Keen, a noted advocate of world RVR in Warhammer, came here to ask me whether I thought Lake Wintergrasp, WoW's non-instanced battleground, will add to the longevity of Wrath. I was meaning to write about this topic anyway, so I'm going to take the risk of speculating about it now. The issue from my perspective is one of incentives. In Warhammer, as Keen points out, the infrastructure for a healthy culture of frequent keep sieges is in place in the game and was there through beta, but players have opted not to use it. What will the incentives do to Lake Wintergrasp?
- The side that wins Wintergrasp gets a buff that awards a 5% exp bonus to the entire continent of Northrend, and the ability to loot [Stone Keeper's Shard] from any dungeon boss in Northrend (more on this later).
- The winning side gets to fight Archavon the Stone Keeper, an easy raid mob who drops tier 7 (the current raid/arena quality loot) gear. This includes the arena gear, which, unless it's changed, is a major difference because that gear otherwise requires an arena rating to obtain.
- The winners get to see special elemental ghosts in Wintergrasp (remember that you will be PVP flagged in the zone), who are good for Crystalized elements, Wrath's version of motes. These things should sell very well.
- The [Stone Keeper's Shard] is ALSO available from daily quests in Wintergrasp to kill enemy players - if I understand the system correctly, this means that the LOSING side can also get some of these. The rewards for these shards include PVP shoulder enchants, meta gems, a mount, a large number of Jewelcrafter recipes, and the coveted scaling, bind-to-account Heirloom items. Note that the vendor that takes them is only accessible to the side that wins, so your side will need to win eventually for you to spend your earnings.
Lake Wintergrasp is non-instanced and comes up for siege on a fixed time schedule, kind of like the Auchidoun ruins in Outland (home of last expansion's Spirit Shards). There are announcements about the battle in Dalaran, and there is a portal (I'm not sure if it's just for one side or both), as well as a relatively short flight from the city to the battle. The side that is outnumbered supposedly gets a buff to their health/damage numbers to try to even the odds a bit - at Blizzcon, it was suggested that the losing side can get to 300%, which could mean one-shotting unsuspecting enemies if they're not geared for PVP durability. I don't think anyone has much experience with this buff system, but it certainly sounds amusing in principle. There was also talk that the keep would get harder to hold somehow the longer one side owns it, so that may be a second equalizing force.
It is worth nothing that, unlike WoW's previous world PVP offerings, Wintergrasp is actually set up with a lot of new toys to play with, including siege vehicles. That novelty factor alone will probably convince many players to pay the place a visit at least once, but I don't think novelty alone will hold a playerbase. For example, take a look at the population in battlegrounds BEFORE the decision to offer arena epics for battleground honor was announced and the massively larger population afterwards. The novelty definitely counts for something more than what we had in Outland, but I think that Wintergrasp will stand or fall on its incentives, rather than the underlying game mechanics.
Weighing the incentives
In the long run, I don't think either the exp bonus or the elementals will sway things too much. Exp is a short term consideration, and the area is PVP flagged, so it is likely not to be a safe place for farming. So we're basically weighing the rewards for the raid content and the shards.
The raid is supposedly very easy, especially for the quality of loot it drops. If the raid can be completed by a pick up group, that could be a big draw, especially since the arena quality gear would otherwise require playing arena matches for points and rating. The boss also supposedly drops some of the PVE raid loot, but I don't expect this to make a major swing in the balance of population - Blizzard is doing a better job these days of making sure that PVP and PVE items are specialized for their specific niche in the game. The big X-factor I haven't heard anything about is how this thing will progress when the next raid/arena season begins. If the boss's loot table doesn't get an upgrade, this content would become relatively irrelevant. If the boss's loot table does improve, this raid could become very popular, especially since it is short and could be done by guilds before or after other content.
As to the shards, the soulbound rewards are not going to drive longterm involvement in the zone, but the heirloom rewards could be another story. PVP twinks will now absolutely want at least three pieces of this gear - shoulders, weapon, and PVP trinket. (This will probably have the unfortunate side effect of making low level battlegrounds even more unplayable for non-twinked alts who just want to do a little fighting as they level - exp from RVR is a key feature of Warhammer that allows players to participate in level-bracketed scenarios as they level). There is also some degree of incentive value for alt-o-holics, as this gear can be used for leveling your alts (indeed, the shoulder armor offers an exp bonus). There are other heirloom items to be had for the badges that come from Heroic Dungeons (and 10-man raids, if I have my emblem levels right), but players who are actually doing that content will probably be spending their badges on their mains for the forseeable future.
(The shards can also be converted into straight up honor, and the item in question is also account bound, meaning that you can ship honor from your PVP main to your alts.)
The Bottom Line?
The raid boss is an interesting touch, and might well encourage 1-2 major fights in Wintergrasp per day, to decide control of the dungeon during prime raiding hours. If he does get upgraded loot with each raid content patch/arena season, expect an especially fierce battle around those times. That said, I suspect that serious guilds are NOT going to schedule their raiding hours around spending X time locking down Wintergrasp before they begin, which means that most players who do the raids will probably be flying into the zone after their regular scheduled event if the zone happens to be in their faction's control.
If I'm right, we're mainly looking at the heirloom item market for twinks to drive use of Wintergrasp. The good news is that this content WILL get used - heck, people still fight over the arena drop in Stranglethorn - and the people using it will be players who actually care about PVP (i.e. probably moreso than the general WoW population). I expect this to result in a healthy battle, again, during the two windows per day that fall on peak hours, and perhaps a smaller scale skirmish during off-hours. There might be room for a medium sized PVP guild from whichever side is usually outnumbered on the server to swoop in during one of the off-hour windows and crush the straggling competition.
Will this be fun? I hope so. Will the content be used from now until the newer, better version of heirlooms rolls out in the next expansion? Yes, and perhaps even beyond (people love their twinks). Will the content replace the concept of keep siege warfare that RVR advocates in Warhammer were hoping their game would deliver? I'd like to be wrong, but, based on past experience with WoW's playerbase, I don't expect that it will.