The Challenge of Fixing Low Level PvP

In Zarhym’s recent foray into the PvP forums, the sentiment that low level PvP is broken in Cataclysm was voiced over, and over, and over again. The floating skull responded diplomatically:

We talked to Ghostcrawler about this yesterday. He’s well aware of this, but more importantly, he’s not very happy about it either. The class design team’s first priority is obviously balance around the end game, but absolute neglect of low-level balance isn’t okay. This is something that isn’t going to improve much in patch 4.3, but we hope to have more sound solutions coming.

I really sympathize with Zarhym here. This is not an easy topic to cover; I think the issues around low level PvP are actually more difficult to resolve than the balance problems of the endgame, because there are contradictory elements that simply cannot be reconciled – elements which do not exist at the end game.

These elements have a name. They are called new players.

And they are the reason not only why low level PvP is imbalanced, but why it should stay imbalanced.

THE PROBLEM OF LOW LEVEL PVP

It’s not enough to wring our hands and say, “low level PvP is broken.” While it may be true (and I believe it is), we have to look at the specific ways in which problems manifest in the battlegrounds.

  • Classes are imbalanced. Some classes have very good burst, others do not. Some have very good defenses, others do not. Some have counters, others do not.
  • Damage is very high relative to health. Characters die quickly in 1:1 situations.
  • Statistics vary wildly between characters within a bracket. Whether it is due to gear, professions, or enchants, players in the very early brackets show up in a wide variety of gear that can make one character ten times more powerful than another.
  • Stat scaling at low levels heightens small differences in gear. Due to rating decay, a few points in any stat will have a more dramatic impact at low levels than at higher ones.

These four interrelated problems cause lowbie PvP to appear “borked” and “broken.” I don’t like using those terms because I think that even in its current form, lowbie PvP is actually a lot of fun, both on the geared and ungeared side. But these problems combine to create strata of twinks within low level battlegrounds that can create seriously lopsided matches.

The real problem of low level PvP is that Blizzard removed one kind of twink from lowbie battlegrounds, only to have the void be filled by by another, more pernicious kind of twink:

Regular, experienced players.

LEARNING TO PLAY THE GAME

Think back to when you first started playing WoW, or your first MMO. Not just the early levels, either – the very first day.

I remember my first login, fumbling around on my MacBook’s trackpad, trying to right and left click with a single button, struggling to simply move and target. Concepts like combat stat decay and burst damage were far from my mind; I was trying to figure out how to perform the most basic functions of character control. And I struggled with it! It took me a week to get up to level 12; I didn’t even know basic MMO conventions. I didn’t get my first green piece until my second character – it was a Disciple’s Vest of the Whale, and I had no idea that green items existed before then.

I bring this up because the starting experience for a new player has a radically different set of challenges than that for an experienced player, and the game must take those into account. It must teach them basic mechanics of the game while also making them feel like they are accomplishing things. In order to retain customers, the game must reward new players and make them feel powerful and heroic – to pull them in and get them so they want to see more, to challenge them just enough so that they hit level 10 and go, WOW, this is awesome, let me keep on playing!

What Blizzard does not want to have happen is for someone to get frustrated at level 5 and walk away from the game, leaving a virtual corpse in the road outside Goldshire.

This is why characters start off with one ability and grow slowly – so players don’t get overwhelmed. This is why early abilities were substantially reworked in Cataclysm – so that each class would have just enough abilities to keep things interesting without overloading someone. It’s not just to make classes easier to learn – it’s acknowledging that new players are learning a lot of other things, too, and that low levels don’t need class complexity to make things worse.

Compare and contrast this with an experienced player, one who has learned the fundamentals of an MMO through the endgame. Zones which forgive the mistakes of someone just learning how to steer their character become trivially easy to a character who has a gaming pad and mouse set up, customizes their UI on the fly, writes attack macros as soon as they log in, knows how to pull multiple mobs, etc.. This isn’t about “catering to casuals,” however you want to take that term – this is about a real difference in skill between someone who is just picking up the game and someone who has played it for some time.

I used to think that the lower levels were easy for me because I outgeared them on my alts. I’d go roll an alt with enchants and heirlooms and stuff would die very quickly. It was only later that I realized I could do the exact same thing in starter gear and quest rewards, because I was a better player than the first time I leveled a character. Of course I should find the content easy! It’s made to be challenging to someone else, to teach them the skills which I already possess!

