Sunday, September 8, 2013

WoW PvP Changes in Patch 5.4

With patch 5.4 just around the corner this might be an opportune time to review some of the upcoming changes to WoW PvP, as well as to briefly summarize the changes that have been implemented in PvP from 5.2 to the present. The information in this post should be correct at the time of writing, but please keep in mind that 5.4 is still in PTR and is liable to change at any time. I have also refrained from commenting on class balance changes, instead focusing on the overall changes that will impact all players in the next patch.


PvP Changes in 5.2 and 5.3

Here is a list of the changes that have occurred in patches 5.2 and 5.3:

5.2


  • Battleground normalization at lower brackets;
  • Conquest gear purchasable with Honor after 27k aggregate reached;
  • Conquest Points awarded for losing Rated BGs;
  • Removal of 2.2k T2 weapons.

5.3


  • Flag Running Damage Debuffs for DPS (20%) and Tank (50%) specs;
  • Bloody Dancing Steel/Spirit of Conquest PvP Enchants;
  • iLevel Caps in Arenas and Rated BGs;
  • Map Alterations (Dalaran Arena and EOTS starting zone);
  • New Arena (Shado-Pan Arena);
  • New Battleground (Deepwind Gorge);
  • PvP Power on gems reduced by 50%;
  • PvP Power Nerf - 265 increased to 400 for 1% extra damage;
  • Resilience Removed From PvP Items and made baseline.



Theodorius explodes in a ball of light after unleashing his Mega Super Duper Heal spell in a Rated BG. Actually, it was just my Guardian going out with a bang.




PvP Changes in 5.4


Abolition of Arena Teams

I like this change, although it makes me sad to bid a fond farewell to some of my long running Arena teams and their increasingly ridiculous names. Upsides include a true region wide competition - no more artificial distinctions between Battlegroups, and the associated elitism that goes on with it. Arena titles will become a much more prized achievement, because in effect you will be playing against everyone now. Gladiator no longer means the top 0.5% of the Battlegroup - it means the top 0.5% of the region. Whatever title players win at the end of this season reflects their standing against the whole of the region - US/Oceanic (these are combined), Europe, South America or China. Regardless of whatever title one gets - Gladiator (0.5%), Duelist (0.5-3%), Rival (3-10%) and Challenger (10-35%) - it is nice to know that this bell curve incorporates everyone in region and is a true reflection of where you are compared to everyone else.
 
On a related note, Blizzard's proposal for rating inflation in 5.2 was never implemented, probably because Blizzard was already tinkering with removing Arena teams altogether at this point and this change would have been redundant down the line. The issue that proposal was trying to address, however, has not gone away - namely, rating camping at high levels of the ladder, in which high rated players blitz rating in the early weeks and stay there for the remainder of the season. This leads me to think that either the blitzing has gone away since T2 weapons were removed, or that they might implement some kind of rating inflation in the future for personal ratings. Perhaps it has become a non-issue, and that a region wide competition will discourage high rating camping due to the increased competition for top spots.
 
 
Arena Time Limits

OK I admit that I have been an asshat in 2s games on a number of occasions. There have been times when I've lost my partner and rather than bowing out gracefully I have looked at the enemy DPS and said to myself, "This guy can't kill me." I would then proceed to run around and be a total tosser and play for a draw until the 45 (now 25) minute timer expired. Both teams would lose points, and I would have wasted both teams' time. But I did deny the opposition any points for winning. Ha!

Karma is a bitch however, and once I was on the receiving end of this type of treatment while grinding games I took a long hard look at myself and said, "This is immature behaviour unworthy of a grown adult." Actually, it was more like, "Dang! This sucks and it's wasting my time. Just quit dude, you're going to lose points regardless - you're just being spiteful! I would never do anything like that...oh, wait a minute..."

