ANAHEIM, Calif.--Day two of BlizzCon is in full swing, and judging by the length of the line to get in this morning, there are even more attendees here than there were yesterday. Most of them seemed to find their way into today's first panel discussion in the main hall, which focused on World of Warcraft's player-versus-player content.
When the Wrath of the Lich King expansion pack is released a little over a month from now, it'll bring with it a number of new PVP features, including two new arenas, at least one new battleground, and a new objective-based PVP zone. We had a chance to see all of these demoed on a beta server today, while members of the design team discussed some of the locales' unique features.
First up was an arena located inside the Horde city of Orgrimmar named The Ring of Valor. Evidently the design team at Blizzard has gone to great lengths to make sure that the new arenas feel very different from existing ones, because this one brings a number of new features to the table. For one thing, when you enter the arena on platforms that raise up out of the floor, you'll be right next to the opposing team rather than across the arena from it. You'll also be flanked on both sides by dynamic fire hazards--vents in the floor that run all the way across the arena and spew flames at regular intervals. If the flames hit you, you'll take damage for the next 10 seconds or so, so you'll have to decide if running through them to reach or escape from an enemy is really worthwhile. Furthermore, there are four square pillars in the arena that rise up out of the ground and sink back down again pretty regularly--these can interfere with your line of sight for ranged attacks and heals, and if you're playing a class with ranged attacks, they can make for excellent (though temporary) vantage points.
The second arena being introduced in Wrath of the Lich King is Dalaran Sewers, which, as its name suggests, is situated beneath the new central city of Dalaran. This arena will be one of the smallest in the game and takes place in a circular room with a raised platform in the middle that can be reached only via one of two sets of steps. The starting areas are at opposite sides of the arena and take the form of large pipes a few feet from the floor that water is flushed through every now and then to prevent players from camping out in them. Water also falls down into the center of the arena at regular intervals, creating a dynamic line-of-sight obstruction and knocking back any players who are too close to it. Because this arena is small, you won't be able to use mounts in it.
Next up was a look at the new Strand of the Ancients battleground, which, even more than the aforementioned arenas, is going to bring a lot of new features to the game. For starters, the battleground employs an attack-and-defend mechanic, meaning that at the start of each match the two teams are tasked with attacking and defending an objective, respectively. The objective on this occasion is a large temple behind several large walls and with plenty of destructible gun emplacements for defenders to use. The attacking force will find itself in a situation reminiscent of the Normandy landings in World War II--arriving in boats and having to push forward up an exposed beach--albeit with plenty of siege weapons at their disposal.
The siege weapons are used primarily to destroy the walls surrounding the temple, but they also have the range and the firepower necessary to target defensive gun emplacements and the like. If you end up on the attacking side without a siege weapon to call your own, you'll find that mines on the beach can be picked up, armed, and dropped near the walls to cause damage comparable to that of the siege weapons. There are different routes that you can take through the network of walls to get to the objective, and the walls are color-coded so that it's easy for you to give instructions to teammates about where they should be concentrating their efforts. Strand of the Ancients was originally designed for two teams of 10 players, but after beta testing, the decision has been made to raise the number of players on each team to 15. When the attacking side manages to capture the objective, the two teams change sides and the new attacking force has a time limit (the time achieved by the first team) in which to achieve the same goal.
Last but definitely not least on the list of demos for the WOW PVP presentation was Wintergrasp, an entire noninstanced zone designed specifically for objective-based PVP on a large scale. The attack-and-defend setup is similar to that in the Strands of the Ancients battleground, but some pretty unique gameplay mechanics will come into play as soon as you set foot in the zone. For example, every honorable kill that you score will count toward your PVP rank for the zone (which resets every time the zone does), and this in turn will determine which siege weapons you have access to when attempting to take control of the fortress objective. Furthermore, since the zone will conceivably have hundreds of players in it at any one time--which increases the odds that one faction or the other will be hopelessly outnumbered--a "tenacity" buff will automatically be given to players on the side that's lacking numbers. The specifics of the buff are still being finalized, but it'll be scalable according to just how massive the gulf between the two factions is, and it'll afford players on the smaller team a boost to both their armor and their damage output.
The incentives for capturing the fortress will be numerous, since doing so awards the winning faction control of the entire zone for around two and a half hours. During this time, that faction will have exclusive access to a number of daily quests, to a portal between the zone and Dalaran, and to currency drops from creatures that can be used to purchase gear, mounts, gems, and other goodies. The icing on the cake will be a raid instance containing a boss that drops both player-versus-environment and player-versus-player loot that can be accessed only from within the fortress by the faction that controls it.
Toward the end of the session, talk shifted away from features that will be introduced with the Wrath of the Lich King launch to ideas that are under consideration for future updates. Methods for measuring each and every player's contribution in PVP settings will hopefully cut down on the number of players leeching rewards by entering battlegrounds and then going AFK (away from keyboard). As in Warhammer Online, you'll be able to queue up for battlegrounds from anywhere so that you don't have to spend all of your time waiting around in cities. And, also as in Warhammer Online, you might be able to gain experience while in battlegrounds rather than exclusively from PVE content.
There are big changes coming for PVP, and while not all of them are eligible to win a prize for originality, they promise to breathe new life into the game, and, crucially, they were met with huge applause when they were mentioned during today's session. Next up, the dungeons and raids panel.