What is Blizzard thinking with WoW PvP?

I’ve been keeping vaguely up to date with the Wrath of the Lich King beta. And because it’s in beta and a lot of decisions still aren’t set in stone, I never thought there was much point pontificating too much on their plans. But what they are planning with PvP and the PvP gear right now puzzles me a lot.

Currently you can run battlegrounds (like scenarios in WAR) and earn honor points from them which you can spend to get gear. You can run arena (a totally separate ladder system based on 2/3/5 man group deathmatches in small arenas) and get a different set of arena points which you can spend to get better gear. Some pieces can only be bought with honor gear.

Arena can be much more of a hardcore prospect, battlegrounds can be queued for solo (like scenarios, you get put into a raid group when you zone in) so can be more casual.

They had originally planned to wipe all of the honor and arena points when the new expansion hit so that people couldn’t save them up and use them later to buy level 80 PvP gear. The idea being that everyone started with a blank slate and would be running battlegrounds together. Which is not a bad plan. Then due to screams of overreaction, they decided instead to leave the existing points but heavily inflate the prices for the level 80 gear, whilst giving out more points at level 80. So effectively doing the same thing but letting people keep ‘their’ points, even though they’ll be mostly worthless.

So far so good. But then Kalgan (one of the Lead Game Designers) posts this on the forums. And here he sets out their plans very clearly. There will be craftable gear for people starting out in PvP to use in battlegrounds. But all the better quality gear will require both arena points and battleground points. So the casual players who ran a few battlegrounds for fun will be pushed into arena if they want to upgrade, and the arena players will have to run battlegrounds.

See this is exactly what I mean about giving players the illusion of choice. If I hate arena (and a lot of people do, it’s very different from queueing up for Alterac Valley when you’re bored and have a free moment) then why force me to do it? And in PvP, the quality of your gear directly affects your survivability which affects your FUN. It really isn’t fun to be rolled the whole time by people with better gear. In the current system, although the arena gear is better, the stuff you can get from battlegrounds is still good. So there are effectively 2 upgrade paths. They don’t plan to do this in the expansion.

Kalgan’s comment:

That aside, it is important for me to point out that the arenas were never really meant to become quite as much of a focal point for the overall pvp game as they have (part of why we set the system up so players could get the full benefit from the system with only 10 total games per week), it’s more of a natural consequence of the fact that because we have a way to measure success that feels reasonably balanced against pve, we’re able to put high-end items there, which on its own creates the focus of importance.

So arenas weren’t planned to be so dominant but they’re going to go with it anyway. He has no answer for people who hate arena and liked battlegrounds for their casual-friendly nature except ‘get skills, noob!’. I’m reading this and thinking about how much fun I’ve had with PvP in WAR, and I’m sad to see a good game like WoW deliberately make itself unfun in that aspect.

Advertisements

Arrgh, rats!

Rent-A-Skaven

Rent-A-Skaven

Remember that skaven skin cloak code that Mythic were giving out to people who came to check out the WAR demo at Games Days across the US? It’s not just a pretty cloak. Like the bear hat that is being given with C&C3 the cloak comes with a transformation. And thanks to Aikau and his guild, you can admire it too.

And on a similar note, the chaps from Rock, Paper, Shotgun are kicking off a campaign to have skaven as one of the first expansion races. I have a feeling one of the Mythic guys said they wanted to do this too, so the chances are quite good.

Good, bad, I’m the man with the bow

Robina Hood?

Robina Hood?

There must be a law somewhere that says every fantasy game which contains elves must offer an elven archer class. Maybe there’s an elvish trade union out there which refuses to allow their pale delicate brethren out into the ‘wild’ unless someone is hanging around languidly posing with a bow. Or maybe it’s because ELF and BOW both have three letters? You can’t blame Legolas alone for all of this, it’s a lot of guilt to heap on the shoulders of one little fantasy character. We have a strong tradition even prior to Tolkien of guys who live in woods, with bows. I mean, Robin Hood wasn’t an elf …. or was he? If he was, he’d definitely have been a Shadow Warrior.

