Fight or Kite: MMO PvP needs to be memorable or it’s not worth the bother

All those darn crows refuse to stay airborne.

The best combat-related moments I’ve had in gaming were always surprising feats or wild encounters with other players. They weren’t always victories, but those were the best ones. Running from quest marker to quest marker to complete tasks can be fun and rewarding in its own way, but to be truly memorable, it takes something else.

So what makes a particular combat moment memorable? Of course, it’s going to be different from player to player and game to game. Some of us might remember the time we were about to fall under an enemy’s blade, only to be saved by a passerby in the final moments. Maybe it was a very close fight where you just barely snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Or was it a decision you made during an encounter that changed the course of battle and led to a victory?

There’s no single correct answer. However, with so many PvP MMOs nearing release, I wanted to take a look at some of the considerations that can help facilitate these types of moments.

Players need to feel that their actions are important

On its face, it sounds like a silly statement. Of course a player’s actions need to be important. But I mean this in the grand scheme of a fight. If you, as a combatant, running from point to point, killing enemies along the way, never feel as if your contributions actually affected the outcome of the fight, then it will never be memorable.

I’ve mentioned before that think Warhammer Online really let PvPers down. The RvR was a laggy mess, and the class balance was utterly embarrassing. However, there was one RvR moment that really stands out in my mind as an epic battle.

The Order zone was under attack and a keep was up for grabs. Destruction hadn’t completely populated the map yet, but they were beginning to form a cohesive zerg. Destruction then began picking off Order players one by one as they attempted to head toward the keep to defend it. I ran toward the respawn point and formed a party with the players there. Mounting out horses, we followed a similar tactic – picking off the Destruction players that were heading to take the keep. Eventually our party was big enough that we were actually a sizable force. We deliberated: Do we risk wiping and attack the main force from behind while encouraging our allies to jump the walls to assist or keep killing stragglers? We chose the former.

Bits and pieces of the fight play back through my mind, not because of my failing memory but because the lag actually made the fight occur in bits and pieces. You were here, sword swinging, and then suddenly you were there. No wait! You’re in the middle of them! The pure chaos of it! Yet after the dust had cleared and the pings had settled, we found ourselves victorious. It was fantastic!

What I take away from the whole experience is that our choices actually made a difference. It was important. It mattered. We chose to group up and surprise the enemy, and it paid off. In many similar RvR games, these moments seldom occur. It could be due to the lack of a purpose to the fights in the first place. Or it could be that a zerg grows too powerful for any smaller group to displace them.

In any case, choices and tactics need to make a difference in a battle’s outcome.

Time to kill is hard to get right but is key to PvP

Time to kill, or TTK, is going to vary from game to game. However, it is a critical facet of PvP. Getting it wrong results in an abysmal gameplay experience.

When you’re fighting another player, the fight can’t end instantly to the point that you don’t feel like you ever had a chance to react. There needs to be some amount of counter-play in the fight. I understand players love to run glass cannon builds and one-shot or spike down their opponent quickly, but that cannot be allowed to be the entire meta. It can be a core part of the meta, but there must be a counter. It’s not only demoralizing for new players to die instantly, but you are absolutely going to shut players out of your PvP permanently if it happens too frequently.

On the other hand, you can’t let players build a class to be so tanky that they are nigh invincible. Fighting a Mesmer in Guild Wars 2 on a node, or even a Scrapper before Path of Fire, can be a miserable experience.

It’s a balancing act to be sure. Fighting games have it much easier; health is always dropping. With MMOs, we have healing and infinitely many other types of damage and mitigation options. So with TTK, it’s going to be important that developers watch how a meta forms, and then not be afraid to smash it to pieces for the better of the game if needed.

It is a real pain when your build of choice gets nerfed, but I’d much prefer a constantly evolving meta to a stale one.

Large-scale battles are awesome, but they’re not memorable because of their size

Devs across the genre are bragging about how their game is going to have fantastic large-scale battles. Crowfall, Camelot Unchained, and Ashes of Creation are only a few of the names that come to mind. EVE Online every year or so boasts about a new world record of ships engaging in a large fight.

Talk talk talk.

And it is awesome. And it is impressive. And perhaps the players that attended some of those EVE fights remember it vividly. I don’t want to take anything away from that. What I want to put out there is that a large fight isn’t memorable because of the scale of it – but because of what it meant and how the players felt.

I am not MOP’s EVE expert, but I have a pretty good idea how those players felt. I imagine seeing so many ships, seeing enemy vessels explode in what little blaze of glory time dilation mechanics and lag could afford them, knowing that something like this only happens once in a blue moon… those are the things that made the experience memorable. I honestly believe players wouldn’t think so highly of the fight if it could and did happen every day, week, or month. That first time might be magical and memorable, but after that it’s just another fight.

