I love Wintergrasp. Five months into Wrath and I think it's still one of the most fun things to do in the game. Lag issues aside, I think the zone has been a great success if only by judging through the number of people on my realm who participate in every battle. The general impression that I get from forums, blogs, comments on this site, as well as fellow players is that Blizzard did a good job with Wintergrasp. It's fun, fast, and extremely rewarding -- Honor gain during one game is insane and the items you can purchase with the Wintergrasp Marks of Honor are pretty good (we'll get to that in a moment). Patch 3.1 is going to bring some improvements to the gameplay, as well, so let's take a look at those things first.
All players who attack a siege vehicle should now get credit if it is destroyed.
Previously this worked similar to tapping a mob, where the player or raid that first tapped the siege vehicle would get credit. This made it harder for multiple raids or ungrouped players to complete Stop the Siege!. This change should solve that problem neatly.
Daily quests Slay Them All! (Horde) and No Mercy for the Merciless (Alliance) have had their PvP kill requirements reduced to 10 from 20. NPCs defending the fortress and south towers now count toward these dailies as well.
Enemy players have the same tapping mechanic as mobs, so even though a player can get Honor from a tapped enemy, they wouldn't count towards completion of the aforementioned quests. Similar to the vehicle problem, ungrouped players or those in smaller raids would often come up short of the requisite 20 kills during one battle. Obviously, changing the tapping mechanics for players isn't the solution, so Blizzard made the kill requirement lower and included NPCs as valid targets. The latter change is probably aimed at lower population servers or realms where Wintergrasp participation isn't too high, as well as realms where there's a distinct faction imbalance.
The number of NPCs defending fortress has been increased.
Again, this should make it easier for players to complete the daily quests as well as move up in Rank. The NPC guards don't hit hard and have very low hit points, so they're really just cannon fodder for quest and rank requirements. I'm not a big fan of too many NPCs in a PvP zone, but this change seems to have been necessary. Players on defense often hole up in the fortress, slowing down offense's rank gain. Having more NPCs lowers the effectivity of that delaying tactic.
Siege Engines now have Steam Pressure as a resource type (replaces energy) / Siege Engines now have the Steam Rush ability from Ulduar.
The change of energy resource is a cosmetic one, although I'm not too familiar with how Steam Pressure regenerates. Regardless of the change, a more interesting point is the addition of the Steam Rush ability, which is a short burst of movement forward. It also deals siege damage and knocks enemies back, which gives vehicles some measure of survivability against players as well as improved mobility across the zone. The unfortunate and unwanted side effect of this will be that more players will use siege vehicles against players, which bogs down offense.
The southern Siege Factories can be captured.
This is the best change to Wintergrasp this patch. This will make playing defense more dynamic and put the Southern towers in genuine peril. In its current implementation, defending the Southern towers is easy for an attentive team on offense because siege vehicles must travel a long way from either the Fortress or the East and West Workshops. Making the Eastspark and Westspark Workshops capturable will spread the offense, forcing players to defend instead of concentrating solely on pushing towards the Titan Relic. This also means that players bothering to go South will now actually finish their kill quests, as well as get a good deal of action and Honor.
More importantly, this gives defense a fair chance at actually winning the battle. Patch 3.0.8 changed capturing the Titan Relic an instant rather than channeled effect, essentially guaranteeing a win as soon as the Fortress Keep Door has been broken through. While this meant that the zone would change hands more often, it also disincentivized playing defense as it was almost certain to be a lost cause. This change will impact that dramatically, splitting offense into two groups with two different goals. Defense will no longer just be about buying time but also about mounting a counter-offensive. If you thought Wintegrasp was fun, wait until Patch 3.1.
The time between battles will be saved should a realm shut down. If Wintergrasp is active when a realm shuts down, the game will restart from the beginning when the realm is once again live.
This is just a fair change that prevents the side capturing Wintergrasp right before maintenance (or any realm restart) from getting shafted. This way, the Horde or Alliance will retain control for the full duration regardless of any realm interruptions.
Towers in Southern Wintergrasp now have more defensive cannons.
Not that players actually manned the Southern cannons, but the critical change to the Southern workshops should see more activity in these parts of the map. If the defending faction captures the Southern workshops, this means more vehicles at a faster rate. Some players might actually have to man the cannons to keep it from blowing up.
Bornakk talks about the changes in a pretty engaging thread over at the official forums. The general idea is to spread the action all over the map, and I think Patch 3.1 is going to deliver on that. What I'm more interested in, however, is the development of Wintergrasp as a whole. Wintergrasp is unique among all zones in the game because Blizzard needs to create a constant need to control it. While most of the zones in Northrend (or any part of Azeroth or Outlands, for that matter) are generally experienced through leveling and thereafter forgotten, demoted to farming zones or dungeon and raid locales, Wintergrasp needs to remain relevant at all times.
Players need to have a stake in controlling it. Enter the weekly loot piñata mechanic -- Archavon. His big brother Emalon will be moving into the vaults in Patch 3.1 (coincidentally, my guess on what Emalon would look like was confirmed when his model was later data-mined by MMO Champion. Yay me!), which should keep players wanting to control the zone for a shot at that delicious Season 6 gear. He is likely to be much harder than the easiest raid boss ever created, but this gives Wintergrasp continued relevance post-Naxxramas and Season 5.
This is great and all, but I really hope the zone evolves into something more. Don't get me wrong, I think there's enough incentive for players to keep playing Wintergrasp -- copious amounts of Honor, a weekly shot at free loot, Titan-themed epics, and to a lesser degree, great farming spots. But my point is that in between games, Wintergrasp is pretty dead. I mean, elemental farming is great, but the Wintergrasp fan in me wants the zone to be active all the time. Maybe that's too much to ask, but hear me out for a bit.
I want Wintergrasp to feel alive, and not just when tanks are rolling over its hills and the Fortress is being pelted with boulders. The Fortress is huge, but there's just nobody there. Patch 3.1 is going to add more NPCs to the Fortress, which should help. Currently, Wintergrasp has a few quest givers and sparse placement of guards -- it's actually pretty lonely and incongruent for one of the most important military assets a faction can control. Wintergrasp should simply have... more. Let me lay out some of my thoughts after the jump.