For Senior Staff Writer Chris "Pwyff" Tom, a strong PvP feature may be one of the most important features of any good MMORPG. But what makes for a good PvP experience? Read on to find out!
"What makes a good MMORPG?"
I've decided to devote a bit of my time and a few articles to exploring this. In my last few pieces, I wrote about character progression, followed by gameplay mechanics and combat, and in the one before I spoke of story and premise. Today I'll talk about my favorite aspect of any MMORPG: PvP!
I have a confession to make. As a self-described PvP enthusiast in all things MMORPG, I've never played what many consider to be the holy grail of world PvP: Dark Age of Camelot. Even worse, the reason I missed out on those golden days was that I was firmly entrenched in two very distinctly PvE heavy MMORPGs: Ragnarok Online (before War of Emperium) and then Final Fantasy XI. Still, in spite of my transgressions, I'd like to think that I've acquitted myself quite well by delving deep into almost every PvP-oriented game since: Defense of the Ancients, League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth, Bloodline Champions, Warhammer Online, Age of Conan, the short-lived Fury, Atlantica Online, Champions Online, Aion, Rift and World of Warcraft. In other words, I've seen most of what MMORPGs have to offer, so let's just get down to talking about what makes for a thriving PvP system.
One of the biggest issues that most MMORPGs face implementing PvP systems is deciding whether to employ open-world PvP, instanced-only PvP, or both. Obviously most PvP enthusiasts love to demand both, but they often don't consider the inherent problems. With open-world PvP, griefing is a very big issue and it can often turn away more players than it encourages. I remember in the early days of Aion when rifting had no limitations, mid-level zones would become literal death traps as high-level players roamed the countryside, hunting newbies who just wanted to finish their quests. Of course, it was always exhilarating to coerce everyone into fighting back with superior numbers, but the whole process was exhausting. Most players like to play games where they do what they want, and open-world PvP, by its very nature, can force you into something that you want no part of.
With the above scenario being laid out, you might ask: what's so great about open-world PvP anyway? For me, the greatest appeal is the espionage. In first-person shooters, nothing is more satisfying than knowing you've snuck behind enemy lines to wreak havoc. The same can be said about MMORPGs; there's a very primal pleasure to be found in surprising your prey and then making that daring escape. The inherent sense of inequality in open-world PvP is also what makes it great. Competitive gamers would get burned out if they always had to play against equally matched opponents, and the same can be said here. Surviving a 3v1 ambush with a sliver of health makes for a heady adrenaline rush, and nobody can deny the joys of tracking down a hated rival so that you can take screenshots of his demise.
Sad to say, I don't think any MMORPG I've played (remember, I didn't play Dark Age of Camelot) has managed to make open-world PvP really shine. Vanilla World of Warcraft used to have some great open world PvP fights at places like Blackrock Mountain and Tauren Mill, but, with the introduction of flying mounts, summoning stones and the dungeon finder, open-world PvP in WoW has pretty much died. As an interesting aside, Blizzard tried to revive open-world PvP with the introduction of strongholds in certain zones that could be taken by both factions, but nobody ever participated. The only time open-world PvP briefly flourished was when certain farming areas (the Elemental Plateau, the Isle of Qual'Danas) became popular, and both factions had to compete for resources. Perhaps encouraging guerrilla skirmishes instead of pitched battles is the way to go to create a successful open-world PvP scene.
Speaking of pitched battles, this brings me to the more interesting topic of instanced PvP. Where open-world PvP is all about spontaneous action and instability, instanced PvP's forte is all about choice and balance. This is probably why most developers prefer to implement some sort of instanced PvP: you know for a fact that all the players who are PvPing are the ones who genuinely want to be there, and it's always easy to balance small arenas and battlegrounds. Unfortunately, the big problem with instanced PvP is that it's almost too predictable. Ask anyone who grinded to Grand Marshall rank in Vanilla World of Warcraft, or those who are building prestige levels in Rift. Constantly dropping into controlled 10v10 games (especially if classes are balanced) usually makes for very similar experiences, and that can get a little tedious.
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