Tamriel Infinium: The major flaw in Elder Scrolls Online Morrowind’s PvP

When I spoke to ZeniMax Lead PvP Designer Brian Wheeler a few months back, I was intrigued by the PvP that Morrowind was offering The Elder Scrolls Online. When it hit the test servers, I found it to be exactly what I thought it would be. But because of my playtimes or just the general activity on the PTS, the queues didn’t pop much, so I didn’t get enough of an impression of the Battlegrounds during the test.

However, since the chapter hit the live servers, I’ve been able to spend a good bit of time in the no-Champion Points version of the instanced PvP zones. (As many of you know, I have a heavy aversion to Champion Points, so I apologize that my impressions of the Battlegrounds are only reflective of that.)

Now, I enjoy PvP sporadically. I would not consider myself a hardcore PvPer. But there was a time when I spent all of my game time in both instanced and open-world PvP, so I am not ignorant of the interests PvPers: balanced classes, interesting and unexploitable maps, and strategic and engaging objectives. Of course, there will always be balancing issue when you’re dealing with the number of class combinations ESO carries, but they are relatively balanced. And the other interests fall in line with most other MMO PvP. There is one major flaw that appears effective on paper, but when you factor in human nature, it fails almost every time: 4v4v4.

The basics of ESO Morrowind PvP

I don’t think that there is too much to explain about Morrowind PvP that hasn’t already been said, but let me at least touch on the similarities and the differences between it and other MMO PvP.

Like instanced PvP in nearly every other MMO, ESO Battlegrounds are entered via a queuing system. Currently, there is only one choice of Battleground group: all of them. However, given the design and layout of the Battleground interface, it does appear that we will eventually get to choose something, such as game type or map. This is reflective of what Wheeler told me during my visit to the studio.

The maps themselves are more or less circular and relatively simple. Depending on the map and game type, there is a central area with three points on the outer ring for objectives. My personal favorite map is Ularra, which is an over-grown Daedric worship site. Unlike the other two maps, this one appears to be brighter but also has a lot of places to hide and ambush other players. Foyada Quarry — which was the one used in most of the advertising — is actually the most boring. That being said, none are terrible; I just found that map far too open and the traps far too easy to avoid.

The gameplay modes are as expected: Capture the Flag allows you to steal a relic from the other teams’ zone and carry it back to yours. Team Deathmatch is all about killing the other teams. Surprising to me, Domination was my favorite, even though I lost as many of those matches as I won. I’m unsure what exactly made this map so interesting, but it might have to do with the three-way split.

The fatal flaw

It’s ironic that the biggest thing that sets ESO Battlegrounds apart from other MMO instanced PvP is also the biggest issue with the game’s PvP. The instanced, team-based PvP keeps with the three-faction theme of the base game, but it doesn’t follow the same division as the rest of the game. The teams are more arbitrary. You are assigned to the Pit Daemons, Fire Drakes, or Storm Lords at random. But it’s the fact that they have three teams in the first place that is the biggest issue with the PvP style.

Consider the open-world PvP in the game: It’s three teams, but it features a different dynamic because the team size is varied. Many times the victory belongs to the faction that has the most players on the field at the time. But at the same time, siege tactics can allow a smaller team hold a keep for a long time if played well. It’s just a very different kind of game, and three teams work out really well. It also prevents one team from completely dominating the field all the time.

Instanced PvP, on the other hand, doesn’t work that way.

Wheeler talked about how the dynamic could go multiple ways because the time per match was brief. It could be a very balanced match, there could be one team that completely trashes the other two teams, or it’s possible that the two “weaker” teams could gang up on the stronger team.

But it doesn’t happen. In every match, the weaker team is discovered shortly after the match begins, and like human nature dictates, the two stronger teams gang up on the weaker team. The scoreboard at the end will usually reflect this: Two teams will have about 90% of the points with the last team usually having less than 10%. Of course, the weaker team will not go after the best team; it will attempt to take down the second team. So every match doesn’t become a fight for domination — instead, it’s a battle for second place.

Class balance?

It’s very difficult to judge whether the classes are balanced without statistics on how each build is performing. But what I can tell you is how I was killed and with which abilities. Thankfully, it appears that I was killed by multiple classes using different abilities. At the same time, I seemed to be able to take out a variety of classes using a few different tactics, but stealth does appear to have a bit of an advantage in the Ald Carac and Ularra maps.

I would say that despite the one glaring flaw, ESO Morrowind PvP plays decently and is a good addition to the game overall. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that you drop your favorite MMO just to come PvP in Morrowind, but if you like PvP and happen to be playing Morrowind for other reasons, it’s definitely a good distraction from the grind.

