Tobold's Blog
Monday, July 20, 2015
Mercenary mode

Factions in World of Warcraft are a curious thing, since the beginning. Some people chose a PvP server and consider this to be a game about the struggle between Horde and Alliance. Others chose a PvE server at which point the factions become pretty much meaningless. And Horde and Alliance have never been really balanced in terms of numbers of players. That causes problems for specific PvP content which is Horde vs. Alliance, because the side with more players ends up in long queues.

So Blizzard decided to "fix" that with the announced mercenary mode: The players from the more numerous side can simply fight for the *other* side, thus removing queues. If you always thought that Horde vs. Alliance made no sense at all, it doesn't matter which side you are fighting on, does it? But of course those who liked factions are complaining that this makes factions meaningless. Well, more like another nail in the coffin, the stories of the expansions were more "Horde and Alliance fight together against some new menace" than a faction war.

I don't think Blizzard will ever completely eliminate factions, but the borders could be made even more porous: Cross-faction chat, cross-faction groups, guilds, and raids, and so on. We already have cross-faction auction houses. Somehow WoW never lived up to the original premise of Warcraft : Orcs vs. Humans, and if anything factions will become ever more unimportant.

Factions in MMOs are like sports teams. If you're the kind of person who instinctively "gets" supporting a sports team then a change like this will be outrageous. If you're the kind of person who doesn't it will be meaningless.

You also have to wonder, without some kind of emotional commitment to "the team", how many people will begin to feel no connection to the game either. Dangerous road to go down.
It feels like factions died when they collided with the reality of designing dungeons and raids. Obviously making faction-specific dungeons seemed like a waste of effort, so group PvE content has always been "fight against some evil which is hostile to both Alliance and Horde", with the only exception being some very low-level instances like Ragefire Chasm and the Stockade, which were unashamedly aimed at one faction only.
For me factions were a joke from day 1 (I joined at the very end of BC). I've always played druid and for some reason we all meet in Moonglade but we cannot talk among Tauren and Night Elf... I mean.... WTF.... which then became WTF^2 in Wrath when we all were in Dalaran, talking to the same NPC vendors, but somehow unable to talk among us.....
I mean, if you want a faction split then you cannot have all living happily together....
There are always lots of announcements about how Blizzard want to go back to the Orcs Vs Humans feel but the faction antagonistics doesn't play out in a PvE world. The ongoing story generates the feeling where sides should be co-operating not competing.
Faction war only seems to make sense for PvP'ers and I get the impression that they are less interested in the lore reasons for the conflict as opposed to the mechanics and competition.
Anyway, Tobold I have designed a template for you to help fluff your post count (love you really :P)

Introduction paragraph
[A] in game is a interesting. Some people like [B]. Others prefer [C] and that can cause problem [D].

What happened paragraph
So [Developer] decided to fix [D] with the announced feature [E]. Great for fixing problem [B] but if you liked [C] this is another nail in the coffin.

Prediction paragraph
I don't think [Developer] will ever go to extreme [F] but they will continue to tread some balance between groups [B] and [C] as they have always done.
They started with a defective design premise (Mixing PvE and PvP) and never looked back.

To be fair, this is one of the common "design traps" everyone falls into. "PvP is exciting because it's another player!" When the reality is that PvP is exciting because it might actually be a fair fight. You could achieve the same effect in PvE by randomly making every 4th mob a fair fight. Of course, if you did that people would quit playing because it's too hard and they don't want to die constantly. Few people are adrenaline junkies to that degree.

So you end up with two completely different rule sets, and the two modes can't play nice... they need completely different sets of mechanics and gear, too. It's a constant head butt between the two.

What they should have done was make 3 completely different games at launch... Alliance PvE where the Civilized humans fight the savage horde, Horde PvE where the honor driven races of The Horde fight the totalitarian menace that is the Monarch of Stormwind, and "Clan wars" where there is nothing but max level PvP players in clans of Horde or Alliance. For the PvP one, make up a mythos where the leaders are all dead and they're on their own in their garrisons filled with a rat tag force of their countrymen. Oh noes! The Savage Horde has built a nearby fort! Get the pitchforks!

"But that's too much work!" Is it? And constantly screwing with the system FOREVER because it's impossible to mix PvE and PvP isn't? The models are the same, the world at the tree, mountain and grass level is the same. But where a Horde PvE realm has a town of humans to kill for quests, the Alliance PvE has a town of Orcs.

