I was supposed to go into detail with keybindings using an addon this week, but we'll put that on hold for now. We can always revisit keybindings another time, but so much has happened on the beta that it would just be wrong not to take a look at what's going on. By now, many of the abilities are pretty set, and with a rumored November release on the horizon -- an idea that's got some meat behind it now that the background downloader is working on a hefty 4 GB worth of 4.0.1 goodness -- it looks like what we see is what we'll get. The numbers will probably be tweaked up or down on some spells and talents, but for the most part, I think we've got a pretty solid feel for how the game will play.
The new game mechanics will take some getting used to for some classes such as warlocks, who become a cooldown class, and paladins, who now manage a secondary resource. Players have all of the pre-Cataclysm and the grind to level 85 to get a good feel for things, and that should be plenty of time. But never mind the new abilities -- those are fun, for sure -- but there's an entire support system for World of Warcraft PvP that raises the bar in a way we've never experienced. New battlegrounds, a standardized currency on par with the PvE system, guild support ... Cataclysm PvP is going to be fun as hell.
The most obvious thing to be excited about in Cataclysm PvP are the new battlegrounds -- two of them right from the get-go, Twin Peaks and The Battle for Gilneas. That's one more than we got at the launch of either The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, and there's promise of more to come throughout the expansion. True, Twin Peaks is kind of a rehash of Warsong Gulch, and The Battle for Gilneas is a variant of Arathi Basin, but this is actually a very encouraging development. It means developers aren't going to spend an unnecessarily inordinate amount of time developing new mechanics. Instead, they can develop a few more well-designed maps utilizing existing battleground mechanics.
This has the added benefit of being easy to learn for players. Players who have participated in Warsong Gulch will immediately understand the objectives of Twin Peaks, and anybody who has played Arathi Basin will take to the Battle of Gilneas like Kylie at the disco. New maps for existing battlegrounds is something a lot of battleground enthusiasts have always wanted, and Blizzard has put enough of a spin on each map to give it a different feel. There are so many options now that players won't find the time to get bored with one map.
An overhauled point system
For the first time in the history of the game, PvP players will be roughly on par with PvE players in terms of progression because of the parallel currencies. Conquest and honor points match up with valor and justice points, and the coming weeks are going to be prime farming time for players to get as much of the old currencies as they can, so they can get to the soft cap of honor and justice points as soon as 4.0.1 hits. If you've been slacking off on your PvP, now is the time to get a move on -- and not just by getting to the current honor cap of 75,000, because that only translates to 1,800 of the new honor points. If you play arenas and haven't been spending your arena points, you can hit the cap much more quickly, as each arena point is worth about .85 of the new honor points.
If you don't play arenas and have maxed out your honor, don't worry. You can get bang for your buck by grinding Wintergrasp, which translates to a whopping 19.08 of the new honor for each Wintergrasp Mark of Honor. Presumably, this should prevent low-level characters from obtaining excessive amounts of the new honor points when 4.0.1 hits the live realms. That said, there's also a decent conversion rate of Venture Coins (1:3), Stone Keeper's Shards (1:1.6) and even the Spirit Shards from the Bone Wastes, which come at a remarkably even 1:1 conversion. Use whatever means you can to accumulate all these currencies until you've got enough to convert to 4,000. Don't worry about having excess currency, as these can translate to gold.
It's very likely that the new currency won't be usable on anything just yet, and that's a good thing. The last thing you want is to spend new currency on gear for level 80 or below. The game gets good at level 85, so the obvious thing is to save those honor points for level 85 rewards. The kicker is that you probably shouldn't expect to buy anything significant with it -- with a soft cap of 4,000, you're probably going to end up with one piece of PvP tier gear, two at best. The costs are likely to be scaled down from the existing cost scheme, but it's almost guaranteed that 4,000 won't get you far.
In fact, honor points will get you nothing but the second-best tier of gear. The good stuff can be bought with conquest points, which won't become available in 4.0.1. Conquest points are earned through rated battlegrounds and arena play, which is likely to begin for max-level players several weeks after Cataclysm launches. If anything, the new honor points will simply allow you to clear your inventory of old currency while giving you access to a few pieces of a starter set, so you can PvP at level 85 with respectable resilience.
A new relationship with resilience and stamina
Speaking of resilience, Blizzard has seen fit to change it so that it will no longer reduce critical hit chance. Instead, all it will do is reduce damage. The developers explain that they don't want resilience to devalue talents and abilities that confer crit, and it's a fair point. The change also creates a new paradigm for combat because players can continue to stack crit while piling on the bloated stamina values in Cataclysm. Expect combat to go long and be filled with strategy. Resilience is still the premiere PvP stat, even though all it does now is provide an additional layer of damage reduction.
By the time players hit level 85, player health will have ridiculous values, because stamina is slated to become incredibly cheap as an item stat. Through this, Blizzard hopes to head off the unsavory situation at the beginning of Wrath that resulted in low-resilience characters' getting blown up in arenas in under 10 seconds. Even without resilience, combat will have a bit of length, because all players will have massive health pools. Resilience only affords greater survivability but won't be integral for starter play.
Guild support: More to do in battlegrounds as a guild
Guilds will also have PvP support through achievements and guild rewards. When a guild hits level 13, its guild members get Honorable Mention (Rank 1), which increases honor gain by 5 percent. At level 19, Honorable Mention (Rank 2) grants a 10 percent increase in honor gained. These are pretty significant perks and mark the first time that the guild system will support PvP. There are a number of cool achievements for guilds such as Creepjackers, a personal favorite, which requires that a guild kill 2,500,000 enemy players. A number of the new guild achievements require players to participate in battlegrounds as a guild, and they're more exciting than the arena achievements. I mean, there's just more to do in the battlegrounds as a guild, and the achievements are far more demanding.
The coolest part of all this isn't even directly related to PvP or guild achievements -- have you seen the new Horde and Alliance guild mounts? Tell me that riding these mounts, which enable guild banners to be displayed, en masse in a battleground isn't the coolest use for these awesome lions and scorpions. Quite simply, these guild mounts are meant to be ridden into battle. These aren't mounts for prancing around major cities. I mean, they're land mounts. The only place you'll use land mounts in Cataclysm is in battlegrounds. I can assure you that when the developers were designing these banner-waving bastions of bombast and badassery, they were envisioning entire guilds charging with them in the battlegrounds. Seriously, there are few things cooler in the game.
Forward to 4.0.1
The patch is going to drop very soon, with pre-Cataclysm events already live on the PTR. We're going to have a taste of the fun stuff before we know it. And even though 4.0.1 PvP will be ridiculously imbalanced -- the game is balanced around level 85, high-stamina characters -- it's going to be a riot. Until then, we can drool about all the cool things that World of Warcraft PvP will be getting.
Zach delivers your weekly dose of battlegrounds and world PvP in one crazy column. Find out how the Cataclysm talent tree redesign affects PvP, how sub-speccing will work at higher levels in the expansion, and how the new Azeroth will affect world PvP. Visit Blood Sport for the inside line on arena PvP.