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The Art of War(craft): Outdoor PvP, part II - an Outlandish war

Zach Yonzon

Last time, we went over Blizzard's initial attempts at implementing outdoor PvP and found that while the implementation of World PvP objectives in the Eastern Plaguelands and Silithus were teh suck far from stellar, they provided key learnings upon which future zones were built. The battle rages on in The Burning Crusade where four out of the seven zones in Outlands have World PvP objectives. Some work better than others, having quests that lead players to the objectives, while some are just plain confusing.

Similar to the World PvP objectives in Azeroth, all four provide zone-wide buffs for your faction when completed. The buffs in all the zones provide an unimaginative 5% increase to damage, with the exception of the Blessing of Auchindoun, which also adds a 5% increase to experience gain and allows Spirit Shards to drop from Auchindoun instance bosses. The World PvP in Outlands are situated in the hearts of the zones, almost central to the maps, making each objective harder to ignore. As the world beckons for war, let's examine what each specific zone has to offer and how best to achieve each objective.

Hellfire Peninsula
Players first experience the Outlands through the harsh and barren landscape of Hellfire Peninsula where a quick glance at the map will reveal three towers almost at the heart of the zone. These three towers represent the Hellfire Fortifications, comprised of three structures -- the Overlook, the Stadium, and Broken Hill -- East of the Hellfire Citadel. The sub-zones can be captured through proximity, sped up by superior numbers, similar to A Game of Towers in the Eastern Plaguelands. The quests to capture the three points are a PvP daily available from quest givers in Thrallmar and Honor Hold. Before daily quests were introduced in Patch 2.1, this was a repeatable quest that used to be an excellent means of raising reputation with the respective factions -- also originally giving 250 Reputation per completion as opposed to the current 150.

Completing the quest objective also awards 3 Marks of Thrallmar or 3 Marks of Honor Hold, which are currency for superior-quality PvP items available in the faction bases in Hellfire and Zangarmarsh. For players just setting foot in Outland, I highly recommend participating in this World PvP objective because of the excellent rewards. The rings Band of the Victor and Circlet of the Victor are the only socketed rings before the Signet of Ancient Magics from Zul'Aman. For many players, these rings will be among the first socketed items they can obtain. It is also fairly easy to accumulate the necessary Marks because in addition to the daily quest reward, Marks are created when you or a member of your group lands a killing blow against a member of the opposing faction while in any of the three sub-zones.

Capturing all three fortifications grants a zone-wide buff called Hellfire Superiority, which grants a 5% increase to all damage done. Players may also purchase a personal buff called Thrallmar Favor or Honor Hold Favor, which provides a 5% increase in experience gain and 25% reputation increase with the relevant faction. Because they can be stacked to 20 and kept for later use, these buffs provide an excellent boost to leveling when used in Hellfire Citadel instances. Items like these represent the balanced synergy between PvP and PvE that Blizzard continually strives for.

The most glaring flaw in Hellfire Peninsula's World PvP is the lack of persistence. Similar to the towers in the Eastern Plaguelands, the Hellfire fortifications change hands too often to have any palpable impact on the zone. The zone-wide buff comes and goes too often if there are groups actively attempting the objectives. As discussed in Blizzcon 2007's PvP Panel, Blizzard's own benchmarks for World PvP are that it should be 1) spontaneous, 2) objective-driven, 3) rewarding, and 4) impacts the world. While Hellfire's World PvP design allows for enough spontaneity, has clear objectives, and offers excellent on-level rewards, its impact on the zone isn't compelling enough to encourage more participation. Because control for towers keeps changing -- there's no way to defend a tower once players leave it to capture another -- efforts to capture towers always seem in vain.

Murder by numbers
Carl von Clausewitz, in Von Kriege, wrote, "Superiority of numbers admittedly is the most important factor in the outcome of an engagement... It thus follows that as many troops as possible should be brought into the engagement at the decisive point... This is the first principle of strategy." Thus, with all Clausewitz Principle capture mechanics, the key is strength in numbers. So bring a friend when you PvP in Hellfire Peninsula. Actually, bring four, since a party is the maximum you'll be able to group with in order to complete the quest. As the rewards for completing the objectives are fairly low-level for the Outlands, few Level 70 players do the rounds of the fortifications. With some luck and organization, a group of players in the low 60s can complete the quest easily, with the numbers to score a few Honorable Kills along the way.