Think of how big this skill gap is that these early zones have to cover – be accessible enough to a completely new character, but not completely bore a veteran rolling yet another alt.

This is a fundamental truth of the lower levels which cannot be ignored when talking about low level PvP imbalance: the early game has to hook new players on the game and teach them the skills to play it. It has to be accessible to new players – not just to teach them the new skills, but to hook them on the game so they don’t go do something else! World of Warcraft has to be engaging enough through the first 20 levels that someone picking it up for the first time says, hey, this is pretty cool, it’s worth paying money to keep going.

From a business standpoint, this is a far more important priority than keeping experienced players challenged for 30 levels or so. They’ll get their challenge through other means.

Keep this in mind as you think about low level PvP, and as we dive into the math of stat scaling.

WHY THINGS ARE ALL DOWNHILL FROM LEVEL 10: THE PROBLEM OF STAT SCALING AND RATING DECAY

Most of the low level zones follow a fairly consistent character development arc. You start with trivial tasks at the very early levels, overcoming a minor obstacle by level 5 or 6, gaining experience, and overcoming a moderately difficult challenge by 10-12. By then you’re ready to move on to another zone, where the difficulty increases substantially over the next 5 levels or so, but so does the importance of the story – and the rewards. By the time you hit level 20 in that next zone, your character is authentically heroic – low level, but they’ve saved the day in a major way.

This arc is reinforced by a substantial shift in game mechanics that takes place at level 10.

I love going over at Shadowpanther.net’s formula page when trying to explain why a character at lower levels is sometimes better than one at higher levels due to stat scaling. Having each level laid out in a chart provides a better visual aid to see how ratings decay for a lot of people than mathematical formulas.

If you haven’t read these kinds of charts before, the first seven columns go over how much of each combat stat you need for 1% of the value; so if the Crit column in the level 19 row says 2.94, that means you need 2.94 Crit to equal 1%. (3 Crit rating is therefore 1.02% at 19.) The rest of the table relates to a very specific Rogue (and Hunter) stat called AEP, which isn’t relevant to our discussion here.

The Shadowpanther chart helps illustrate how stat scaling works. The more you level, the more value of a particular stat you need to get 1% of it. You need more stuff on your gear as you level in order to maintain a certain level of power. You can think of it as gear getting weaker as you level, if you like, or of driving you to acquire better gear to stay in good form.

Where stat scaling gets interesting is in the really low levels. Look at levels 1-10. There is no change in stat scaling in those first 10 levels – 1 point of Crit will get you 1.85% increased critical strike chance. There’s no gear decay at all until you reach level 11 – when suddenly, stats start to drop off pretty quickly.

Let’s go back to the initial character development arc again, but this time, looking at stat scaling.

From 1-10, characters get increasingly more powerful as they level. They gain primary statistics at each level that apply linearly; if you gain 5 of your primary statistic, you get the full benefit of that 5 points. This happens with or without good gear, mind you – because combat statistics are flat, the more you gain, the better your character becomes.

This increase has a deliberate, positive psychological effect on players. People feel like they’re getting more powerful as they level – because they are. This is much like a traditional RPG, where a level 5 character is substantially more powerful than a level 1 – it’s an entirely different ballgame.  Challenges have to be adjusted for the fact that you’re now a badass. That can be pretty cool.

Magical gear and enchants function in a linear fashion with this model. Just like in AD&D, a +1 Sword in the hands of a level 1 character functions exactly the same as in a level 10 character. It increases the chance to hit and damage the same amount. The damage might be a lower percentage of the higher level character’s overall damage, but that’s a function of them doing more damage overall. The gear remains unchanged.

Let’s translate this idea into WoW: let’s say a piece of gear gives you +3 Haste, which (for example’s sake) gives you +1% Haste at level 1, and at level 80, and at level 85. The more you level, the better gear you gain, the better your stats get. You could wear your level 70 gear and be just as effective at level 85 as you were at 70 – more so, since your base statistics have improved! Perhaps your linear stats (like Stamina and Mana) are lacking, but your gear is as effective as it was when you raided in Burning Crusade! It would make for a very different kind of game, since once you reached a certain level of power on your gear, it would be sufficient to handle most challenges in the game – but that would eliminate the idea of a gear tier, where it gets progressively more powerful.

