If you’ve even set foot in Tol Barad over the past few weeks, then you already know exactly where I’m going with this — it’s a mess, a terrible, unbalanced, and disastrous mess. Though we can say that PvE is in a decent spot right now, it seems that World PvP is stuck in the same void that raiding was in the middle of the last expansion. In an attempt to make the Wintergrasp formula more accessible or “fair” (though that word’s as loaded as any), they’ve destroyed the essence of what makes it fun and engaging.
That’s not to say it was perfect before, of course, but judging by the outline of Blizzard’s reaction posted yesterday, the direction it’s going in doesn’t appear to be any better:
Now that Cataclysm is out in the wild, more players are getting geared up and checking out Tol Barad, the new outdoor PvP zone. Today, we wanted to address some of the concerns players have expressed about the zone, including how challenging it can be to win as the attacking team, and provide some insight into our design approach. We also wanted to share some of the lessons we learned from Wintergrasp, discuss the difference between the two zones, and touch upon the recent hotfixes made to Honor Point gains and how we plan to improve Tol Barad going forward. We’re confident this zone will provide meaningful and fun PvP for some time to come, but we also recognize additional tuning is required to ensure Tol Barad is everything we intend it to be.
Since then we’ve devised mechanics that help ensure equal team sizes, and we took Wintergrasp’s lessons to heart when we designed Tol Barad. Tol Barad is intentionally balanced so that it’s a challenge for the attackers, because we want to make sure that control of Tol Barad matters. For the defenders, there’s a sense of urgency that Wintergrasp didn’t have — if you lose it, you’re going to have a hell of a time taking it back. For the attackers, there are a number of rewards at stake — such as access to the Baradin Hold raid and additional daily quests — that we hope players feel are worth fighting for. That sort of tension is what we wanted from Wintergrasp, and what we believe Tol Barad can ultimately offer.
With that being said, we want winning Tol Barad to be a challenge for the attacking faction… but we don’t want it to be impossible. Taking Tol Barad should be tough — but right now it’s a little bit too tough, and it’s something we’re actively working to balance. Earlier, we attempted to temporarily address the issue by offering a far better reward to the winning attackers: Honor Points awarded for successfully attacking were increased tenfold, but that was such a great incentive that it ultimately undermined the spirit of competition. Since then, the reward for winning as an attacker has been brought back down to a more reasonable amount.
While we’ve already made minor adjustments to improve the gameplay and address select exploits, our job in Tol Barad is far from over. We ultimately want to make sure that any changes we make are all steps in the right direction, and we intend to make several updates in the next minor patch to address design and balance issues affecting attackers that we can’t address with hotfixes. For example, we plan to alter the battle slightly so that a team with two bases captured can more quickly and easily capture the third, as opposed to a team with one or zero bases. This way, if the defenders turtle up, it’ll be a little easier for the attackers to take their last base before the defense can take one of the attackers’ other bases.
We’ve been reading your feedback, watching trends across our global realms, and fighting plenty of battles in Tol Barad ourselves to get a feel for what’s working and what isn’t, and we’re committed to making Tol Barad a fun and engaging zone. We want owning the zone to be meaningful throughout the lifespan of the expansion — and while the attackers may always face somewhat of an uphill battle, the defenders should feel much more pressure not to lose than they do currently. Just the same, the attacking faction should feel motivated to take Tol Barad back, but they shouldn’t feel that the odds are insurmountable. So keep fighting the good fight, and we’ll continue watching the battlefield and listening to your feedback.
If you don’t want to read that wall of text above, let me sum it up for you. It’s Cory Stockton essentially saying, “We’re looking at it, and we hear your pleas, but we kinda like where it is.” The rest is meandering and dancing around the issues, without addressing or offering ideas on how to fix it, and I think I know why…It’s pretty simple, actually — building a Battleground is a lot of hard work. Building anything in the game is a lot of hard work, and it would entail undermining that work to fix it at its very core. Some critical players have tossed out the idea of dumping Tol Barad altogether — straight up removing it from the game — but we all know that’s an impossibility. It’s infrastructure has been established, the zone’s a part of the world, and it serves the mechanical purpose of being both a major hub for dailies and the place the controlling faction goes to gamble for new Tier pieces.