When attempting the objectives as a low-level solo -- a rather foolish endeavor, I might add -- it is a slow process of hiding in the structural crevices of the fortifications. Each of the structures has nooks and crannies in which to hide. Needless to say, players must flagged for PvP and not be in stealth or be otherwise invisible, while players on flying mounts must be grounded, in order for the slider bar to progress. As far as combat is concerned, most of the structures favor ranged classes as it's easy to utilize the architecture to kite opponents, although it is mostly a matter of choosing your battles. Broken Hill is the most friendly to melee classes while the Stadium has the most hiding places. When in doubt, however, bring your friends.

From the harsh wasteland of Hellfire Peninsula, players next encounter World PvP in the gas-laden swamps of Zangarmarsh, home of the Twin Spire Ruins. Situated at the center of the map, South of Coilfang Reservoir, are two towers that can be captured through the standard mechanic found in other zones. A small difference lies in the slider, which has a larger, or longer, gray bar which means a longer uncontrolled period. If hotly contested -- which it hardly ever is -- the East and West Beacons become neutral very easily, making capture of what Blizzard calls the Center Tower very difficult.

An interesting twist to the beacon objectives is the capture of the Center Tower, or Twinspire Graveyard. When both East and West Beacons are under one faction's control, respective Field Scouts will begin to dispense Battle Standards, a 5-minute buff that allows the player to capture the Twinspire Graveyard. If at any time either tower becomes uncontrolled, the Field Scouts will cease to dispense the buff. However, any players who already possess the Battle Standard buff may continue to attempt to plant it by clicking on the flag at the center of the map.

Players must carry the Battle Standard on foot -- players cannot receive the buff when mounted, and mounting or shapeshifting will cause the buff to disappear -- taking about two minutes without any speed enhancements to travel from the Field Scout to the Twinspire Graveyard flag. Players must then click on the flag, a standard ten second action similar to the flags in Arathi Basin, in order to take control of it. Control of the Twinspire Graveyard grants Twinspire Blessing to all members of the controlling faction, a zone-wide buff granting a standard 5% increase to all damage done.

Of all the Outlands World PvP objectives, the Twin Spire Ruins are the least compelling and the most difficult to understand. Even on high population PvP servers, it is fairly easy to capture the beacons and graveyard solo because of lack of participation. Most players don't know how to capture the Twinspire Graveyard, nor are they led to do so as there is no quest for it. The rewards, although excellent, are purchased with Marks of Thrallmar or Honor Hold, similar to the items in Hellfire Peninsula. While Marks drop from enemies slain within the Twin Spire Ruins sub-zone, combat is so sparse that it makes more sense to gather them from Hellfire Peninsula, instead. Control of the Central Tower also has minimal impact on the zone. Aside from the 5% damage increase, possession of the Twinspire Graveyard is only truly beneficial to groups who keep wiping -- without wipe recovery -- inside the Coilfang Reservoir instances.

The art of annoyance
Because the Zangarmarsh sliders have short control times, if actively contested, it is difficult to control both beacons long enough to have the Field Scouts dispense the Battle Standard buff. Because of the long neutral period and slow-moving slider, a faction will only have control of both East and West Beacons if relatively uncontested. A solo player can easily hide behind (or the Northern part of) a beacon and force it to become uncontrolled while players of the opposing faction attempt to capture the other one. As with other World PvP objectives, numbers help; and because the control window is so brief, a group attempting to control both beacons at the same time is the best method to get the Field Scout to dispense Battle Standards. The Alliance Field Scout, a Level 65 non-elite, is in a vulnerable spot located outside of Telredor. As a last resort, a Horde player trying to foil capture of the Twinspire Graveyard can kill the Alliance Field Scout while the Alliance attempt to control the beacons. It's dirty, and I don't *cough* condone it, but well, it's war.

