Wintergrasp Changes, PvP Scale and WAR vs. WoW

After a coule of days putting in a couple of hours, Hrishnak has reached level 40, and is all trained up and ready to return to Dustwallow. A pity 3.2 isn’t out yet – I have enough cash for an epic mount under the new scheme.

Last night, Mrs. Ardwulf returned to WoW and we got a bit of play in on our Druids, doing some of the Fire Festval quests. Pretty much all of the achievements are out of reach, alas, but we’re doing as many ‘Honor the Flame’ quests as we can – they’re worth XP, after all, and doing them got both of us to level 36.

Although I had been ignoring the event in favor of leveling on Hrishnak, and I’m not much for the kind of kitschy seasonality that they represent, the various holidays in WoW are a good thing, if nothing else becuase they encourage 80s to come back down to the old world for a while, and this one in particular because it encourages attacks on major cities, which is something I like to see.

Not that I myself have participated in one, but I’d like to. Actually, I’ve never even seen a serious city attack, although I’ve seen the aftermath – the floor of the throne room in Ironforge littered with skeletal remains, and so forth. The degree of PvP in WoW strikes me as about right for my own tastes, although I would of course like to see more open world PvP – Azeroth has any number of areas set up for this, but hardly anybody particpates in any of them except – right now – Wintergrasp, which is getting revamped and capped at 100v100, not entirely satisfactorily.

Now, changes to Wintergrasp are not something I’m especially concerned about right now for obvious reasons, but it seems to me that the problem with it is a failure of scale. What’s happening is that too many plpayers are congregating in too small an area (the Wintergrasp zone) and because it’s in the open world and thus on the world server, it’s causing the whole server to suffer from general lag and occasional massive lag spikes. Blizzard is addressing this with a cap, but what would also work would be to try to spread those players out across a larger area. What we really need is not a PvP zone but a PvP continent, with maybe three or five different small zone-sized areas and some kind of rotating daily quest system to keep players spread out across the entire landmass as opposed to all gathered in front of one stronghold.

What we would also like to see, of course, is for 200v200 battles to not create insurmountable server issues, but that’s a basic server architecture issue and very difficult to change at a date as late as this. Not impossible, but it would be a major effort, comparable, I suspect, to the development of an expension. It’s not at all fair to say “well, EVE handles 1000v1000 battles with no problems” because EVE has an entirely different technical architecture behind it that’s been especially designed for that kind of thing, and also because it doesn’t work just fine. Battles that big cause significant lag, and used to cause the entire cluster to sometimes crash, before CCP mounted just the kind of effort I’m talking about. This was possible largely beacuse of EVE’s extremely progressive server architecture, something WoW doers not share.

It’s also a bit odd to assert that massive 100v100 battles don’t create any problems in WAR; engagements considerably smaller than that lag the client into slideshow mode, at least when I was playing, but maybe it’s improved dramatically. About 2 warbands vs. two warbands seemed to be the practical limit, maybe with a few stragglers throw in – call it 50v50. But then, I judge its server architecture, along with the two-faction setup, to be at the root of WAR’s major problems anyway.

At any rate, I’m not sure that the changes to Wintergrasp constitute ‘instancing’ in that I figure it’s almost instanced already, and this is just capping players at 100. I agree that it’s kind of lame and something of a betrayal of what the concept of Wintergrasp was supposed to be in the first place, but then, sometimes things just don’t work out as intended. Really instancing Wintergrasp would actually solve the problem by allowing all the action to be shunted away to a separate server, but it would be a complete abandonment of the purpose of the place, and a tacit admission by Blizzard that the WoW architecture just can’t handle action of this kind of scale.

And maybe that’s all there is to it – maybe it just can’t. But if not, so what? WoW is and was designed to be a game that strikes a balance between various modes of play, doing all of them reasonably well, but not as well at any one of them as a game designed specifically to emulate that mode of play. You may be right to say that WoW’s PvP isn’t as good as WAR’s or EVE’s, but those are titles designed around PvP, and it’s an apples-and-oranges comparison to a certain extent.

Of course, I would also say that I don’t think that WAR’s PvP is as good as WoW’s in all respects. From a strictly character vs. character or group vs. group mechanical standpoint, it’s superior, but it’s also crippled by WAR’s inability to actually match PvP battles. WoW circumvents the issue with the Battlegroup solution, which I suppose is kind of a cheat, but it works, and supports my desired play experience, in the sense that if I want to play a few rounds of Arathi Basin I can do so with minimal waiting around in most cases, whereas if I want to run a few rounds of High Pass Cemetery, tough. Once you get in to a WAR scenario, the experience is, I think (for most scenarios,) better than that in a WoW Battleground. The trouble is getting in in the first place.

And WAR also does PvE, dungeons, exploration, crafting and some other things very poorly in comparison to WoW, which also took WAR’s best feature, the Tome of Knowledge, and implemented it with seemingly no effort, improving it in my opinion thereby. Here’s why: Tome unlocks are hidden by the client; WoW achievements are for the most part right there in the panel to look at and shoot for. The problem with the Tome is that unlocks are not in fact secret from the player, they’re fully listed and described – you just have to go outside the game to look up the information. Much better to have that info right in the game itself. In practice this has caused the development of a whole subsulture within WoW devoted to getting achievements, essentially adding another dimension to an already multifaceted game. In WAR nobody cares about unlocks except insofar as you can get gear from them.

It’d be hyperbole to claim that WAR is an irredeemably bad game, of course – it’s not, and if you’re a player about PvP, and you happen to be a member of a big guild that can organize world RvR events, I expect that you’re having a great time with it. But such a player is by some measure ‘hardcore’ (for lack of a better term,) and most players are not hardcore in any measure.