Therefore its basic design can’t change that much, and Blizzard may lose even more of its street cred by doing so. Sadly, that’s part of the problem. It’s the hub-and-spoke structure of Tol Barad that encourages the merry-go-round gameplay so frustrating to the attackers. You have to attack and hold three points to win, and while you’re heading towards the third one, the defenders are zerging the first you capture. Go to take it back, and they zerg the second. It’s like a dog chasing its tail, and we all know how productive that is at the end of the day.
There is an easy way to fix this, or at the very least make it more palatable, and that’s to change the way a win is determined. If you can’t change the basic rules, then change the way points are scored. Once again, I can come up with any number of reasons Blizzard might refuse to do so, but most of them come down to saving face and not admitting that something went seriously wrong with the creation of Tol Barad. For instance, winning could be determined by tickets — the more and longer you hold points, the more you generate — and whoever reaches a cap or has more before time has expired gains control until the next skirmish. But then I can imagine the design team claiming that the PvP community already has enough of that with the existing Battleground maps (and one of the new ones).
But there’s something about Tol Barad that concerns me even more. Even if Blizzard sacks up and changes the way control is determined, it just doesn’t strike me as being that much fun. On my server, Bloodscalp, there is a massive 6.3:1 Horde-to-Alliance ratio. We dominate in most matters of World PvP, but Tol Barad seems completely lost on us and the only all-encompassing explanation I can come up with is motivation. The Alliance holds it for about 80% of the day while Horde might get it for awhile in the wee hours of the morning.
This shouldn’t be an issue when Tol Barad’s population is theoretically capped, but there’s an easy way to get around this. As soon as you’re invited to participate, drop raid and form a second, third, or more. You won’t get kicked out if you’re not in a raid and it lets more people join the first. People can be filtered in this way and the player cap ceases to mean anything or contribute to balance. Quite simply, the paltry Alliance population on Bloodscalp seems to rally more numbers per Tol Barad than the Horde does (and morale is only getting worse as we repeatedly lose the fight).
So, motivation. It’s badly designed, and it’s not fun, and people just aren’t engaged when they play it. Wintergrasp had the excitement of large vehicles, massive numbers, and sieging castles. Taking points mattered, because that meant you either gained or lost valuable resources. It wasn’t always fair, but it was interesting. Tol Barad, in contrast, is small, with points that exist merely as flags to attack and defend. Abandoned Siege Engines are just kind of thrown in there, the only means of assaulting towers, but lacking any sort of attack directed towards other players. No, you just roll it up to a target, pop it into Siege Mode and you’re done. Destroying the towers themselves does nothing more than give attackers more time to win — I mean, waste while they ragequit or kill stragglers while they wait for the agony to end.
Ultimately, it’s my own misguided hope that keeps me going back into Tol Barad. The faint, glimmering light of victory that never seems to get closer. Either that, or an unhealthy mix of boredom and wanting more Commendations so I can buy some sweet faction rewards (the mighty searchlight is already mine). But the way it exists right now? I, and many other players, are being driven away. When the day comes that we’re on the horizon of the next expansion, I have a feeling that we’ll look back on Tol Barad as one of Cataclysm‘s biggest mistakes, and the way that Wintergrasp was handled over its lifetime doesn’t inspire confidence. Though it looks good in comparison, let’s not forget it had plenty of balancing issues itself.
And in that sense, I feel attempting to balance it is a bit misguided. Let people have their fun, let control waffle back and forth, from battle to battle. After all, people undoubtedly enjoy playing both offense and defense. Currently, the attackers are treated like the weird, unpopular kid in elemetary school who’s always forced to be “It” during games of tag in which all the other kids regularly gang up to bend the rules. It’s no-win and no-fun. Blizzard wants holding Tol Barad to feel important, but they need to change it drastically — and make it more engaging — if they want it to matter at all.