So, if it isn’t the size that matters, then it’s something else about the experience. It’s the cost that it took to get to this point. The time you’ve spent preparing for it. It’s the fact that it is a crescendo that you and all the other players have built up to now. It is what you’ve been waiting for!

At least that’s my take on what makes PvP memorable. Do you have any moments that really stand out in your mind as something you’ll never forget? Do you know what it was about that moment that was so special? Or do you simply think all of this is a result of some rose-colored nostalgia?

Every other week, Massively OP’s Sam Kash delivers Fight or Kite, our trip through the state of PvP across the MMORPG industry. Whether he’s sitting in a queue or rolling with the zerg, Sam’s all about the adrenaline rush of a good battle. Because when you boil it down, the whole reason we PvP (other than to pwn noobs) is to have fun fighting a new and unpredictable enemy!

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Mr Poolaty(@mr_poolaty)
1 year ago

My favorite PvP times ever were in eso. Large groups vs large groups. It just pretty much hit on everything PvP should be.

And the worst have been ffxiv.

Those are my only two examples so small sample size but eso outside of PvP compared to ffxiv just couldn’t hold me…

1 year ago

or wild encounters with other players.

This is basically why I don’t enjoy any scripted PvP style environments such as battle royales, MOBAs, battle grounds in MMOs, arena battles and the like. I have done that kind of content for thousands of hours across numerous games and it’s all a big blur of forgettable slaughter. Red = Dead, shut brain off and grind the bodies out.

My most memorable PvP moments almost always come from the intrigue of social dynamics available in PvP environments. Something that never gets discussed is the diplomacy in PvP environments. The alliance mongering, backstabbing, Game of Thrones level intrigue with spies and infiltration the like you only occasionally hear out of EVE happens in all the PvP games. People forget that MMOs are social games and there’s crazy social dynamics once you get past getting killed and losing all your stuff. Your reliance on other people for basic safety makes it inherently a more social experience than any other kind of game out there and things like reputation, behavior and the fact you’re representing everyone you’re with is huge.

Like most immediate memorable thing for PvP was last year where in a particular game we ended up allying/merging with this group who seemed super cool, super chill about everything then next morning we wake up entirely betrayed. Morale was super low but we still managed to claw and scrape our way back while that other group hounded us the entire time only to turn the tables on them and break them because no one would trust them after what they did to us.

1 year ago

The things that have always made pvp in MMO fun and memorable to me are when you feel like there is something to be gained and something that could be lost by the end of the conflict. This is the core of what makes pvp enjoyable to me.

If you risk nothing by fighting someone else it feels hollow. Less so if you win, but more so if you lose. What I’m talking about is the MMOs of the past decade or so where there is no penalty for losing. No loot drop, no XP loss. Conversely if you beat someone in pvp you don’t get any of their loot drop. It’s bs and meaningless, might as well just play a MOBA.
I think good MMO games should have full (or close to it) loot drop, and maybe some XP loss. It prevents people from just randomly attacking everyone when there’s a real risk of losing some good gear or a weeks worth of XP.
Fight or flight becomes a very real instinct. If you get engaged by someone who you’re not confident you can beat, it’s probably a good idea to GTFO.
Some of my most memorable experiences in Ultima Online were being ambushed by PKs (player killers) and trying to escape. Using spells to slow them down or distract them while I make it far enough away to use an invisibility spell or hiding skill, or teleport out. And sometimes they catch you and the chase is on again. There are so many ways for things to go down: you could outrun them (not likely, you could run into a friendly anti-pk party with some powerful players who see red and delete the PKs (awesome feeling), you could lead them into a guard protected area and shout “guards” who would teleport in and one shot them (rare because they usually knew what line not to cross, but it happens), or you stand your ground and do your best… And then wander around trying to get resurrected.

Another thing that makes or breaks pvp is where and when it happens. I really don’t like instanced arena fights. You have people with pvp specific builds, and equipment, who generally dominate.
I touched on this above with my UO reference, but I think pvp fights should be more random open world encounters. Two travelers or parties meet by chance out in the wild or on the road. One party decides they want what the others have, and a fight breaks out. It’s not about which faction you’re on. It’s about they want your stuff and you have to prove you want it more by beating them or escaping.

TL;DR – full/partial loot drop, XP loss on death, open world encounters.

1 year ago

In the end I have not found PvP to be balanced very well in most games and also find the rewards not generally worth it. Now mind you I was all PvP for a very long time as I was an original day one UO player and there is where most of my fondest and most enjoyable memories are from PvP.

