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The Art of War(craft): Of honor and conquest

Zach Yonzon

Okay, so The Art of War(craft) is a wee bit late this week, thanks to Zach's being crowd controlled rather handily by his three-week-old daughter. He would normally bubble, but it's on cooldown. Besides, baby poop breaks through Divine Shield. It works better than Shattering Throw, too, with better sound effects.

Two weeks ago, Blizzard unveiled their plan in Cataclysm to overhaul the badge system of acquiring gear and instead move it to a point system similar to the one used in arenas and battlegrounds. This change, which applies to both PvE and PvP gear, is significant and goes a long way into validating the PvP method of gear acquisition. Not long ago, Blizzard also adapted the system used by battlegrounds to create the dungeon finder, another example of how systems used in the PvP aspect of the game have improved PvE. It should be clear by now that PvP is an inextricably linked aspect of the World of Warcraft and has only served to improve the overall game experience. Even if you don't PvP, the game you enjoy has been influenced by all the things Blizzard has learned from their experience in designing for PvP.

Throughout the history of the game, the developers have tried hard to balance the rewards granted by the PvP and PvE aspects. In vanilla WoW, PvP and PvE item sets were completely different in both design and acquisition. In Burning Crusade, Blizzard stumbled somewhat by making PvP item sets that were mere recolors of PvE gear and were arguably a step behind in terms of acquisition -- the newest arena sets were knockoffs of older raid sets. Wrath of the Lich King provided what has been the best approach thus far by making gear acquisition in both PvP and PvE as parallel as possible. The return to an iterative design philosophy for PvP gear was laudable, as was the expanded method of acquiring gear. Ultimately, though, it might have been overwhelming to have the same gear accessible through too many avenues -- honor, arena points, honor and arena points, badges, boss drops -- which is why the proposed streamlining through a point system makes perfect sense.

One of the most glaring flaws in the current PvP gear system is access to weapons. Currently, access to PvP weapons is restricted to arena players, and the very best weapons have a prohibitive rating. This means that players who don't venture in arenas -- let alone succeed in them -- have no choice but to obtain weapons through other means. This usually entails raiding, farming dungeons or, at worst, crafting. On the other hand, players who don't PvP can obtain every single piece of equipment in the PvE environment, even lower grade weapons. That all changes in Cataclysm, when weapons will be obtainable even without arena ratings. The actual blue post states:

Cataclysm Badge and PvP Point Changes

* Honor Points -- Low-tier, easier-to-get PVP points. There will be a maximum cap to how many you can own, but no cap to how quickly you can earn them. Earned from most PvP activities.
* Conquest Points -- High-tier, harder-to-get PvP points. There will be a maximum cap to how many you can own, and a cap to how many you can earn per week. Earned from winning Rated Battlegrounds or Arenas. (currently called Arena Points)

Right now, PvP players have honor points and arena points. Honor is accumulated through the battlegrounds and world PvP and can be used to purchase gear from previous arena seasons. It's basically outdated PvP gear -- item sets available purely for honor are two seasons behind (or items that have gone "on sale," according to Blizzard). Battleground play fell out of favor when arenas were introduced in Burning Crusade. Blizzard has mentioned that they're bringing the focus back to battlegrounds and these moves will now bring them up to par with arena play.

Honor points are likely to function in the same manner as they do now, obtainable through casual battleground play, honorable kills and quests in world PvP zones. You can grind for these as hard as you want, but there'll be a limit similar to the 75,000 honor cap currently in the game. Conquest points function similar to the way arena points work in the game now and can be earned from rated battlegrounds and arena matches. According to developers, the points will be awarded in real time, so there's instant gratification as opposed to the old method of having to wait for every maintenance period. The game has been moving in that direction for some time now; even honor used to be awarded on a weekly basis in the beginning.

My guess would be that honor points can be used to purchase trinkets and other non-set items such as bracers or capes (and later, older PvP item sets), very similar to the current system. Conquest points are reserved for set items and weapons, similar to how arena points are now used to purchase the current arena season's gear. The main difference is that none of these items will require a personal or team rating to purchase, which levels the playing field in a big way.

We're removing personal rating requirements on almost all items; they're definitely removed for weapons. We might offer a few items to the absolute best players based on personal rating, largely as cosmetic or 'bragging rights' type items.