The first thing you’ll notice from the screenshot is that unlike the other High Elf careers, the Shadow Warrior doesn’t wear a full skirt. Instead, she has waders. ie. yes, High Elves do have legs. This is just my open beta version and I didn’t pick up the mask and cloak. But at better gear levels, they are one of the best looking classes in the game.

I played mine to level 9 so was mostly questing and running scenarios and world RvR in tier 1. It’s long enough to get an idea of the class mechanics and the general feel for how it plays. But not long enough to comment on endgame or what skills will be more important later on. Anyhow: High Elf Shadow Warrior — she’s an elf with a  bow! Also a lightly armoured ranged dps who is better at melee than a Bright Wizard (note: this is like saying that fake cheese is better on a pizza than unripe apples), has more utility, and can actually spec for melee if melee hunter is your bag.

The Shadow Warrior is a stance based class. Switching into a stance gives a stance-specific buff which hints at what that stance is intended for. Although some skills can be used in any stance, most of the abilities and skills that you learn on a Shadow Warrior are restricted to one or two stances. Switching stances gives you access to a stance-specific hotbar, so you will have to set up three different hotbars. Part of the skill of playing the SW is knowing when to switch stances and how to get the best out of each stance. In that sense, it’s similar to the WoW Warrior which I do also play so I’m used to this kind of mechanic.

However, it’s different in that the SW stances are strongly themed and make sense. (I say this in a caring way, I like my warrior but Arms stance is dumb.) There’s a long range stance (Scout), a melee stance (Assault), and a kiting stance (Skirmish). Scout Stance gives you extra range and ballistics skill. Assault gives double your armour (don’t knock this, it means the SW can be much tougher in melee than opponents expect) and increases your melee stats.  Skirmish increases your toughness and chances to crit with the bow, but that is not the most interesting thing about it. Every single ability that you can use in Skirmish can be used on the run. It has a mix of ranged and melee attacks, but the reason I call it kiting stance is because you can snare an opponent and circle strafe around him/her/it using a mixture of DoTs and mobile attacks to kill them without ever being hit. If you’re good.

It can feel confusing at first until you’ve mapped your stances onto some convenint keybinds. But you can mostly ignore skirmish at the start and just focus on scout stance when you are able to plink plink plink away at people from a distance, switching to assault when you land up in melee. My best SW stories from beta hinge around sensible stance switching. So for example, I was in a scenario and shooting a marauder. He ran up to me so I thought ‘Oh well, might as well go out swinging’ and swapped to assault stance, then started to whack at him with my sword. It was close, but I won. I suspect that a SW who specced and geared for melee would be a pretty tough cookie, it would be an odd choice for a ranged specialist but probably something interesting to try out.

As of the moment, the smart money says to spec for Scout Stance, since ranged dps should be good at range. And that doesn’t lock out the other playstyles, the stances are still available. But I could see it being fun to experiment.

What I love about the Shadow Warrior is the sense of playing an agile skirmisher who can adapt to different situations. They do later get a variety of buffs and debuffs, including a neat group buff which improves AP recharge rate for a short amount of time and the inevitable healing reduction debuff. It felt fun. It felt as though there was some depth to the play. It felt as though it would be very powerful in the hands of a good player, and I expect to hear complaints about them in 1vs1. It felt like a ‘proper’ ninja-style elf archer, not needing to rely on a pet to tank.

As a ranged dps, how does it stack up against the other Order classes? Bright Wizards do more damage and are easier to play, there’s no real question about that. Engineers are a great ranged class for holding fixed positions, and I’ve seen them doing very well in Scenarios when they played to their strengths. The Shadow Warrior is very fun and has a lot of finesse but may not at the moment be able to put out the numbers of the other ranged classes. So some people do see it as weak. I thought it was a lot of fun.

Where in the World is Iain C?

It may have escaped your notice recently, but in the heat of GOA-gate Iain C made an inauspicious post on Warhammer Alliance. It went down poorly. While some in the community thought he was pretty much ‘on the button’ when he called certain rabid posters ‘borderline sociopaths’, it’s not the kind of thing you expect to hear from a Community Manager, and it happened when tempers were already about as frayed as they get without Bright Wizard-type implosions.