For the first 10 levels your character gains in power, drawing you in, making you feel like yeah, I’m getting good at this!

Starting at level 11, linear scaling goes completely out the window, and rating decay sets in.

Starting at level 11, characters get decreasingly more powerful as they level due to stat scaling. At some point, they actually get weaker as a result of rating decay, as each point of a statistic they get by leveling counts for less than it used to. Gear becomes required to start making up the difference.

Look at the charts again. See how all the stats (other than Resilience) start going down in potency at level 11? That’s rating decay in action. Each point of a rating contributes less actual impact the more you level.

During the normal questing arc, this change is ideally hidden by moving to a new, more challenging zone. Things feel tougher in the second zone because they are tougher – but it’s not just because the opponents are tougher. You’re getting progressively weaker as you level, at least until you start getting gear to help make up the difference – and even then, you never really go back to the great scaling you enjoyed at level 10.

The story arc carries you towards a heroic achievement at level 20 at the same time game mechanics make you less potent. In a way, it makes a lot of sense to increase the overall difficulty of the game at this point for new players – but instead of making the mobs substantially more difficult, WoW makes PCs weaker and more dependent upon gear. This bait-and-switch works because it prepares players for the rest of the game, where they will be acquiring increasingly powerful gear to overcome more powerful challenges. The challenges are harder, but characters don’t get any more efficient from their improvements. The damage numbers are just bigger. The mana pools are bigger  - but so are the spell costs. You’re not actually any faster or more accurate. You’re not more skilled, you just have bigger numbers.

This ties in directly to the first symptom most people point to when talking about low level PvP’s problems: gear.

THE PROBLEM OF GEAR AND ENCHANTS

Heirloom gear and enchants represent two sides of the same problem – adding stats where new players lack them. They are both fundamentally unbalancing because the early leveling game is balanced for new players who lack those stats, not for experienced players with them. By walking into one of the 1-20 zones with anything other than quest rewards, you’re overgearing the content.

Generally speaking, that means the content is geared for:

  • Mostly whites through level 10-12
  • Whites and greens through level 15
  • Greens and maybe 1-2 blues by level 20

Keep in mind that many slots will not be filled either, even by white gear, so you’ll be missing a head, neck, 2 rings, 2 trinkets, and maybe a ranged slot.

The obvious problem is that there are players who have gear with stats in slots where other players don’t. It doesn’t take long to figure out that someone in blues versus someone in whites is imbalanced.  And that is absolutely true: better gear increases the amount of damage, healing, and health available to low level characters.

But the unseen problem is that, even with rating decay, gear scales better at lower levels. That scaling curve makes small differences much more prominent at levels 11-20 than at 40-60. It’s not just that gear grants more spellpower, attack power, or stamina – it’s that it grants more Haste, more Dodge, more Crit than it will at later levels. Heirloom gear is better gear at level 10 and 19 than at 35. 

But wait; enchants are even worse.

I’ve maintained that enchants outperform heirlooms in terms of raw power, but they’re even more potent at lower levels because of stat scaling. Keep in mind that many of these enchants were to be used at level 60 for raiding, and are not scaled for the leveling game. So an enchant like +15 Agility is pretty good at level 55, but it’s amazing at level 10. With the right combination of enchants, you can approach 100% Crit, Dodge, even Haste (Iron Counterweights FTW)!

But only for levels 1-10. After that point, stat decay kicks in, but vanilla enchants remain overpowered for the early brackets (up to 20-24, at least.)

Consider that you can have two rogues in the 10-14 bracket, and one could have 10x as much Agility as the other. Ten times as much.

And that Agility is giving more Dodge and Crit than at any other point in the game.

Let that sink in for a bit.

You have experienced players with access to gear through heirlooms, professions, and the AH. They can get great enchants which are at the peak of their potency in the early brackets. They have access to consumables (scrolls, rum, buff food) that new players don’t.

And they are playing the same game with players who are over the moon about a blue cloak with +4 of their primary stat on it.

I don’t see any potential problems with this in PvP. Nope.

THE PROBLEM OF CLASS BALANCE

You know, the gear problem is actually probably the easiest problem to solve with respect to low level PvP. Modifying the BG matching algorithm to filter based on an aggregate gear score – be it item level, total attack power/spell power, things like that – would be hard to implement, easy to work around, but conceptually it could work.

