Wintergrasp has always been a fascinating case study for incentives driving player activity, and the new patch does not disappoint. What has 3.1 brought to the zone?
No vehicles, not for you
Back in December, I wrote that the game needed incentives to make it worthwhile for players to hold other locations during the Wintergrasp siege. Without such incentives, players swarm into the non-instanced keep and destroy either their machines, the server, or both. Before the PTR's, Blizzard made a comment acknowledging that the revamped Southern towers weren't doing enough to ease the crowding at the keep, since the win-or-lose objective of the battle is, in fact, the one central keep door, and most of the zone's incentives value being present for fighting.
In response, Blizzard rolled out a change in the new patch. The two seige vehicle workshops in the south of the map could previously be destroyed (preventing the attackers from building vehicles there - which they would not want to do in any event due to the time it would take to drive to the keep from there), but could not be captured. This meant that the attackers would always have access to 8-16 vehicles, depending on ownership of the midfield shops. In patch 3.1, this was changed so that the defenders could capture, rather than simply destroy, the south workshops.
Hm, what from my proposal is missing from this change?
Oh, right, any incentive for the attacking forces to take players away from the battle at the keep to go stand aimlessly at one of the southern workshops, hoping that someone comes to attack but does not bring overwhelming numbers with them.
The defending side now has significant incentive to attack the southern shops. Owning the shops will make it easier to destroy the towers, removing the attackers' damage buff (adding it to the defenders' side) and 10 minutes from the 30 minute timer for the assault. (Destroying the towers is also substantially quicker now that the defenders don't need to drive all the way across the map in a slow vehicle that is destroyed by water.) With the new change, capturing an un-defended shop, which a single player can do, will take four vehicles off of the attackers' vehicle cap. Doing all of these things makes it highly likely that the defense of the keep will be successful.
Of course, PUG's tend to be motivated by personal incentives, rather than team incentives. The only thing better than winning the battle is winning the battle because other people did the strategically necessary stuff while you farmed kills for extra honor at midfield. This area is where the changes get especially lopsided.
Any defenders going after the south objectives can now get both their battlefield rank (necessary for participation rewards and the ability to drive a vehicle) and their daily quest kills off of the NPC guards. They also get the previously implemented daily quest reward for being alive and present for the destruction of a tower (hope no one picks you off at the last minute before your teammates destroy it). Defenders who still have the attackers' daily quest for being present when vehicles destroy stuff in their quest logs from a previous battle can complete that quest down south at the towers. If anyone from the offense shows up in vehicles, the defenders would be able to complete their own daily to destroy enemy vehicles instead.
By contrast, any attackers who choose to try and hold these objectives won't even get credit for being in the battle at all unless they find 15 players and/or NPC's to kill first, as there are no eligible NPC's in that part of the map. They won't get credit for the daily kill quest (though you are now permitted to do this by grinding NPC's when there isn't a battle on). There are no buildings to destroy, so there is no way to complete the attackers' vehicle quest; attackers with the defenders' quest in their logs can only complete it if someone shows up with vehicles but not in sufficient numbers to overrun any defense. On top of all of that lack of personal incentives, defending the south is only doing the attackers side any good in the battle if they are attacked by a defeatable number of defenders.
It's a perfect recipe for entire PUG offense to complain in /raid chat about why someone else other than them isn't forsaking all of the zone's rewards in a likely fruitless effort to defend the south. Oh well, I guess the battle was still slanted a bit in favor of the attackers previously anyway, and at least the achievement for killing players in every corner of the zone should be easier to obtain now.
Emalon First Or Last?
The Vault of Archavon also got a new boss, who drops Ulduar quality loot, but is substantially harder than his stone cousin the loot pinata.
Over time, Emalon is likely to become easier to defeat. At the moment, though, he is very challenging, mainly because the raid will have a mere 20 seconds after a raid warning to identify A) that an add has been overcharged, B) which of the four adds has been overcharged, C) switch to the overcharged add (which requires movement for the melee), and D) remove the add's 700K HP before it explodes at the end of the 20 seconds and wipes the raid. I'm sure this process will become quick and painless in the long term, but, for the moment, this boss is looking somewhat un-puggable.
All of which is actually a good thing. I was, in some ways, disappointed by how easy the original Archavon was in the first place, and the new version drops even better loot. The issue is that the two bosses share a single raid lockout ID.
This is where the raid optimist/pessimist has a real debate. Does the group do the easy boss first, obtaining the easy loot that they're actually capable of obtaining, but saving everyone to a raidID before establishing whether the group can beat Emalon? Or, does the group insist on going after the hard boss first to preserve the possibility of getting the top end loot for players who are able to make another attempt later in the week if the group is unsuccessful?
This is going to be an interesting split to watch over the coming weeks, presuming that the fight does not become as trivial as the original in the near future. The side that wants Emalon first has two powerful arguments. It is hard to recruit replacement players for a raid that stalls on Emalon after killing Archavon, as the replacements would be coming in knowing that they will not get Archavon loot that week but with no guarantee that the group (which has already failed) will kill Emalon. Also, for players who are in established raiding guilds and already have experience farming Naxx, Archavon's loot is comparatively less valuable (especially given Blizzard's decision not to add new token rewards to the Valor vendor in the patch), so they're only interested in killing Emalon in the first place.
On the pragmatist side, the Vault is on a one-week timer and is only available when your side controls Wintergrasp - which may or may not become more difficult to predict due to the change to the workshops. If you're not going to get another shot in that week, it's better to kill one boss than spend the hour wiping and fail to kill any bosses.
Overall, I wish they had gone with separate instances for these bosses. Most likely, we're going to see a third and maybe even a fourth in patches 3.2 and 3.3, as the vault has room for at least one more (a third fork in the initial hallway, which is not currently in use). This will complicate matters even further going forward.
New Token Rewards
After weeks of going back and forth on whether the emblem vendors would see new loot in the patch, Blizzard ultimately did not add any new BOP loot to the 5/10-man Heroism emblem vendor and added only a small number of specific items (ranged-slot items from the Naxx loot table) to the 25-man Valor Emblem vendor. Given that 10-man raiders in Ulduar will get the same Valor emblems, this was a bit of a disappointment.
There are presumably updates to the honor items coming in a week or two with the new arena season, and the Argent Tournament is another topic since this is already a lengthy post.
Where we have seen some additions are to the Wintergrasp Mark Rewards. That vendor now sells ilvl 213 epic chest armor and belts (the cloth versions are available with hit or haste rating), and ilvl 213 trinkets. One set of these (3 total) are straightforward PVP-only trinkets (lots of resilience and an activated burst DPS ability). The other are more intriguing, as they offer large chunks of DPS stats in combination with the traditional PVP trinket ability to break crowd control. The passive stats alone may make these guys worth looking at, especially if there are PVE encounters in which having the trinket effect is useful.
Though Tobold may be right in his dismissive assessment that 3.1 is "yet another patch", they've made some significant changes to the state of Wintergrasp. This makes sense given the area's growing significance as it gains access to more and more, better loot - for instance, the PVP-statted, ilvl 213 epic [Titan-forged Rainment of Dominance] was an upgrade for me from my ilvl 200 non-epic [Water-drenched Robe], even though the latter does not spend budget on PVP stamina and resilience, simply because of the difference in item level.
No matter how slowly the rest of the World of Warcraft gets its updates, Wintergrasp seems poised to keep me occupied both in and out of game (thanks to this blog) for a long time coming.