WoW supports hardcore play as well as it does everything else – reasonably well. It doesn’t do exploration as good as Vanguard, or economics as well as EVE, or crafting as well as EQ2, or world PvP as well as WAR, or über-l33t hardcore play as well as Darkfall, but that’s not the point of WoW, which is to appeal to people who enjoy all of those things, as well as those who enjoy a mix and like to dabble. Dabblers will fail to take to EQ2 because of the weak PvP, and people who hate PvP won’t take to WAR. They might find a home in WoW. I judge this to be part of the reason WoW dominates the MMO marketplace.

6 responses to “Wintergrasp Changes, PvP Scale and WAR vs. WoW

  1. The problem with the “perhaps WoW was not designed for 100v100+ action” arguments is that it’s been 5 years, and how long did Ironforge lag until the AH was moved to the other cities? Back then the solution was to move the players rather than fix the engine/server, and once again that’s the solution here. It’s the equivalent of CCP saying “sorry guys, fleet battles are now capped at 100 ships, enjoy”. That would have been the easy, cheap answer, and for a small company like CCP it would have been understandable. Instead they easily showed that 100v100 is a joke to handle, even for a small company (as DarkFall has also now shown), so Blizzard trying to pass that as an excuse is sad.

  2. Nobody in my hearing had ever said that the pace of improvement to WoW is anyting faster than glacial.

    What I’m saying, though, is that while you’re right, EVE is a bad standard to hold other MMOs to. EVE’s technology is right at the state of the art for this kind of thing, and I think if the argument becomes WoW not running on cutting-edge architecture, it’s a pretty hollow criticism, because everybody already knows it’s true and expects nothing else for the forseeable future.

    In addition to that, the server architecture of EVE is extremely different from that of WoW and, I have to believe, easier to upgrade in this way. Besides, didn’t CCP ‘cap’ Jita for a while while they implemented the new architecture?

    As far as the small-company argument goes, would you call SOE a small company? Because CCP’s EVE team is way bigger than the team on any SOE title. That WoW’s team is bigger is a certainty, but I suspect that it’s strongly oriented toward developing new content and much less so toward strengthening the technical backbone. CCP in contrast had and has a whole team dedicated to this.

    The entire structure of the world and gameplay of WoW is based around contrivances to a much greater extent than the open space of EVE is. This is just another contrivance – what’s one more?

  3. The point about resources is that if CCP can do it, Blizzard should not only be able to do it just as good, but they should be X% better. Not only are we not saying “Gee CCP is keeping up with Blizzard really well all things considered”, but we are making excuses as to why Blizzard is YEARS behind CCP in terms of handling massive amounts of players in game. Sorry, but these games are MMOs, and last I checked, that meant massive amounts of players doing stuff. They should be DOMINATING in most aspects, yet the only number in their favor is sub numbers (and IMO that’s more luck than design, but of course that’s very debatable)

    What’s more, if Blizzard knew they could not keep up, why hype WG as this reintroduction of world PvP in WoW, which is something many of the players have been asking for. Don’t promise what you can’t or are too cheap to deliver and expect everyone to take it in stride, while giving the excuse of it being a technical limit.

  4. I agree with the points your raise about why WOW is still king. It is the only MMO I played non-stop for a full 3.5 years. I’ve played all the other games you mentioned, for the exact things you called out that they were exceptional at providing. However, that one aspect doesn’t provide enough variety so I come and go in EVE, EQ2 and have bothered re-subbing to WAR. I left WOW for about a year and am back casually with a cousin who’s a MMO initiate. And what they did well still shines. I just wish another all round shine game would surface so I could be in love with a MMO again.

  5. To say that Blizzard has fallen behind the market’s leader (CCP) in this area is correct but is missing the point – WoW has never been the best at anything, it has instead chosen to be good at everything, which is a perfectly valid way to approach development. The cap thing is not the ideal solution, but I expect it will prove to be an adequate one.

    It would be nice to see some architectural improvements to WoW, and I expect it will need to be done eventually, but Blizzard has little incentive to pull people off the next expansion to work on it now for the sake of fixing what is in the grad scheme of things a minor element of the game. Their development cycle, and you can blame this on QC if you want, is already slow enough to drive people out of the game 6-12 months after an expansion releases, which is why they’re forced to dribble out big patches like this.

    In the context of WoW, WG was kind of a big addition in its own right, but I suspect that the people to whom this change will be a significant nerf have already left for, say, WAR, which is built for stuff like this and which generally handles it better.

    (By the way, the real ‘nerf’ (if you will) to Wintergrasp isn’t actually the player cap at all, it’s the introduction of the new Battleground, which will play very similarly to Wintergrasp on a somewhat smaller scale. That’s going to alleviate some Wintergrasp congestion right there.)

  6. Good post I think it sums up exactly why WoW is top dog atm and will be imo for the forseeable future. Dont get me wrong the game frustrates me but they do things far too well for me to consider leaving and joining another MMO… most of which I have tried.

    As far as ‘good’ at everything I would say that their endgame is the best out of the whole market. Indeed if you look at each expansion and followup patches there are usually massive additions endgame, i.e more instances/raids. This took a bit of a stutter due to WoTLK and the lack of Uldar on release but as you can see by the latest patch they have been pretty busy.

    On the pvp side of things I actually enjoy wow over war as well, this may be because I didnt taste WAR after level 30 but I didnt see the big deal to be honest. As for WoW I dont particularly like Wintergrasp, IMO the best pvp battleground is strand of the ancients. Its the most fun and it uses vehicles etc well.

    Anyway good post🙂