Correctly implementing player vs player content has always been a tricky concept for developers, even during the early days of MMORPGs. In the past, I was always a bit of a purist when it came to PvP, and I believed that games like Ultima Online were the pinnacle of PvP success. The good old days have been gone for quite some time and that level of hardcore player killing simply doesn’t exist in most MMORPGs these days. There are still outliers such as Mortal Online and EVE Online, but for the most part PvP has taken a back burner to raiding, story and character development. In most games it’s been turned into a side quest to the main portion of the game’s environment, and even games that have emphasized it rarely delivered the product they promised. Instead of facing opponents in the field, most player combat now takes placed in instanced arenas, battlegrounds, or scenarios. Is this simply the evolution of the genre or have developers lost touch with what players really want?
MMORPGS HAVE CHANGED
Whether you’re a fan of World of Warcraft, or not, there’s no denying that it changed the face of what people imagine when they say MMORPG. Almost every aspect of the game guides players, instead of allowing them to wander around the game and grind random monsters, world bosses or dungeons. This is still possible, but the game does a good job of making players feel like they’re doing something wrong if they don’t follow the predetermined questlines. What this does is create a track to follow and a purpose to what players are supposed to do and not promoting them to create their own adventures. This generates a world where PvP is seen as a hindrance to the story for many players; it isn’t necessarily fun to be constantly ganked and camped by high level enemies. Furthermore, there’s always been little to no reward for world PvP in World of Warcraft, or most similar games for that matter. Of course there are usually PvE and PvP servers, but just because a player joins a PvP server doesn’t necessarily mean they want to be fighting all the time and gain nothing in return.
In older titles, like RuneScape and Ultima Online, there was a lot of adventuring for the sake of gathering materials, grinding skills or just because there wasn’t really much else to do. Because death was treated with much higher regard in these games it was inherently more exciting to venture into difficult content or areas where fellow players might be lurking. Being able to loot dead enemies, or steal from living players, added another dynamic element to games that rewarded high risk gameplay. Moreover, this style of play could also be avoided as only players looking for a fight were the ones who would find it. No one feels bad for the person who walks into the Wilderness, or chooses to play on Felucca, wearing full Rune and gets slain. The difference in both the consequences for death and the linear vs non-linear gameplay paths have an important impact on how PvP is shaped. In the past open-world player combat provided a unique experience, but in theme park style MMORPGs it mostly acts as interference.
THE THRILL OF THE HUNT
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of bringing down a battleship with a squad of Rifters or winning a battle of attrition in a 200 Drake fleet fight. It’s hard to deny that open-world PvP can definitely give an adrenaline rush, which isn’t quite the same when players are herded into compact battlegrounds. Not knowing whether you’re going to stumble upon an easy target or run into a trap is a bit of a gamble, but that’s what makes it exciting. In most MMORPG battlegrounds it’s pretty obvious in the first few minutes who’s going to win, whether it’s due to better coordination or more powerful equipment.
The problem, however, is that there’s no guarantee that anything’s actually going to happen. I’ve spent hours in hunting parties in EVE Online and never saw a single ship. It can become tedious after a while if there’s no reward and even more so if a journey ends in defeat after hours of looking for a good fight. The same can be said for pretty much every game with hardcore PvP because there’s always someone with better gear, more powerful ships, and larger amounts of disposable income. Worse yet, solo adventures more often than not end after running into a large roaming party. This is where battlegrounds have a slight advantage. They might not be as exciting, but they deliver a more consistent experience.
BUT BATTLEGROUNDS RUINED PVP
I know a lot of dedicated pvpers who have said that battlegrounds are the reason that world PvP is dead. I’ve even been known to curse all of the casuals queued up for instanced PvP after being unable to find a worthy challenge after hours of looking. The truth is, however, that I don’t actually believe battlegrounds had that much of an impact on the death of world PvP. More likely, the lack of reward for world PvP is what’s diminished it. In Ultima Online you can loot the corpse of any player you happen to kill, but in World of Warcraft the best thing you can do is humiliate them. There’s generally no thrill for either the killer or the killed; the only reward is bragging rights and the punishment is a mere annoyance. This is simply due to the constraints of games created today and how they’re marketed to a much broader, and usually more casual, group of players instead of simply the most hardcore.
This is where battlegrounds fill gap and provide a reward for playing successfully. Providing gear for PvP was a great implementation, but allowing for branching tiers between PvE and PvP gear is relatively ingenious. By providing a set of gear that gives an advantage in PvP, but is relatively weaker in PvE content, developers found a way to nearly double the grind by throwing together a few arenas and battlegrounds. This satisfies the entitled nature of most players by providing an incentive to keep progressing instead of simply enjoying the game. Instead of ruining PvP, it’s more likely that battlegrounds have preserved a semblance of it, instead of letting it completely slip away.
If a game focuses on one main aspect it tends to do that one thing better than if it tries to be multifaceted. The disappearance of world PvP can possibly be attributed to better alternatives for competitive pvpers due to the inherent issues that arise in MMORPG PvP. Besides being fairly uninteresting to watch, MMORPG content is usually impossible to properly balance when dealing with scaling gear and two different environments. Even World of Warcraft, which used to have a very respectable following for its Arena, has fallen out of the competitive scene. There are now many alternatives that take the aspects of MMORPGs that players love such as leveling, customizable skills/ loadouts and general character progression and then focus entirely on PvP. There’s such a large variety of competitive PvP genres out there (MOBAs, RTS, FPS, hybrids) that interest in MMORPG PvP has been waning for some time.
So if there are so many better choices out there, why are players still choosing to play MMORPG battlegrounds? The reasons obviously vary depending on the type of player. Some actually like, or are just used to, the combat and for others it’s simply convenient because they already happen to enjoy the PvE content. Additionally, there are still players that just enjoy ganking, griefing or just asserting dominance over other players by acquiring the best gear in the game. There will probably always be a decent player base for PvP combat in MMORPGs, which is why battlegrounds have proven so successful, but there has definitely been a shift towards more casual content. One example of an MMORPG attempting to implement hardcore PvP was WildStar with its Warplots that almost no one in the entire game saw because of the difficult requirements, merely getting 40 people together was near impossible, and lack of rewards. If players require an incentive to play PvP content, it’s probably not that great.
In the end there really isn’t a winner between battlegrounds and open-world PvP. Each style caters to a completely different audience and it’s not my place to say which one is more righteous. While I might love the thrill of open-world PvP, it feels watered down when all of the risk is removed. On the other hand, battlegrounds provide a quick fix for third-person combat, but they generally don’t deliver as good of content as games that are dedicated to PvP. Furthermore, there are varying degrees of quality in similar types of content. In Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, the Wolves’ Den is definitely not the pinnacle of arena-based combat, but Heroes Ascent in Guild Wars was some of the most exhilarating content I’ve ever experience. Whether one type of PvP is good or not can depend entirely on the game, and good PvP does not necessarily make a successful game.Related: Column, EVE Online, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, Guild Wars, MMORPG, Mortal Online, PvP, Runescape, Ultima Online, Versus, Wildstar, World of Warcraft