It was followed by a public chastisement by Mark Jacobs and then an apology by David Petit (wheeled out by GOA when they have a BIG apology to make, but not quite big enough to go get Ghislaine out of bed again).

Since then, Iain C has not been seen on any of the fan forums. Magnus has done the job of getting news across to us, and he’s done it really well. But having 1 CM is not the same as having 2 CMs. And for the record, we think Iain has done a pretty damn good job with the closed beta and wider community. Yes, sometimes news has been sporadic, but that’s been across all the GOA languages and CMs (with a little more leeway from Sterntaler, the German CM).

And now a full circle has been travelled and threads are popping up like this one supporting Iain C over at Warhammer Alliance. There’s also something similar on the beta forums, which we obviously can’t quote or link to. In the WHA thread he’s referred to as a ‘working class hero’ and while that’s not strictly true, I’d hate to see him take most of the rap for what happened last weekend at GOA.

Let’s face it, GOA was a mess. The CMs job is not to fix the technical side. It’s to keep us informed. Neither Iain nor Magnus nor any of the other-language CMs did a great job. Because it all had to go out simultaneously and wait for them to have some good news, I’m guessing. Iain said something dumb, twice. Once when he bragged about the capabilities of GOA to get it all up and running. But he has to go on what he’s told. Then, when he ‘insulted’ the playerbase (or rabid fans who might have been European, American or Oceanic) on Warhammer Alliance. I wouldn’t like to see him punished for that. I’m sure he’s had quite enough flak from it already.

GOA – needs to get its communication in-line. We’re getting better updates now. But it shouldn’t take a public slapping from Mark Jacobs to obtain that. Yes, they have languages to wrangle, but presumably plenty of people who speak those languages fluently and can talk to one another. Translating a sentence or two shouldn’t take long.

Anyway, am saving any further thoughts till we see how the headstarts and launch go. I hope to have a better experience.

And to hear more from Iain C soon!

A Game Best Played With People

Me and Arbitrary (last night)

Me and Arbitrary (last night)

The best and most standout parts of WAR are undoubtedly the Public Quests and the whole RvR setup. This is not to knock the questing or tome, but the activities I was enjoying the most by a long long way in game involved hanging out with other people. I found during beta that I didn’t much log on in the mornings and preferred to be around prime time, purely because the game was less interesting to me during the days. What pleases me is not necessarily what pleases others, but I do feel that the game needs other people. It’s both a good and a bad point. On the one hand, it’s an MMO, and playing with other people is THE major selling point. It’s incredible to finally find a game which plays so much to that particular strength of the genre. On the other, it won’t be so much fun if you play far outside prime time or in a very low populated realm/side. Scenarios will certainly help out here, by offering the option of numerically balanced(ish) RvR in capsule form. Plus they are fun.

I like single player games, and I think it’s handy for there to be activities in MMOs that don’t require lots of people. But there are some great single player games out there and I don’t need to get that particular fix from an MMO. I think that this aspect in particular of WAR will shape how people play it. The fact that it’s significantly more fun with other people and less fun solo will encourage people to moderate their hours. I don’t think that an MMO needs to be all things to all people, and I’m happy with the design decision to focus on the core strengths. That’s something I am taking away from Open Beta, with its increased number of players and servers.

What we did last night

Something here doesnt quite fit

Something here doesn't quite fit

No, I mean the printable stuff ;P Most people by now are getting their open beta access sorted out here (not all, though) and we had a lot of guildies online. So we decided to do ‘something’ together, and formed up a warband.

Then it was out into the unsuspecting world for some world RvR and objective taking. I don’t personally belong to the set of people who believe that zerging is evil. It can be quite fun in moderation, and it’s a nice gentle introduction to RvR for people who haven’t done much before. As long as they stay with the zerg (and the zerg waits for them if they get lost) then they can get a sense of what it’s all about.

As it happens, we had some good fights in Nordland, some of which we were outmanned and flanked from all sides. We took the ship objective (which is probably the most fun because of it being a ship — PvP areas are like playgrounds and the terrain and ships etc are like toys and climbing frames, at least that’s my theory) and the Festenplatz. Chaos did finally outzerg us so we decided to move on to High Elf lands.

