I've been seduced into the new MMO, Warhammer Online - Rissa Maidstone can be persuasive!
I've played a bit now, both as my main, a High Elf Swordsmaster (a tank), and on behalf of my affiliate personality, an Empire Witch Hunter (range and melee DPS).
Quick summary? It's definitely not My First MMO, and the avatar detail and graphics aren't much to my liking, but it's much more social for a lowbie than World of Warcraft. I'll keep playing.
Let's start with the negatives, because starting the game is one of its biggest drawbacks: the time from launching the application to starting play is *endless.* Three unavoidable splash screens, the infuriating need to scroll through the EULA and click twice *every time* you enter the game, and long load times leading into and out of the character-choice menu make for a long long long long long wait.
Next, one account gets you 10 characters as opposed to WoW's 50. 10 is plenty for me, but I know that's going to be a liability for some people (hi, Ali! :p ).
Surprisingly, the avatars seem visually cruder and less interesting than WoW's, as part of Warhammer's overall aesthetic. WAR looks a lot like a circa-2003 PC game (I'm thinking of Heroes of Might & Magic V in particular). I know WoW's painted-cartoony style isn't to everyone's taste, but I found WAR's style much more game-like and less immersive than other things I've tried.
Also, I haven't found a way to zoom my camera in, or a tool for taking screenshots other than "PRT SC" and pasting into a graphics program. Very limiting. Here's a screenshot:
It seems to me that Electronic Arts sees its market as bored veteran WoW players, rather than first-time gamers: the similarity to WoW is enormous, but WAR lacks WoW's slow, gentle start: rather than teach players basic skills through quests, WAR drops them into the middle of an invasion, and it's possible to get very dead very fast, while trying to learn the interface and systems on the fly. I still haven't figured out quest tracking, crafting, or any number of other things I probably should know by level 4.
And, WAR can't be faulted for being what it is, but omg am I sick of Tolkienesque fantasy! Give me *anything* else, please! I think a huge contributor to my staying more than a day in WoW was my coming in Horde-side and staring in the gorgeous red desert of Durotar. I really hate the northern European mythology that dominates MMOs the way superheroes (which I like) dominate comics. If anything drives me out of WAR, it'll likely be having my fill of the setting.
On the positive side:
I like the immediacy of it: the premise is that the lands of Order have just been invaded, and you've got to get your butt out onto the front lines *now*! Lore also plays a much more intimate part than it does in WoW: as you interact with the world, you unlock large blocks of story that build out from the immediacy of the invasion.
Public quests are terrific. The starting area has several mini-stories that reset fairly regularly - if you wander into their areas, you can join pick-up groups for a 20-minute-ish sort of instance run. They're fun, fast-paced and rewarding.
Rissa was right: Realm vs. Realm, little "capture the flag" instances against a group of players from the opposite side is fun, and in my one try without the psycho teen aggression that seems to characterize player vs. player in other games. In my one run, Order got stomped- we were a mob, while Destruction was working as a team. I was about half an hour into the game, and hadn't really known what I was getting myself into, but it was still fun and a good introduction.
While the first hour of play isn't as brilliantly crafted to socialize newbies as WoW's is, one thing that I did like was the character creation screen's clarity on the roles of the various races and classes: they *tell* you whether the type is a tank, or ranged DPS, or front-line healer. That information might have saved me the frustration of starting in WoW with a Shaman, a class I never really got a handle on, and abandoned at Level 28 in favor of the *much* better fit of a tanking class.
So, if you want to give WAR a try, come to the Middenheim server, Order side, and look for me among the High Elves! We'll probably get a guild going soon - I'll update when we do.