Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Letters from Tamriel, Part IV - The War in Wabbajack

The following is the continuation of my brief history of the first Wabbajack campaign as seen from the eyes of a casual Daggerfall Covenant player. I play two to three nights a week, mostly on weekends, and my account will be coloured by own experiences and factional bias. I'm quite certain that EP and AP players will disagree violently with various details of this account, but that's the fun of writing these pseudo-histories – it will be up the reader to winnow the truth from the hyperbole and propaganda. For my sources I have used my own experiences, daily screenshots of the campaign map, scores and leader boards, the ESO Stats website, and the flame wars on the official Zenimax forums, which have required heavy moderation on the part of Zenimax due to the amount of sledging and trash-talking being thrown back and forth between the three factions.


Three factions clash. I am hidden at the bottom of the hill while AD and EP battle on the rise.

State of the Campaigns

The following graphs are pulled from the ESOStats website, and they provide a great synopsis of the various campaigns in progress. These screenshots were taken on the day the first campaign ended, and out of nine campaigns, four have been won by the Altmeri Dominion (AD), three by the Daggerfall Covenant (DC) and two by the Ebonheart Pact (EP). Out of the nine campaigns, eight have been landslides for the winning faction.



Wabbajack is clearly the most competitive of all the nine remaining North American (NA) campaigns, and it has been one of the most memorable PvP experiences I've had in an MMO to date. The Pact is poised to win in this screenshot, but until two weeks ago a Daggerfall victory was a real possibility. On the weekend of 20-21 June the Pact rallied in a big way and secured map control over the weekend, enough to create a 15-18k buffer and securing victory for them in the first campaign.

Campaign History


I. Early Days of the Dominion

The early days of Wabbajack were dominated by the Altmeri Dominion, but unfortunately I did not start playing PvP until 9 April, which means the record of who these early Emperors were are lost to this account. All I know is that when I entered Cyrodiil on this date AD were leading the campaign by a short margin, but were about to be eclipsed by DC soon afterwards.

II. Reign of the Covenant

DC overtook AD on the campaign scoreboard on or around 10 April 2014, and they proceeded to dominate the campaign for the remainder of April. There have been three Covenant Emperors in the history of the campaign to date – Whispers to Ravens, Johnny Hammersticks and Sabre Ali. Whispers was crowned on 9 April, and was able to maintain his position on the top of the leader board for about one week before being overtaken by Johnny Hammersticks sometime in mid-April. Hammersticks was the longest serving DC Emperor in terms of overall time spent on the throne, and he holds the DC record on Wabbajack for longest continuous reign as a Covenant Emperor (four days and nine hours). Sabre Ali was crowned Emperor in the waning days of Covenant ascendancy, and he holds the dubious distinction of being the last ever Emperor on Wabbajack. Before the rise of the Pact however, DC dominated Cyrodiil completely during the month of April, building a massive lead over the other factions, and threatening to run away with the campaign.

III. Rise of the Pact

On 14 April 2014 EP successfully crowned their first Emperor on Wabbajack (Fixate). At first I thought it was an aberration, as DC would soon dethrone the red upstart, and resume their domination of the campaign. As April turned into May however, EP resistance became stronger and stronger, and it soon became apparent that they were a legitimate threat. The Pact Emperor was no mere figure-head. Fixate's team gained more and more notoriety, as it became clear that they were an organised group of maximum level players with clear, well-honed strategies. They were also not shy at posting their exploits on the official forums, and a pair of videos showing their team wiping zergs of blue players made the rounds.


Fixate and his crew were not the only reason for EP's resurgence. There are also two or three other EP crews out there who are organised and capable, with the most prominent being the Vokundein guild who announced their transfer to Wabbajack with much fanfare on the official forums. Campaign transfers are a contentious issue in TESO at the moment, as the current cost for changing campaigns is extremely low – 15,000 Alliance points. This is a trivial amount and can be accumulated in a single evening if you are running with a strong group which can successfully cap or defend multiple times. Since there are 10 total campaigns it is very easy for players to desert losing campaigns and jump into others where their faction is dominating. This was predicted by everyone prior to launch, so it boggles the mind as to why Zenimax kept transfer costs so low. It also makes possible the exploits of some Oceanic AD guilds which are jumping from campaign to campaign in order to farm the title of Emperor (more on this later).

