Wintergrasp has been a bit of a frequent topic here of late. Wintergrasp has taken up the mantle that Alterace Valley held in the previous expansion - a siege PVP event combined with substantial incentives for players who might not like more traditional PVP to participate. Incentives drive player behavior, even when they're very incentive-focused (like myself) - as I've written, a fair chunk of my gaming priorities in WoW at the moment hinge around which faction possesses the Wintergrasp Keep at the moment. That makes it an interesting case study for player incentives.
Also, like AV before it, Wintergrasp has been the subject of some direct developer intervention to try and level the playing field. This was an issue because the battlefield strongly favored the faction attacking the keep prior to patch 3.0.8 - I even started a poll asking whether the keep was defensible during peak hours. The voting in the poll started out with most participants agreeing that the keep could NOT be defended (by a 2:1 ratio), but the numbers have improved to 60/40 with an increasing number of people responding that the keep CAN be defended after the patch. (The poll is still up in the sidebar if you're reading this on my actual blog, I'll leave it until I come up with something else I'd like to fill the space with.)
The Patch 3.0.8 Changes
Judging from the patch notes when 3.0.8 hit the test realms, it appeared that the changes would favor the offense even more strongly than the old system did. The final door to the fortress keep was weakened, the orb that actually grants control of the keep became instantly captureable, and the vehicles that attackers require in order to break down the walls became slightly more durable. In my view at the time, this substantially outweighed increased hit points for the exterior keep walls.
What Blizzard did NOT mention in the patch notes, a fact that also did not get coverage on the news sites I read, was a new mechanic involving the zone's Southern towers. There are three towers on the south end of the map, controlled by the attacking faction, which awarded some bonus honor points depending on whether or not they remained standing to the end of the match, but were irrelevant to the outcome of the actual match.
(There are also a pair of destroyable vehicle workshops in the south that the offense can use to build vehicles. In my experience, though, these workshops are tactically irrelevant since any offense that cannot hold at least one of the two midfield workshops is getting so badly pummeled that being able to spawn vehicles on the wrong side of the map isn't really going to help them.)
Now, the towers provide a damage buff - 5% for each tower left standing to the offense (up to 15%) and 5% for each tower destroyed for the defense (i.e. the defenders steal 5% of the bonus with each tower demolished). There is also a daily quest for defenders to be present for the destruction of one of the southern towers, and, most significantly, destruction of all three towers now removes 10 minutes from the game clock. This does not guarantee a defensive win - it remains possible for an organized group to plow through the keep walls in under 10 minutes - but it is substantially easier to hold the keep for 20 minutes than 30.
Effects on the battle
There are a few caveats here.
- First off, a defensive effort where someone is free to drive off down south with some tanks is already in somewhat decent shape - an overwhelming offense will still overwhelm. In fact, the easiest way to get at the southern towers is to, at least temporarily, seize the midfield siege workshops, and this alone will slow the offense.
- Second, the incentives are not overwhelmingly large. Players need to obtain 15 kills of players or NPC's to even get access to tanks, which means diving into the action with everyone else. Moreover, a player who is down south is not soaking up honorable kills and quest credit in the melee at the keep walls, so the players who choose to go attack the southern towers are actively sacrificing their personal gain for the good of the team. (I will only go make the attempt once I have completed the other dailies, which is often too late to affect the match.)
- Third, destruction of the towers also requires some teamwork. A single tank will take a long time to finish the job, especially if the driver has to hop out to kill NPC guards. Meanwhile, there are zone-wide notices that happen when towers are attacked (the tower is "damaged" with most of its health remaining), or destroyed, and someone from the attacking team will probably show up to defend at least the final tower.
These points aside, this new tower mechanic provides the defense something concrete to strive for beyond "kill stuff for 30 minutes straight", and is a limited first step towards incentives to spread out from the lag-inducing keep battle. I'd like to see more value added to these and other locations, as the main fight remains very crowded, but the towers are better than nothing.
Another asymmetric map?
I've speculated that Blizzard has pushed Alterac Valley to the wayside - it's not included in the quest to exchange one of each battleground mark of honor for honor points - because they finally gave up on trying to balance its asymmetric map. As a result, I would not have expected them to repeat that mistake.
However, one major strategy that has emerged in Wintergrasp is to hit the northwest corner of the fortress wall. This method is effective partially because it is out of sight (i.e. players expect the fighting to be front and center) and partially because the defender's graveyard is situated such that defenders must ride all the way around the keep to get back to the northwest corner of the fortress (the ramp down from the graveyard runs behind the keep and lets out in the northeast).
The minor asymmetric quirk here is that the easiest way to hit this point is to spawn vehicles at the western vehicle workshop. Though either side can hold that workshop - and most competent offenses will hold both of the two midfield shops - the west shop is closer to the Horde's zone-in point on offense. I don't know that this alone is enough to swing matches - the attackers still need to go and get their 15 kills before they can pilot a tank, by which point a good offense will have the shop anyway. Then again, there's no particular reason why the graveyard in the fortress can't be behind the fortress' center with ramps down to either side, and doing so in this case (unlike AV) would not require massive rebalancing to the entire zone map. Why leave in an imbalance where there does not need to be one?
The state of the siege
Overall, Wintergrasp is much more competitive than it used to be, and I'm more willing to show up for defensive battles as a result. I still think the map favors the offense, but it's no longer an unbeatable advantage, and that's a big improvement.