The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
Warhammer Online is a well-made, deeply entertaining game that may provide an unparalleled experience for years to come – for a small subset of hardcore player-versus-player gamers in good guilds on balanced servers. For most everyone else, Warhammer will be a reasonably fun time for a month or two before it's time to move on. The game does one thing better than anyone else: open, non-instanced, public realm-versus-realm combat. However, the good design that underlies Warhammer's RvR gameplay only shines through on servers that have a relatively even population of Order and Destruction players. Unfortunately, there aren't many of those.
Thematically, Warhammer's dark aesthetic will appeal to people turned off by World of Warcraft's cartoony style. Mechanically, the game works nearly identically to WoW, with the exceptions that tanks have an extremely fun role in PvP and the player-versus-environment content is boring. The mechanics of the various classes work together to create an endlessly mutable combat dynamic, where teamwork and player skill determine the outcome of the frantic battles. Abilities are varied and fun to use, the community features are second to none, and the servers are largely stable and lag-free.
None of that matters when, as is all too often the case, the only PvP gameplay to be found is in the instanced minigame sessions called Scenarios. On most servers, Destruction badly outnumbers Order, making it an utterly futile gesture for Order to take the field in public RvR spaces. Scenarios, with their enforced even teams, lend themselves to much better gameplay. However, the gimmicky setups (most of them are knockoffs of FPS match types, with analogues to everything from Murderball to Territories) get old after a few dozen rounds. At this point you're stuck grinding out your levels via crappy PvE or in retread scenarios.
When Warhammer works as it's intended, though, it's amazing. Keep sieges and battles for control of objectives in non-instanced combat is an absolute riot when the factions are evenly represented. On those few servers where this situation crops up regularly, WAR reaches its potential and offers an experience as good as anything on the market today.
Standard MMO review caveats apply here (it's a living game, so keep an eye on the patch notes), and Mythic is aware of the problems Warhammer is encountering. It is clearly designed with endgame play as the primary focus - that's where you'll find the best public RvR content, like city sieges - so hopefully these issues will dissolve as the game matures. Unfortunately, with slow leveling between the teens and a level cap of 40, a lot of players will burn out long before the endgame. The foundation is very strong, though, so hopefully Warhammer Online can someday reach its potential for everyone, rather than the lucky few.
Warhammer Online is a two-headed beast that enamors me with its (mostly) balanced class mechanics and innovative public quests, and forces me to throw my keyboard in frustration with its poor balancing in PvE, PvP, and realm-versus-realm battles. Playing Order in this game, which was unfortunately a mistake I made, magnifies the problems even further. Even on my Open RvR realm, there was little open warfare in the world, mostly due to the fact that Mythic made Destruction a far too attractive faction. Better-looking models and classes will always trump sissy looking elves in Conehead helms. Throw in poor quest design, and too much focus on Scenarios (Warhammer's version of the Battleground from World of Warcraft), and we have a potentially great game that doesn't reach its promise due to poor design decisions. Mythic is addressing many of the problems with each new patch, but the product out of the box is flawed in many ways.