The wind of change is blowing through the World of Warcraft. Whether we like it or not, PvP's focus in the expansion will shift from arenas to the battlegrounds. Blizzard has announced that they'll be shipping Cataclysm with at least one new battleground, the Battle for Gilneas City, and the promise of much more throughout the course of the expansion. MMO-Champion's datamined screenshots from the alpha -- before Blizzard ordered everything taken offline -- revealed a zone speculated to be a battleground, situated in the Twilight Highlands where the Dragonmaw clan of orcs and the Wildhammer clan of dwarves are locked in deadly combat. From all indications, this battleground will be ready by the time Cataclysm ships. That's exciting and is indicative of Blizzard's commitment to the new directive. Maybe we'll even see more than two battlegrounds on ship.
On top of that, wouldn't it be fantastic if the old-school battlegrounds such as Warsong Gulch, Arathi Basin and Alterac Valley got some cosmetic changes to reflect the geographical upheaval that Deathwing wreaks upon Azeroth? It only makes sense, after all. Blizzard wouldn't need to adjust gameplay mechanics, just reshape the landscape a little bit. It would go a long way towards making the old battlegrounds feel new again and could even provide an opportunity for Blizzard to make Alterac Valley slightly more symmetrical. Charred earth, dilapidated structures -- these should serve to remind players that it's a broken world out there instead of feeling a blast from the past every time they zone in. Blizzard has gone all-out for Cataclysm and has confirmed that old instances will be getting some tweaks, so while I'm not holding my breath, it just might happen.
As much as the change seems to favor the casual player, the truth is that the battlegrounds can potentially become a very hostile environment for them. While Blizzard has mentioned that the best PvP gear can be obtained without ever stepping into the arenas, it should be pointed out that players need to perform well in rated battlegrounds in order to do so. Rated battlegrounds, or RBGs as people are calling them, will be an extremely different environment from the casual PUG battlegrounds most players are accustomed to. They will be harsh. In fact, for most players who'd never set foot in the competitive environment of arenas, they'll make their world spin.
Some players have already gotten a taste of this in the form of premade groups going against PUGs -- often with the aid of the Preform AV Enabler addon. In the battlegrounds, an opposing team comprised mostly if not completely of players from one realm almost always indicates a premade and almost always results in an ugly loss for the rag-tag team. The best premades demolish PUGs who operate with no clear direction or leadership, and although matches are over pretty quickly, it can be very demoralizing for opponents who typically don't expect such competition.
When Cataclysm hits, premades will be commonplace, even in unrated Battlegrounds. Teams will use the unrated battlegrounds to practice or grind honor points in a fast and efficient fashion. To the casual player, this can be a ruinous experience, especially to those trying out the battlegrounds for the first time. Although matchmaking systems are in place to ensure that premades encounter other premades, it's easy enough to game the system by coordinating queues over Vent or even automate the process through an addon. Blizzard doesn't normally allow that sort of thing, but there have been ways to circumvent that.
Players need to be prepared for this. The battlegrounds are going to change in a big way, and competition will elevate considerably compared to relatively relaxed pace of today. This can potentially make the environment inhospitable to casual players who take to the battlegrounds to unwind and might not be conducive to those who queue solo. Even those who have experience in premades will have to ramp up their games, since most premades today actually avoid any real competition by going up against PUGs. Premade vs. premade battles last considerably longer and are counterproductive to the honor grind. Rated battlegrounds will be a completely different experience altogether.
While battlegrounds will allow for greater flexibility in group composition than arenas, some classes and specs will be desired for abilities that work in the battleground environment. Blizzard is giving everyone new and exciting abilities in Cataclysm, some of which seem designed specifically with battlegrounds play in mind. As I'd mentioned in a previous column, some classes will seem like perfect fits in certain situations -- for example, druids will be even more desirable in Warsong Gulch because of Stampeding Roar, an ability that gives the druid and his allies a 40% increase in movement speed for eight seconds.
Blizzard described the mage's Wall of Fog ability in such a way that hinted at their vision for Cataclysm, mentioning how the ability could be used to protect flags in a battleground. The rogue ability Smoke Bomb also has obvious PvP applications. Clearly, the developers are designing with competitive battleground play in mind -- they have a chance to redesign the PvP game from the ground up now instead of retrofitting it the way arenas were shoehorned into the game during Burning Crusade. This time around, Blizzard is designing class abilities while considering the PvP environment instead of merely having several PvE abilities that also happen to have PvP applications.
It will be exciting to see the entire list of abilities and talents that classes will be getting in the expansion and the strategies that arise from them. This is another reason why the battlegrounds will become extremely different come Cataclysm -- for the first time in the history of the game, I think, the developers are designing class abilities for the battlegrounds in much the same way they design raid encounters with specific class synergies in mind. Players will be utilizing abilities that affect large-scale PvP in ways like never before. The closest thing we have to those new abilities are AoE damage spells or Bloodlust/Heroism. While arena teams timed their use of Bloodlust/Heroism, these new abilities also require positional consideration. It's huge. It's exciting.
When Cataclysm rolls around, we'll need to rethink our way of approaching battlegrounds PvP. Because the changes are so overwhelming, this is true for the rest of the game as well, but the difference here is that for once, PvP and the battlegrounds aren't an afterthought. They're baked into the whole thing from the very beginning. Blizzard wants us to use Wall of Fog in Arathi Basin. They want us to huddle and rush with the flag in Warsong Gulch under the effects of a Stampeding Roar. They want us to field our rogues and obscure key objectives with Smoke Bombs. They want us to have fun with all these new toys they've designed for use in large-scale PvP, and man, we've only glimpsed a few of them.
Not only that, Blizzard appears committed to designing a lot of new battlegrounds, as well. They've taken some great ideas from other battleground-centric MMOs and applied them to the game over the course of Wrath, such as the ability to queue from anywhere and leveling in the battlegrounds. Maybe there's a chance we'll see additional maps using the same mechanics as other battlegrounds just to spice things up. It doesn't have to be a completely new battleground with new rule sets every time.
Pretty much everything about Cataclysm is reason to be excited ... Blizzard is remaking the world, and everything will feel new again. They had an opportunity to essentially reboot the game, and this time around, battlegrounds are part of the plan -- not just adjunct to the game but as a core part of the experience. You can still opt to avoid PvP entirely, of course, but given the richness of the battleground content in the expansion, you'd be missing out on a whole lot. I always say that anytime is a good time to start hitting the battlegrounds, but I think I'm revising that statement. Cataclysm will be the best damn time to enjoy battleground PvP.