Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes

Nobody likes to be disappointed, which is why so many gamers were bummed when Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning turned out to be somewhat underwhelming. BioWare and EA are taking another shot at doing right by the rich Warhammer setting with Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes, a free-to-play burst of three-team PvP action. The end result is easy to pick up and play, but might take some time and effort to master.

Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: Wrath of Heroes is not an MMORPG. It’s more properly an ARTS (action real-time strategy) or MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) game, depending on which abbreviation you prefer. In plain English, it’s what you’d get if you take the PvP arenas or battlefields out of a typical MMO and separated them out into their own title. Since the chaotic world of Warhammer Online had a heavy PvP focus anyway, this feels like a natural fit for a spin-off.

Each player in Wrath of Heroes controls one of a number of (surprise!) heroes that is grouped with others in teams of six. Battles are always three-sided, meaning there are 18 players going at it at all times. The first team to 250 points or the side ahead when the time limit expires is the winner. Depending on the map, the road to victory can be as simple as slaying the most opposing players or a more strategic combination of kills and controlling resource points.

Combat does have a lot of familiar MMO trappings. Attacks and other abilities like buffs, snares and heals are mapped to the number keys, though each Hero can only have five active at any given time. There are cooldowns to manage too, which can be a little tricky when the action gets frantic. One thing’s for sure: teamwork is a must, and going it alone will almost always lead to your death.

Thankfully, the next respawn is only a few seconds away, and players can choose a different Hero from the ones available to them if desired. This is a helpful feature for sure, as the Heroes lend themselves pretty clearly to different roles – melee DPS, ranged DPS, healer, tank, and so on – and the team mix can easily be adjusted on the fly. Some even have abilities that specifically depend on the makeup of the team, so it helps to experiment.

 Wrath of Heroes

Players can organize themselves into pre-formed teams called Warbands or simply queue for the next random game with other like-minded folks using the big “Play” button. Whatever the matchmaking formula is, it seems to work well, as this reviewer found himself in battles with fellow newbies more often than not.

Wrath of Heroes keeps plenty of stats on player performance, including kills, assists, captures of resource points and more. All of the numbers are displayed at the end of each match, giving everyone a chance to see who was holding up his or her end of the deal. Rewards also get divvied out in the form of Gold and Experience Points.

Leveling up is done by profile, not by player, which allows new abilities and passive traits called Masteries to be purchased for any Hero owned. Therein lies the rub, because owning other Heroes is expensive. They can be purchased for Gold, but the price is so high that it takes tons of matches to be able to afford any of them.

 Wrath of Heroes

The quicker solution is to buy Gems, the game’s premium currency, for real money. It’s great that the option is there, but as beta testers have pointed out, there’s really no way people who play for free can hope to compete with those who spend money to buy more Heroes and the most powerful goodies. There’s a de facto divide between the haves and have-nots, with no real option to move from the former class to the latter without laying out some dough.

Wrath of Heroes is fun anyway, and might be the best game yet at capturing the chaotic flavor of the Warhammer fantasy universe. It’s a definite must-try if the ARTS/MOBA/whatever genre is your cup of tea, but be prepared to lay out either money or a whole lot of time if you plan on playing with the big boys and girls.