During GDC Online, I asked studio GM Eugene Evans to explain just what Wrath of Heroes is, especially in relation to the existing Warhammer Online MMO. "The scenario gameplay that you experience within Wrath of Heroes is part of Warhammer Online," Evans explained. "You can go and have a similar experience in Warhammer Online. But it means that you have to go and start with a base character, level that character up, and then get into the scenario."
That aspect, specifically, is player-vs-player battling. In the MMO, that involves characters who have been built up by players over many dozens of hours. "With Wrath of Heroes, you get to choose a hero type, and they come pre-loaded with a set of abilities, and you don't have to level it up. It's immediate. You're in, and you're playing." It's the same base gameplay, put in a more accessible (and free) package.
It's not just cut-and-pasted from the original, though. Wrath of Heroes adds three-sided combat -- three teams of six players battling at once -- where WO had just two teams. "Halfway through a game," Evans speculated, "I can realize, 'I'm not going to win, but I don't want you to win. So I'm going to ally with them.' Two thirds of the way through the game, that can shift, and suddenly you find that the person you allied with has turned against you. It's going to make for a phenomenally competitive game." He believes the tension and the variety of strategic options in a three-team match will help differentiate Wrath from other free-to-play games.
You also have the ability to switch out your hero after every death. "Every time you die, while you're waiting to respawn into the game, you can actually choose to switch heroes and come back in with a completely different style of character," Evans said. "The emergent strategies that, I think, are going to come out of that, are going to be very, very compelling." Death as a strategic move is fairly compelling.
As for the relative radio silence since the announcement, that's actually been deliberate, as part of Mythic's strategy for rollling out the game. "It's a free-to-play game, and the approach to these titles is very different from a traditional packaged-goods product, or even a packaged-goods online game, like a big MMO," Evans told me. "We want to organically grow the game and the community. We announced the product so we could start to drive people towards it and get them in the beta." He said Mythic plans to keep the game in closed beta for "a while longer," then open the beta, and then eventually turn on the monetization, which comes in the form of downloadable hero characters. "If you want to play a particularly iconic Warhammer character class or type of hero, then you might have to pay for that," Evans said.
"So now you get to play, for example, Skaven, that was a hugely popular type of character within Warhammer. Vampires, we introduced." Evans said Mythic is still "working out the details" of this premium content, but hey, it already includes rat monsters!