Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Removing the Toll of Tol Barad

There has been a lot of complaint levied against Tol Barad since it showed up on our virtual doorsteps. I think it's clear that most of the worry has been well founded. Blizzard even responded with some quick fixes, though the first hacks seemed to cause as many problems as they solved. If you've been reading around here for a while, you know that I don't like to complain unless I can offer some constructive advice to go along with it. I think I have some for Tol Barad.

First, though, what is the problem? I think, very simply put, Tol Barad (the PvP encounter) feels like a waste of time. That is coupled with the fact that Tol Barad (the location) is unpleasant to traverse. I think those are two mostly unrelated problems, but neither one screams "fun."

Let's look at the location issues first, as I believe this is the lesser of two evils. After all, the biggest complaints seem to center around two things. One: that you can't fly. This is very unlikely to change. Two: that the respawn rate of mobs is too fast. This, on the other hand, is likely to change. In fact, having been out there a few times recently, I think it may have already been changed a bit. Before things would pop as soon as you killed them. Now it seems to take a bit longer. Either way, this is an easy thing to tweak on Blizz's end, so I don't expect it to be a problem forever.

I think they do need to work out some of the more minor things that I keep hearing about like glitches and the like. I've never really experienced any of them personally, but there do seem to be some odd things happening with zoning and travel that are probably not intended. I'm sure that kind of thing will be fixed eventually as well. Otherwise, are these dailies really that much worse than the Shattered Sun Offensive? I think the one thing I wish is that the quests were a bit more localized. I suppose I just felt like with the SSO dailies there was a nice, quick route that nailed them all and there is no such thing out in TB. A big part of that might be do to the nature of the "Kill this single guy" quests, where there can be a line. I think for dailies, this sort of quest is dumb and should be scrapped. They're tolerable in leveling zones because they can really add to a sense of story, but having to do them over and over again really grates on me.

But what about the PvP encounter? That seems to be the big thing on people's minds with regards to TB. After all, dailies will be dailies. Plus, despite it's faults, I think we generally enjoyed Wintergrasp. TB has not filled those big shoes. WG was something to look forward to. TB is quickly growing as something to dread. And why? Well, even Blizz admits there are some heavy balancing issues between attacking and defending. This, coupled with low motivation through rewards, really sets the stage for a frustrating encounter.

Let's be honest, this was an idea that probably looked good on paper, but has completely fallen flat in execution. I don't bash Blizz about this. I mean I don't envy them the task of trying to design for us. Gamers, in general, excel at thinking outside the box. That means the planned encounter that you sketch out in your mad design lab will almost never play out as anticipated. We've constantly surprised Blizz over the years, and TB is a shining example of that. They thought they had something cool in a three base attack environment. Yet what they found was that the way we play it breaks their best intentions. Don't get me wrong, I'm not absolving them of anything. As the developer, it's their job to fix this mistake, and I think they will. I just can feel for the lead designer who probably cried in his cornflakes after we destroyed his baby. There are plenty of ideas that look great on paper and then preform poorly under extreme stress. It happens.

But what can we do to fix it? Well, they tried increasing honor gains. That didn't work. Next, they're going to try finagling some buffs. That might help, but it still seems to me like a small band-aid on a bigger problem. In Cata, I think what Blizz fails to understand as evidenced by both Heroics and Tol Barad is that players want to feel like they're getting somewhere, even when they're failing. It doesn't have to be "fast", we don't mind time sinks (though we'll sometimes complain). No, what really grinds our gears is feeling like something was a complete waste of time.

So how can we make TB feel less like a waste? I have an easy solution: add a couple more quests. Remember in WG when we had the "kill 10 of the opposing faction" and "protect the siege things?" Later they even added "assault the towers." These were all on top of "gain victory." Why do we not have those in TB? WHY?! That is the simplest solution that I can see, that is easy to implement, that relieves a TON of the feeling that we're wasting time.

Imagine, you lose but you have three daily quests to turn in that also net you some badges and/or rep with the faction you're working on (BW for alliance). How much better would you feel after a frustrating loss having completed those? I mean, it sucks to lose and we'd rather hold the other set of dailies, but at least you got something done. At least you have something to show. It gives you a reason to try struggle that isn't totally dependent on the completely unbalanced outcome. Tie it to some objectives. Tie it to actually killing other players.

