Tuesday, June 3, 2014

WoW Analysis: The Problems With Alterac Valley

Player versus Player (or PvP) content has often been something that comes easily to me. While I quested my ways through zones, what really drew me into WoW was the Battlegrounds it had to offer. I became so enthralled by them I spent time prior to reaching level cap enjoying the lower level brackets. This continued to be a trend as my "career" as a WoW player developed and I ended up becoming one of those players that walked around in honor-purchased armor by the end of the Burning Crusade.

Since then, I have gotten into numerous facets of PvP-related systems. Beyond WoW's arenas, PvP zones, and other content, I was also eventually drawn to League of Legends due to how much I enjoyed the custom map scene in Warcraft 3 and the like. Because of my deep interest in PvP, I often obsess over balance, such as with class mechanics and layouts of zones. One particular instance of imbalance has bothered me for years to the point I eventually threw up some suggestions, though they weren't exactly in the most visible spot for the correct individuals to see the feedback. As the title of the article states, this analysis is about the imbalanced abomination known as Alterac Valley. In the first part of this two part analysis, I will discuss the issues Alterac Valley has.

The Problems

While I may talk about other battleground imbalances (such as Isle of Conquest), there are further issues beyond imbalance when it comes to Alterac Valley. Before getting to them, let us consider the faction imbalances associated with this battleground.

