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The problems with Tol Barad (and how to fix them)

Tol Barad, the newest contestable PvP experience in Cataclysm, is great fun and provides the winning side with an awesome daily quest hub and a Vault of Archavon-style encounter, Argaloth, that drops the new tier legs and gloves. Using the same style of play as in Wintergrasp, the previous winners defend the island prison of Tol Barad against the invading faction. Tol Barad would be fun if it weren't so horribly broken in its goal and mechanics. The battleground of Tol Barad has only been active for about a week and a half, with most people only having experienced it for the first time within a few days.

There are six distinct problems with Tol Barad at the moment:
  1. Defending Tol Barad is too easy.
  2. The cap mechanics to secure capture points make it too easy to switch.
  3. The towers in Tol Barad that grant extra time to the attackers have no reason to be defended by the defending faction.
  4. Tol Barad's victory condition for the attacking faction has created a frustrating environment in light of the mechanics at play in the battleground.
  5. The graveyards are skewed in favor of the defenders.
  6. The losing side in Tol Barad receives no Tol Barad commendation for participating in the battle, while the winning team receives three.


The typical Tol Barad

Here's how Tol Barad usually goes when two full raids of players are pitted against each other on the island. The defending faction, which spawns in the middle of the island, moves to one of the three capture points as a group and waits. The attacking side moves to one of the capture points and begins to capture. Defenders are left at the capture point to guard against incoming enemies and to hold the point for the attacking faction. All three points must be held by the attacking faction to win Tol Barad.

As soon as another point is captured (and in most cases, beforehand), the defending team's zerg overruns the first cap point and, because of the way the cap mechanics work (more people = faster cap), switches the cap point almost instantly. The defending zerg then stays at this point until another point swaps in the attacker's favor. The cycle repeats, and after 30 minutes of running around in circles, the defenders have successfully defended Tol Barad.

Strategy should come into play in these battlegrounds and contested locations. Let's answer some common questions and rebuttals to Tol Barad first.

Why not just add more defense to each cap point?
The problem is not the skill of the players or even the number of players on defense, but the cap mechanic. Each point can be capped by just having faction members present in the area, not the destruction of the forces there. The side with more forces around the flag begins to capture it. You could have 40 Alliance attacking 35 Horde on top of a capture point and the bar would immediately begin to move in the Alliance's favor. You do not need to vanquish your foes on the flag in order to begin to cap it, and the number of people you have on top of the flag makes the bar move faster with no upper limit.

What this results in is ultra-fast capping by a zerg of defenders against attackers who cannot even use their survivability to hold a point. It doesn't matter how good you are, because it's only a numbers game. Ten of the best Alliance soldiers will not be able to defend a point against 30 Horde grunts, even if those 10 Alliance soldiers were the best players on the server and could easily defeat their haphazard enemy. The instantly lose because of the cap mechanic.

The attackers can destroy the towers and get extra time.
Extra time and nothing else. In Wintergrasp, the towers were powerful objectives because without them, the defending side lost a significant buff and the attackers lost their most precious resource, time. By lowering the amount of time they had to capture the fortress in Wintergrasp, defenders stood a better chance and made it harder for the attackers to win. The Wintergrasp towers changed the victory condition of the battle; what once was an easy, slow push to the relic chamber became a fast scramble to plow through the walls and win as soon as possible.

Conversely, Tol Barad's towers do nothing for anyone to change the victory condition of the battle. Adding time does not change the way to win -- you still have to capture all three points at once, while the zerg runs from point to point, recapturing in seconds what took minutes to achieve. Adding time does not hinder the defense in any way, unlike Wintergrasp, where the towers were powerful to both sides because they changed the victory conditions. Right now, there is no reason to defend the towers in Tol Barad.

A defense that's too easy

Making Tol Barad harder to defend would go a long way toward allowing both sides access to the new content and dailies, as well as allowing the playerbase to devise new ways to win and succeed at the battleground. The problem has manifested itself as a way to surely win the fight and keep the defense, instead of making it possible for a skilled and strategy-oriented group to overcome the zerg defense. Strategy does not matter when the only factor that decides how a point is capped is the number of people in the area.

Broken capture mechanics

There are two problems with the cap mechanic in Tol Barad. First, you do not need to rid the area of enemies before the bar starts to move for your faction, and second, the deciding factor of how fast the bar moves scales with the number of people in the area. I understand why the first issue is present -- keeping respawn timers low means more time for players to jump into battle. The last thing someone wants to do is run into battle, die, and then have to wait 30 seconds for a rez. So let's leave the first point alone.

The second point is where the problem lies. Forty people bum-rushing a point results in 30 defenders having the point ripped from under them because they don't have the numbers in the area, despite being able to defend the area. And with the defending team respawning so close to every point on the map, it is hard to overcome the zerg even with a zerg of your own.

