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A Hankering for PvP

Isabelle Parsley Posted:
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I’m a little shocked to find myself saying this, but I’ve got an increasing hankering to play an MMO with a complex, rich and rewarding PvP system. As I said some months ago I used to consider myself a definitely-NOT when it came to PvP, but that view has changed over the years, with Warhammer Online probably marking the start of my slow conversion. There really is something about punching other players in the face that just isn’t matched by defeating AI-controlled opponents.

Every MMO out there that I know of, however, has issues with PvP, or more specifically with balancing PvP and PvE. The design and balancing requirements are very different for PvP as opposed to PvE, so in most games one of those two elements will tend to dominate the other (and it’s usually PvE). Integrating the two so that players can transition seamlessly from bashing a PvE monster to bashing a PvP opponent is not an easy task, and from what I see it usually seems to lead to the PvP crowd complaining that their systems aren’t as well-done or exciting as they could be, which is probably quite true.

Part of the problem is that MMOs are primarily derived from the turn-based, variable-controlled tabletop RPG environment, whereas PvP thrives on the immediate action and reaction systems devised for FPS-type games. Really good PvP needs to feel fluid, dynamic, and above all unpredictable, and it’s not easy to do unpredictable when PvE systems are based on knowing exactly what players can do to their opponents in any given situation, and in controlling how they do what they do and when (such as with cooldowns). I think we’re seeing a gradual merging of the two types of systems, but from an overall design point of view it’s not an easy thing to do to make PvP as dynamic as it needs to be while still retaining some control over how your PvE systems work.

Then there are the balance issues. Balancing player classes and gear against AI abilities is one thing, but balancing player abilities against each other is a whole different kettle of fish. For instance: AI-Boss001 won’t care if the players keep him perma-stunned for 30 seconds straight (and it’s not too hard to code a ‘cheat’ for said boss to get around that), but you can’t take a player’s control of their character away for more than a few seconds or they will eventually quit in disgust. This is perfectly natural. We play to play, not to stand around drooling while some other player does unto us. Stuns (or any other ability that takes away player control) are one of the most hotly-debated issues in PvP that I’ve seen, and for good reason.

Sadly I’m not here to fix those issues, which are multifarious and thorny to say the least – though I do believe, in my rather limited experience, that they are slowly being dealt with. Our PvP systems are growing more complex and more responsive, at least overall, and what’s even better is that they’re becoming more attractive to people other than the hardcore. That doesn’t mean they have to be dumbed down (which is the usual elitist argument against anything gaining broader appeal in MMOs); and the bright side is, the one thing PvP can always use is more bodies. More attractive PvP equals more potential victims, which in PvP is really rather essential.

I’m just wondering if PvP and PvE can ever be as fully-integrated as I’d like them to be. While I’ve come to enjoy PvP a lot more than I ever thought I would, I do still love me some AI-controlled monster bashing and I do have preferences as to where, when and how my PvP takes place. It seems I’m not much into very small-scale 2-5 man arena type bouts, perhaps because the current rock-paper-scissors nature of PvP becomes a little too obvious then and a small subset of classes (the healing ones mostly, at least in WoW) seems to dominate. I’ve also never really managed to get into the 10-man battlegrounds, though that might be because our side has consistently lost them – yeah, I know, I need to L2PvP. What I really do enjoy, however, are the open world or large scenario battles with 20+ participants on each side; ironically, though I’m much of one for chaos usually, I love the chaotic nature of huge moshes where my own little engagements form part of a greater, fast-moving whole.

There’s definitely a variety and excitement to PvP that isn’t easily matched when fighting computer-controlled opponents, and I’m beginning to see why those who love PvP have been saying for years that it’s the most lastingly entertaining form of endgame. You can actually PvP purely for its own sake, and while that’s not entirely untrue of endgame PvE, the latter has been turned into such a carrot and stick treadmill in many games that it has lost any of its appeal for me, which was always limited to begin with.

My problem, as usual, is that I want the best of both worlds. I enjoy PvP but I don’t much see the point in being ganked and corpse-camped as its primary expression. I’d much rather have specific areas and/or times for PvP though I know that’s not necessarily ‘realistic’ in the context of a battle-ridden MMO world. I’m hopeful The Secret World will deliver exactly what I want, however. Above-ground the three player factions cooperate (mostly) in an uneasy truce against a common and overwhelming threat; but below-ground, in Agartha, the knives and guns and fireballs come out as each faction strives for dominance and ownership against the others.

That’s the kind of division and purpose to PvP I think I’ll have a blast with. I can’t be looking over my shoulder all the time – I’m way too old for that and my reflexes always did kind of suck; and the thing about being paranoid all the time is that eventually it wears on you and destroys your enjoyment, at least for me. I’m hoping TSW will allow me to choose when and where I get to punch people in the face, and will let me get out once I’ve had enough.

The three factions are also a draw for me. WAR and SWG’s greatest flaw, I think, was only having two factions, though in SWG’s case that was somewhat hard to get around. Having only two factions always leads to either/or situations, and in my experience things become more complex, more varied and vastly more entertaining when you have at least three factions – or dozens, as in EVE.

I think I’m slowly but surely morphing into a PvPer, even if I’ll never be as full-on about it as some. I’m much too nervous and paranoid for nullsec, but I do feel the lure of the grey areas between tame PvE and all-out, all the time PvP.

So bring it! But don’t /laugh at my corpse, I’m still learning, m’kay?


Isabelle Parsley