Monday, January 10, 2011

Follow-up: Tol Barad to Remain Really Really Broken

That's right, it's actually getting worse and worse.

Corey Stockton, the lead content designer for WoW, posted a blog post in the past few hours describing wassup with Tol Barad. To be honest, I'm not exactly enlightened or pleased with the information he has to reveal. In fact, I read this and begin to worry that the developers don't get what the problem is.

Here is Stockton's post, with some editorial comment by yours truly (after the jump):

Now that Cataclysm is out in the wild, more players are getting geared up and checking out Tol Barad, the new outdoor PvP zone. Today, we wanted to address some of the concerns players have expressed about the zone, including how challenging it can be to win as the attacking team, and provide some insight into our design approach. We also wanted to share some of the lessons we learned from Wintergrasp, discuss the difference between the two zones, and touch upon the recent hotfixes made to Honor Point gains and how we plan to improve Tol Barad going forward. We're confident this zone will provide meaningful and fun PvP for some time to come, but we also recognize additional tuning is required to ensure Tol Barad is everything we intend it to be.

[Meri: Yaaawwn. Nothing interesting here.]
As we mentioned earlier, the attacking faction is having a pretty tough time winning control of Tol Barad -- and we're OK with that, at least in theory. Here's why: When we set out to create Wintergrasp, one of the issues we dealt with was that we were never able to ensure the sides were even -- in fact, they rarely were. Because the smaller team would almost always be assured defeat, we attempted to address team-size imbalance by favoring the attacker. Control of Wintergrasp went back and forth, and the result was that battles lost their impact. On most realms the defenders became complacent, knowing they were likely to lose control of the zone, returning to re-take it when it was their turn to attack. The sides swapped back and forth every few hours, and Wintergrasp wasn’t so much about an epic struggle for a meaningful piece of land as it was a complicated game of leapfrog.
[Meri: Huh? That's not what I saw happen. I saw a server with a horde majority winning the zone repeatedly because the Alliance could never overcome the numerical superiority. The battles lost their impact, but only because of how much "fun" it is to get so frustrated that beating your own head against the table seems like a better idea than going to Wintergrasp.]
Since then we’ve devised mechanics that help ensure equal team sizes, and we took Wintergrasp's lessons to heart when we designed Tol Barad. Tol Barad is intentionally balanced so that it’s a challenge for the attackers, because we want to make sure that control of Tol Barad matters. For the defenders, there’s a sense of urgency that Wintergrasp didn't have -- if you lose it, you’re going to have a hell of a time taking it back. For the attackers, there are a number of rewards at stake -- such as access to the Baradin Hold raid and additional daily quests -- that we hope players feel are worth fighting for. That sort of tension is what we wanted from Wintergrasp, and what we believe Tol Barad can ultimately offer.

With that being said, we want winning Tol Barad to be a challenge for the attacking faction... but we don't want it to be impossible. Taking Tol Barad should be tough -- but right now it’s a little bit too tough, and it’s something we’re actively working to balance. Earlier, we attempted to temporarily address the issue by offering a far better reward to the winning attackers: Honor Points awarded for successfully attacking were increased tenfold, but that was such a great incentive that it ultimately undermined the spirit of competition. Since then, the reward for winning as an attacker has been brought back down to a more reasonable amount
[Meri: This is just recent history, mostly covered in the post I made here]
While we've already made minor adjustments to improve the gameplay and address select exploits, our job in Tol Barad is far from over. We ultimately want to make sure that any changes we make are all steps in the right direction, and we intend to make several updates in the next minor patch to address design and balance issues affecting attackers that we can't address with hotfixes. For example, we plan to alter the battle slightly so that a team with two bases captured can more quickly and easily capture the third, as opposed to a team with one or zero bases. This way, if the defenders turtle up, it'll be a little easier for the attackers to take their last base before the defense can take one of the attackers' other bases.
[Meri: /spittake. "Defenders turtle up?" What? The standard defense tactic is to repeatedly zerg whichever location has the lowest number of attackers present.  To clarify for anybody not in the know. The "turtle defense" is when you fortify a fixed location, rely on the reduced need for mobility to be able to prevent the opposition from capturing a node. And that is quite opposite of a "zerg offense" in which you attack a fortified location, counting on numerical superiority to overwhelm the local defenders.  And the fact that Stockton doesn't seem to see a difference scares the hell out of me. 

Additionally, the change being suggested here is an "under the hood" tweak. I concede that it my reduce the difficulty of capturing the zone, but it probably won't really affect player behavior or strategy. Affecting the results without affecting the way to play seems like a cheap fix if you ask me and really won't much affect the "fun" quotient.]


So, the thing is, I'm mostly a PvE player to begin with, but I do PvP from time to time. And I get the creeping feeling that PvP is Blizzard's weak point. I think the implementation of Arena was disastrous for WoW, a fact that a few devs admit to in lucid moments.  The attempt to balance the 2v2 Arena bracket is the reason for just about every significant PvE nerf in the past four years. Blizzard officially gave up completely trying to balance 2v2, removing that competition from Arena ratings altogether. And I wish they would just keep doing that: marginalize Arena to the point that it can't hurt the rest of the game anymore.

I watched some video recently of Blizzard CM Nethaera describing the new battlegrounds in Cataclysm, ("The Battle for Gilneas is a capture the flag battle, so it will feel a lot like Warsong Gulch, only with exciting new scenery!") and it looks to me like they are scraping bottom for unique PvP ideas. Gilneas was supposed to be a sort of urban combat scenario in the actual city of Gilneas, but they couldn't figure out how to work this and abandoned that concept entirely, so we're stuck with anothe Warsong Gulch, which I'm sure is something that the PvP community was just clamoring for.

I don't know what to do with Tol Barad. I just know that participating in that battle is not particularly exciting, fun or rewarding. I'm beginning to think that the whole thing may just be a lost cause and look forward to the day that I can get the Reins of the Drake of the West Wind and not have to ever come back.

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