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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