In late April and early May there was a massive diaspora of EP to Wabbajack, so much so that the EP guild Vokundein began to complain that the excess numbers were ruining their fun. By mid-May EP was firmly in control and ahead on the scoreboard, and by virtue of their continued success attracted even more EP to Wabbajack. EP only dominated one other campaign (Goldbrand), so there were dual incentives for EP players in the remaining campaigns to move to Wabbajack - leave a campaign where they were being trounced, and move to a campaign where they were actually winning. Similarly, DC also began to bleed players as the fair weather players migrated to Bloodthorn, Chrysamere and Volendrung where DC are the undisputed masters. EP began to pull away, extending their lead even further. Fixate and his team mate Nicolle became regular fixtures on the Tamriel throne, trading Emperorships every time either of them pulled ahead of each other on the Alliance leaderboard. I have to give respect to Fixate – that blasted bugger is EVERYWHERE, and he will fight on his own without his posse at his back on occasions. Fixate also holds the record as the longest serving Emperor on Wabbajack, clocking in at just over six days and two hours.


Hiding after a DC siege is destroyed by an EP counter. The burning remnants of our siege engines litter the field, while EP fan out in search of stragglers.

IV. Leaders of the Covenant

The silver lining in the DC exodus from Wabbajack was that it revealed which guilds had ticker (heart) and who would be sticking it out in the long run. In May I began to PvP on a semi-regular basis with the Order of Australia (OOA). Our very first PvP night was an amazing success, with lots of participants and commensurate success to boot. In my opinion our initial success was not based on the fact that we were super-organised and capable, but rather more the case of numbers and enthusiasm carrying the day against similarly inexperienced opposition. Since that time, however, numbers and participation have dwindled to almost nothing, and I've had to look further afield for an Oceanic guild to PvP with.

In addition to joining OOA's PvP events, I've also made the effort to join the other guilds around the Daggerfall faction in order to see how they operate. To date I have joined the following crews in their battles around Cyrodiil:

DC Elite (DCE) - Reevo
Einharjar (EHJ) - Bitaken
Eminent Gaming (EG) – Brandon-South-Ga
Jabbawocky (JW) – Senior Fluffykins, Egypt (?)
Psijic Aes Sedai – Hermaeus Mora
RISE – Prince Jarvan (quit?), Aareon (?)

I've not only joined the above teams on their roams, but also hopped onto Teamspeak (TS) in order to see how the guild leaders led their respective teams. For me the most impressive is Bitaken's EHJ crew, because Bitaken is not only knowledgeable and organised, but also accommodating, decisive and courteous on TS. Reevo's team is also impressive, but for different reasons. I've been with his crew when they engaged and wiped Fixate's EP team on a number of occasions, and they seem to be DC's answer to EP's “elites”. They are very similar to many top Rated BG teams I've played with in the sense that they only accept high-level players (VR5+, but I managed to sneak in as VR3+), and they would be what less charitable people term as “elitist jerks”. I have no problem with “elitist jerks” because for me competence trumps good manners up to a certain point, and Reevo's crew never crossed that threshold. In fact, when one of Reevo's crew pointed out that there was a level 30 in the group and suggested kicking him, Reevo defended him by saying “he's been with us for over an hour, he follows directions to a T, he's always first to our objectives and he uses his CDs when we need them – I ain't kicking him.” Of course, Reevo then erased the good will he had engendered by calling rival team leader Fluffykins a loser on zone chat, but ah well, nobody is perfect.

Senior Fluffykins is another prominent team leader whose guild has been in Wabbajack since the very beginning of early access. His crew numbers Egypt and Whispers to Ravens in their ranks, and I'm not entirely sure of their guild structure or organisation, or who actually heads their organisation. Egypt is a stalwart of the Covenant, always being active and encouraging on zone chat, and the scale of his contribution can be gauged on the fact that most EP teams know who he is (you can hear Fixate's team calling him out by name on their videos). Prince Jarvan of RISE is another excellent team leader, using his expertise from Guild Wars 2 and DAOC to good effect in TESO, but unfortunately for the Covenant I believe he has quit the game. Brandon-South-Ga of Eminent Gaming is the youngest of all the DC leaders known to me, clocking in at 19 years of age (Reevo is 30 and Bitaken I suspect is older than that). Hermaeus Mora of Psijic Aes Sedai is a quietly spoken but capable leader with big ambitions – nothing less than helping organise the Covenant on a unified front across all the campaigns. His guild has an all access TeamSpeak server for all the Covenant, and they have a war room in which they invite all the prominent leaders to confer and plan strategy.


