Massively multiplayer games continue to let players create a persistent character, then explore an online world and fights hordes of monsters to gain fabulous treasures and more power through experience levels. Fans everywhere continue to anxiously await the release of World of Warcraft, Blizzard Entertainment's upcoming massively multiplayer game that will take place in the Warcraft fantasy universe made famous by the studio's blockbuster strategy games. We've been following the progress of World of Warcraft for some time--the game is currently in a beta test state--and Blizzard has recently added "PvP" (or player-versus-player) combat that lets you take on the wiliest prey of all: other players. Join us for an early look at player-versus-player battles and an overall update on the game, but be advised that the following is a report from an early version of the game, so the details are all subject to change.
For instance, Blizzard has PvP combat implemented in a very simple manner that will likely change--race wars. Specifically, World of Warcraft's eight-player races are separated into two main groups: the Horde (which consists of orcs, trolls, tauren, and undead) and the Alliance (which consists of humans, night elves, dwarves, and gnomes), and characters from opposing races can opt to fight each other. Currently, World of Warcraft uses a "PvP flag" that indicates whether or not your character can attack and be attacked by other player characters. PvP has also introduced a new concept of "contested zones"--now every zone in the game is in one of three states: friendly, enemy, or contested. A friendly area, indicated with green text, is one in which you can't attack, or be attacked by, other players. An enemy area, indicated with red text, is one that belongs to an enemy race; while you're in enemy territory, you're fair game for anyone of an enemy race, and you can't attack the enemy unless the enemy attacks you first. A contested area is one that's under attack by enemy players, and you'll be open to attack depending on certain conditions. (Blizzard has actually launched a "race war" test server with different rules for contested areas to help test out race-versus-race battles.) Currently, whenever characters from an opposing race begin to attack an area, you'll receive an update in your chat window that states that the area is under attack.
Player-versus-player combat currently works much like regular combat versus monsters--you can use all normal attacks, and magic spells have much the same effect as they do on monsters. However, like with the player-versus-player combat in other games, you have to watch out for other concerns, like extremely powerful guards of the opposing race that patrol certain areas in search of wandering enemies. As a result, many players have organized group raids into enemy territory to take down the powerful guards (for reference, the highest experience levels that beta players can attain at this time is currently level 45 while some guards are level 70 and above). While this has been decent for keeping mostly populated areas safe, some expanses of wilderness lack guards, which, depending on whether you're playing on the race war server, and whether you've recently fought a PvP battle, can make traveling on the open road in contested zones dangerous. Blizzard is still testing exactly how "dangerous" it wants these areas to be for travelers, just as the studio is tweaking the actual combat mechanics.
As you might expect from an early test version of a game that is months away from release, player-versus-player battles aren't anywhere near being perfectly balanced right now. We've seen numerous lopsided encounters where large groups of players have ganged up on individuals, and even a few areas in which high-level players have crept into areas where new characters of enemy races begin their adventures. While these high-level assassins (some players might refer to these high-level sneaks by creatively removing a few letters from the word "assassins") can't actually attack low-level characters unless they themselves consent to PvP first, we've seen instances where players have done abusive things, like kill off important trainers or quest-givers, which leaves some low-level players out of luck until these key NPCs respawn. Amusingly, Blizzard has implemented protection against this sort of activity whereby important NPCs will spawn high-level guards when they come under attack.
The trainable "tracking" skill, which lets players sniff out friends and foes alike on the game's mini-map display, helps somewhat against this kind of stealth tactic, though this ability currently can't detect hidden rogues (which can turn invisible to their enemies if their stealth skill is high enough). Regardless, these PvP encounters, both honorable and less than honorable, do not in any way, shape, or form, represent the final game--rather, they're a good indication that some online RPG players can wind up doing just about anything, including things that are irksome or even infuriating to other players. Fortunately, Blizzard's vigilant development team remains open to all suggestions and reports on these exploits from its many vocal testers, so we expect that this and other issues will be addressed before the game finally launches (though the studio has yet to address the question of exactly when the game will launch).
In other news, Blizzard has added a few new features to World of Warcraft since we saw it last, and it has also adjusted the controversial "rest" system. One new feature is the introductory movie for new characters--each time you create a new character, you'll be treated to a brief real-time cinematic sequence that shows several views of your character's homeland (complete with other players running around in it) accompanied by a narrative that explains your race's origins and its motivations. Players can also use the new mail system to send messages to each other, even when their friends aren't online, by using mailboxes located near inns. Packages can also be sent through the mail using a cash-on-delivery system that should help would-be merchants peddle their wares with greater ease.
More importantly for many players, Blizzard has tweaked the "rest" system, which previously awarded your character bonus experience points for being "well-rested" (that is, having rested for some time at an inn or not having played for a while) and actually penalized characters who fought battles continuously with a fatigue penalty that caused them to gain less experience points as a result. In the current version of the game, characters now have only three rest states: rested, normal, and tired. When tired, players will gain the base level of experience while normal characters gain a 150-percent bonus and rested players gain a 200-percent bonus; in addition, Blizzard has now added the ability to let players rest anywhere (as opposed to only using an inn) with only a slight penalty. It should again be noted that the rest system, like many of World of Warcraft's features, is still being tested and balanced, and it may change radically (or not at all) between now and when the game launches. Exactly when the game will launch remains unclear, but Blizzard still aims to release World of Warcraft later this year. For more information on the game, including our repository of previews, video, and screenshots, consult our previous coverage of the game.