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Home > > Buzzkill's Lair: High Stakes and World PvP in MMOs
Player versus player combat in computer games is a fairly old concept, appearing first in the ancient multi-user dungeons of yesteryear, where gamers would pit their avatars against each other in the attempt of beating a fellow player into pulp. The idea still remains the same 30 years later, and even with many changes and improvements, the main goal of PvP is to beat a fellow player or a group of such for a number of reasons. It could simply be an act of competition, griefing, trying to gain virtual wealth or an attempt to rob the losing side of the same, it doesn’t really matter – the rush of beating a player on equal terms is one of a kind and the reason why PvP has always been so popular in MMORPGs. Sure, there are often PVE servers reserved for players of a more carebearish ilk, who do not find shedding blood of fellow gamers appealing and prefer picking flowers and killing NPCs over a constant vigilance for a group of retarded 13 year olds and their gank squad. I can’t say I blame them though, who hasn’t been frustrated doing their thing in a random MMO, when a group of individually inept assholes attempt to build their ego by killing a helpless player. For me the sheer adrenaline and fun of killing them back makes it all worth it, so a PvE server never crossed my mind, even in games where world PvP is not really present.
The cost of PvP
Before we delve into more details about different kinds of PvP, an important factor that usually sets the way and scale of combat has to be defined, and those are the stakes. Different games have different stakes when it comes to player versus player combat, those are always defined by the amount you lose when you’re defeated and analogously the spoils you gain when you win, either in single combat, a battle or in a more metagaming sense, the war. Take WoW for example. You lose jack s**t – simple as that. Regardless of how you PvP, whether it's fighting in the open world, battlegrounds combat or arena ranked PvP, the cost of losing is at best ego, a corpse run or some arbitrary rank points. Consequently, if you win, you don’t get much either. You never really profit from winning a single fight, where as in some other MMOs this could mean items, gear, vast virtual wealth or in best cases even real life money. This sets the stakes very low, where apart from a blow to ego and a short anger or sadness sequence, you don’t risk losing anything. In EVE for example, destroying a player ship could net you a nice income, with some luck easily a month of two of play time worth of in game currency. This adds that additional feeling to the whole thing, where ignoring obvious non-written rules like “don’t fly anything you can’t afford to lose” and “don’t be a f**king retard” can cost you a fair amount of money. And in a game where a transfer between real life cash and in game currency is totally legal and normal, this often means that players are losing fair amounts of their cash because someone beat them in a PvP fight. Talk about a rush when you kill something juicy and a super-rare expensive item drops. Looting fancy ships in EVE is easily comparable to getting a rare drop off a WoW boss, but that boss doesn’t rage at home and/or feel bad because he just lost items worth five months of play by getting ganked.
Obviously there are examples of hardcore modes in MMOs, but they are a gimmick more than a useful and common way of playing. Though I do remember an example from a very old MMO that surprisingly still lives, Tibia, where (I can’t vouch that the same mechanics are still in place today) a death could cost you a few weeks of very boring grinding, just to get back all the experience and money that you’d lost. It’s not the most extreme example, but it’s definitely a few ranks above WoW and EVE in terms of stakes for getting killed. This being a game, where a simple faux pas in talking to a 15yo Brazilian kid could cost you permanently losing your character, by him and his guild chain killing you, so you keep losing your levels, until you’ve lost possibly even months and years of game time. An extreme and retarded mechanic, but it gives even more of an “I REALLY can’t screw up now” feeling than the other games I mentioned - not that it’s nearly as fun as them either.
The term world PvP is nothing more than a default state every Player vs Player server is at. Any player is free to kill enemy players in most places, with the obvious exclusion of certain areas, like some cities, buildings, beginning zones and similar. Of course it depends on the game, but mostly this means that if you leave your city, you’re a free target and you should consider everyone that’s not friendly a possible risk – or a target. In WoW, this used to be a thing, where the best farming spots were always under a huge risk of being infested with enemy players, and the mere fact that a thing like stealth exists gives you that constant feeling of “someone could quite literally be behind me right this second”. If anything, this improves your reflexes, reactions and crisis management where a jump of a hostile stealth character could mean death in seconds, and it usually did. In vanilla WoW, where world PvP was damn well alive and kicking, rogues were, for a reason, the most hated class for any cloth user – I assume shamans weren’t alliance favorites either. You’d stand there in your favorite spot, farming mobs or gathering soul shards for an upcoming raid and suddenly, before even reacting, your health would be closer to zero than not, with a mouth breathing Night Elf rogue pounding on you with his Shanker. Luckily, warlocks that used succubi were all but easy prey for any non-undead rogue – and with alliance lacking in those – we weren’t a common target. But the threat still remained, and the adrenaline that an unexpected rogue attack would provide was for me unparalleled aside from killing raid bosses.