This is a dynamic change that's certain to be as divisive as the move towards more accessible raids as Wrath progressed. In the long run, it can only be good for the game, as gear no longer becomes a differentiating factor in PvP encounters. If all players have access to the same gear, it will come down to a matter of skill. Good players will continue to shine and bad players will continue to suck. The level playing field only makes for more interesting and balanced battles. It's a daring move and something the game has needed for a long time. The only difference will be the rate at which players can acquire gear.

Access to PvP weapons, even lower-tier ones, is sorely needed, and its omission from the current system diminishes the PvP experience for a lot of people. Currently, PvP weapons are only available during the current season for arena points and require personal and team ratings. When the season ends, these weapons cease to become available through any means. The system demands that players participate in arenas and perform reasonably well in order to obtain weapons. In Cataclysm, hardcore or highly skilled PvP players will still have access to special (if cosmetic) gear. Stats won't matter -- players at high levels of play should arguably welcome better competition.

It's great news, but Blizzard isn't stopping there. They're further blurring the lines between PvE and PvP gear by allowing some form of point exchange. Bornakk writes:

We do plan to have a way to convert Honor points (PvP) into Hero points (PvE), and vice versa, at a loss. The conversions will be possible, but it won't be a 1:1 rate, and you'll have fewer points after the conversion process. We won't allow the higher tiers to be exchanged for each other, however.

That's huge. This impacts introductory play for those interested in trying out one or the aspect of the game. A player focused on PvE who suddenly wants to do some PvP typically needs to grind out battlegrounds and arenas in order to be geared for PvP. Any player will tell you that this can be a painful process and can make the experience frustrating for beginning players. Under the new system in Cataclysm, players can grind dungeons and raids and opt to convert leftover hero points into honor and purchase PvP gear without ever having stepped into a battleground. This means that players who will PvP for the first time actually have the option of gearing up first, ensuring that they'll have the proper gear.

This system actually exists in the game now as older arena item sets are available from vendors in exchange for badges and emblems obtained through dungeons, but a point conversion system allows greater freedom in purchases. Whatever will be available for honor in Cataclysm can be purchased, not just old item sets. Conversely, there will finally be a way for PvP enthusiasts to get starter raid gear. In the uncommon situations where players level almost exclusively through PvP, the conversion system allows these players to obtain PvE items and avoid total ridicule under the new GearScore paradigm.

I've always been of the opinion that the PvP gear system is superior to the drops in raids. Purchasing gear with points eliminated the random element from gearing up and allowed players to plan their upgrade path better. Some would argue that it takes some fun out of it, but I've always liked the idea of earning one's gear through hard work instead of luck. To a degree, raids have been moving in that direction throughout Wrath with the token system, and it would seem that in Cataclysm, the PvE gear system will mirror the way it's been done for PvP for a long time.

The honor and conquest (or hero and valor) point system is an extremely positive step towards bringing both the PvE and PvP aspects of the game closer together. There will be less of a disparity between the two as far as gear is concerned. As has been done in Wrath, new PvP seasons will likely coincide with new raid releases, allowing PvP and PvE gear sets to keep abreast of each other.

Raid bosses are still going to drop random loot, so I'm not certain how this will mesh with the PvE point system. The likely scenario is that raid bosses and vendors will have separate loot available, allowing players to work on their gear progression through hero and valor points while maintaining some thrill and rounding out item slots with raid drops. Interestingly, the developers also mentioned off-hand during BlizzCon that the battlegrounds will have a similar random drop at the end of a match. While no details have been released, it's interesting to speculate on what loot will be available through that system. If that plan pushes through, it will be one of the few examples where a PvE game system has crept into PvP.

In a loot-driven environment, the means by which players acquire gear is immensely important. With a point system, players can already look forward to certain items, plan their purchases, as well as figure out how much currency they need to grind. PvE players who have never dabbled in PvP will benefit from an efficient and practical loot system. It will be awesome. You're welcome.

Zach delivers your weekly dose of battlegrounds and world PvP in one crazy column. Read about how to fight death knights, druids, hunters, mages, paladins, priests, rogues, shamans, warlocks and warriors. You can also read about Zach's thoughts on the upcoming Cataclysm changes and how they'll affect PvP.

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