Terokkar Forest
In the Southern part of Terokkar Forest lies a barren landscape called the Bone Wastes, home to unsavory scorpids, corpse-seeking buzzards, restless ghosts, and of course, the ancient walls of Auchindoun. Five towers surround the former Draenei mausoleum, representing the zone's World PvP objectives. Like the Twinspire Ruins in Zangarmarsh, there is no quest associated with the capture of the five Spirit Towers, but the Bone Wastes PvP is one of the more compelling and meaningful implementations of World PvP in the game. The window to capture the Spirit Towers opens six hours after the last time the Bone Wastes came under a faction's control, and thirty minutes after a realm goes up.

Each tower can be captured through the same mechanic as the objectives in Hellfire and Zangarmarsh, with a control slider that has a long contested period but fast capture time. A solo player can capture a neutral tower within 60 seconds and an enemy-controlled tower in 120. Capturing all five towers cedes control of the Bone Wastes to the victorious faction, granting the Blessing of Auchindoun, a zone-wide buff that gives the standard 5% damage increase but additionally also grants a 5% bonus to experience gain and, more importantly, allows capture of Spirit Shards. Spirit Shards, a currency for some excellent items, drop from Auchindoun instance bosses only when the Bone Wastes are controlled by your faction.

The headgear obtained through Spirit Shards are the earliest items that can be socketed with meta gems. The Spirit Shard-bought Swift Starfire Diamond or Swift Windfire Diamond, socketed into the headpieces, are usually how many players first learn how to make meta gems work. The Band of the Exorcist and the Seal of the Exorcist are great epic rings that will serve players well for quite some time even after hitting Level 70. Accumulating Spirit Shards can also be relatively easy because control of the Bone Wastes lasts a long time, allowing scheduled runs into Auchindoun instances.

Tower power
The Spirit Towers are a well-implemented World PvP feature with the only caveat being that it can only happen every six hours, ironically the mechanic that makes it so effective. When attempting to capture Spirit Towers, it's important to do it as a group, leaving one or two people to stay at a captured tower in order to protect it. Captured towers are easily taken if not defended properly, making the capture of all five towers at once a near impossible task done solo. By virtue of sheer mobility, it's easiest to attempt the objectives with a flying mount, moving from one Spirit Tower to another, waiting for it to turn without dismounting.

Although it is World PvP, the way to move quickly through towers is to -- again ironically -- avoid PvP. Level 70 players will often just land on the top of the tower without engaging in combat. The Bone Wastes Graveyard is also in the Southwestern part of Auchindoun, making running back to retrieve your body inconvenient and time consuming. If combat is inevitable, try to eliminate the opposing force in a methodical manner because superior numbers are necessary for capturing towers. Focus fire, as prolonged engagements don't help with a short 1-2 minute slider. Always keep an eye on the timer over the Spirit Towers. With luck, it is possible to capture them with little resistance, specially after server restarts.

Finally, in the heart of the lush fields of Nagrand lies Halaa, a town on an island that can be captured by either faction. A town that shifts allegiance is a mechanic that also works well. In addition to the Strength of the Halaani, a zone-wide buff that gives -- you guessed it -- 5% increase to damage dealt, control of Halaa grants access to items sold by the Halaani vendors such as superior-quality items, recipes, gems, and unique land mounts.

Some items are available for purchase with gold, while others can only be bought through a combination of Halaa Battle Tokens and Halaa Research Tokens. Battle Tokens are created in a similar fashion to Marks of Thrallmar or Honor Hold, through killing in the Halaa sub-zone. The available equipment are somewhat underwhelming, but other items are well worth getting such as Design: Mystic Dawnstone, which can be bought for 12g; and Sublime Mystic Dawnstone, which is purchased with 100 Battle Tokens (formerly a staggering 500 tokens). The 14g red gems Don Amancio's Heart and its Horde-equivalent Don Rodrigo's Heart are cheap, albeit unique-equipped, options for gems which would otherwise cost 30-50g at the Auction House.