Faction Imbalance

There are a number of faction imbalances in Alterac Valley which greatly slates the probability of winning in the Alliance's favor. The following are major sources of imbalance that I identified:
  • Tower layouts greatly swing a faction's ability to defend them. Tower layout is something I often complain about (and find being complained about) when it comes to Alterac Valley imbalance. Here's why:
    • Firstly, the layout of the Horde's towers makes it harder to capture the flag if a player is actively spamming aoe abilities. The inside of the tower room that contains the flag to capture the tower is a good 5-8 yards in radius. Since all damage dealt to a player disrupts capping (offensively or defensively), until all enemy players inside the tower room are dead, it is unlikely without hard CC (probably multiple due to trinkets) that one can cap or recap said tower.
    • In comparison, the Alliance's bunkers allow players to have a much better chance at displacing each other (though to be fair a well-timed knockback can knock people off the Horde towers but once they're inside the room it gets a lot harder to boot them out) and the fights have a tendency to be more spread out. While a player can still actively spam aoe abilities on the flag to cap/recap the tower, it's possible to punish those players from a range and the like.
    • Were there multiple potential meta-games in Alterac Valley this would not necessarily be a balance issue, but...
    • In the offensive-based meta that has emerged to maximize honor gains, this means Alliance players will have a much easier time defending Horde towers they capture. While Horde players could (and probably should) defend the towers, this leads me to another point...
  • Horde tower archers are terrible at defending compared to their Alliance counterparts. While the archers aren't that big of a deal right now (at least at level cap) since they die almost instantly, it is worth taking them and other NPCs into consideration.
    • Because of the nature of the tower's layouts, it is possible to run into the tower room, line of sight the archer outside, and cap the tower without disruption. They can then proceed to clear out the archers if they so desire.
    • In the Alliance bunkers, there are often at least one or two archers that can fire on the player, stopping their capture attempt. Even with creative line of sight usage, the area one has to stand in is rather precise to prevent archer disruption (and often one still has to kill an archer or two anyways).
    • Speaking of defending objectives, the Dun Baldar archers in the Alliance base can fire on players capturing the Dun Baldar Aid Station Graveyard, which is the graveyard right before the Stormpike General, Vanndar. The Frostwolf tower archers cannot defend the Relief Hut Graveyard in the same way. It is also worth pointing out there are far more NPCs inside the Alliance base that can potentially be pulled while attempting to capture objectives inside it (compared to Horde's base defense NPC; yes, that's not plural). Here's an example picture of the interior of the Alliance base after the Horde takes all the objectives (note the dead NPCs):
    • This brings me to my next issue of imbalance...
  • Alliance are rewarded more for defensive play. While I try to play around the current metagame of rushing down the enemy general (which Horde often loses at) by getting my team to defend at Galvangar and the like, sometimes it's not possible to get an upper hand for the following reasons:
    • Base defense is heavily slated in favor of the Alliance. Ignoring the fact Alliance NPCs more actively try to defend their own base, it is pretty much a straight line from Stormpike Graveyard to the Alliance general. This alone wouldn't be too bad, but there is also "the bridge" to contend with, as shown below:
    • This bridge is pretty wide, but can still be easily defended by an Alliance player or two, particularly players with area of effect slows and knockbacks. Horde can also defend some chokepoints as well, but the notable equivalent is a small path about 15 yards long that then leads past the fenced inner area of Frostwolf Keep with the entrances to the Frostwolf base towers but a short distance away, making the chokepoint defense more of a battle of attrition and numbers as opposed to a creative use of terrain like above.
    • It is also worth noting there is but one linear path without shortcuts that allows a Horde player to reach the Alliance base due to the mountainous nature of the Alliance side. On the other hand, the Horde side is an open forested area that Alliance can run through, ignoring a good chunk of the paths in the area and reducing the distance they need to run to reach objectives (consider the distance between the Iceblood and Frostwolf Graveyards and you'll rapidly understand this disparity of distance).
    • With that said, let us on to the next issue...
  • Galvangar takes less time to kill than Balinda. Both these captains have an equal amount of health and while Balinda has some annoying summons, those aren't too time-consuming to deal with since they can be dealt with after Balinda is dead anyways. So why does Balinda take longer to kill?
    • The major offending mechanic is Ice Block, which makes her immune to damage for a brief time. Even if the effect were to be removed, the ability removes all debuffs, resulting in a major damage loss and often forcing players to reset their debuffs. Galvangar has no mechanic to reduce or negate damage and thus he can't "stall" like Balinda can.
    • Galvangar lost his fear ability as of the beginning of Mists of Pandaria. To be fair this makes sense since if the tank got feared out Galvangar could unfairly reset which is probably worse than Ice Block. Even if fear were to somehow be put back, the mechanic is easier to deal with since Galvangar can be taunted by another player to prevent the reset. Ultimately, Galvangar mechanically isn't that interesting and is the definition of what players call a Patchwerk-style boss (though Patchwerk is threatening compared to this poor captain).
    • On a related note, Vanndar also has a defensive cooldown, though it's not as significant as Balinda's (and is partially counterbalanced by Drek'thar having adds).
In conclusion, there is a definitive level of disparity in favor of Alliance that likely contributes to their overwhelming win rate. While there's also probably a strategy issue where the Horde doesn't make enough of an effort to adapt to the all-out offensive metagame that heavily favors Alliance, there are still numerous design reasons as to why the Alliance are more likely to win Alterac Valley.

Reinforcements and Old Content

Back in the olden days of vanilla WoW and early Burning Crusade, Alterac Valley matches lasted for hours, if not days, due to the objective to win being tied to Vanndar or Drek'thar's death, making defensive strategies (particularly on the Alliance side) an attractive strategy to stall the enemy. This was changed in patch 2.3.0 when reinforcements were added, limiting the duration of the match. Furthermore, features such as Random Battlegrounds were added, making Alterac Valley no more than a place to grind for honor and the best way to gain honor for hour was the heavy offensive strategy that has resulted in the Alterac Valley of today. While I think making the battleground faster paced was probably a good move, it made large amounts of  the old content irrelevant.

