For those of us familiar with Warhammer Online, the game’s latest patch was a long time coming. Game Update 1.4 introduced the much-talked-about Skaven playable classes and several new mechanics in the game’s Realm versus Realm (RvR) campaign. The patch was released Thursday but this weekend’s unusually high influx of players provided me with a glimpse at how the changes would work on a large scale. In short, I am impressed with the new content. The thoughtful changes solved many long-standing problems in WAR. Still, some issues that player’s hoped would be addressed did not make it into this patch.

Probably the most advertised aspect of this patch was the introduction of Skaven, a race of humanoid rats that ordinarily live in underground tunnels, the so-called “Under-Empire” in the Warhammer IP. Unlike the existing 24 careers which fall under the traditional roles of healing, ranged/melee DPS, and tanking, the Skaven classes form specialty support roles in the RvR campaign (see details). Players do not create a Skaven character but transform into one via a special quest. Only a limited number of Skaven transformations are available in each RvR zone, determined by the outcome of a new dungeon for high-ranked players, Thanquol’s Incursion.

The Rat Ogre is an offensive class that must be supported by the Skaven Packmaster.

Playing as a Skaven has been a genuinely fun experience. Your abilities as a Skaven, when used properly, can change the tides of battle. I found myself playing as a Rat Ogre, a Skaven focused on offensive capabilities, which include: a stacking mechanic known as “Warped Rage” which scales the damage of other attacks, knockback, nine-second stagger, and the ability to “hurl” warband or group members over the walls of enemy keeps. It also has an important role during sieges of keeps because only the Rat Ogre and rams can damage keep doors. The downside to all this is that the Rat Ogre cannot function alone–it does not regenerate health and must be healed by the Skaven Packmaster. I was able to work effectively with my Packmaster friend, but observed many players who did not understand this and found themselves dying rather quickly. This design furthers the notion that WAR is fundamentally not a solo game and all careers–including Skaven–must work cooperatively.

The significant changes to the RvR campaign have been well received. RvR is at the heart of the endgame experience in WAR. Two opposing realms, Order and Destruction, seek to control vast areas of the game by capturing Battle Objectives and Battle Keeps. The goal is to lock down as many zones as possible in order to invade the enemy realm’s capital city. Prior to 1.4, this processes of conquering objectives and keeps was dominated by a massive group of players, the “zerg”, who overwhelmed smaller forces in every encounter. The game was predictable…a zerg moving from zone to zone, largely uncontested. But now things have changed to discourage such tactics. The status of a zone is now determined by capturing the enemy keep. The defenses of the keep and offensive weapons available are increased as the realm gathers resources by taking battle objectives and ensuring the survival of NPCs who transport resources. No longer can the zerg dominate the battlefield because the tasks are multi-faceted and change quickly. Instead, smaller groups who communicate with each other and move quickly will be most effective in the new system. Coordination is the key, not the sheer number of players in group. Now the game is much less predictable, more dynamic, and lively as ever.

1.4 brought a number of other changes to WAR and the patch notes are available here.

In all reality, this has been one of the most successful and substantive patches for WAR, a game which launched over two years ago. The changes were bold and I give enormous credit to Mythic for having the tenacity to re-engineer many of the game’s core aspects. This patch injects new life into a game that many criticized for being complacent.