Few of the reason I think were
– There was no voice chat or world chat back then if you had a clan you were using AIM or IRC as with IRC you could still message people offline so this made all fights generally smaller and where you had much less communication so it was more just based on raw skill of the group.
– It was a skill based game and so levels did not mean as much as if I could get some good RNG with hits or spells I could still hold my own even at a 70% of their respective power disadvantage.
– Clan wars became personal and was on Sonoma servers and had an epic 2 year clan war with SaS (PK clan) vs us in BLD in that we went back and forth all the time (we even had cities that we called our own mainly based around were we both just mainly hung out) and at any time it was open season on each other but it was all sportsman like in that we respected each other and did not grief the other side so I know that helped tons.
– It was all full loot so if you died you lost everything (also on res you had no gear you had to loot yourself back up into fighting shape) and so there were actual consequences to the game and you generally just used generic player made gear as well you knew you could lose it. This I think is huge as now a days you run your best stat boosters and well there is no penalty except for time loss if you lose or grief and that to me makes PvP not worth anything.
– There were not an over abundance of stuns and really no one shot kills so in the end you still could get away or out of a jam with some skill but not always. I find stuns are all fun in PvE but in PvP if they are not severely nerfed they take all the fun out of a battle if I am not able to take any action.
– Last thing I promise and this just came to mind writing this in that well there was no trinity you just had characters generally physical or magical and there was none of this Tank/Healer/DPS so you had to be a jack of all trades much of the time and feel that helped a bunch as you really did not have any type of kill order at the outset and you could not at times tell someones build just by their glam.

1 year ago
Reply to  creationguru

I was also a day one UO player (Chesapeake). It’s also where I have my fondest MMO and pvp memories from. I didn’t see your post until after I wrote my own, but they are very similar. I think most people who started with UO and got into it in a serious way have very similar feelings about it. It’s been almost 20 years since I played it and I’m still looking for something that lives up to that level of awesome. It’s been a disappointing 20 years.

1 year ago
Reply to  NoobDenial

Yes I am still to this day trying to chase it down

1 year ago

I don’t PvP much but when I do I throw rocks at walls.

1 year ago

Archeage all the way. I’m sad at how little attention the game gets from other game developers, it is THE game to copy from, truely next generation PvP design.

Flying back and fourth over hellswamp on a glider, searching for other people searching, and when the time is right, slowly driving a cart packed high with valuable packs on it, hoping against hope you make it to the border (because even if you can beat them, a couple stealthed noobs could break an axle on your wagon and then someone else might stealth off with your stuff while you chase them down)

Sailing in a ship as part of a fleet, and deciding between staying in a dangerous area to protect others, or making a break for it laden down with magical sea crystals.

War with other guilds of the SAME faction during the specific-time-daily open world pvp events, while the other faction runs away with the lead.

Really, many of these ideas should be just shoehorned into every pvp game, and I think it’s sheer laziness that they are not.

-Dropable valuables, that can be cashed in but slow you down to carry. Capture the flag? So much can be done with this idea
-Open world PvP events that occur at certain times. 1/day allows the reward to be both real (not like 99% of Blizzards ‘events’), and a daily hub for pvp drama.

I may have played out archeage (and I hear they have been doing weird things with the trade system), but really the full-loot gather/gank/craft/sell pvp cycle was due to retire back in the days of UO.

1 year ago

Give players rope to hang themselves with. The memorable experiences are often the ones where something goes horribly wrong

1 year ago

About the only PvP I do in MMOs at all is WvW in GW2 – it’s not even close, I’ve spent a *lot* of time in WvW and essentially zilch anywhere else, in any game.

I’ve tried to figure out why, because I generally loathe open-world PvP, and have no interest in ranked PvP things, or small-group PvP. But I genuinely enjoy WvW.

What I think is that with the population in WvW, I don’t feel like my lack of leet PvP skillz is letting the side down. Unless the world is full, I’m better than nothing, and when it is, I’m not a substantial portion of the team’s abilities.

In addition, even if I suck 1v1 (and I mostly do), there are things I can do to help the side out – I can scout, I can hassle supply convoys, I can help with running siege or supplies for sieges. I can (at least feel) useful, even if I’m not crushing the foe in combat.

And so I get some of those “memorable moments” you’re talking about. That supply Yak I killed to keep the castle from upgrading before it fell. Or the time I get to a tower in time to raise the alarm as it’s just about to be attacked. Or the warning I gave as the enemy zerg rolled over my lifeless corpse. :)

WvW is a largely neglected game mode in GW2, and it certainly has it’s issues – but overall, if I’m feeling like I want to just mess around in GW2 I often end up doing that rather than messing around in PvE – and that’s not something I would ever do in any other MMO I’ve ever played.

