by Ryan Phillip Hardesty
previewed on PC
An Unconquered Universe
For twenty-three years, miniature space marines, demons and orcs have been dominating the lives of the strategically-minded. Placed together in squads and across ravaged battlefields, tiny but imposing figures have waged epic wars in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, the ultimate tabletop strategy game for anyone with a heart for brutal, ambitious, sci-fi action. Over the years, the game has evolved - from comics to novels, and particularly real-strategy computer games (Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War and its sequel). But now the franchise will step into arguably its biggest transition ever: the massively multiplayer online game. Announced in March 2007 and finally revealed at last month’s E3 in the form of a single trailer, Warhammer 40,000: Dark Millennium Online will catapult the game from the table to the computer, only this time around you will not be joined by four or five people, but thousands.
Walking the MMO Tightrope
Published by THQ (Dawn of War’s publishers) and developed by Vigil Games, Dark Millennium will incorporate the typical play style of the MMO: the role-playing game. You will customize your character with options that Vigil developers have promised are the most numerous of any MMO. You will then disembark into the frenzied, spectacular world that is Warhammer 40,000. Vigil developers have likened the gameplay to World of Warcraft, and for any instant naysayers, that should be looked at as a great thing. The term ‘WoW killer’ has been thrown around in previews for virtually any MMO since WoW’s creation but straying too far from a promising set of values is risky at best and damning at worst. If Vigil can streamline game mechanics familiar to twelve million people, that is a damn good start for accessibility, the first component required for a successful MMO.
At the same time, Dark Millennium will depart from World of Warcraft in ways that should set itself up as enticingly distinct. Firstly, the 40K universe inherently requires an aura of brutal seriousness. Anyone sick of dancing gnomes and flowery elves need not look anywhere else. Secondly, several mechanics of previous 40K video games will make their appearance, mechanics not often associated with MMOs. Squads and vehicles, both central components to the tabletop game, will be central components in the video game as well, though the exact incarnations of either is still murky.
And while many MMOs use a point-and-click style of aiming, it seems Dark Millennium will be going down a more realistic path since manual aiming has been speculated for a while, and an aiming reticule was spotted in the official trailer for just a second. Lastly, and perhaps most interestingly, Vigil has stated there will be no ‘non-combat’ classes, ensuring that anyone, not matter what primary role they serve, will feel right at home mowing down waves of chumps with a flamethrower and a chainsword.
Though many have expressed worry that Vigil, a young developer with only one game under its belt, is taking the reins of Dark Millennium, the company’s pedigree should not be underestimated. They are a young developer, sure, but also chock-full of employees with an MMO background, and they showed much promise with Darksiders, a game similar in style and theme to 40K that got solid reviews. Their close working relationship with Games Workshop, 40K’s original producers, should also elicit another sigh of relief. Plots, characters and other additions introduced in Dark Millennium will be added to the overall canon. And Vigil was handpicked by THQ for a reason, after all. THQ has been respectable towards the game’s development and has given Vigil a lenient timeframe, something similar to what companies Blizzard and Valve give to themselves: get the game right and then ship it. But even with that in mind, Vigil has stated they are shooting for an early 2013 release date.