In the Plains of Bone (earliest Elf world RvR area), we did outnumber the pitiful forces of Destruction. So naturally we chased them all over the map and took all the objectives. This is WAAAGH! They’ll probably do the same to us tomorrow.

Apart from being surprisingly good fun just to be running around and joking with guildies in game (at last), I was struck by how much the RvR newbies enjoyed themselves. And it wasn’t just a random group outing, there was a decent amount of renown and xp involved from taking those objectives and doing the associated quests, so everyone also benefited. To me, that’s good game design. Make it beneficial to do things that are fun. And vice versa.

Spot the Girls?

Spot the Girl?

And one last screenshot. This is our zerglet, having just taken one of the elven objectives (Altar of Khaine, I think). You see the dashing archmage in the background? I took this shot because someone had just commented that male and female high elves looked similar, and noted that pretty female archmage as an example. We pointed out that was actually a bloke 🙂

Good news x 2

[please excuse lack of links, am at work and hurrying to get to my ‘desk’ by 2pm]

From Paul’s blog:

I am off to Europe, to games day on Sunday the 14th of September in Birmingham. I will be there all day to wave and say hello.

Also in Paris around the 26th of September for the Paris computer show.

Also in Birmingham the evening of the 27th for PC Gamers LAN show.

From GOA site:

…those of you who have entered an open beta code need not wait any longer. All valid codes entered will be able to log in and play within a few minutes of successfully submitting your details. All players who have already entered a code should be able to log in immediately. There is no need to wait for the confirmation email

Consequences for GOA

[[Just to note: We’re in open beta and the game itself is very fun, and the servers are stable. Destruction was full on all EN servers last night so GOA opened another one. But the troubled Open Beta from GOA and destructive arguments between MJ and CMs have toasted a lot of my enthusiasm. So read this in that vein.]]

As I write, we’re supposedly three (3) days into the Open Beta phase and still the authentication on the EU Site has not been switched back on since it crashed and burned so painfully on Sunday. Although they’ve sorted out some workaround that is letting more people into the beta, it’s not at all clear whether this applies to the majority. And we don’t know if it’s really just a workaround or whether they’ve fixed up something robust enough to hold up to the Headstart which was due next week.

Not only that but communications from the team has been patchy at best. They have been improving, but I’m not hearing anything that greatly improves my confidence. What’s worse, Mythic decided to have a public spat with them on blogs and bboards (via MJ criticising both the company and a CM by name). This gives me even less confidence in any of them. Seriously, what the hell kind of company decides to air its grievances on a public bboard? This is the 21st century, we do have cellphones. And … you know … the internet?

So right now, I think the game is basically fine. My old closed beta review still stands, and I’ll post an update to it at the end of the week. But I have little confidence in either GOA or Mythic to deliver a service in Europe. I have no confidence that the Headstart will go ahead smoothly; if it does I will be surprised. I worry about how they’ll handle a launch. I don’t want to be concerned about that, but when you buy an MMO you are purchasing goods plus services. They both need to be up to scratch.

Like Tobold, we do intend to play on EU servers still. I know that me and Arbitrary have experienced playing with mostly US players on MUSHes and the timezone thing was a nightmare. Everything interesting happened at 3am our time. If enough of a critical mass of EU players ‘take over’ a US server then they could overcome that but otherwise, forget ever seeing a city siege at a reasonable time in the evening. The numbers just won’t be there. Also, we have friends we want to play with. In guild, we’ve been polling people to see what they think and we’re all pretty much unanimous that we want to stick with GOA, for now at least.

But there are consequences to the disastrous open beta here.

  1. Most people will wait until the end of the first month before buying a subscription. That’s a very real loss of immediate cash for GOA.
  2. This is going to be the first news story a lot of new/prospective players get about the game. The news sites are already picking up on it. Apparently a GOA spokesman told videogaming247 that the registration issue would be completely fixed for launch.
  3. A lot of the early adopters will snag a US account instead. This won’t apply to the majority of EU players, but if the reviews all say “great game, but play it on a US server if you can” then expect this to grow.