Saturday, September 22, 2012

Fond Memories of Alterac Valley

The reduction of PvP from a world-spanning conflict to arena matches was, along with PvE instancing and the emphasis on loot drops instead of a player economy, one of the main causes for the loss of the persistent world concept in online games. In World of Warcraft, oddly enough as it was one of the chief perpetrators of lowest-common denomination, there was one brief moment when it seemed the developers were trying for a true compromise and not all-out abandonment of large-scale PvP.

WoW's first PvP arena, Alterac valley, was created for two teams of 40 players. While this was a leap down from the scale of true MMO PvP it was still larger than normal PvP games which rarely jump the 30-player mark for each team.
More importantly, Alterac had a multitude of objectives, both PvP and PvE, which benefited greatly from organization on the part of the players. The central objective was a linear progression through the valley from control point to control point against the tide of the enemy team, but these could be captured out of order, making a competent group of stealthers highly valuable. There were contributions to be made in advancing the team's NPC support, mobs to be farmed (some behind enemy lines) side objectives to be captured, enemy NPCs to assassinate, etc.

Even at the front lines there was much more to do than mindlessly hack 'n slash. Forty players are enough to offer variety and complexity, but still small enough that a coordinated group of 3-5 players could make all the difference. It was enough to open up all sorts of possibilities for tactics. Flanking the enemy for a surprise charge against their ranged attackers or baiting them away from the main fight using a small group of harassers worked wonders. Well-timed deployment of NPC waves could sweep a team into a decisive advantage.
Instead of expanding on this fairly good attempt at a compromise in the scope of player conflict, it was of course abandoned. Everything since then in MMOs has been smaller and smaller, petty, simplistic arena fights with no other objective than measuring dick size against such-and-such champion leet-dood.

Such large-scale arenas, fifty players on a team or so, could easily form the basis for a persistent world's PvP system while still leaving the world itself as a gank-free PvE environment. However, they would have to be tied into the PvE resources. Winning a PvP match should give a faction or guild access to a new vendor, a new town, maybe a new zone to hunt in. For instance, in a game with five factions, access to any top-level PvE zone could be granted to only three of the factions at a time based on PvP victories.
The reverse can also be true. PvE successes could translate into better stats, more consumables or a better starting position on the battlefield for that faction's PvP teams.

The tricky part is limiting griefing and parasitism. The game would need various ways to punish or exclude players who are not pulling their weight. One way would be to allow guilds to police things. Let each PvP match have a designated guild who will get the rewards. The guild can then allow access to those rewards to whomever they wish. When fighting for control of towns, some benefits could apply to the entire faction while others would be determined by guild leaders. Day or week or month-long cooldowns could be applied to guilds to ensure that they are not monopolizing any particular PvP reward, keeping it from the rest of the faction.

The main thing that felt right about Alterac Valley was the interconnection between various PvP and PvE goals. Even if PvP is limited to Arena matches, player actions should still permeate the game world. Successes in PvP and PvE should shift control of various objectives, advancing a faction or guild toward world domination.

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