Class balance is a much harder problem to deal with at low levels.

Cataclysm brought with it a complete reworking of how abilities were learned by classes. A few gained some abilities early on, but many abilities were moved to later. Most AoE abilities were moved up to at least level 20. And Talent Specialization at level 10 granted some new abilities, but at the cost of a more flexible playstyle. I once wrote in Wrath that I needed to think of myself as a Mage, not a Frost Mage. Now I have to think like a Frost Mage – only lacking a lot of the tools of one.

The abilities at lower levels always present people with a challenge. Things are so basic and elementary at low levels. You have some of your core abilities, but not all of them. You don’t have many things that work together. Very few classes have counters, and those that do are OP.

The decision to move abilities around was entirely driven by making a class easier to learn for new players and for players new to the class. The first 5 levels are very basic, with abilities coming at a relatively steady, bearable clip. (The only class where I feel like you get too much at once is Druid because of Cat form at level 8.) The first 20 levels see a lot of abilities get introduced to a character – but not all abilities are equal, or are granted at the same time. And that’s not a bad thing, for leveling! Druids having Cat form at level 8 is honestly good for their leveling!

But how do you propose to balance this?

Look at the level 10-14 bracket and what different classes gain. Warriors gain Taunt at 12 and Heroic Strike at 14. Warlocks gain Bane of Agony at 12 and Fear at 14. Hunters gain Wing Clip at 12 and Hunter’s Mark & Disengage at 14.

  • Warriors get basically one attack which replaces an attack they already have (Strike).
  • Warlocks get an instant cast DoT (dramatically improving their damage output) and the best PvP CC in the game.
  • Hunters get two different escape methods: a snare and a leap. Both of those can’t be countered at this level by melee classes. They also get an attack buff.

There are two points here.

First, each class changes between the bottom and top of the low level brackets. In most cases, these are important abilities that get picked up in the early levels.

Second, each class changes differently. Warriors are actually becoming excellent lowbie tanks, while Hunters are picking up skills to make them great in PvP.

Third, many abilities have counters later on – but not yet. Warlocks might have a reliable escape from melee – but it comes at level 80. Warriors get gap closers – but at level 35. Counters add a lot of complexity to a class that, frankly, a new player isn’t ready for, and many experienced players who are new to the class aren’t ready for, either.

This isn’t a case of simple DPS balancing, of tweaking damage output to bring classes in line with each other. Each change made for PvP has to be considered in the context of a specific bracket, not “low level PvP.” What will it do at 10-14, 15-19, 20-24? More importantly, what will it do to the leveling experience? Will it give players too many buttons to push too soon?

Here’s the thing – when you take away gear as a factor, like in the xp-off bracket, you still see differences between class performance in both PvP and PvE. This is true at level 10, it’s true at level 70, and it’s true all the way up to level 85. Level 85 is where it’s the most balanced, not only because that’s where the majority of the players play, but because that’s where class toolkits are complete.

If you ask me who you should play in low level PvP, my standard response is to play what you enjoy playing, because then you’ll have fun. But secretly, I keep a list.

(I know, you’re shocked, shocked I say.)

You want to be OP under level 25? Play a Hunter, a Sub Rogue, Arcane Mage (Frost is also good at 19), Disc Priest, or Resto Shammy.

Consider what is really being asked for when people want class balance throughout the leveling experience: please balance 30 specs across 15 brackets in addition to the endgame. That’s 450 different class/spec/level combinations to balance against each other at 15 different points.

Oh, with no real standard of gear.

And make sure it’s balanced for PvP and PvE, too. Don’t screw up the leveling curve and cause players to get overwhelmed.

And don’t forget that you have to keep the endgame balanced, too.

See where this is going?

I’m not saying that classes shouldn’t be roughly balanced – they should, and this is where homogenization comes in handy. And this is a real problem in low level PvP – some classes are just not very good at certain points, even with the best gear you can get on them. I don’t PvP on my level 19 Warrior twink anymore, it’s too damn hard to be successful.

But blanket calls to fix class balance at low levels have to consider the context of that balance, and why it’s not as simple to implement as it is to ask for.