Traverse the troubled land of Tamriel in the Elder Scrolls Online. Larry Everett will be your guide here in Tamriel Infinium every other week as you explore together the land created by ZeniMax and Bethesda. If you have any burning questions, send them his way via email or via Twitter.
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21 Comments on "Tamriel Infinium: The major flaw in Elder Scrolls Online Morrowind’s PvP"

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Reselect Name

Instanced PVP is PVP for PVEers.

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Chris Moss

And?

As someone who has been on the pointy end of a rogue’s dagger, while trying to lvl, and they are 20 lvls above me, I don’t see a problem with instanced pvp

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Fred Douglas

I’ll stick with SWTOR warzones for my instanced PvP needs. ESO’s iteration of this is one gigantic pixel Hindenburg.

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Alex Willis

The only thing can think of to remedy the situation is to institute a system of diminishing returns (buffs/nerfs in game depending on if you’re losing or winning), or institute a matchmaking system that takes into consideration PvP rank (and NOT the CP rank), and do what GW2 did and make all gear level-balanced. The latter I feel to be especially important: it allows the focus to remain on PvP skill and not gear level.

All that said: at the end of the day, in every MMO PvP venue I’ve ever played, the difference boils down to coordination. The team on voice chat is going to win 3/4 of the time simply because they can play AS a team.

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Dug From The Earth

other games solve this by giving the team getting stomped temporary buffs when they respawn to help even out the odds.

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Arktouros

Which games? In ESO you actually get more buffs the more stuff you take in Cyrodil in fact.

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Dug From The Earth

My comment was meant more for battlegrounds, where its much easier to give 4 people a buff, then 100 people.

Although, a cyro buff to the side getting walked all over can work. Take guild wars 2 for example. There is the outnumbered buff, which is far from perfect, but at least its a step in the right direction.

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Arktouros

The outnumbered buff in GW2 has zero impact on performance basically. All those buffs have always been useless in fact. Most of them (including GW2’s originally) just buffed the rewards you got which was kinda pointless cause who cares if you’re getting paid more if you can’t do anything to get paid in the first place lol…and they can’t provide proper buffs to equal things out because none of the characters were balanced for those kinda buffs.

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Sorenthaz

The 3 faction issue is something I’ve noticed with FFXIV and its frontline stuff. Doesn’t matter how much the leading faction in a match is getting away with, the middle faction always attacks the weakest and the weakest always ensures that the middle has no chance to beat the leading faction

AlAlso was a problem with RIFT and its Conquest junk. 3 faction balanced number warfare can rarely ever work the way it’s intended because players always take the path of least resistance.

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Arktouros

This is exactly what I’ve said about every single 3 way battle system since the start of time. We saw it in DAOC. We saw it in Planetside. We saw it in Planetside 2. We saw it in Guild Wars 2. We saw it in The Secret World. We saw it in ESO. I said it again when ESO announced their BGs.

Regardless of human nature it is tactically the smartest play to simply take out the weakest opponent. Even if you’re the medium strength side it’s still better to gang up on the weakest with the strongest because if you go after the strongest the weaker could just as easily turn on you and make you as weak. Sure it can happen on paper, but reality is it rarely if ever actually happens. When it does happen it’s usually very tenuous at best and most cases it’s simply going to be shattered soon as the first person steps out of line and creates hostilities again.

The only time I have ever seen a 3 way battle system even half work was in Planetside 1 and that was due to the heavy restrictions of the lattice network between not only bases but also islands. This forced a 1v1 scenario in most cases with 1v1v1 only happening rarely. It’s essentially heavy handed mechanics put into place to enforce a good 1v1 most of the time with 1v1v1 happening time to time.

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McGuffn

I think the main problem with this is if the weak teams up with the medium you might push medium up to strong, but weak will remain weak because what was strong is now probably medium.

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Henryk Spark

battlegrounds are the biggest disappointment in ESO

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Reselect Name

The only PVP worse than battlegrounds is dueling.

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Alex Willis

Solution: the two weaker teams get on chat to declare they will go after the strongest team.

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Sally Bowls

EVE solution: the strongest team gets on chat and declares #2 as the strongest and urges #3 to help them stand up to this menace.

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Melissa McDonald

Great article.
I wish I could enjoy PvP sometimes in MMOs. I enjoy it in ‘war’ games like World of Tanks/World of Warships, but not MMOs. I can only conclude that I am more attached to my avatar (which I generally try to make look like me, an online extension of myself) than to my tank or ship.

camren_rooke
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camren_rooke

It’s tolerable in WvW in gw2.

Login,
Join the blob.
Wander where they go.
Fight enemy blob and win and move to next fortress/keep/waypoint.
Fight and lose to enemy blob and respawn and meet up with blob.
Rinse repeat.

Occasionally there is some positive reinforcement in the form of pips and chests.

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Schlag Sweetleaf

A pox on the Zerg!

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Sorenthaz

Sounds like RIFT and its Conquests.

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