The panel at the WWI earlier was cleverly titled "PvP Game Systems", where Tom Chilton and Corey Stockton discussed Lake Wintergrasp, new Arena maps, and the new Battleground. It was a rather uninspired panel compared to the previous ones, revealing very little that anxious players didn't already know. Because of the suspiciously lengthy yet predictable presentation, very little time was left for questions (of class balance, I bet), although a few good ones were asked -- and surprisingly answered -- during the session.
I've been excited about this non-instanced Battleground from the first time I heard it, and Chilton and Stockton revealed just a little bit more about what promises to be an active zone in Northrend. Blizzard likened the zone to the Elemental Plateau, where some PvE elements are mixed in with PvP. The zone will be the first, and possibly only zone in the World of Warcraft to have persistent destructible elements such as bridges and keeps. The zone will have destructible bridges, for example -- a tactical implementation as the very hyped siege vehicles cannot cross water.
Hinted at in the past, Chilton confirmed air combat in Lake Wintergrasp, as he talked about two types of air vehicles, comparable to small, light fighters and slower bombers. He went through a list of siege vehicles such as the heavy-hitting Demolisher, which can carry up to three targetable passengers who, in turn, can target enemies. Passengers on the Demolisher will be treated as though they were standing still, enabling Mages, for instance, to cast Pyroblast from within the siege vehicle.
Other vehicles include a lighter, faster, more agile machine called the Forsaken Catapult. A single-man assault vehicle, the Forsaken Catapult doesn't have the range or firepower of the Demolisher, but is also the lowest-cost vehicle to obtain in the zone. While details weren't revealed, Chilton mentions how players must complete certain tasks such as turning in resources or killing X players in order to have access to a vehicle. Other vehicles, such as the Siege Engine -- a long-range, tank-type vehicle with room for non-targetable passengers and a dedicated gunner -- will presumably have steeper requirements.
The flying machines are countered by a Goblin Shredder, likely similar to the nefarious tools used by the Venture Co. to denude Azeroth. With anti-air weapons and a jump feature that enables the pilot to reach or fire at high-flying targets and leap over obstacles, this piece of Goblin machinery might be a popular choice for many players. It reinforces the rock-paper-scissors philosophy that Blizzard maintains with many of their games, particularly their RTS games like Warcraft and Starcraft.
It sounds like a highly ambitious Battleground, even more complex than the flawed Alterac Valley. But the rewards are extensive. Inspired by Auchindoun, gaining control of Lake Wintergrasp allows the capture of something similar to Spirit Shards from all Northrend instances. These are currency for PvP rewards that are unique and cannot be purchased through Honor or Arena points but will "not be more powerful" than either type of gear. Like any true Battleground, achieving the objective also awards Marks of Honor and Honor points.
Lake Wintergrasp has the potential to be the best thing to happen to World PvP, or the most nightmarish Battleground experience. Unlike instanced Battlegrounds, there is no matching system or control over the limit of players on one side. Depending on each server's faction balance and interest, it's might happen that there will be massive mismatches between the two sides. A problem exists for Battlegrounds and entire Battlegroups, at times, where a certain faction will win more often than the other. Isolated on one realm, this problem can become even more pronounced. How Blizzard plans to address this potential imbalance, which can be systemic on many servers, is up in the air.
On normal or PvE servers, I'm curious as to how active the zone will be. In existing zones where there are World PvP objectives, non-participation has no impact on the activity of the zone. Whether or not the zone is controlled, there are numerous other features in place such as dungeons or quests which are independent of the PvP objective. In the case of Lake Wintergrasp, the zone is the objective. The zone was created for PvP. If too few people participate in the objectives, the entire zone fails. In this regard, the rewards must be compelling enough to drive players to participate... repeatedly.
The zone only succeeds if it has numerous participants. Lake Wintergrasp is no fun if it only has one or two siege vehicles roaming about and a lone flyer buzzing around. Wintergrasp is best when it's full-on war with entire raids blowing up bridges and the central keep. Without a General at the end of the map, the zone actually needs to be played and fought for, not raced through. Capturable graveyards throughout the map makes it a dynamic zone, changing depending on the state of the battle.
The central, destructible keep is supposed to be "epic", according to Stockton. Able to fit siege vehicles inside, it was designed to accommodate a large number of players. In a non-instanced zone designed purely for PvP from the ground up, more is better. This is Blizzard's first foray into true, world PvP. In many ways, it's WoW's answer to the much-touted open-area, siege PvP of Age of Conan and the eagerly anticipated RvR or Realm vs. Realm mechanic of Warhammer. How it will be received by a community that didn't necessarily sign-up for massive world PvP remains to be seen.
Siege vehicles! Destructible buildings! Aerial combat! If a lot of players participate in Lake Wintergrasp, it could be one of the most fun things to do in the game. In fact, I'm inclined to farm the place. Will there be a title tied in with the zone? It's possible. Blizzard is doing things with Lake Wintergrasp that we've never seen in any other WoW zone. The potential for the zone is so good that it will be tragic if it fails. I'm fairly certain that Blizzard is aware of this, and is working hard to make the gameplay compelling for everyone, even those not on PvP servers. I'm excited to see the rewards, particularly persistent ones, or perhaps consumables to encourage repeat play. If PvP gear can be obtained from PvE, why not the reverse for some items in Lake Wintergrasp?
Faction imbalance in realms and general population skill in PvP will become more important and pronounced. Cross-server Battlegrounds addressed this issue, but Lake Wintergrasp once again isolates it to each realm. The siege vehicles that can accommodate additional players will require cooperative play, much like a party. While fun, this also requires an entirely different mindset in play. A passenger on a Demolisher will be unable to control her own movement, for example... it will be like playing on a rail. That can be frustrating to some people used to traditional WoW PvP.
The resources required for vehicle purchase is still not set, but Chilton promises that the aim will be to make the game very fast paced. This means it should steer away from numerous turn-ins or excessive Honorable Kills before eligibility. This means there should be ease of procurement... the vehicle garages and hangars should be situated to allow ease of access and immediate return to battle. Alterac Valley failed in this respect, specially with the new mechanic that throws players forward through the map upon death.
Vehicle control requires an entirely different skillset, particularly for those carrying passengers. It takes cooperative play to a whole new level. It might happen that entire team compositions will be built around a siege vehicle... for example, a Rogue would be useless as a passenger, Fan of Knives notwithstanding. It's bad only because there will be a new learning curve for many players, but should work out in the long run.
It's simply too early to tell how Lake Wintergrasp will turn out. Blizzard seems to have put a lot of work into the siege combat and not yet implemented zone objectives. The full picture will become clear when Blizzard reveals the mechanics of the zone, there will likely be numerous, repeatable objectives all over and hopefully, extremely compelling rewards in the form of consumables and titles in addition to the Northrend-wide buff and likely gear. If Blizzard pulls it off, Lake Wintergrasp could possibly be the best zone they've ever designed. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.