LOW LEVEL UTOPIA, OR THE PROBLEM OF EXPERIENCED PLAYERS

When you combine aggressively scaled statistics, rewards for experienced players that allow them to easily and consistently overgear early content, and a redesigned leveling program which spreads class abilities further along the leveling curve, and then toss that mixture into the early part of a game designed for new players, you get a highly combustible mixture.

Sending it in to Warsong Gulch at level 10 makes it explosive.

The complaints about low level PvP are valid enough – burst damage is too high. Some classes lack any real PvP defenses. Other classes and races may have abilities which are perfectly suited to PvP.

But… these problems have always been there, in the lower brackets, in the higher brackets, pretty much everywhere in Warcraft.

It’s interesting that these complaints are so rampant now, in Cataclysm, when there were periods in Warcraft’s history when low level PvP was far more hostile to new players.

Before the split brackets, before xp-locked brackets, before heirlooms, there were twinks. Twinks ruled low level PvP with an iron fist. They weren’t kind or gracious about it – they were as good as they could be, they played to win against the other twinks, and if you got in their way as a new player you were going to get steamrolled.

It was not balanced. It was not fair. It was not a good experience for new players, to be sure. And twinks were reviled for it, but they had unapologetic fun on their own terms.

With 3.2, battleground XP, and the creation of the xp-off battleground bracket, twinks were moved away from new players and given their own playground. Battlegrounds became a place not to perfect your craft and your self, but rather part of the leveling experience.

And that, right there, is where the current problems started. Not with heirlooms, but with adding experience to battlegrounds.

The promise of twink-free BGs was a heady one. I remember the excitement of those first months when people flooded into BGs to level through PvP. And it’s remained great – being able to mix up PvP with dungeons and questing keeps leveling fresh and exciting. It lets you avoid Outland or Northrend entirely, if you’re burned out on those expansions.

But with experience came the expectation that leveling through PvP should be fair(er).That by removing the twinks, the leveling brackets were now safe places to go with undergeared characters or new players. They weren’t, of course, but as long as the gear difference between characters wasn’t too extreme, the brackets weren’t too out of whack. And that was actually what happened, since those BGs were for leveling, people didn’t stop to get great gear and PvP – they came in the gear they had.

And then came heirlooms.

Heirlooms allowed players to outgear their opponents right from the beginning in PvP, and as more heirlooms have been added, the problem has gotten worse. While enchants are actually more imbalancing than heirlooms, most players aren’t willing to blow 500g on a glove enchant for an alt. (Heirlooms are vastly more popular than Hand Me Downs, so they get the blame for this one.)

Heirlooms gave early PvP levelers the edge they needed to be really good in PvP, to the point where they could dominate (and level faster.) Others noticed this, and got BoA gear too, and Heirlooms are now a really good idea if you want to level through PvP from 10-60. A new twink class was born: experienced players.

Instead of the PvP utopia that removing the twinks and granting XP was supposed to create, the exact same conditions prevailed.

The only difference was that now there was an expectation that new players could participate in low level PvP, that you could go in without putting a lot of work into your gear and still be successful.

The expectation might be there, even if the reality doesn’t match it.

Oh! And that the people who formerly decried twinks had become them. Let’s not forget that.

But PvP in Warcraft hasn’t changed. It has been, and always will be, very dependent upon gear. If you have better gear, you will do better. It’s also very class dependent; certain classes will do better at certain points than others.

Can low level PvP be improved? Absolutely. There are class tweaks that can be made to help both with leveling and PvP – Destro Warlocks getting Soul Fire at level 20 was a good example of this.

But even if you can fix some of the class balance issues, you will still have to contend with the very brutal fact that there will always be a great disparity between new and experienced players. As long as you have PvP as a viable leveling option, there will be wildly different gear levels between players.

Balancing low level PvP makes the endgame balancing act look easy.

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41 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual, Green Tinted Goggles

41 responses to “The Challenge of Fixing Low Level PvP

  1. I’ve just started leveling a shaman to lock at the 60 or 70 bracket, found out I don’t get stoneclaw (my main source of survival early game) until 58. I was heartbroken, that totem (the glyph moreso) made me a flagrunning god in WSG in the 19 bracket when i was leveling my first shaman in WotLK. It’s my feeling that the abilities you’re getting early on should be the ones you should be getting used to using for the rest of the game, not a seemingly random hodge podge of abilities. Mages can counterspell me with a blanket silence in the 10-14 bracket and i can’t windshear until 16. Rogues can sap beasts, something that wasn’t able to be done until 71 previously. But yes, Hunters are far too strong too early on. Hell, last night i was crit by a pet for 387 at level 18 -_-

    • I basically stopped playing Cynderblock in 19 PvP when they took away half her toolbox in Cataclysm.

