Sunday, August 24, 2008

A n00b tests WAR RvR

As any of my long-time readers know, I'm not a big fan of PvP in general. But I was very much interested in how PvP is integrated with PvE in Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. So during the preview weekend I did a combination of both, to see how that worked out. I was doing this with a freshly rolled Archmage, because I want to play a Shaman in release, and Archmage is the exact mirror image in spells and class mechanics. Fortunately it turned out that Keen's judgement that shamans were "squishy" wasn't true, at least not as long as you targeted yourself as defensive target and got constantly healed by the various life drain abilities. Of course the Warrior Priest / Disciple of Khaine is more damage resistent, but then those make worse healers, because they can't keep up a constant stream of heals.

So I rolled my Archmage, did a handful of starting quests, and at level 4 I meet the first quest giver who wants to send me PvPing. I'm supposed to do a scenario, which is the same as a WoW battleground. Do, that is see it through until completion, not win. Now that is brilliant! In WoW there are far too many people leaving battlegrounds if they see they can't win. In WAR it is in your interest to stay until the end for the quest reward. And the quest is even repeatable! So I spend the next hour or so doing the same scenario several times. If I had wanted more variety, I could have flown to the starting area of the other races. As far as I can see there is a different scenario for every tier of every race combination, or 12 in total, twice as much as WoW has.

More nice surprises as soon as the scenario starts. The moment I move away from the spawn point my level is automatically adjusted to 8. Which means I still have the same sucky gear and selection of spells as a level 4 character, but my health and stats increased to that of a level 8, and I don't have the WoW problem that my spells are resisted by my enemies because they are of higher level. This means that while in WoW you can only realistically do battlegrounds at level 19, 29, etc., in WAR you can do scenarios at any level. You'll be better at the max level the scenario allows, but not outrageously so. Of course healers and spell casters suffer less from having less good gear than melee types would.

One huge advantage of WAR scenarios is that the less populous side has an automatic advantage: In the scenario both sides have equal numbers, and just like in WoW battlegrounds the less numerous side has shorter waiting queues. As soon as there enough player of the lesser side in the queue, the scenario starts, leaving the surplus people of the more numerous side waiting without an opponent to fight.

Later I try open world RvR in the designated RvR zones. But there Destruction can bring their superior numbers to bear over Order, and if there is any PvP action at all, Destruction wins. But that then leads to Order not entering the RvR zones any more, and Destruction getting bored alone in there and leaving too. So I did manage to tag some battlefield objectives in a small 3-man group, just by virtue of nobody else being around. The battlefield objectives and keeps are guarded by NPCs, so you can't solo them, but a small group is enough for the small objectives, only keeps need a larger group. MMORPG players are notorious sufferers from attention deficit disorder, and nobody takes the time to defend, especially since all the rewards are in attacking. So during the preview weekend the elf tier 1 RvR zone changed hands often, without much actual PvP taking place. Big group of one side rolls in, tags all the objectives, gets bored, and leaves, only for another group from the other side to turn up 15 minutes later and tag all the objectives back. Trying battlefield RvR solo doesn't get you anywhere, you need at least to join an open group to achieve anything. I did like the feature that the location of the latest PvP battles is marked on the map, so its easy to find where the action is.

So with me testing all this PvP, the rewards come rolling in. The first thing to get used to is that PvP kills and taking objectives gives PvE experience as well. You could theoretically level up your PvE level by doing PvP all day, although I had the impression that it wasn't the fastest method. In parallel to the regular xp, you get renown points, which level up your renown rank, aka PvP level. Every renown rank gives you one point to buy permanent stat increases with at the renown trainer. And of course increasing your stats is helpful for both PvP and PvE, so getting your renown rank up is helpful even for PvE fans like me.

The second type of reward for PvP is access to the PvP gear vendors. In the first warcamp you'll find merchants selling all sorts of weapons and armor which is often better than what you got from quest rewards (but not better than the public quests rewards). But to buy that you not only need money, but also have a minimum level in both PvE and PvP. Keeping your PvP level to at least half of what your PvE level is should get you access to everything. A good way to fill gaps in your equipment.

That worked well for my Archmage at renown ranks 2 and 4, but then stopped being all that great at renown rank 6. You see, the vendors for renown rank 6 and 8 gear are on the second floor of the keeps in the tier 2 RvR zones. And as these aren't quite as easy to tag as the tier 1 objectives, Destruction was in control of all keeps all Saturday. I ended up rolling a Destruction char and running to the keep just to verify what the vendors there had on offer. You better be in a guild big and organized enough to take a keep if you want to access the renown gear on the Order side. On Sunday I checked again, and luckily the tier 2 keep in the Chaos / Empire pairing now was Order controlled. I went there and bought my renown gear, and found about 20 Order players in the keep, with a similar number of Destruction players outside, trying to take the keep. So I participated in that keep battle, and it was a lot of fun! Both sides can bring various siege engines into play, which you can buy for 20 silver and install at specific points. For example as keep defender I had the choice of burning oil, a ballista, or a hellblaster. Burning oil was very effective, but limited to the immediate area in front of the door. The hellblaster was easiest to use, shooting several enemies if they stood close to each other, but for not so much damage. The ballista was best against single targets, but difficult to use if those targets were moving. I ended up with renown rank 8 there, but the renown gear for that also needed PvE level 14, which I didn't have at the time.

All in all the various forms of PvP were quite fun at times, frustrating at other times. Because you get nice stat and gear rewards for PvP, it is well worth doing, and helpful for PvE later. The system is cleverly done so that neither pure PvP nor pure PvE gives maximum rewards, but you're best served by doing a variety of different things, which is ultimately most fun anyway. The WAR RvR is far, far superior to the PvP in WoW or AoC, with more options, more balance, more motivation to do it in a varied way. Balance isn't perfect, and probably can't be in a level-based, gear-based, stat-based game. But you are able to contribute in a meaningful way and have fun at regardless which level. That is already pretty good in my book. I don't think it'll reach the holy grail of "impact PvP" some fans were dreaming of, but that is an impossible ideal for a MMORPG. We get persistent worlds, but all conquest is just temporary. I can live with that.

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