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.