Robert Mann(@robert_mann)
1 year ago

I agree that it needs to be memorable, and to matter. It is… something that studios keep trying to associate with through oh so many methods.

Here’s the kicker for most of them. The methods chosen are usually rewards. Some participation, largely aimed at those who do well, and generally they feature increased power in some form. It doesn’t work, for the exact reason you noted that the one-shot or stun-gun is bad for PvP. It results in everyone else having a bad time.

I believe that PvP should have a bigger play area, a split part of the world so to speak (even literally if we want to go there), where they not only have the chance to make things memorable through fights… but where multiple factors allow for shifting wars, politics, and aspects to drive thing. At the same time, I would argue that rewards for success, owning that territory, and even the politics should involve rewards for those people. Those should come as a variety of things, from cosmetics and crafting materials to chances to appear in in-game lore and stories (think having news related to various things in towns and cities in game, for example). None of the items with regard to any of that would be bound, or very few of them.

The entire reason is that I believe our games need to stop treating PvP and PvE as complete opposites, yet also recognize the needed boundaries. So having tradable rewards in both types of play makes a lot of sense. Crafters could set up in either area, if they like a type of play. That said, they would often need resources found at least mostly in the other (things need not be unique for the truly solo-desiring players, but there must be enough of a gap to inspire the next element). Which is trade between the two, and actually caring that the other side of the game does well. Further, it means that PvE players can have various events and missions related to sending and getting resources from secure locations near the borders, while PvP players can have caravans to escort and try to raid, giving moving targets that add yet one more element to their play area.

To be memorable MMOs need to both stop with the rewards for nothing, and give more rewards that serve the interests of all players. Instead, they need to focus on actually caring for the players, and bringing fun play for all.

1 year ago

For me, scale is extremely important. This is the MASSIVELY MULTIPLAYER genre, and yet there are very few massively multiplayer features in any mmos, usually only pvp. Seeing that many people is why I play, its the unique selling point. That said, yes, the zerg is usually king and that gameplay isn’t great.

For me, what im looking for is a “good fight”. That means it has to have the following:

  • Be relatively balanced. By this, I mean i need equal chance of success or failure. This might mean it’s 1v1 balanced, or might be me vs 4 newbies, or my raid vs a smaller, better group of players.
  • The fight must be close. This follows from the balance part above, but the fight must actually be a close thing
  • My actions must be important in determining the outcome. If I’ve smashed them, or they’ve smashed me, then chances are it was the meta, not me, that determined the outcome
  • The fight must last a decent amount of time.

My most memorable PvP fight comes from early LotRO. The Delving of Fror had recently opened. This was a PvPvE zone under the ettenmoors where both sides would go to farm items that helped with gear. I was there with 8 guildmates, some of whom PvPed, some of whom didn’t, but all of whom were part of my progression raid group and thus we knew each other very well. Whilst farming, we ran into a creep group of roughly 12, from the “best” creep guild on our server. i.e. some of the best pvpers. With freeps generally being more powerful, this meant it was a roughly balanced fight.

Fight went on for maybe 15 minutes, constantly going back and forth. It went on long enough for rezzes to come off cooldowns, so most of us got 2 lives. We had to deal with PvE enemies as well (both sides). Our skills as raiders meant we all supported each other really well, so we were able to keep alive, but we lacked the DPS or PvP skills to really take them out, so it became a battle of attrition, hoping the other side made a mistake before we did. In the end, we won, but with only two of us left standing and no rezzes left, so we had to leave the dungeon anyway. But it was an awesome feeling!

That feeling was only possible due to a long TTK.

By having a long TTK, it allows the players to take control and get over any initial shock. LotRO was also chock full of situational skills, so if you were clever enough there was usually a way out of a situation. Instead of our support team focusing on dps, they had the time to debuff the enemy and buff us, extending the fight and giving us more chance. Our tanks had the time to protect the healer, rather than just watching the healer drop in 3 seconds like most games. We had the time to employ tactics, adapt as the fight progressed, and eventually find the measure of our enemies.

Conversely, something like WAR, or SWTOR, with their enormous power gaps, meant 90% of PvP encounters had nothing to do with me as a player and everythign to do with the meta. Whether it was running with a sorc bomb squad, or 2-shotting a newbie, it just wasn’t fun.

Robert Mann(@robert_mann)
1 year ago
Reply to  Sam Kash

Balance has been atrocious, so usually one side stomps the other and either the ‘free people’ get bonuses to stuff in PvE or they don’t and the PvP ‘creep’ side complains that nobody wants to PvP.