Arguably one of the biggest features of Cataclysm -- I say "arguably" because World of Warcraft's next expansion is going to have a ton of new features -- would be guild talents and progression. Not much has been revealed about this feature, but it has the potential to forever change the way guilds work. In particular, the emergence of rated battlegrounds combined with guild talents geared towards PvP play can possibly result in a schism between PvP and PvE players, forcing them to choose between a PvE-oriented guild or a PvP-centric one.
The guild progression system is such a great incentive for players to be part of a guild and allows guilds a better focus -- a guild's choice of talents should indicate the character of a guild. Although the benefits are relatively minor, they are telling of a guild's priorities, such as increased gold drops off bosses or reduced repair costs. Blizzard has only revealed a taste of PvE guild talents for now, but developers have mentioned that there will be PvP guild talents as well. This is where the potential for conflict arises. Players currently have dual specs that allow them to keep a spec for raiding and another talent spec for PvP, but will guilds have the same flexibility? There's not enough information to know for sure right now, but if there are distinct trees or talent for PvP and PvE, players will have to make some tough decisions when forming or joining a guild. In that scenario, guilds geared towards battlegrounds or even arena play will form and for the first time, players who thrive in PvP will have an environment in which to flourish.
I mentioned in last week's column that Cataclysm allowed Blizzard to reboot the game and work with an essentially blank canvas. Sure, it's still Azeroth, but everything has changed. This time around, they're working PvP and battleground play into the game directly instead of an adjunct feature, even going so far as to create abilities and talents that would be awesome on the battlefield. I don't believe their approach to guild leveling would be any different. It's reasonable to expect that the same attention to PvP enthusiasts will show in the talents available to guilds. Perhaps a talent to increase honor gains? How about a talent that allows players to loot more gold off enemy players' corpses? Maybe they could even loot special items, similar to the quirky loot table of Alterac Valley. How about increased healing from bandages while in a battleground?
The possibilities are pretty exciting. As a player who has always been more interested in the PvP aspect of the game, none of the announced guild talents really excited me. Having been part of a progressive raiding guild, I understood the appeal and practicality of getting more gold from bosses, or mass resurrection, or increased benefits from guild potions ... but none of them were going to enrich my PvP experience. I'm certain most players enjoy the PvE aspect of the game with a good helping of PvP on the side, but there are a few players who do enjoy the PvP game a whole lot more. Arena- or battleground-centric guilds allow these people to gravitate toward each other and get some benefits along the way.
Blizzard has yet to unveil its whole plan for the battlegrounds, but we already know how items will be easier to obtain, putting PvP gear acquisition at least on par with high-end PvE gear. Granted, there will always be more items from mobs, dungeons and raids at every level, but it's an extremely promising development. These little things all point to a conscious effort by Blizzard to put the PvP and PvE experiences on equal footing.
Would a PvP-centric guild make sense?
I'm fairly certain I'm in the minority when I express my desire for PvP-oriented talents or guild. But I'm also certain that more than a few of us exist, and the possibility of guild-wide benefits geared towards battleground and arena play is extremely exciting. What kind of talents would be appropriate and what would be imbalanced? Would a talent that lowers the cap time of flags in battlegrounds to seven seconds as opposed to the normal eight be overpowered? Or would it be a junk guild talent? The balance here is delicate because players would be going up against other players and Blizzard would be loathe to give an advantage through guild talents. Then again, it could be part of the grander scheme -- guilds going up against other guilds, with the PvP-oriented ones getting minor benefits in the battlegrounds.
The thought of belonging to a guild focused mainly on PvP appeals to me. With rated battlegrounds, Blizzard seems to be encouraging the kind of organization and focus that has always been present in raiding guilds. Battleground premades are common, but these are often PUGs organized by a handful of PvP enthusiasts. Rated battlegrounds will institutionalize them. One of the methods by which guilds can gain XP is through rated battlegrounds or arenas, where 75% of the players in the team belong to the same guild. This encourages players in the same guild to play together.
Rated battlegrounds almost demand the creation of battleground guilds. Arena teams are too small to necessitate such organization -- pretty much any guild can field an arena team (for purposes of XP gain). On the other hand, the 10-man Warsong Gulch is the smallest battleground and for rated battlegrounds would certainly require the kind of coordination and planning commonly associated with guilds. If the increasingly casual environment in Wrath devalued guilds and encouraged PUGs, the new guild progression system will revive the former and discourage the latter.
Naturally, PvP-oriented guild talents are required for battleground guilds to thrive. Otherwise, it wouldn't really matter which guild you join as long as it's committed to the occasional rated battleground play and hopefully has enough members with an inclination towards PvP. Until we see the rest of what Blizzard has planned for guild talents and progression, it's difficult to determine if such battleground guilds will actually form. But I'm hopeful. It's a pretty exciting concept.
What if I want to raid, too?
The truth is, a lot of players enjoy both the PvE and PvP aspects of the game, and one doesn't necessarily preclude the other. This is what will make a potential schism definitive of a player. Players will be identified with the kind of guild they belong to, by the talents their guild chooses. I would, for example, much prefer to be in a guild that has PvP benefits and be willing to forego all the extras provided by PvE guilds. I can do without the extra gold or lowered repair costs. I would much rather gain bonus honor while playing with guildmates.
Players can also make guild alliances that allow some members of another guild into their raiding or battleground groups while keeping the 75% ratio needed to earn XP. Real ID will make it trivial to communicate with friends, rendering guild chat less exclusive. Battleground guilds can pretty much squeeze raids into their schedule, anyway, albeit without the benefit of guild talents. Perhaps it's a little premature now to speculate on the specifics of battleground guilds, but it's a possibility that looms on the horizon and is only one of the many ways Cataclysm is going to change the game.