Suitably enlightened I learned to lose with a modicum of grace, and after Season 11 or thereabouts once my partner died I would bow out quickly. Usually. If the DPS was bad I might hang around for a couple of minutes just to prove a point (what can I say, I'm exceedingly shallow). I would tank the DPS's burst, then walk out into the open, wave farewell and quit as if to say, "Now look lads - you didn't beat me, OK? I am leaving on my own accord. I know, I know, it is a magnanimous gesture and you should /salute me or something for it. Come on now, just give me a wave or something... Come on... Look, I'm not leaving until you give me some kind of emote..."

Not sure why I bothered really, because if the enemy could talk they would say, "Good for you. mate, you have proven that you can keep your healer alive against a single DPS, which is how Blizzard has actually designed the current game. Now if you could keep your DPS partner alive you might actually get higher ratings...?" More likely thought they would just say, "Just f***ing quit you f***ing baddie, stop wasting our f***ing time you f***ing f***head."


This one screenshot tells you how this particular Arena game is going to end. The priest has gambled and lost by running out into the open to fear Theo. It was a bad gamble - his feral partner is not putting any pressure on Ratsac who is at full health, and Theo still has his trinket which he uses to break the CC. Ratsac is red and angry and bursting, and feral is below 50% health. Priest is out in the open, and Psychic Fear is now on CD. Theo's Repentance is off CD and ready. Priest now has 1.5 s (the time it takes to cast a Repentance) to cast something to top up his partner, because after that he will eat a Repentance, followed up by a Blinding Light. GG if the priest has no trinket, because this means a 14 s lockout. Even if he trinkets, Theo will stand on top of him and interrupt any cast over time spells. The only thing that can save his partner now is if he still has major defensive CDs like Barkskin, instant Healing Touch, Might of Ursoc or Survival Instincts off CD.

Anyway... not everyone has reached this exalted state of maturity I currently display, and so Blizzard has wisely enforced a 15 minute time limit on Arena matches. After 15 minutes a buff will be awarded to the team which i) has the most number of players remaining; or ii) has had the best kill attempt on an enemy player (i.e. reduced an opposition player's health the lowest). At first glance I thought this would be a moderately strong buff that would give a decent but not insurmountable advantage to the team which had fulfilled either of these two conditions, but when I went poking around the Internet to gauge the strength of the buff I found that it was not so much a buff as opposed to, in the words of Blizzard's lead PvP designer Holinka, a match ender. The Crowd Chose You buff gives you 1000% extra damage, decreases all damage taken by 100%, and allows you to see stealthed units. I don't know for certain if this version of the buff is the one that will become live, but as it stands the presence of this buff creates a hard (not soft) time limit of 15 minutes for Arena matches as once your team receives the buff you can no longer die and it's just a formality wiping up the opposition. I would have much preferred a moderately strong buff to ensure a result but also allow people the chance to claw a win back even if they failed to get the buff.
 
There are a number of implications for this. Firstly, healer/tank teams might become competitive if the healers involved can maintain high health pools until the 15 minute limit has been reached. This is not as easy as it sounds in PvP, where health is spiking crazily all the time, but it is possible. A healer or tank with 1000% damage buff will dispatch enemies with ease. On the flip side, healer teams shouldn't be able to put out that much burst in return, so in the end I believe this will be a non-issue.
 
The second implication is that I think this change favors super burst classes, especially mage and shadow priest teams which use the Deep Freeze/Devouring Plague combo. Mages especially line up their burst with their team mates when their Deep Freeze comes out, and fights with this class revolve around syncing your defensive CDs every 30 s or so when they try to Deep you down with their team mates. Syncing burst is what every Arena team worth their salt should be doing too, anyway, so perhaps this too, is a non-issue. It's just that some classes burst a little bit better than others, so they might be able to get better shots at getting the buff. This is not an issue where health pools are big enough to allow healers to recover, but if the game becomes all about who gets the health pools down the lowest, then naturally the better bursters receive the advantage.  
 
