PvP in the Making - The Frontier System
When Bill Murphy wrote his Dragon's Prophet review in July of this year, he titled it "Hatched Too Soon", a nod to the hatching, gathering and utilization of dragons in the game developed by Runewaker and published by Sony Online Entertainment. The title also indicated that, while the game was technically "only" in open beta, money was changing hands, thereby making it a viable candidate for a review to our way of thinking.
Bill's bottom line verdict read:
I had such high hopes for Dragon’s Prophet. Everything about it sounds like so much fun on paper. But what we have is a clear case of a game that needs a lot more time in development before it should be taking money from anyone. This shouldn’t be an open beta, and you shouldn’t be able to spend money in Auretia. I understand that SOE and Runewaker need to pay the bills, but both parties would have been far better off letting the game take a little more time in closed beta to take in and react to feedback from its community. Dragon’s Prophet isn’t the worst game I’ve played this year, but it could have been so much better. And that’s what’s really unfortunate.
In many respects, the past two months have shown a tenacity by both the publisher and the developer to correct that notion that, somehow, DP was half-baked at open beta release, as Bill's assessment indicates. Many of the game's core systems have been overhauled and the team has shown a willingness to work with players to find solutions to nagging issues. The PvE game has benefited both from interaction with players and by a delayed official release in late September.
But what about PvP? How is that crucial endgame component doing after all the months of closed beta and subsequent open beta? A tour earlier this week shows that, while the producers are actively involved working with Runewaker to bring functionality to PvP, it is still a work in progress. That said, when it reaches the goals the producers outlined, it will be something that could bring a decent and fun endgame to Dragon's Prophet.
In Dragon's Prophet, there are several islands where players can purchase real estate and build homes. Each of these islands also has a mirror image that is a PvP map. SOE and Runewaker felt that residents of these islands shouldn't be forced to participate in PvP so battles take place on an uninhabited instance identical to the residential map.
For our tour, a large crystal was placed on one of the two available residential islands. Associations of from two to five guilds, called Alliances, worked cooperatively to break these formidable crystals. By so doing, the PvP match, the Frontier, opened. Alliances charged off to the NPC in charge of teleporting players to the map with the battle beginning immediately on arrival. There is no wait time here as there is in World of Warcraft.
In this demonstration of the PvP capabilities of Dragon's Prophet, all of the six alliances, representing over two hundred players, were dropped on to the map's Citadel, the major stronghold on the island, and home to the previous match's winning Alliance and Overlord. Control of the Citadel is the number one goal of the dominant alliance but it is by no means an easy task, particularly during this demo.
In ordinary battles, the dominant alliance will be dropped into its citadel, with other alliances being dropped into the match on the opposite end of the map. According to the development team, this is by design to give the upstarts a chance to control any one of several, smaller strongholds dotting the map along the way to the Citadel.
Each of these smaller strongholds is controlled by NPCs that, when defeated by an Alliance, become loyal to that group. They will defend the stronghold in that alliance's name, mini-boss included. The aim of the game is to wrest and keep control of as many strongholds as possible.
Players can engage in standard PvP, usually taking place around stronghold crystals and respawn points. Those aren't, however, the only places random PvP can take place. Several boss NPCs randomly spawn at regular intervals that need to be protected in order to gain advantage. For instance, the Siege Master can sell alliances siege gear like trebuchets and ballistae. Keeping him alive to do so is vital.
Interestingly, the dominant alliance had best not sit back on its laurels hunkered in its citadel either. At some point during the match, a Doom Dragon will spawn and begin attacking any stronghold of the dominant alliance or even its stronghold. It's Runewaker's way of evening the playing field.
But wait! That's not all! If hundreds of players flying on dragons, casting spells, duking it out over strongholds, etc. isn't enough, there are also crystals to be harvested that, when deposited at a player's alliance-controlled stronghold, will gain points for that team. Oh! There is also the difficult-to-find altar that alliances can gather and pray to in order to spawn a boss dragon. The higher an alliance's points, the longer the prayer and spawn takes.
The end goal of the Frontier System is for one alliance to gain eight-thousand points through stronghold control, crystal collection, PvP deaths, boss take-downs and more. If this can't be accomplished within two hours, the alliance with the most points is declared winner and gains the Overlord position for three to five days in the residential mirror of the map. Overlords can run special non-PvP events for residents that can yield some nice swag.
Individual players also earn currency that can be used to buy PvP gear: Weapons, armor, etc.
Weirdly, however, there are no alliance channels and there is no "radar map" to keep track of each alliance's members. This seems to be a critical component to effective PvP as our hosts had trouble finding battle hotspots without such a feature.
What we saw was definitely a work in progress. With only two available maps at this time, and with many of the features mentioned above are "works in progress", things are still in the tweaking stage. The Frontier System is only functional two or three times a week at predetermined time and run by GMs. In the next month or so, SOE plans to open up the system to Alliance controlled events.
So what does it all mean for the endgame player? If PvP is your thing, work with the developers and producers to fine tune what looks to be a really fun, if not innovative, PvP game. Time will tell if Runewaker and SOE get it right. In the meantime, it's definitely PvP in the Making.
Have you tried Dragon's Prophet's PvP? If so, what did you think? Let us know in the comments!
Suzie Ford is the Associate Editor and News Manager at MMORPG.com. You can follow her on Twitter @MMORPGMom.