Riders of ROHAN! Erm, RISE! Prepare to charge! Messing around with Prince Jarvan's team.

If there are two words I can use to describe the relationship between the various DC teams operating in Cyrodiil, it would be harmonious dysfunctionality. Reevo and Fluffykins overtly dislike each other, and constantly harangue each other in zone chat. Bitaken, Hermaeus Mora and Reevo are all critical of Brandon, although they grudgingly concede that his guild serves a valuable purpose in organising random players into coherent groups. My own PvP guild leader, MouseKime, dislikes Fluffykins. And so it goes.

For me this kind of fractured community, with all its rivalries and jostling, has more in common with the real world than the kind of MMO utopia. Anyone who has ever worked in political lobbying of any sort, or tried to get various agencies or rival departments to cooperate together will know the kind of obstacles people confront when facing egos, entrenched privilege, and out and out idealists (or fanatics, depending on where you stand). And like in the real world, it is through the work of compromisers and bridge-builders through which real progress is made. In this make-believe world of Cyrodiil an appeal to the best interests of the Covenant (i.e. winning the campaign) is usually enough to make these various groups put aside their differences and work together. Reevo racing to Fluffykin's aid at is the best example I saw in which two rival teams work together to drive back a common enemy. Of course when it was over, zone chat dissolved into an acrimonious row over who had actually saved the day, but the pragmatist in me I was satisfied – the keep was secured, our supply line remained open, and EP had been driven back. Let them argue - the objective had been achieved.

V. Return of the Dominion

Out of all the factions I know the least about the Dominion, and my observations are based primarily on what I have seen when facing them on the field. For the longest time they were the whipping boys of the campaign, consigned to irrelevance as DC and EP traded blows for campaign supremacy. In or around 26 May, a group of AD ex-Emperors came to Wabbajack to farm the title of Emperor, and they succeeded in completely upsetting the balance of power.

The entry of the ex-Emperor team (as they would later be known in DC) made a dramatic impact because they were an organised and skilled team composed of high-level players. Many of them were ex-Emperors which gave them access to the Emperor skill tree, and furthermore they were able to exploit the guesting and campaign transfer system to the fullest for their own benefit. Possession of keeps and scrolls gives players various buffs while their faction maintains control of these items and locations in a player's home campaign REGARDLESS of whether or not the players are actually playing in their home campaign or guesting in another. In other words, you get the full benefits of the buffs your faction has won in your home campaign even if you are a guest in another. Their modus operandi, as far as I can tell, is as follows. Pay 15,000 AP to transfer to Wabbajack, which is a mere pittance. Bring your guild of ex-Emperors over as guests to assist you in order to maximise the benefits of the buffs granted by your AD-dominated campaign. Secure the Emperorship. Transfer off the campaign in order to let the next person in line to get their shot at the throne.


The most elaborate oil trap in history.

Between the period of 26 May to 18 June, the AD ex-Emperor team was able to successfully crown a line of yellow Emperors - The-Humble-Soul, Kurudin, Che, Xorvak, Cloneinnk and Dragonstar. This was no small feat – unlike the blatant Emperor farming occurring on the two week server of Celarus, these AD had to overcome significant DC and EP resistance. The AD ex-Emperor team on Wabbajack was the strongest team in the campaign in my opinion – everywhere they went they would basically win the engagements, and only through the application of overwhelming force and numbers could they be dislodged. Stalling or delaying this team became a legitimate tactic, and their location was always reported in zone chat in the latter days of the campaign. It was not until I ran with Reevo's team that I found a crew that could stand toe to toe with these yellow terrors, and even then our chances were barely even. We rated the ex-Emperor team higher than Fixate and his crew in terms of threat potential, and they posed a deadly threat to both factions because it became increasingly more apparent that the winner of the campaign would not be determined by DC or EP, but by whoever AD allowed to win. This led to a host of accusations on the forums where both sides accused the other of making a secret deal with AD to gang up on their respective factions.