I guess I just feel like tweaking buffs isn't going to do it. Blizz should have learned by now that the players will exploit any minor unbalance in a BG. Unless they get it perfectly fair, it's going to have small issues, and it's nearly impossible to hit that gold standard and yet retain something that is interesting and presents choices. Instead, look at the BGs that have succeeded and yet still been slightly unbalanced (Look at WG!). You need to both minimize unbalance and add a commensurate reward. Just doing one or the other isn't going to cut it. In TB, why not just add a few quests? It seems so simple that even a cave man could do it!


  1. As a player with a rather limited amount of play time, I kind of DO mind time sinks. It would be nice to get multiple things accomplished in my short amount of play time in the evening, not just one thing.

    Just sayin'. :)

  2. I would argue that the entire game is a giant time sink. We don't complain about rep grinds for gear or grinding for mats or stuff like that. Why? Because, as you pointed out, we are doing other things AT THE SAME TIME. That doesn't change the fact that all the things we're doing are time sinks, just that we feel that we get a good return on our investment of time.

    Thus, a more accurate way of putting it would be: "We don't mind time sinks when we consider them worth it." Which is to say, it's not the actual act of investing time into something that bothers us, rather when the value out doesn't measure up to what we'd expect.

  3. I guess I should point out that we used to complain about those things a lot more than we do now. That's my point. Not that we never complained about rep grinds before, just that they fixed them to make them more tolerable by allowing you to do them while doing other things (wearing tabards). So the solution isn't to "remove time sinks", it's to simply find a way to integrate them better.

  4. Or make the "time sinks" more fun.

    As an example: Someone might consider doing dailies a time sink, but they wouldn't if those dailies were consistently enjoyable. (Still a "worthwhile" reward, just not as much in-game reward.)

    Still, I find myself with only enough time for one "time sink" a night.

    I'm not sure I felt that way in Wrath.

  5. Yeah, I have to pick and choose as well, which is why I'm only now really trying out TB for the first time. The only other time I ran it before the last couple of nights was when they had the huge bonus for winning (I got one piece of PvP gear to replace my worst piece for heroics).

    Wrath it was a lot easier for heroics I think, so my night was like sign on, run a heroic, maybe a daily or two (maybe a profession daily), WG if it was up... done.

    The pendulum really swung the other way with Cata. I'm not altogether displeased, but would like to see a more solid path given to people on time constraints.

  6. Darth, I didn't feel that way in Wrath, I did in BC. Those darn Sunwell dailies were absolutely PAINFUL, especially when not in high-end gear. It wasn't until right before Wrath that they got easy, but still not fun.

  7. I think Fulguralis hit it on the head - in Wrath we had time to do several things in a short period of time. Now a heroic dungeon pug might take up to two hours. I find myself frustrated because when I "plan" to do something the plan flies out the window because something takes a lot longer than I hoped. I know things will get better as we gear up, but that will take a while.

  8. Thank you. I'm finding afterward that it was surprisingly difficult to make this simple point.

  9. I think you are all missing the headache that is TB. You had options in WG, I agree, but if you're on an unbalanced server (like most of us are) then you'll rarely see WG go to the lesser faction. TB right now is almost the same way. People are far less likely to defend the objectives and keep the Hold than they are to run out to the towers and just have a giant brawl.

    Every successful defense was keeping a solitary base defended. Every successful attack was won by the last nick of time.

    Holding the base gives you rewards for dailies, keeping it allows you to perhaps do more dailies or run Baradin's Hold. I will say though, that I've been doing TB dailies with people and have gotten different quests than the ones distributed. So, I do think they are randomizing the daily distribution for quests so that not all 10000 people are trying to kill 1 named guy in a tower.

    TB is its own reward. However, it is a far lesser reward than WG was, I'll admit.

  10. That kind of emphasizes the point of adding quests for the PvP fight though. Even if you were never winning WG, you could do the "kill 10" and "protect the siege" quests pretty easily, net a few badges, and get some rep out of it. In short, you were still progression. Perhaps a bit more slowly and without all the nice rewards, but you'd still get there in a reasonable amount of time. There was still something else to do.