So... I think the mercenary mode is a bad plan, but it's a bad plan forced by a series of bad plans that started with mixing PvE and PvP. It's better than the other bad plan, which is do nothing about unbalanced queue times, but still a bad plan.
Yeah this is an interesting mistake, and will likely cost them. WoW's factions may not be all that amazing, but its a key distinguishing element of their game right now, and one that they can and should continue to support. Well....maybe. I don't know.....if they develop a good in-game lore basis for this then I suppose anything's possible, but honestly the concept of two sides that can't effectively speak to each other is pretty core to the WoW experience....though that said I never did like the fact that there was no way to learn to speak "Hordish" and vice versa. But that's one more element of slim verisimilitude that still pandered to the RPG element of the game, something I think most MMOs have worked hard to scrub away due to the fact that the core "we play this because of the RPG part" crowd is so much smaller than the regular old MMO crowd.
One the one hand it's lame. On the other hand it solves a long standing practical problem. Such is life I guess.

The problem is that they can't really go the other way. If they make the relationship antagonistic, the Horde would lose on numbers alone. Nobody is going to want to play a server where they're getting their ass kicked constantly.

Nicholas, I doubt this is a mistake. The player base has stayed through dozens of changes that made the game more convenient at the cost of everything the OG players held dear a decade ago. Less que times is not going to be the straw that breaks the camels back.
I think everyone is looking at it like this is a big new feature when it's already been done before.

The Old Republic has done this for a long time now and it works perfectly. They even handwave it by saying a faction fighting itself is a training exercise.

I honestly don't think this will have any impact on the game besides it's intended one, which is lowering que times..It's a good and needed change.
Good change. If anything perhaps they should take it further. Even in a game with millions of players, artificially cutting the player base in half doesn't make too much sense.
As someone who played both sides I always disliked the whole pitting the factions against each other thing and liked it when the storyline made them work together. It also made a lot more sense. Who in their right mind would argue and backstab when both sides are in mortal danger from the same enemy? Especially if you consider that both sides are essentially nice and just have some more evil sub-elements (that they should really keep on a tighter leash).
Makes sense to me. Player characters have never been part of the regular military forces following any particular chain of command beyond, "Kill this shit/poison this village/kidnap this sentient race's children for money and store credit."

There is a LONG list of utterly reprehensible, morally indefensible activities the player can engage in at the behest of quest-givers who hold no more authority than a purse provides.

I don't mind the rivalry, and committing to your side if you want to, but the idea of a mercenary option is definitely fitting with the game.


And yes, I think it DOES need to go further. It's kind of dumb that we can't understand each others' languages unless we're talking to NPCs or watching important people talk to each other in cut-scenes.

RIFT actually took the pretty dramatic step of allowing the different factions to party together for questing and dungeons, and that seems to have worked out great.
(Perhaps the Guardians realized that they were objectively in the wrong, what with the Defiants having first-hand knowledge of how the Guardians winning the war brought about the apocalypse.)

Somehow WoW never lived up to the original premise of Warcraft : Orcs vs. Humans

It was never intended to. WoW is, and always has been a theme park where people could experience the lore, races and characters of the Warcraft Universe. The PvP aspect has always been about knowing your class and its abilities when pitted against a member of the opposing faction - or even your own faction when a duel challenge is issued.

The new abilities that the group finder offers is hilariously amazing when it comes to server hopping and looking for one of the 4 rare spawns that drop the rattling cages. Last night I used the custom group finder to find a Doomroller spawn and wound up on a PvP server where the horde and alliance were fighting each other alongside the rare spawn. I managed to get several honorable kills and it brought back fond memories of Crossroads and Tarren Mill. I had a blast!

More like this, please? =)
"..the expansions were more 'Horde and Alliance fight together against some new menace' than a faction war."

Has always felt more like "Horde and Alliance fight each other and hamstring the war effort while fighting new menace."

Old Gods, undead kings, an aspect of death itself...nah, lets go kill those [insert other faction] first. The leaders of both sides end up looking like fools b/c they refuse to set the conflict aside for two seconds to fight a bigger threat. Even in Tanaan Jungle, the newest patch, and DESPITE the NPCs clearly working together, we have to have two separate cities for the factions because reasons.
I don't think it's that much of a deal for PvP instances, which for most PvE players are just a break from the normal game anyway.
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