As far as I am aware no deal was ever struck on the DC side, but there was a concerted effort to direct all our energies on EP only, and to leave AD alone. Some of my guildies are adamant that AD and EP were in cahoots, but my own personal observation is that yellow would stomp on whichever team was losing at any given point. If EP was pressing in for a scroll, it was almost certain that AD would attack the other (each faction has two scrolls), effectively double-teaming our faction. The reverse was also true - if DC ever pushed for a scroll we could almost count on AD taking the opportunity to grab the other. It became more and more important as the campaign wound down to present a strong front, so as to present a less inviting target to AD incursions.

VI. Ebonheart End Game

In the closing stages there was a real possibility of DC being able to overtake the Pact in the last two weeks of the campaign. At one point DC was only approximately 7,000 points behind, and given our recent momentum an amazing comeback was potentially on the cards. Alas, it was not to be. On the weekend of 21 and 22 June EP rallied, and in a tremendous display managed to secure map control and the Scrolls for the Pact. Their extended map control over two to three days blew out their lead to 20,000 points, creating an unassailable lead and securing their victory in this first Wabbajack campaign.

Armistice

The war is over, and the Pact have emerged victors. Congratulations to the Pact for their victory as well as for being such tenacious foes. This was a close run thing, and there have been many twists and turns in this campaign, as well as many amazing battles. The open world PvP in Cyrodiil is the best implementation to date of a persistent world where armies march, counter-march, lay sieges, defend sieges, break sieges, hold choke points, cut supply lines and carry out bold, impudent raids deep within enemy territory.

Fixate's EP team and the AD ex-Emperor crew have proven themselves as capable and excellent opponents and villains. I've enjoyed reading the back and forth on the forums, as well as getting to know the various leaders and guilds on my faction and fighting with their respective teams. I'm still only VR4, but this ain't WoW Arena, League of Legends, or Starcraft 2 – asymmetry is an inherent part of open world PvP, and one of the attractions of this format for me is trying to overcome existing disadvantages by any means available at your disposal. For me this involved working tightly with groups, utilising support abilities rather than being a front line soldier, and using siege engines in support during large group fights. Meatbag catapults and boiling oil can absolutely decimate groups, and they should be the first thing a lowbie arms him/herself with when they enter Cyrodiil. It behooves non-max level players to utilise surprise, terrain and local superiority to make up for level and gear differential. This game as it stands favours small, organised tactical groups of 12-24, and the numerous enemy zergs I have seen destroyed by determined and organised attacks attest to this fact.

Whether or not Wabbajack will remain as competitive in the new campaign remains to be seen. I know that most of the EP guilds will be staying, but some of the DC leaders have already signalled their intention to move to other campaigns, notably Veteran only campaigns (if implemented). EP might end up with a campaign like Auriel's Bow, which is completely dominated by AD and where there are no fights to be had anywhere. At the moment the optimal meta-gaming strategy is to migrate to a campaign where your faction is completely dominant, acquire player buffs through securing map control against minimal or non-existent opposition, then guesting into other campaigns for actual PvP fights. This might be the fate of Wabbajack unless Zenimax implements some changes to their campaign transfer and guesting systems, which are far too lenient in my opinion. For now though I count myself as being lucky in choosing Wabbajack as my initial server, and having been able to take part in some really memorable open world PvP. In my second post on TESO I mentioned that my sister unsubbed in a fit of disgust at the numerous technical issues plaguing the game, and only reluctantly resubscribed as a show of solidarity to our gaming circle. A couple of weekends ago, my sister, my guildies and I were on a vast field running for our lives, trying to cover Egypt who was carrying an Elder Scroll. Behind us were the vast teeming hordes of AD, more I had ever seen in one place ever, and to our right, streaming over the hill to the north were masses of EP intent on cutting us off and stealing our prize. During this biggest battle of my MMO life, surrounded by enemies on all sides and being supported by desperate DC reinforcing from the west throwing themselves at the oncoming masses to staunch the tide, my sister said to me, “Wow – this game is awesome.”


DC trying desperately to slow down the AD horde chasing down our scroll. People fight around me as I gallop past in a vain attempt to catch up to our scroll runner.

PvP might save this theme park MMO after all. It might not be enough to save it from an ignominious F2P fate, but it has salvaged it in the eyes of my gaming circle, and as far as I'm concerned, that's the only thing that matters.

1 comment:

  1. Vokundein, Fron!

    :)

    Thanks for the write up. Nice to look back on the first, and (always the) best campaign of ESO.

    ReplyDelete