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The Art of War(craft): World PvP in the new Azeroth

Zach sees everything through the PvP perspective of The Art of War(craft), including homemade cookies baked by his supremely awesome and sexy baker wife. He sees the brownies as opponents that need to be devoured in a methodical, strategic and soul-crushing manner. He advises everyone to look at all things (especially food) as adversaries that must be defeated and guarantees that success in life will follow. Probably.

Let's face it. Right now, if you're a regular reader of WoW.com, we're in some sort of holding pattern and the biggest thing that interests us about the game is what's going on in the Cataclysm beta. It's still far too early to settle on any talent builds, but who can resist playing with those talent calculators, right? Certainly not me. The beta changes so rapidly, though, that it would be foolish to write anything without the proper caveat that the final product is likely going to be much different.

One thing that's likely to stay the same throughout beta, however, is the ravaged landscape of Azeroth. This should create some interesting possibilities for world PvP. The biggest change is that the continents of Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms will become flyable. It will become harder and far more dangerous to level as players must now not only watch their literal backs but also look skyward for potential griefers. On PvP servers, this makes it a far more dangerous and exciting world.

Death from above

This challenge first became apparent to players on PvP servers at the inception of The Burning Crusade. Players casually leveling characters through Hellfire Peninsula were caught by surprise by manic levelers who had ground their way furiously to max level ahead of everyone else and learned the new ability to ride flying mounts. Griefers circled the skies like vultures looking for carrion. Players not only had to worry about regular mobs or a wandering automaton of destruction, they also could get ganked at any time without warning by higher-level players dropping from the skies.

The same thing will happen in Cataclysm. With a refashioned Azeroth that allows players to explore the world like never before, world PvP will change quite a bit. For one thing, there is guaranteed to be a new wave of leveling players, particularly those who would like to roll the new classes of goblins and worgen or even to try out the new race and class combinations. While goblins and worgen are probably safe from griefers due to the phased nature of the new racial starting zones, other races will be fair game.

While this didn't pose much of a problem in Outland or Northrend, it was mostly because many players hit the new zones at relatively the same time. When these new zones opened up, players were at max or near max level and leveled up at a pace mostly consistent with each other. Griefing became the domain of those who had bothered to grind ahead of the curve, and even then, it didn't take long for others to catch up. There was also the then-prohibitive cost of learning the flying skill, so players had some sort of buffer against would-be airborne griefers. Players re-rolling blood elves or draenei in The Burning Crusade were also relatively safe in Azeroth, as players busied themselves with new, high-level content in Outland.

In Cataclysm, high-level content will be in the same continents as leveling content. High-level players will be flying over low-level content on their way to the appropriate zones. Seeing lowbies running around on the ground below will be fairly common. It will be tempting. Many PvP players will drop from the sky on the way to another zone to kill a leveling player almost as if they were driving through for burgers on the way to work. It doesn't help that many capital cities are situated near low-level zones, making fly-by gankings somewhat inevitable.

Here are a few suggestions that should prepare you for PvP in the new world:
  • Get a character to max level first. I know goblins and worgen seem very interesting, and Blizzard's new quest design making use of heavy phasing technology is something that all players simply must experience -- but getting one character to max level as soon as Cataclysm hits is the best safeguard against griefing. Having a max-level character on standby makes it easier to counter the harassment of enemy players.
  • Wear PvP gear while leveling. This is basic advice to anyone leveling on a PvP server. You won't need your optimum DPS or highest mana when you kill on-level mobs. What you will need, however, is lots of stamina and as much resilience as you can muster just in case higher-level players pounce on you. If the level difference isn't too high, a low-level player in PvP gear matches up rather well against a higher-level player wearing PvE items. And always, always have your PvP trinket equipped.
  • Bring your friends. As much as World of Warcraft has made it easy and even fun to level alone, there is always strength in numbers. Having companions will discourage most of the cowardly gankers who only have two or three levels on you. Of course, the more players in a group, the more tempting it is to much higher level (skull) players, like an all-you-can-eat buffet. At least you can tell each other jokes on the way back to your corpses.
Engineered animosity

It's no accident that the Horde seem more like bad guys than ever before. Blizzard has worked hard to differentiate the two factions and has stated that it would like to bring back the old animosity between the two factions that have all but fizzled in the past five years. This time around, the developers have infused strife and inter-faction -- and even inter-racial -- hatred into the game. Alliances are so tenuous that the aligned races are disinclined to fully trust each other, much less the enemy faction. They've made the races so visually distinct -- Orgrimmar looks just plain mean, and even the once-noble Stormwind looks like it's been beaten down and has had enough. There's just a lot of tension everywhere, with starting areas so full of conflict that players can't help but feel they're in the midst of war.

Zones have been reshaped so aggressively, with areas once belonging to one faction now changing ownership or hotly contested, such as The Barrens. Players who immerse themselves in the game world can't help but feel an animosity towards the enemy faction -- it's woven into the fabric of the post-Cataclysm Azeroth. If you don't hate the enemy faction now, you probably will during Cataclysm. At the very least, you should.

Raiding capital cities takes on a different dimension now that flying is allowed in Azeroth. At the moment in beta, it's possible to fly into enemy cities without resistance from guards, but expect that to change when the game goes live. It will be interesting to run raids now with new strategies of insertion ... It will be easier to hide your gathering forces as well as enter enemy cities from various angles. I'm hoping this actually encourages more inter-city raids, if only because large-scale combat on the roofs and ramparts of capital cities like Orgrimmar would be completely awesome.

Although Blizzard plans to concentrate most of Cataclysm's world PvP in the zone of Tol Barad, there are guaranteed to be lots of skirmishes throughout the newly-flyable game world. Players' having access to almost all parts of Azeroth makes it easier to find and go to areas of conflict. As more players fly around, fewer players will take taxis around the game world, a form of transportation that will be relegated to ferrying lower-level characters unable to fly. Expect to have an extremely fun time going through the new, changed zones, especially when leveling new characters. Watch your back, and watch the skies.

Zach delivers your weekly dose of battlegrounds and world PvP in one crazy column. He writes about how the world is changing, and how battlegrounds are going to be awesome. Get some practice while waiting for Cataclysm. Just don't, uh, go AFK while doing it. If you're in the beta, why not check out Twin Peaks, as well? Check out last week's primer on how the new talent tree redesign affects PvP and how to plan for your sub-spec.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, PvP, The Art of War(craft) (PvP)

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