Sunday, August 5, 2012

TSW is not a PvP game

This is a screenshot from one of The Secret World's PvP arenas.Note the general 'fuzziness' of the image (ignoring the blur effect). It's because of weather effects. Note the complexity of the ground featuring grass, rocks, cracks, etc. Note the huge red pillar-like spell effects obscuring the battlefield. Note the subtle, nondescript player costumes.

This is a screenshot from Savage 2. S2 is a PvP game. Note the way the ground and decorations are laid out. The larger graphic effects like smoke or bright shiny lights are placed high above the players. There are trees, but while their trunks can be used as cover, they are tall enough that their crowns don't obscure players' view entirely. The weapon each player is currently using is clearly visible. Likewise, abilities have clearly different visual effects. There are different graphics and sound cues when a player dodges, blocks an attack, sprints, whatever. Boulders and other obstructions are used sparingly and the terrain flows in clean gradations, with no unexpected edges or bumps that would hamper players' movement.

Just in case anyone's thinking of trotting out the all-purpose excuse 'oh but TSW is an MMO' (it's not, by-the-by) here's a screenshot of Rift's PvP. Rift, like World of Warcraft and Warhammer Online before it, was built top-down as a PvP-centered game and only later wrecked by focusing on small-group instanced gameplay. There's a lot happening in that screenshot, plenty of spell effects going off, but they are at the same time clearly visible and not obscuring anything else. There's no way you're going to confuse that bard's healing ability with a mage's fireball.

That could, however, easily happen in TSW. Even the weather effects work to mask what players are doing. I'd run through more examples, but in a nutshell, the game's PvP is a joke. I want credit for having predicted this years ago. Storytelling, puzzle-solving, meta-plot, this isn't just PvE content, it's single-player content, and TSW was built around it. The combat mechanics and the game's aesthetics followed suit. A PvP game has to be as responsive as possible and provide clear and constant feedback as to what's happening on the playing field. It needs to look clean and play smoothly. TSW's combat mechanics are geared towards spicing up solo PvE and its graphics were created for atmosphere. They are gently nuanced, realistic, immersive... and completely unsuitable for PvP.

This would not be a problem if developers did not feel the need to pay lip-service to players who thoughtlessly demand PvP from a game that's not made for it. TSW would have made a beautiful single-player game or even a passable co-op PvE world. The arena combat is worse than useless. It means the developers are now under constant pressure to provide PvP content, to balance skills for PvP (thereby ruining PvE balance) and to give players PvP rewards which will end up being just another pointless grind for those of us who would otherwise never set foot in an arena. It's a millstone around TSW's neck, constantly shifting focus away from its true high points, sapping developers' effort and any investment in expanding on their strengths.

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