In 2008, the market certainly had its share of big headline MMOG related announcements with games like Bioware's Star Wars: The Old Republic and Cryptics Champions Online being revealed, not to mention launches like Funcom's Age of Conan. Frequently ignored, however, were the advancements made to in-game mechanics that are often shunned by carebears and tree hugging hippies. We are talking about player versus player gameplay in all its ganking and glorious carnage. This year saw a focus on PvP like no other before it. With many developers attempting to mass market the playstyle to a traditionally player versus environment group of customers. While the upper crust claim gameplay has been watered down in favor of PvP, it's hard to argue there isn't a heavy increase of players in all of our MMOGs. More can now say they have stepped up against other humans and been teabagged for their efforts. Let's take a journey through the most prominent PvP additions and failures of the year.
Starting in early January 2008, Flying Lab Studios, in conjunction with Sony Online Entertainment, released Pirates of the Burning Sea. This rather obviously themed game allowed players to choose sides in the Caribbean and fight not only against opposing factions but to attack cities and claim them. While there were certain elements - like crafting - that had a steep learning curve, climbing in a ship and sailing the high seas was easy and fun.
Northrend was a Step Forward
Where the mechanics fell short, however, was in land combat that seemed rushed and sometimes chaotic, although this was rarely considered as players tended to gang up on a higher ranked players. PotBS is considered a hybrid and did have a robust PvE system available, but depending on the faction that controlled an area, PvP was not always optional. While the "QQ more" cries might have been frequent, this was a key problem Flying Lab addressed later. Unfortunately many initial impressions had already been made and subscriptions decided.
While pirates might have limited appeal, Funcom promised to deliver a fantasy-based product with a more identifiable IP. Age of Conan has a lot going for it including unmatched violence and lots of bared boobs. Incorporated into their PvP system are actual consequences for killing other players known as murder points. Murder points make you a much more attractive target for ganking. The crown jewels are the siege mechanics, which have guilds creating structures while others join up in order to destroy them. The only failure in this system is that the content requires you to complete a significant portion of the game before its available and that means many players never saw this action before canceling their subscriptions.
As interest in Age of Conan waned over the summer, the single most widely recognized PvP MMOG was releasing their ninth expansion. While many players havent experienced EVE Online, it's unlikely they have avoided the commercials during Battlestar Galactica or on dozens of websites around the Net. Part space simulator and part economic game, EVE Online is considered the true test of PvP giants. Empyrean Age brought more war to the four major factions and a slew of new content including more ships and enhancements to system occupation. While there were a few technical hiccups, it went off almost without a hitch and drastically altered corporate controlled areas. Despite the success however, a year can't go by without conspiracy and dramatics. Herein lies a PvP enviornment that exists for more than 400k people to participate in and has kept CCP firmly on the MMOG radar.
No game release in 2008 generated more excitement than Mythic's Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. Launching in October, it found its way into the hands of hundreds of thousands of frenzied fans eager to engage in large scale combat. WAR brought to the table something never seen before in a large budget fantasy game: a focus on PvP. Sure, WAR included plenty of PvE content in every area, but there has been a gentle prodding by the developers to move to a realm versus realm battleground where you'll be face-to-face with opposing players.
As your level increases, so does the focus on RvR eventually putting you on the walls of a keep or manning a battering ram. WAR offers conflicts which can literally see hundreds of people fighting zergarifically over a single objective. Unfortunately a system like this requires precise balance, an area of the game which Mythic is still adjusting by using server transfers and encouraging Open RvR. All in all, WAR was a significant step forward for mass appeal PvP.
WAR brought PvP to the Masses
The final titanic PvP event in 2008 was the release of the highly anticipated release of World of Warcraft: The Wrath of the Lich King, an expansion for a game that already boasts over 11 million players. If we ignore the new class, new areas, and other "more of the same" content, Wrath of the Lich King introduced an open PvP area which took Battlegrounds and Arena fights to the next level. While previous open PvP battles were little more than a series of towers that changed hands constantly, the new Wintergrasp zone established a fortress that one side defended, and the other assaulted.
But you may be asking, How is this any different than Warhammer Online? In some cases it isn't, and many of you may be pointing out that WAR at least has a variety of zones. A few positive differences for WoWs expansion can be seen in the larger selection of siege equipment, which exists as a mobile versus a fixed emplacement. Some additional features in WoWs favor are the facilities and walls which can be destroyed and impact the overall battle. It sounds pretty amazing, and if the lag is fixed and final balance established between attackers and defenders it likely will be.
As youve read, 2008 was an interesting year and took some great leaps forward in PvP gameplay mechanics. Casting a wider net, many companies have attempted to entice Joe MMOG player to join the violent and competitive world of PvP. In most cases it's been successful and hopefully 2009 will not only continue this trend but reincorporate the more hardcore participants as well. One thing is for certain, as the number of carebears lessen and the battlefields get more participants, PvP is finally making inroads into mainstream MMOG play.