The pinnacle of world PvP in WoW was not the Tarren Mill – Southshore war for me, as fun as it might have been, it was nothing but a brainless back’n’forth zerg that my computer, even though more than competent for a game like WoW couldn’t really handle. Since I didn’t enjoy playing at fewer than 30 fps, I rather roamed the countryside looking for fights, either alone or with a group of friends. This was the most enjoyable time I’ve had in WoW, PvP wise, and could only be compared to massive battles in EVE, where thousands of players would engage in hour long battles, with both sides losing thousands of Euro worth of assets. As many know, vanilla did not have as many means of traveling as they exist now, nor did it have teleportation to an extent that you can hop around the world without any proper travel whatsoever. Plus, the fact that you’re flying most of the time kind of minimizes the chances of someone randomly jumping you in an attempt of tea bagging your corpse while you’re raging IRL.
But back then, things weren’t as cozy and safe as they appear now. With only a few battlegrounds in place and close to no incentive to fight there anyway, more populated servers were filled with solo and PvP groups, gank squads, your random idiot that will jump on you only when your character is at 10% health, and my favorite kind of people: random five man groups trying to reach a dungeon and do their thing in the safe confines of an instance portal. For my warlock and rogue, these were primary targets and definitely the most rewarding, for the whine on forums and IRC is ineed priceless. Eastern Plaguelands were the place, evening rush hour the time and packed servers provided countless hours of fun, battling endless numbers of groups trying to reach Stratholme and Scholomance from Light’s Hope Chapel.
World PvP in MMOs that are not WoW
This is also the only type of PvP in EVE Online. With no organized battlegrounds and arenas like in some other games, players are left to their own devices in order to find ways of killing each other. This being a primarily PvP game, where territorial demands are almost always being contested in a full blown war, there’s definitely no lack of fighting. This is the best example of an MMO that built itself around PvP and absolutely succeeded in delivering insane fun for anyone that doesn’t mind delving into a spreadsheet or two in order to optimally own anyone that dares to enterhis system. Now, the insane fun part is a limited stint of time when you’re actually fighting, because of its humongous world (well, universe) fighting can sometimes be quite a chore to find. So to narrow it down, EVE PvP is a lot of waiting, traveling and scouting for that few minutes of awesomeness that might or might not come. Oh yeah, and if you lose a ship in the process, you not only lost hours of stalking someone, you have to go spend hours making the lost money back. Another thing that EVE online has that no other MMO dares even attempt are battles that feature a few thousand players. I was a part of one of such, a battle of LXQ2-T, which had more than 3000 participants. As awesome as this might sound and as much of an incredible experience as it did feel at the time, the whole battle was a lag fest of a disaster, where you’d have to wait over 10 minutes for the game to acknowledge a press of a button. I eventually went out for drinks and when I came home several hours later, my ship was floating in space still intact, the server hub being so overloaded that no one could do anything until late at night, when we finally managed to get out. The final result was a victory, but a battle I spent in a bar far away from a computer.
Another example of a well thought out PvP world was attempted by Mythic in their not so amazing Warhammer Online MMO. Now we may think of it as another laughable attempt to bring down WoW, I still find it original at times and filled with mechanics I’d love a more competent company to try and implement in their game. One of those features were zones split in halves, one being a PvE area, the other being a PvP one. The implications of that are obvious, and a player was never more than a short ride from some player on player action. I’d love seeing this in a proper MMO, but not nearly as much as another feature, which was amazing and I applaud every developer that does the same – player collision in PvP. Other games feature similar mechanic as well, but Warhammer Online used it to its fullest. A tank would be a tank, a wide ass f**ker (quite literally) that could block tunnels, doorways or simply an approach to the squishier of his colleagues.
A good player could take advantage of collision with pretty much any class, and the difference between a novice and a skilled player eventually boiled down to exploiting collision as an important aspect of any PvP engagement. Sadly, beyond capturing buildings, an interesting loot system and group quests, WHO wasn’t really a fine example of a good MMO. Maybe with more players it could have been salvaged, but reasons other than PvP totally destroyed it and left it on a heap of trash in the Junkyard of failed MMOs (sounds like an area in Torment or something), right next to my next and final example, Aion.
This Korean grindfest of total boredom had one feature that I’d like to give an honorable mention to, and that’s ironically the gayest feature as well – wings. Players could fly, thus adding a third dimension to PvP. In my limited experience in this game that I now hate with all of my heart, flying was definitely an interesting addition and could be worked out to be awesome – in some other game, by some other developer while here it was merely interesting. I’m quite interested to see what it looks like in the endgame, I might even bring myself to checking out a Youtube video about it, every attempt so far was thwarted by my hatred towards what character models , gear and NPCs look like. If I’d want to play as an androgynous looking teenager with a thousand yard stare, clad in bikini armor killing fuzzy gophers, I’d play [any other Korean s**tgame MMO]
The second part of the PvP article will discuss battlegrounds, arenas, why they suck ass and MMO PvP e-sport, a competition that will forever remain unwatchable.