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The Art of War(craft): Tol Barad field report from the beta

Zach Yonzon

Zach, who writes the weekly PvP column The Art of War(craft), is having the time of his life in the Cataclysm beta now that they've enabled testing of the new battlegrounds. He logs out in Tol Barad and is constantly in queue for Twin Peaks and the Battle for Gilneas. Now if only those other battlegrounds would actually open up for a game or two ...

The latest beta patch had a lot of goodies from the obvious, such as new talents, to the subtle, like changed items. The most interesting news for me, of course, was that Twin Peaks and Tol Barad are finally open for testing. I didn't have much luck getting into a Twin Peaks game even after hours of being in queue, but I did manage to get more than my fair share of Tol Barad battles. Granted, it was far from massive -- neither side barely managed more than two parties, let alone a full raid -- but it was easy enough to learn how everything works.

Today we'll dive right into Tol Barad, from the landscape to the gameplay to other random notes about the new world PvP zone. The isles of Tol Barad's actual geographical location is a bit curious at the moment. From the games panel at last year's BlizzCon, the developers showed a map where Tol Barad was in a body of water west of Khaz Modan, south of the Hillsbrad Foothills and east of Gilneas. The current Cataclysm beta map isn't the same, although there are two small islands west of Gilneas and north of Vashj'ir that could represent Tol Barad. There is currently no physical means to go to or leave Tol Barad -- players must enter by queuing for the battle and leave through other means such as a hearthstone. The zone currently does not permit flight, even between battles.

Gallery: Cataclysm Beta: Tol Barad | 36 Photos

The southern island of Tol Barad is where the battle occurs. Each battle has a 30-minute timer and occurs every hour, although I have seen instances in the beta where battles happen as close as 15 minutes from each other. There are three buildings that can be captured and three towers that can be destroyed. Attacking forces must capture all three buildings and hold them for a certain period of time (although in the beta, merely capturing the third tower ends the battle immediately), and destroying the towers adds several minutes to the timer.

The three buildings are the Ironclad Garrison to the north, the Slagworks to the southeast and Warden's Vigil to the southwest. Buildings can be captured through proximity and numbers, similar to the towers in Eye of the Storm, with the slider moving very quickly from the control of one faction to being contested. It takes about 20 seconds, or four ticks of roughly 5 seconds, to move the slider from fully controlled (one end of the bar) to contested (gray area). It will take somewhere over 1 minute to then take control of the building, while the indicator's moving end to end would take roughly 2 minutes.

As mentioned, buildings are captured through proximity and numbers -- so if the Alliance and Horde have equal numbers, the slider will not move. However, if one side has even just one more player over the other, the slider will move control toward the faction with higher numbers. The progress appears to be constant, although I haven't experienced enough numbers on the beta realms to be absolutely certain. From what I've seen, the slider moves at a constant rate regardless of how much one faction outnumbers the other.

It goes without saying that it's important to take down enemy players to whittle down their numbers. Fortunately for the attackers, there's an attacker-friendly graveyard right beside the building. Defenders resurrect in Baradin Hold, at the center of the map, roughly 30 seconds away from any building flag on an epic land mount. The distance favors the attacking forces slightly, and defenders will find themselves losing more and more players even against evenly matched opponents. Once attackers wrest control of all three buildings, the game ends immediately and control is ceded to them. If defenders successfully prevent the attackers from doing this for 30 minutes (or more -- more on that in a bit), control of Tol Barad remains with the defending faction.

There are also three towers -- the South Spire, the East Spire and the West Spire. Destroying these towers will add to the timer, extending the time needed for attackers to capture a building. These towers can be destroyed by siege vehicles found near the buildings, and it currently takes a mere one honorable kill during the battle to gain access to these Flame Leviathan miniatures, similar to ranking up in Wintergrasp. There's one interesting twist to these vehicles, however. These siege tanks are remote controlled ... players don't necessarily have to pilot them for them to go off and destroy towers. They can be sent like drones to the target, and they'll automatically cozy up against the nearest tower and start firing at it. Players can pilot them if they want to, though. These vehicles count as level 85 elite units, and a new one respawns shortly after one is destroyed.

That's pretty much it. The mechanics are pretty simple, and it'll take about one game of running around like a headless chicken trying to figure out the map before players understand the battleground. Blizzard learned its lesson this time around and wisely spread out the areas of conflict, which should prevent the lag and world-breaking chaos that Wintergrasp wrought on Northrend. Because three areas need to be controlled and another three areas defended, there are basically six hot spots where players are likely to amass. Due to low numbers in the beta, there's no way to stress test the zone, but like Wintergrasp, there's a player limit to Tol Barad enforced through the queue system, so it's unlikely to be a problem.

The map also seems to encourage a lot of moving around. When a building is under siege, the zone alerts all players and gives them the option to head to the area of conflict. Attackers begin the game at the South Spire, while defenders start atop the tower in Baradin Hold. The raised area effectively prevents kill farming by a superior attacking force but also leaves defenders very few options. Defenders gain a Slow Fall buff for a few seconds after resurrecting to allow them to jump down without taking any damage.

Once the battle ends and Tol Barad is controlled, players can presumably head to the northern peninsula, which is slated to be a daily quest hub for Cataclysm. There are Horde and Alliance encampments on the island, so it's unclear whether either side can undertake or complete quests while the island is controlled by the opposing faction. There are no faction NPCs in this current beta build, although there are level 85 mobs populating the island, comprised mostly of undead, spiders and humanoids. Currently on the PvE beta server, players become unflagged for PvP in the peninsula once the battle is over, although Zarhym has noted that the plan is to keep Tol Barad a PvP zone at all times (the northern peninsula might function differently from the southern combat area, however). MMO Champion also showed some items tagged as Tol Barad rewards, although curiously, none of them appear to be PvP items.

It doesn't appear that gameplay will change much until Cataclysm launches, other than perhaps a few tweaks to timers or adjustments to towers or siege tank health values. It looks like fun for now, but it should be even more amazing with full raids. We'll see if the developers add more to the world PvP zone in coming builds, and as always, we'll be in the thick of battle to bring you intel from the field. Now if you'll excuse me, I believe another battle is coming up in 6 minutes and 26 seconds.

Zach delivers your weekly dose of battlegrounds and world PvP in one crazy column. He's written a primer on how the new talent tree redesign affects PvP, how sub-speccing will work at higher levels, and how the new Azeroth will affect world PvP. He even gets excited about low-level PvP in the expansion! Last week, Zach rambled on about random things in Cataclysm PvP.

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