Nexon’s Warhaven follows in the footsteps of games like For Honor before it in trying to carve a space out for the third person melee action gamer amidst a sea of first-person large-scale multiplayer warfare offerings. Based on the current Open Beta Playtest running until early November, there’s still a lot of work to be done to make the case. I had some fun in short bursts, but as a solo player, every clutch capture or dominant killing spree was bookended by frustrating moments of chaos where there was no great way to steer your team to objectives or to avoid getting overwhelmed by enemies, no great way to hold your own one on one.
Dropping into any of the four currently available maps first requires you to pick a class. There are six to choose from, all with their own strengths, weaknesses and quirks. The sword-wielding Blade and spear-brandishing Spike are the melee-focused choices, with the former being great for keeping foes on their toes and occasionally in the air, while the latter can piece defenses with its charged up attack and parry incoming swings to create openings for big damage. Guardian and Warhammer are the meaty ones. Guardian’s shield can bash multiple foes backwards or be used as a battering ram to make a hole through the front line. Warhammer swings his two handed bludgeon for the fences to destroy groups of foes but can also put up defenses to clog paths. Arch is the ranger who can snipe people from great distances, or can use delayed explosive arrows to great tactical use. Smoke is a trickster who can catch projectiles and launch them back at enemies and, crucially, can heal her allies at will.
You can change your character between respawns if you want to try something new or adjust to fit the team's needs, but with so many skirmishes around objectives devolving into chaos it can be hard to adapt to fill the holes of the greater team. I found it a bit easier to stick with my individual squad of four and attempt to be the gap-filler of sorts there. You don’t get immediate feedback or suggestions of composition choices like in hero shooters of the Overwatch ilk, but general multiplayer etiquette served me well: when in doubt, I played the healer.
As you rack up kills and assists, or capture and defend objectives, you’ll build up a meter in the bottom corner. When full, you can spend it to temporarily transform into one of four powerful Immortals, each with different roles but all posing game-changing potential. The most popular was Martyr, a knight in shining armor who has a power sword attack and shield bash. Darkgale is a mounted warrior great for breaking through clumps of enemies. Hoet uses barriers to shield himself and his allies from harm, and Raven can launch power projectiles from a distance. Any one of these characters can dominate a skirmish, but maybe one of the biggest balance issues I’ve seen so far is when multiple players transform at the same time, creating a death ball of super powerful murder knights that make counter play impossible.
There are four maps in this playtest that show off three different game modes. Onslaught feels like the signature mode here, as there were two different maps dedicated to it: the narrower Moshabarg and large and expansive Gellen. In this mode teams must capture objectives around the map, and the side with fewer objectives will periodically lose military strength, and lose altogether when that counter reaches zero. A second feature of objective capture is that they also represent your team’s front line. Capturing objectives further into the map will move your front line further across it while shrinking the enemy’s. This allows you to spawn deeper into the map, and further restricts access to other points of interest on the map to the enemy, as running behind enemy lines does damage over time. This tactical back and forth always felt important, even if trying to wrangle your team to prioritize objectives often felt like a battle in and of itself.
Skirmish has fewer points than Onslaught that both teams fight over – the center one being the only one that scores. The other two give you access to a second respawn point and a cannon that faces the center. This was an extremely hectic stage. Control points flipped constantly, meaning you're always in motion to attack or defend the next one. It was also the mode I ran into one of my bigger obstacles with doing well, other groups of players. If you're outnumbered even by one, a fight feels extremely dangerous, but in a mode where squads are roaming around 4 at a time, getting overwhelmed by the sheer number of blows incoming is par for the course. I think if I had a premade squad myself, this wouldn’t have felt like such an inevitability. As a solo act trying to ping and chat my team into helping me out, I was having a hard time. On the other hand, Skirmish felt like the mode with the most emphasis on the objectives, as each one had a dramatic impact on the momentum of the fight.
16 people trying to move three payloads while also trying to stop 16 other people from trying to move three payloads might just be too much to keep track of for any game.
The last mode, Arms Race, is a take on escorting a moving objective to a destination. Except in Warhaven, there's three objectives that first need to be built by capturing their respective control points. Once built, the push and pull of escorting your payloads while attempting to disrupt the enemies’ will be familiar if you’ve played this mode in any other game. Getting around the sizable map is made easier thanks to cannons that sling you into the air and a glider that can get you across long distances unimpeded. Even still, this felt like the mode that required the most communication and felt the most chaotic as a single guy jumping into a team. And generally, 16 people trying to move three payloads while also trying to stop 16 other people from trying to move three payloads might just be too much to keep track of for any game.
Between matches there are a few meta progression systems to keep track of. You can spend currency earned by winning matches to level up your characters. This unlocks passive perks you can customize to your liking, with options to enhance character-specific abilities feeling more impactful than adding a measly 5 HP to your totals. Some cosmetic unlocks become available as well through leveling up, though this goofy bunny head was by far my favorite and unlocking it had nothing to do with this feature. There's a battle pass as well, but on top of simply progressing from reward to reward, there was a whole faction war mini-game that seemed a bit too convoluted for me to spend much time on over a beta period.
Combat is filled with diverse offensive and defensive options both on your heroes or found in the environment.
Warhaven’s big-time battles feel properly large and incredibly chaotic, and in my time with this playtest it’s delivered quite the mix of emotions. The objective-focused gameplay across several different locations and game types add a tactical layer to melee skirmishes that does what it can to help keep gameflow feel intrinsic and legible, even if the tools to keep your team’s eye on the prize are limited. Combat itself is filled with diverse offensive and defensive options both on your heroes or found in the environment, but the most effective way to kill the enemy is to crowd them into a corner and spam a storm of attacks they could never be able to block. In short bursts, Warhaven is a great, high energy experience. Though I think a keener focus and lots of balance is needed for it to survive the long, post launch campaign when it arrives next year.