Fifteen guards with roughly over 1.2 million hit points are stationed for the town's defense -- Draenei guards for when the Alliance control it, and Blood Elves for the Horde. The guards aren't meant to be taken down in the conventional way but through bombing runs -- which is what the bombing quests in Hellfire Peninsula seem to train players for. Posts situated at the bridges leading to the town can be clicked by opposing players as a standard 10-second action to activate a Wyvern Roost. Players can click on a Wyvern Roost to be sent on a flight path armed with Fire Bombs, limited to stacks of ten, to assault Halaa. Fire Bombs deal around 1000 damage on impact and a DoT that deals 1% health damage per tick, which is key to taking down the Halaani guards with raid-level HP.

Blizzard's extensive guide to Halaa combat contains pretty much everything you need to know in order to assault the island. It takes some practice to aim the Fire Bombs, but players who have been doing the daily Skettis or Ogri'la daily quests will have an easier time because the flights are on a rail. Players with (preferably swift) flying mounts can cycle through the Wyvern Roosts and activate them without taking the flight to confuse defenders, who will destroy them. Defenders should destroy Wyvern Roosts when waiting in ambush for bombers, as it's fairly easy to click the Wyvern Roost upon landing to escape and go on another run.

Because the four Wyvern Roosts take you on different paths around Halaa, it will take a considerable number of trips from all four points in order to take down all the guards with precision. Once all guards have been slain, it becomes fairly easy to encroach upon the town, which can be captured in the same way as all other towers or beacons in the Outlands. Players can use their flying mounts to stay on buildings in order to get the slider to move, avoiding combat. There is a Graveyard in Halaa, which eases corpse runs for the controlling faction, while assaulting forces will have to run from the Northwind Cleft.

The fatal flaw
Halaa's flaw is that holding it grants little strategic or practical importance. When questing in Nagrand, possession of Halaa is merely a convenience for players without flying mounts as they are able to traverse the map more easily. Although equipped with the conveniences of a normal town such as food & drink, the best ammunition and arrows for their level (66), and other cool items, Halaa is nothing more than a fence-sitting convenience store in the middle of Nagrand. Beyond the availability of items, control of Halaa is mostly cosmetic. Because it isn't a true quest hub, there is no compelling reason to maintain control of the town. For the most part -- at least on PvP servers -- control changes frequently. Factions seize Halaa, make purchases, and generally go their own way.

If Halaa possessed the Outlands' only Auction House, it might possibly be a highly populated, sought-after town worth fighting over -- when under assault, businessmen of all sorts would pack up and either fight or flee. Perhaps the addition of quests, even dailies, would add some urgency to seizing control of Halaa. Under the current arrangement, combat occurs in Halaa primarily only because players are collecting tokens for desired items. It's a fine mechanic that works well in Hellfire Peninsula, but there needs to be something truly compelling about capturing a town.

What the future holds
Perhaps the most exciting news I have heard in recent days are (a little) more details on Blizzard's plans for Lake Wintergrasp, a PvP-exclusive zone within Northrend in Wrath of the Lich King. In a PC Zone interview, WoW lead developer Jeff Kaplan stated that the non-instanced Battleground zone "will be all-PvP -- in no way, shape or form will we support PvE players in it." This might mean seeing less of PvP items obtained through PvE and new items or mechanics intended purely for PvP. Hopefully, Blizzard will apply all the lessons learned from current World PvP zones and build upon them. While I'm excited to see new gimmicks like siege weapons and destructible buildings, I'm also keen to see how they can make World PvP truly compelling. Kaplan stated that Lake Wintergrasp will be completely optional, but for players wishing to enter the zone, there must be a high level of replayability, otherwise the zone will quickly become empty once players have had their fill (or bought their items). A non-instanced, multiple objective Battleground is probably what I look forward to the most in the upcoming expansion. If Blizzard pulls it off right then, I'll most likely be spending most of my WoW time laying siege to towers and waving battle standards on what promises to be a raging battlefield.

Zach Yonzon, who writes the Art of War(craft), took a critical hit from an alarmingly high diastolic blood pressure but was saved by a timely Lay on Hands. After a battery of tests, resting in Silvermoon City, and lots of Super Rejuvenation Potions, Zach returns to offer his insights on PvP every Monday.

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