Ma on September 20, 2011, 6:26PM EDT

Most of the time when a developer pulls together a game for the world to get pumped up over there's a process that's followed. First some sort of CGI movie is released alongside a website, with the purpose being to draw eyes and ears to what the overall premise is about. A few months to a year down the line gamers are treated to anything from developer diaries, screenshots, wallpaper, and eventually the coveted gameplay trailer from which the internet makes up their mind about how good (or bad) the game is going to be. There are naturally some exceptions to this process, but as a whole it gives gamers plenty of time to adjust to a new concept or spark some hype-related chatter over whatever said game is about. Then I see something like Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes and I don't even know where to begin. Is this some kind of evil genius at work, or some sinister new trend that will eventually overtake MMO design?

Those unfamiliar with Wrath of Heroes or Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning may not catch this at first, but just to put all the cards out on the table lets say that the issue I have with both games isn't that they're bad per se. It's that they're almost the exact same game.
Ignoring the fact that one was clearly designed years after the other was launched, the two share so many similarities it's hard not to notice.

Those who played Age of Reckoning may recognize just about everything, from character models to spells, classes and level design. It's all ripped straight from the MMO and slapped right into Wrath of Heroes with some very minor (perhaps artistic) differences. Only in this case what I'm now looking at is a version of Age of Reckoning minus all of the things that made the MMO such a hassle to play.

Outside of winning a plethora of awards in 2008 for being innovative, fun, and highly anticipated, Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning was an extreme disappointment to fans. Content was cut from the game on a scale that was difficult to come to terms with, leaving a measly 2 of the 8 planned major cities intact in-game and a slew of world events incomplete or severely broken.

Worse than that was the pacing of the game itself with gamers complaining that after 20 levels the game was dramatically different than what everyone expected it to be. The pacing of levelling ground down to a halt and while some players quit simply because they didn't find it very fun to put themselves through the typical MMO grinder (most can face the fact that levelling in an MMO comes with the purchase/subscription) others stuck through till the end and still found things to be woefully incomplete.

Content was a fairly consistent issue in Age of Reckoning, but the gameplay was a different story. The fast-paced and engaging combat from levels 1-20 is still universally praised, even if end-tier content is more about crowd control and tight-knit group coordination.

So if BioWare takes all of the aspects that made one game questionable, boils it all down to smaller scale, and repackages it as a new product does that count as ingenuity? Part of me wants to say yes, because frankly what I'm seeing is the sort of stylistic RPG combat that I was expecting to get from the MMO's experience and never really felt a part of. But then again BioWare really hasn't done any work here, they've only taken work that others have already done, made it free to play, and adjusted it slightly to be profitable in a different manner. I wouldn't really tolerate this sort of thing from any other franchise and I can only hope that gamers as a whole would agree, but the breaking point for most is when a price tag is attached. Does being a Play4Free title also mean that this is alright?

There's a particular genius in finding a new take on an existing product, and I'm sure that when Wrath of Heroes launches I'll be one of the first to download it alongside everyone else. But it's important to note that the success and failure of such a game holds some pretty heavy consequences in hand. Assuming that this works on Age of Reckoning, what's to stop other developers from finding and resurrecting other titles that may not have worked out to projections? Don't get me wrong I'm happy to participate in Warhammer in any format it may arise, but playing a combat system I've experienced before only streamlined into an entirely new game just rubs me the wrong way. Perhaps a BioWare IP equivalent would be if they re-released Mass Effect 2, but as a visual storybook and just featured all of the 'plot' elements of the game including talking, cutscenes, and character wheel portions. In some respects it would still be (some of) the same game, but there's something dirty about trying to sell the same product twice.

Those in the beta are already crying of imbalances and terrible game design, but frankly that's what a beta is all about. It will take some time for them to get the game to the point where it's naturally ready for release, and we've still yet to see what the inevitable cash shop portion of the game is. Until the final numbers come around it will be difficult to say that Wrath of Heroes was an experiment worth conducting, but I think it's fair to keep a close eye on a concept like this. Re-releasing a game is one thing, but re-releasing the shell of a game as an entirely new concept? That's the kind of plan that I picture a scientist coming up with in a castle, accompanied by a crack of lightning.

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