Underneath the whole Mass Effect thing, BioWare has also been active in several other projects, amongst one Command & Conquer. This isn't an article about that though. Rather, the development team has been working on a fantasy Warhmammer MMO that pits three teams of 6 players against each other in arenas. Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes is now in Open Beta as a free-to-play model. Combining BioWare and Warhammer, two of my favorite things in the world; it sounds too good to be true. How come there wasn't a lot more campaigning for this? Perhaps its less than stellar appeal can answer that.
After playing a few matches, the source material of Warhammer barely connects anymore; though it is omnipresent in characters, moves, stages and so on. The action however let's very little of that ever sink in, since attacks need to be mashed at rapid speeds in order to survive and conquer. Then again, stepping back and taking it all in reveals quite a dated look of rectangular textures and visuals that don't wow players in any sense. Arenas are kept basic with vibrant colors, but not much nuance. Every aspect, down to animations and attacks only serves the purpose to keep the battle going. A game doesn't need strong visuals per se, but Wrath of Heroes certainly isn't the top of that claim. It creates an empty or even inexistent ambience that makes gameplay merely a means to an end.
Fortunately, the beginning drive of Wrath to Heroes does titillate with its incessant, quick-fire action that has players running and attacking non-stop. A hero has a set of 3 possible attacks and can get upgraded with 3 perks to alter or enhance the experience somewhat. From there, players can use one standard attack and 4 special moves that each have their own cooldown depending on the force used. Generally, the fifth move is that characters special skill and therefore requires the longest time to respawn. It sounds good on the surface, but here too this all fades into mediocrity due to the game's pace that only allows spewing attacks as a real tactic. This is only slightly altered regarding its respective game modes. Whether players need to kill opposing teams, capture runes or hold control points; everything will need to be done in team and as an attack-vomiting entity.
Additionally, Wrath of Heroes is plagued by some strange control schemes that would feel a lot more natural with a controller. Its third person perspective, without the possibility of an intuitive mouse look, makes attacking and moving around a whole lot harder than it should be. It is possible to zoom all the way in to first person, but that only makes matters worse. On top of that, not all button keys are configurable, which really puts a strain on trying to create a natural key mapping for each and every one. It struggling control scheme is the real deal breaker here, above anything else. The action would flow a lot more clearly if half of the time wasn't spent on trying to get the feel of it right. This can also be applied to targeting, which is tough to get a hold of. It would ease a tactical approach of stinging through to key characters if this would work better. Now, it's more of a potluck.
There are a ton of little incentives though, such as a reel after a match end that adds slots according to certain modifiers. It's also a way for players to gain additional gold and items, though even at the best possible circumstances, achieving anything in the free-to-play version will take ages. This brings us to the next and final nail in this game's coffin: Wrath of Heroes is a decent game for those that can afford it. The basic version is really minimal, with one hero available to upgrade and others free to try, but without the same limited level elements. As characters aren't exactly balanced and people that can afford healers certainly become vital parts of any team; the whole system drops down to a pay to win scheme. For example: A match can land roughly around 100 gold. A character on sale costs around 25000 or so gold pieces and each match takes 15 minutes. Do the math. That's 62 hours of gameplay for, maybe, one character. Good luck in collecting all of them, certainly given the normal price can easily double that.
Let's cut this story short: Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes could be a good game, but for it to get to the excitement level it should, it will need to polish absolutely everything. Characters and gameplay are unbalanced, the free-to-play model is hardly worth the troubles, controls need work and so on. If this game wants players to keep coming back after the Beta, BioWare is going to have to rub much more of its charm all over this empty brawler. Right now, it doesn't really apply to either fan base demographic.