A third implication is that it could force healers to play less conservatively to keep health pools up as high as possible and to use major CDs earlier than they would have in earlier incarnations of the game. When all is said and done however, all this change means is that Arena games are 15 minutes long in 5.4 as opposed to 25 minutes (which is infinitely better than 45 minutes which was the time limit in Season 10). The strategy is just to land a kill and win within this time frame. It opens up a new strategy which in effect involves holding out for 15 minutes and winning the buff by keeping your health higher than the other team, but this is far riskier and takes much more work than the classic Arena strategy of well, erm, kill one of the other dudes. The classic strategy of syncing burst and CC to maintain pressure and force trinkets and CDs in order to eventually land kills will remain the mainstay of Arena gameplay in 5.4.
 
I'm still going to try holy paladin, resto druid and disc priest combo however. As I said, I'm exceedingly shallow.
 

Cross Realm Arenas and Connected Realms

This is huge. This is awesome. I have lost so many good Arena team mates when they left my realm for greener pastures. Luckily the tides of WoW development have brought cross realm Arenas to the barren wasteland that is the Thorium Brotherhood, and thanks to the Connected Realms there hopefully will be more players to pick fights with in world PvP. This is an amazing quality of life change for PvPers, and I applaud Blizzard for it. 


Increased CP Rewards for Random BGs

Anything which makes the acquisition of PvP gear easier is also another good quality of life change. I'm almost at the point where I would be happy if they gave PvP gear out for free to everyone, just completely even out the playing field, and let pure gameplay decide. People who still rely on gear differential to win matches are just sad, or simply not enlightened yet. On the lighter side, I couldn't help but laugh at some OQueue advertisements I saw recently (this is a social add-on which allows people to advertise and organise Rated BG teams cross-server) which stated, "No Skill No Vent No Skype No Minimum Rating needed - just play till we get the cap". As comical as this is, acquiring the cap is a necessary evil, and the real game doesn't actually start until people start playing for rating. Increasing the cap makes it fractionally easier to grind the necessary points each week, and so again, this is a good change.

 
Strand of the Ancient Changes

No more ramming, and only one Demolisher per spawn point, but bombs hit significantly harder. This is an effort to make this BG more about the players and less about the demos. The optimal strategy for this BG has always been grouping demos and attacking gates simultaneously. The biggest criticism of SOTA has been that your character becomes irrelevant - all the time you spent learning your class becomes secondary to using these vehicles correctly. To be fair, using your character to slow and focus down demos were crucial in defense , but this change pulls the gameplay back towards the characters and away from a Warcraft style Tonka truck demolition derby. Regardless, this doesn't affect Rated play as this BG is not part of the  rotation at this point, but perhaps Blizzard is looking to include it in a future date depending on how these changes pan out.


Final Thoughts

I think MoP has been a great expansion for WoW PvP to date. I have criticized WoW open world PvP as lacking luster and meaning in other posts, but the ladder competition remains robust, competitive and fairly well balanced. 5.4 will in all likelihood be the final patch for the MoP version of WoW PvP, and looking back it can be said that this expansion will be remembered for a host of quality of life changes for all PvPers. In MoP the competition became fairer (no more T2 weapons), broader (abolition of Arena teams and Battlegroups/cross realm Arena) and more accessible (resilience now baseline/easier HP and CP grinds).
 
For me personally warlocks will be my enduring memory of MoP. OP bastards. In all fairness warlock love was overdue, and locks should be thankful that they had such fervent and articulate advocates in Cynwise and Xelnath who were able to influence Blizzard design so dramatically. My best team mates have been warlocks, even before they were the dominant class of the expansion. In Season 10 I played hundreds of 45 minute games with my team mate Coronaxtra, and we used to win by gradually wearing down the opposition mana pool over the course of the game. I'm just sad that he quit before Season 11 started, because he would have had a ball with the new tools warlocks received in MoP. Locks in Season 11 have excellent burst, excellent CC and defensive CDs to rival tanking specs. I've tried to refrain from commenting on class balance, but I definitely think that locks were the PvP class of the expansion. Just my 2 cents.
 
Digression over - here's to a great and glorious Season 14 to end Mists of Pandaria!

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