      It’s been interesting leveling my other warrior – I’ve gotten back all the abilities I’ve lost, and then some, so I’m used to playing the class again – but when I switch back to ‘block, I start cursing like a sailor. WHERE IS MY FUCKING INTERRUPT followed by WHY DOESN’T CHARGE WORK and CAN I GET A HEROIC THROW PLEASE and WHAT DO YOU MEAN I HAVE NO SHOUTS?

      It’s very strange. I play a prot twink in the 70 bracket and mobility is her hallmark – I am basically Charging and Intercepting every CD. When I go back to level 19, the only place where she’s mobile is when questing, out of combat.

      As much as I’m supposed to be playing Prot early on at 19, I had no idea how different it would feel at later levels.

  2. Talethkomal

    Great post.

    I’m a super casual player – the extent of my involvement in WoW is playing a battleground or two as a relatively quick diversion. I don’t have the time or inclination to raid or participate in scheduled PvP, but I enjoy battlegrounds.

    I’ve been playing a lot of low-level PvP recently, thanks to your guides. It’s refreshing to largely be off the gearing-up timesink, thanks to heirlooms and hand-me-downs.

    Balance is clearly an issue. This is my first time playing a Disc Priest. I’m absolutely wiping the floor with opponents, and coming out #1 in both killing blows and healing after every battleground. It’s fun, but a little insane. I’m not even that *good* yet.

    The only reason I’m playing lowbie PvP is to have fun without the time-suck of gear grinding. If gearing and balance are issues, and the game designers are already balancing for endgame PvP, why not allow players to PvP in the balanced environment without the hamster wheel?

    I’d really love to see Blizzard add a year-round PvP-only server, similar to the Arena tournament they have every year. Let players create a top-level toon with full access to top-level gear (just like the Arena server), customize away, and let them go at it.

    The segregated server would ensure that the gear wouldn’t spill over to the PvE / Competitive realms. Shoot, it wouldn’t even need to give players access to the outside world – just the ability to join random BGs, rated BGs, and Arena teams. Just stick the toons in a closed arena area with no mounts or exits, so all they can do is queue. It’d also give Blizzard a great ongoing test realm for PvP balance issues.

    That’d certainly keep my subscription dollars flowing – at present, I play for a few months, get tired of the grind, and ultimately quit until I feel like playing again.

    • Thanks! This is an interesting idea, one I rather like. I guess I’m trying to recreate it on my own by twinking at level 70, because I am pretty tired of the gear grind, but … yeah – that would be neat to be able to try out different classes at 85 in PvP without any commitment, year round.

  3. Cyn,
    As usual, you’ve covered a vast area of the game with a ton of good ideas here. I’ve been doing the PvP leveling thing and have suffered exactly as you described up until the high 70 bracket. There a new form of suffering began.

    Suffering aside, it’s been a blast, but I had some heirloom items. It didn’t strike me until reading your post what an advantage that gave, but I clearly see your point from my own experience. Additionally, your discussion about levels and counters was quite interesting; as a sub rogue, I had a hard time protecting flags because I essentially had no aoe to break everyone trying to cap; now that I hit 80 and got fan, I’m a flag-defending master.

    Great post, as always.

    Sincerely,
    Stubborn

    • Thanks! This does cover a lot of ground, and I’m glad you found some of them interesting. The 75-79 and 80-84 brackets are really tough because they’ve got two whole expansions worth of stat decay and gear inflation. The 75-79 bracket has both the 78 crafted gear (for resilience) and Cata greens (for massive stat inflation), while the 80-84 bracket has an entire expansion’s worth of stat decay in a single bracket. The 83 stat dropoff is brutal, but if you gear up to compensate it can be overcome. Health pools shoot up 4-5x from the bottom to the top of the bracket though, which is just CRAZY.

      I’m enjoying reading about your PvP adventures – thanks for stopping by and sharing some of what you’ve seen!

