Tamriel Infinium: Battlegrounds will change Elder Scrolls Online PvP forever
I've read all the impressions from the PAX East show that I could find, and they were all overwhelmingly mild -- including ours. As you hopefully know by now, Elder Scrolls Online showed off its instanced PvP battlegrounds, and the media consensus is that they are... coming. And that's it. This really surprised me. It's superficially hard to tell whether people have come to expect one thing from battlegrounds (because so many other games already have them) and ESO really isn't changing the formula -- or the battlegrounds really aren't anything to write home about.
If you were to take Lead PvP Designer Brian Wheeler's word for it, battlegrounds will change PvP in ESO forever because they're a type of PvP that ESO has never had before, which is true. Personally, I do believe not only that battlegrounds will bring something special to Elder Scrolls Online but that other games should pay attention to ESO because it's actually doing something innovative without drawing too much attention to it.
Battlegrounds aren't perfect; there will be some drawbacks, but let's take an honest look at what this new PvP type means for Elder Scrolls Online and maybe other MMOs in the future.
Three-way face off
After Dark Age of Camelot introduced us to the thrill of open-world, three-faction combat way back in the early aughts, it took a long time for other games to pick up the mantel. Other MMORPGs with decent PvP, like World of Warcraft and RIFT, decided that the best thing to do was to pit one team directly against one other team. That's been the tradition for many PvP-centered themeparks, MMORPG or otherwise. Although the original Guild Wars and other games did have maps that introduced three-team conflict, I don't think that RvRvR picked up steam until it was reintroduced to modern MMOers in Guild Wars 2. That game really showed how this three-way tug-of-war gave PvP an interesting and fun dynamic.
Sometimes in PvP, you just have to change a tiny thing to make a big impact on the perception of the matches. Star Wars: The Old Republic did this with Huttball, which was really just capture-the-flag, but players could throw the "flag" to each other. Elder Scrolls Online will change the dynamic of battlegrounds by simply adding a third faction.
Just as DAoC and GW2 spiced up open-world combat by introducing a third faction, ESO's battlegrounds will create this constant three-way struggle -- but on a micro scale. The strategic planning that players would usually find in RvR will now happen on a smaller, faster scale. The decisions and consequences of double-teaming against the third team will be felt immediately rather than on a massive battlefield with long-term objectives. And the betrayal will be sudden and inevitable.
Game-types and shared maps
When I spoke to Wheeler a few weeks back, I didn't give a second thought to the different game types or the maps themselves. I had assumed that each game-type would have its own map. It wasn't until I asked which map would have which game type did I realize that all three maps will host all three game types. This isn't a new concept in other games, but it's unprecedented for MMORPGs. Most instanced PvP in MMORPGs have one game-type per map.
If we hop back to SWTOR, you'll only see Huttball on a Huttball map. However, in Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind, we might be at the Foyada Quarry, but the game could be capture-the-flag or maybe team deathmatch as it was at PAX East.
Morrowind will launch with three different maps and three different games. Ald Carac is an old Dwemer city like the one we saw in the Blur trailer. Ularra is an old Daedric holy grounds that is overgrown because the Dark Elves have stopped worshipping Daedra and worship the Tribunal now. And the map shown at PAX East is a quarry at the foot of Red Mountain called Foyada Quarry.
Because of the three-team dynamic, ZeniMax doesn't really have to mix up the game types all that much; they are all pretty standard: Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and Domination. But since there are three teams and you don't know which map you're going to pop on, it's nice that the ruleset is familiar.
Lastly, I would believe that battlegrounds will pull people from the other types of PvP that ESO already offers, or at very least, they could change the way people play the other types of PvP, making the players lazy and less reliable.
Instanced PvP is easy. I don't mean that there is no challenge, although that might eventually be the case. It's just that instanced PvP requires no planning, no forethought, and no group to gather together. Players literally log into the game, queue up, and wait for PvP to come to them. It's possible that people will log in, stand in one place, and log out after a couple of matches.
Many people of a certain PvP gamer archetype who have never played the game before will likely come to ESO: Morrowind strictly because of this PvP type. They are a net gain for the game itself and will have no real impact on Imperial City or Cyrodiil. But there are many people in Imperial City and Cyrodiil because that is the way that they get their MMO PvP fix, and when battlegrounds releases, they will prefer that kind of PvP to get their fix.
I also foresee some players logging into Cyrodiil or Imperial City, maybe even getting a small group together. But the ultimate goal will be to queue up for battlegrounds. For those who take the lead in Cryodiil, it will make for an unpredictable group dynamic. Leaders will not know if they can count on those people being there for keep sieges. Since Cyrodiil usually takes long-term strategy, these kinds of players will be an ultimate detriment to the zone.
Mix the previous players with those who will stop logging into Cyrodiil and Imperial City, and I believe that battlegrounds will ultimately be a net negative for existing PvP overall. Players will lean toward the game type that gives them their PvP fix with the least amount of effort, and in the end, battlegrounds will fit that bill the best.
I am very glad to see battlegrounds being introduced ESO, but realistically, I know that Cyrodiil and Imperial City will suffer for it when it launches. Hopefully, ESO will find some kind of equilibrium in the end, but that will take time.