Here are a list of the old content that has effectively been abandoned, is often ignored, or is unlikely to have impact on an average Alterac Valley match:
  • Primalist Thurloga (Lokholar) and Arch Druid Renferal (Ivus)
    • Back in the days before reinforcements, players turned in special items looted mostly from player corpses to trigger a special event to summon powerful elemental bosses that greatly assist with the team's offensive. However, it takes a large amount of time to obtain the items, escort the NPCs up to perform the ritual (which requires 10 players), and wait out the time the summoned boss takes to patrol the Fields of Strife (which is several, several minutes). 
    • This design is not conducive to the rush metagame of the current Alterac Valley, and as such, summoning either of the elemental bosses is a rare treat.
  • All the wing commanders
    • Each team can rescue up to three wing commanders that ended up across enemy lines. When talked to, they run back to the associated team's base (though they can be pulled and killed) and, upon reaching the base alive, become a quest NPC that accepts repeated turnins of items much like the Primalist and Arch Druid. Once enough of the require item is turned in, the player can receive a beacon and plant it in the Field of Strife to summon aerial support. Furthermore, players can talk to the same wing commander and send them to provide air support (if they have enough reputation with the Frostwolf Clan/Stormpike).
    • Much like the above NPCs, they take far too much time to become usable and by the time the first wing commander reaches the base, it's probably overrun by a swarm of enemy players.
  • Wolf riders and ram riders
    • Like the above two sets of objectives, players can gather materials from specific creatures on the enemy's side of the map and turn them in to their respective commander to eventually gain access to a fleet of cavalry units. Also like the previous two sets of objectives, these cavalry were intended to cut through an enemy defensive line.
    • However, with the heavy offensive metagame and the fact players had to cross enemy lines, gather items, then return to their side to activate this objective that would serve next to no use by the time it was ready, this has long remained unused. From my experience, this is probably one of the most forgotten pieces of content in Alterac Valley; I've only had the fortune of seeing wolf riders once myself.
  • The Wildpaw Cavern and Icewing Cavern quest
    • While these quests yield a useful trinket for future matches, a player will probably end up spending the better part of a match trying to finish the quest since it involves going into an area in Alterac Valley that is out of the way. This can result in players getting reported AFK and the like.
    • In addition, short of several players teleporting back to their base at once, the practical usefulness of this item is limited. Though it is useful for setting up preliminary defenses, if one teleports back to a base full of enemy players, they are liable to get killed pretty quickly (they probably won't even have an opportunity to switch their trinket).
    • The fact this potent "return to base" uses a trinket slot (that also triggers a cooldown when equipped, meaning there's a delay before one can return to their base) hurts a lot as well. The stats on said trinkets aren't particularly great and will become comparably worse with each tier of gear released.
  • The mines and associated quests
    • The mines are useful in the very rare situation where the battle becomes one of pure reinforcement-based attrition as the mines generate a small trickle of reinforcements over time and provide passive honor. However, because the general nature of the Alterac Valley metagame revolves around matches ending quickly, these mines can pretty much be ignored in most cases.
    • The quests, on the other hand, are completely useless. Apparently once a player has gathered enough supplies from the mines their team can summon additional troops to the battlefield but I have yet to see said troops (even during early Burning Crusade Alterac Valley, which was prior to the addition of reinforcements).
  • Armor scrap quests
    • When players loot the corpses of enemy players, they gain a number of quest items. Armor Scraps, like most of the other items mentioned above, can be turned in to assist one's team. However, there is a slight bit of usefulness associated with turning in Armor Scraps. When enough are turned in, all troops that protect the graveyards can be upgraded. More importantly, all players on the team receive a significant damage buff.
    • However, there is a general lack of player interaction in the current Alterac Valley metagame and turning in the Armor Scraps quest, much like with most of the other quests, involves returning to the team's base, meaning a player would likely have to dedicate themselves to doing this quest as many times as possible and nothing else.
As one can see, there is quite a bit of content that once saw use but is now ignored due to how fast-paced Alterac Valley has become. With a couple minutes in pain, I have recreated a more accurate version of Alterac Valley that blots out the parts of the map that are never traveled to or infrequently traveled to:
That's nearly half the map, and yes, I do think Snowfall Graveyard doesn't have much use.
More to Come...
    Now that most of the issues with Alterac Valley have been noted, how does one go about fixing it? Given how many issues there are, that is beyond the scope of this article, so stay tuned for the second part for my suggestions to change Alterac Valley (hopefully for the better).

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