Welcome, one and all, to an O.O. retrospective on the many consequential changes Blizzard has made in our beloved game since it debuted in the merry year of 2004. Ah, 2004 was a good year, wasn’t it? Halo 2, Knight of the Old Republic. People were still playing Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. Loot boxes weren’t a thing, even. The entire face of gaming has shifted in the last fourteen years, so it stands to reason that World of Warcraft should have as well.
If ye readers have come across a book called Animal Farm in your time as earthlings, you’ll know what I’m thinking. Small, seemingly insignificant changes over a long period of time have led to WoW become something far different than it began. Different isn’t always worse. If you’re thinking it’s basically the same thing as it was, only with new content to explore, you’re just absolutely wrong. There’s something to enjoy in each new expansion of Warcraft that keeps players coming back for more.
Let’s get into specifics, shall we? Warcraft actually launched sans-battlegrounds. Indeed, anyone seeking an honorable kill or death by the sword or cudgel of another, had to seek them out and do battle. This led to players designating unofficial war-zones, and since there really wasn’t any reward to killing other players, it was all about bragging rights instead. I killed you. You remember me, right? Servers were full of players of all levels, with the level cap being sixty and all. Engaging in PvP was oftentimes a choice and sometimes something thrust upon unsuspecting lowbies. Gratification came from conquering other players and their cohorts in the open world, and certainly wasn’t for the weak-willed or sensitive. Then came battlegrounds. Blizzard added a couple instances where players could make more…proper war with each other. The objectives, capture-the-node and capture-the-flag were two of the earliest battleground types. Arathi Basin and Warsong Gulch, respectively. Players could earn ‘honor’ by killing other players or by completing objectives.
The third battleground to be released was Alterac Valley, my personal favorite. AV was a masterpiece of flawed creation. 40 vs. 40; no time limit. Only objective? Kill the enemy’s commander NPC. I played alliance, so it was Drek’Thar. He was one tough son of a bitch too. Those two dreadful wolves that he kept by his side were so very often the downfall of our groups. That’s assuming you made it that far. Drek was down at the bottom of the map. There are dozens of graveyards, towers, and oncoming horde players to contend with before you can even think of trying to down Drek. If the horde tries to rout you before you make it down that far, it often turned into a turtle. Think of a turtle gone into its shell, trying to deflect to putrid claws of a trash panda.
Times were tough, and your PvP rank depended upon it. You lost rank if you took time off from PvPing. Decay, it was known to be. I made it to the fourth rank, Master Sergeant through very little effort on my part. Each week was its own contest. The top earners of honor were awarded as shadow currency named ‘contribution points’ that determined what overall bracket they qualified for. There were 14 ranks, from private to grand marshal. Those with good gear, good pre-made teams (usually from guilds) and skill at their class could climb those ranks fairly easily. Those like myself, with mostly healing gear and not much PvP know-how were in more dire straits. My best guild mate played nigh-constantly for an entire week during summer vacation, playing battlegrounds the entire time, and only barely achieved the knight-captain rank, which is only rank eight of fourteen. All in pursuit of that damned staff, eh, Rante?
The next week, your rank would decay and you’d be set into the grind again, trying to best other players more than you were bested. The best PvP gear was at rank fourteen, yet I only met two grand marshals on the battlefield in my time.
Ah, those were the days. Having to run to the main city to talk to the battleground master and queue up for a match. Times were simpler, harder, less convenient.
Fast forward to 2018, and we have eighty bajillion battlegrounds now. Well, more than a dozen anyway. Queueing up can be done from anywhere in the world, and even during a dungeon or raid, if you’d like. As soon as you exit your current activity, you’ll be plopped back down in the queue for a random battleground. No longer are there pvp ranks, in fact that was scrapped before the first expansion The Burning Crusade. Why? Who knows. For many years it was the objective to hoard as much honor as possible and then buy yourself some snazzy gear at the end of the day. Also no longer. Gear drops at the end of matches, whether you win or lose. Candy for you, and you, and also you. It’s a higher chance drop if you win, of course, so there’s a modicum of motivation to win matches.
Honor is now a pseudo-experience attribute that accrues and allows you to select honor talents. These are talents that only work when in PvP and give at most a 5% edge for players with full PvP talents versus someone who does not. Have I mentioned gear scaling? Oh god, one of the worst ideas they came up with for the recent expansion: Legion.
Everyone is normalized to a certain gear level, with certain stats. It’s really, really stupid that someone who just reached the cap of 110 can go toe to toe with someone who has the best gear in the game. The biggest edge one player can have over another is about 25% stat edge. Blizzard has done its damnedest over the years to empty out the maxims; take out those godlike players, giving the newest players a fighting edge as well.
You know what else this scaling and normalization does? It removes competition, and removes motivation for top end players. Why become the best, with the best gear, when it really doesn’t make that much of a difference? Why even do PvP after you have gear that far outstrips and outclasses what can even be reasonably obtained? It’s broken.
Battlegrounds aren’t the only medium for PvP now, though. There is also the arena, rated battlegrounds, rated arena, and some iffy manufactured world PvP. The biggest difference between regular BGs and rated BGs, is that the rated BGs work similar to how arenas worked for years. If your team is awesomesauce for the week, you’ll get a rating. If your rating is in the top tier, you’ll get some cool gear.
Only problem, chief, is that to get your rating that high, it’s nearly a surety that you need the very gear that you’re playing these to get in the first place. That’s like trying to work your ass off at a retail job as a cashier for a chance at becoming management and a higher pay raise, only you’re already a manager with the higher rate. You’re just being dumb. Stop that.
Another huge change that has been slowly creeping up over the years is that PvE gear works just as well in PvP. Oftentimes it’s easier to get dungeon/raid gear than actual PvP gear, and that’s okay. Just do a few raids, which amount to taking a guided zoo tour these days. Failure is extremely unlikely, so just get that good gear, then roll up in BGs with a bunch of blingy epics and a couple random drop legendaries and you’ll be fine.
All of this is to say that while new content has been added to the PvP system (remember wintergrasp, luls?), it’s lost much of what it was along the way. Just like the fire that we had when we were teenagers fades into a bored routine-like adulthood, World of Warcraft has taken the pressure, luck, and unfairness away from its player vs. player systems. Everyone wins, and honestly, everyone loses. Games are meant to take us out of our real world and give us the ability to accrue something that we feel matters. Power, prestige, rating…these things lose their meaning if everyone has them. The Olympics would be a sham if everyone stood on the podium. The challenge to perfect your character, or simply the terror of seeing a Grand Warlord of the Horde roll up in front of you, not even hesitate, and take your life in one mighty swing of a two-handed axe. It’s in that presence of hard-earned overwhelming power that you gain that urge to better yourself so that one day, you too can be a headsman for some unsuspecting player.