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A response to upcoming Tol Barad changes

Blizzard's Cory Stockton recently posted an intriguing post on the WoW community site called Tol Barad Balance, highlighting the problems that currently exist with Tol Barad, Blizzard's design intentions and philosophy for the island PvP encounter, and some potential fixes that may be in store for Tol Barad in the near future. Tol Barad should be fun, fair, and meaningful.

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.

Stockton's first paragraph gives me a lot of hope. Blizzard is not going to write Tol Barad off as something it won't put some effort into, and for good reason. As I said the last time I talked about the place, Tol Barad is beautiful, atmospheric, and rich with lore and vision that makes it one of the most compelling zones in Cataclysm. The sheer ominous vibe that Tol Barad exudes is palpable, thick with an air of deceit, vengeance, and danger. You could cut a knife through the tension on the peninsula, and every time I head into those crypts, I wonder how everything here on this island went to hell in a hand basket.

Blizzard and Stockton's team recognize the need for additional tuning, and right away, we see that we're not going to just get a hotfix for one little problem -- Tol Barad is going to be re-tuned. Hope meter: high. Let's continue.

As we mentioned earlier, the attacking faction is having a pretty tough time winning control of Tol Barad -- and we're OK with that, at least in theory.

I'm okay with this. Player skill should mean something, and the attacking team fighting against a well-fortified island stronghold should have a disadvantage. In fact, I have never said that the attackers shouldn't have some sort of disadvantage; rather, I think the attackers should have a way, through careful skill and play, to negate that disadvantage, which is what Stockton seems to be saying.

Here's why: When we set out to create Wintergrasp, one of the issues we dealt with was that we were never able to ensure the sides were even -- in fact, they rarely were. Because the smaller team would almost always be assured defeat, we attempted to address team-size imbalance by favoring the attacker. Control of Wintergrasp went back and forth, and the result was that battles lost their impact. On most realms the defenders became complacent, knowing they were likely to lose control of the zone, returning to re-take it when it was their turn to attack. The sides swapped back and forth every few hours, and Wintergrasp wasn't so much about an epic struggle for a meaningful piece of land as it was a complicated game of leapfrog.

Now, I don't know about you, but the reason Wintergrasp lost its luster on my server was because we had already endlessly farmed VoA for the gear we needed and really only had to go to Wintergrasp once for the weekly honor quests. That's it. Tol Barad has dailies that become available for the winning faction, not weeklies, so this should already be noted as a point of contention. I think Stockton is giving the players too much credit here -- we aren't hard to please and frankly, not all of us play these games for the pride in the battle and the ferocious roar of victory. I mean, I do. I love just winning Tol Barad and Wintergrasp for the sake of winning. But once the place is meaningless for a lot of players, they aren't going back for any reason.

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.

Here's what I'm getting from this part -- attacking Tol Barad should feel like it's important, because the rewards you gain from winning should be important. Of course they are. Access to Argaloth and the Tol Barad rotating dailies gets you more commendations, more chances at loot, and the bragging rights. I do so love bragging rights.

Having equal team sizes isn't the problem with Tol Barad, however, and never has been. It's a problem for getting into and playing Tol Barad, sure, but that's another debate entirely.

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.

Ah, here's the crux of the matter. Defenders want to defend Tol Barad because it's hard to take back, and the attackers want the sweet, sweet, gooey, reward-laden center of Baradin Hold. Also totally understandable -- and frankly, I agree with Stockton. Losing Tol Barad should feel like a defeat, but the zone's importance doesn't extend past its walls. Unlike Wintergrasp, which allowed for the collection of Stone Keeper's Shards from dungeons when your faction controlled the zone, Tol Barad's influence ends when you cross that bridge, unless you count Argaloth (but his gear is all purchasable with valor or honor points, which all players can get, Tol Barad or no). Sure, it's easier, and that's the whole draw.

So we know Blizzard's aim and goal for Tol Barad: hard to attack but worth it, and defenders who feel threatened when those attackers storm across the bridge. Let's continue.

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.

I agree.

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.

Yay!

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.

Thank you for admitting that this was a temporary solution. I was really worried that, for a while, Blizzard was okay with the way the battle for Tol Barad was being waged. It felt like Blizzard wanted the place to flip in the exact same way Stockton doesn't like the way Wintergrasp was playing out. What this tells me is that Blizzard wants a healthy spirit of competition over Tol Barad but wants to do so with as little effect on the "outside" world as possible. I can empathize and agree with this.

While we've already made minor adjustments to improve the gameplay and address select exploits, our job in Tol Barad is far from over.

I must commend Blizzard on its work on the peninsula and the daily mini-dungeons. They are pretty well tuned now, and I enjoy the dailies more when they aren't death marches through horrible respawnville. Go team!



Filed under: Analysis / Opinion

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