  4. dakotarick

    Great Post. I think it would be nice if the PvP rewards for the brackets had some stats a little closer to what Heirlooms would be at that level. I would also like the cost of turning off XP to be less expensive. I am goofing around on a Mage with no access to Heirlooms or Gold other than what is earned. That would also have the benefit of doing the zones at your own pace. I would rather do the content I feel like doing rather than looking at quest rewards and wondering if it will be too much XP and put me in the next bracket. 10 Gold is nothing to an established player but is 3 times the net worth of my 16 Mage.

    • I agree completely. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

      Revamping the PvP rewards would be an excellent place to start. Would it unbalance the leveling game? Maybe. But if you toss enough Resilience onto PvP gear at early levels, you can 1) reduce burst damage 2) make them less attractive for PvE 3) still make them useful for leveling.

      Also – resell Vanishing Powder and Enchanting Vellums on the AH to build up your gold supply. :-)

    • Kierbuu

      I’ve had this odd idea while leveling a few new ‘toons and thru PvP. Blizzard should just rip the old level 60 blue PvP set off the vendors and re-release them as pseudo-heirlooms that will level with you all the way to endgame. Keep them cheap as they are now, but make them wearable from lvl 10. Make them bind on pick-up so ‘you’ have to earn them (not that high level character you have). Maybe put it as only a 5 piece set and let the other battlegrounds sell the off pieces. Rings and necklaces from WSG. Boots and belts from AB. Weapons and relics from AV. This way you could level thru PvP and never have the problem of your gear getting outdated. Most of your gear could grow with you and the other pieces could be bought with all the honor you are accumulating in the battlegrounds.

      I would think a system like this would let those who want to PvP to get all their gear needs thru the PvP system. Put some extra stamina and resilience on the stuff and PvE players wouldn’t find it as desirable as ‘their’ PvE gear. They may want a piece or two sometimes, but it wouldn’t be worth grinding for a whole set. Lots of stamina and resilience may also help curb the burst problems in the lower brackets.

      I guess I’ld just like to see some better PvP gear options for those without heirlooms and the reviving of the old battleground merchants.

      • I like this idea!Personally, I’d settle for a revamp of the 10-60 PvP gear selection – more resilience, more sets – but a leveling set that grows with you sounds like a great idea.

  5. Noxvomicus

    Great post cyn. And I think most of your points are pretty spot on.

    I think you left out abilities though. While they removed “ranks” from spells, and I must say it’s nice not to worry about ranks, but it seems spells are not “progressing” properly.

    Example, healers: one flash heal from my very badly geared disc priest is enough to heal anyone from 20-30% to full at 69. Why’s that? Spells are too powerful in lower levels. It’s not scaling properly as before when ranks were around *shrug*.

    Example: dps: same as above. Even arcane shot can take down 30-40% hp of enemy players at 60 .

    I think by fixing this scaling through spell ranks, it would go a long way.

    • I thought about talking more about how abilities change over time, but this article was getting long enough. It’s a great point.

      One of the things that I learned while twinking a mage back in Wrath was how important using the right spell rank was. Every mage needed to know how to use Rank 1 Frostbolt, because it was FAST and snared just as well as Rank 3 – but was half a second faster cast.

      Disc priests have crazy spells at low levels – shields which are more than 100% of health, things like that. I think that the spells are too powerful because of my primary thesis – to both provide new players with the tools they need to survive, as well as provide positive reinforcement and a sense of “power.”

      Problems definitely arise when you put 100 spellpower behind those heals. :-(

      Thanks for the comment, a very good point!

  6. scotth

    Honestly, I have not read your entire post, but what I did read leads me to believe you ate downplaying a major issue.

    In my mind the biggest issue is the disparity in burst damage at low levels. Hunters just demolish everything in sight hands down right now in the lower brackets, regardless of gear. I played an arathi basin where I ran from farm to gold mine and killed six characters on the way. When I got to gm I killed two people and capped the node. I have no heirlooms or enchants on that too, but some of the people I killed sure did and they still went down before they new what hit them.

    I am not a bad player, and I do have some experience playing a hunter. There is no way I am that good though; there is just no way something like that should happen.

    I agree there are a lot of factors at play, but in my mind the damage output of the classes is way out of line. I really think tuning the damage would get the balanceost of the way there.

    • Burst damage is definitely a problem, though I think it’s a byproduct of the demands of new player leveling. Some classes can unload a lot of CDs very quickly if you know what you’re doing, and yeah – it’s too high.