Wintergrasp had multiple entry points into the fortress and required people to be spread out, defending the walls of the fortress with an actual, physical barrier between the enemy and their prize inside the fortress walls. Tol Barad has no boundaries or walls -- every person is free to run from place to place, and no area is blocked away from the attackers or defenders.

Towers not worth defending


The problem with the Tol Barad towers is that they do not change the victory condition for either side. Rather, they prolong a static victory condition that actually gets harder to accomplish the more time you are given. Wintergrasp's towers provided a buff to the attackers to help them fell the walls and were important to defend. If you destroyed the towers in Wintergrasp, a battle that was supposed to take a longer amount of time was suddenly cut short for the attackers, forcing them to change strategy as a result of their new victory condition.

The towers in Tol Barad need to change the victory condition for the attacking team in order to make them valuable to defend for the defending faction.

Victory conditions that never change

No matter how good the attacking faction is, the defending faction still only needs to hold one point in contest in order to successfully win Tol Barad. This means that a zerg defense can just run from point to point and steal a point out from under a capable and sizable offensive force just by numbers. As a result, Tol Barad rarely changes hands.

There needs to be a changing victory condition that allows the attacking faction to do something to break the defending faction's strategy and force a different approach. As of right now, there is nothing preventing the defending faction from turtling up in one place and never leaving or running from point to point as a group. It's not that this isn't a viable strategy -- it's just too hard to break. Wintergrasp had this strategy, but because of the size of the map and the many different entry points into the fortress, one large group would take too long to traverse from side to side, where a split force could take on many different fronts.

Tol Barad is much smaller than Wintergrasp, and as such, moving from place to place is much easier and takes less time. Therefore, the victory condition in place for such a small location coupled with the capping mechanics of numbers and not the presence of defenders means that the defense have a huge advantage -- an advantage that the attacking faction has no way to break.

Graveyards that favor the defenders

The original idea for the graveyards in Tol Barad is sound: The attacking force respawns close to the point they are trying to capture to give them an advantage in capturing. The travel time that the attackers save allows them to grab a few more ticks on the capture bar before reinforcements arrive. That works. The problem comes from the defending faction resurrecting in the middle of the map, an equal distance to any of the capture points. Instead of beating back the force that they had originally been fighting tooth and nail against, they'll find it easier to run the same distance to another capture point. There is little consequence to death for the defending faction.

Graveyard positions either need to be changed or spawn times changed to compensate the attacking faction for the defender's innate ability to get from one capture point to the other in the same amount of time it would take for them to refortify the point at which they died. It might not seem like a huge deal, but that proximity imbalances the entire fight, since death is so much more destructive for the attackers than the defenders.

Losers get nothing

In Wintergrasp, the winning side received three medallions for successfully winning, while the losing faction received one medallion for participating. This gave incentive for the losing faction to play, even if their faction was outnumbered and out-skilled -- you still gained something from playing.

Tol Barad gives three Tol Barad Commendations to the winners and none to the losers. The incentives are only the honor points gained, but the allure of Tol Barad are the unique rewards from spending those commendations at each faction's respective quartermasters. Why not give the losing side one commendation for playing in a contested zone that has specific rewards using those tokens?

How to change Tol Barad


Tol Barad needs to change, and here's how I propose to do it:
  • Make the towers worthwhile by changing the victory condition associated with them. When all towers are up, the attacking side must capture all three points to win. When all towers are down, the attacking side must capture and hold two points when the timer runs out.
  • By having the towers actually matter in the battle, you force the defending zerg to break up into groups to defend many positions and the attacking zerg to break up and capture different points, as their victory condition can change depending on where they put their forces.
  • Change the capping mechanic to cap out at a certain number of people that can contribute to the sliding bar. For example, have the number of people who can contribute to capping be 20, so that overkill on that amount means that those people in excess of 20 are wasted by either side to cap. Instead, those forces would be better elsewhere on the battlefield. This also makes each capped spot more valuable, as they would not change hands as frequently.
  • Give the winners of Tol Barad three Tol Barad Commendations and the losers one Tol Barad Commendation.

I love Tol Barad. The design is gorgeous, the lore is amazing, and the daily hubs associated with the content are the best Blizzard has done yet. The battle for Tol Barad itself is a mess and needs work, but it's far from unfixable, and I can't wait to see what Blizzard has in store for it.

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm has destroyed Azeroth as we know it; nothing is the same! In WoW Insider's Guide to Cataclysm, you can find out everything you need to know about WoW's third expansion, from leveling up a new goblin or worgen to breaking news and strategies on endgame play.

Filed under: PvP, Cataclysm

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