      I didn’t want to touch on Hunter damage in particular, because it’s easy to turn it into a Hunter QQ fest, but yeah, hunter damage is high. Not just burst damage, either – overall damage is high. The change to Focus allows them to consume resources to unload damage very very quickly, but pet damage is also really high. Twink warriors can be soloed by Hunter pets in the 19 bracket – you get kited around the BG as the pet just kicks your ass. It’s kind of embarrassing, to be honest.

      The problem with burst damage is that it comes from two sources, not just one – the first is that low level spells are pretty potent as-is, and then the stat scaling works really well for them. Not only does Agility contribute to RAP, it also contributes to Crit.

      So, yeah. High Crit levels + ability to rapidly unload damage + ability to stay out of range = your basic freaking nightmare in BGs.

  7. Like the two commenters above, I think that the biggest problem with low-level PvP is damage to health ratio.

    I don’t care whether abilities are balanced between classes. Levelling is so fast these days that it’s easy to accept that you’ll suck for a few levels because you’re missing an important ability. And if you’re making an XP-locked twink, the responsibility is with you to gather knowledge about which class is best at which points anyway.

    Gear disparity is an issue, but in all honesty I haven’t found it that bad.

    However, people dying in two hits – regardless of gear – is stupid because it means that you don’t actually get to do anything, other than res up, run in and kill or be killed again within two seconds. The contrast is particularly stark because PvP at endgame is so much less bursty these days with the increased health pools and changes to healing. Then you go into a low-level battleground and often die before you can even tell what happened. That’s extremely off-putting.

    • Rogues in lowbie PvP are basically like RNG – if they burst you and get a crits, you’re dead. Nothing you can do about it.

      I honestly don’t disagree that burst damage is too high. I think it’s a byproduct of making the game accessible to new players, both for design, gameplay, and psychology.

      Resilience will fix it?

      (I’m saying that only half-jokingly. Huh. What if you could get 30% damage reduction at level 10? Would it help?)

      • madup

        Doesn’t armor offer a lot of damage reduction at low level?

        Great article btw!

        • Yes, it also scales well at low levels. It’s better in PvE, though, since it’s only melee damage that’s mitigated. Resilience protects against spell damage too.

  8. Tesh

    I’ve argued before for normalized PvP. Take gear and levels completely out of the equation. If you want to play as a Warrior in the 10-14 bracket, you get a prepackaged level 14 Warrior just like everyone else who wants to play a Warrior. Maybe you maintain your gear as a cosmetic choice, but the numbers that drive your character *in the PvP arena* are normalized. That would be about the only way to balance them, methinketh. Gear and levels provide too big of a mechanical differential to overcome without a radical fix.

    I’m not worried about player skill differentials, though. If the tools are normalized, player skill carries the day. That’s sort of the point of PvP, though there’s probably an argument in there for matchmaking based on skill ratings.

    • I’ve seen a few arguments for this, and the blue response has always been that WoW is a gear-based game, and that removing gear from PvP entirely would defeat the purpose of the game.

      I think I’m with you on this one, though. Give players the option to play with the same gear. In many ways, that’s what the 4.1 PvP gear revamp accomplished – it dramatically leveled the PvP playing field, which I still think is one of the best things Blizzard has done for PvP in Cataclysm. But extend it lower.

      Oh well. Much like having Drain Life Affliction as a viable Warlock spec, I guess this’ll remain a dream.

  9. zwinglisblog

    You are so right…
    I made a low level hunter, and went into WSG as soon as I hit level 10. Now, I did this with a drood, fully enchanted and wearing heirlooms. That experience was great! However, my new hunter was on a server where I had no heirlooms stashed. I was wearing exactly what I had on from questing up to that point.

    I was one-shotted multiple times by toons in heirlooms.

    I immediately xfered a level 80 character over for the express purpose of getting my baby hunter some new duds. :D

    Revenge is coming…Oh, it is coming soon. /cackle

    Zwingli

    • I have been trying a lot of lowbie PvP without heirlooms, just to see what it’s like. It’s tough. No bones about it, it can be really tough.

      I find that I do pretty well because I’m a reasonably good PvPer, but also that there’s so much that’s out of my control. Twink hunter? Better bring 4 friends. Twink rogue? 1-shot, nothing you can do about it. Disc priest? Kite, kite, kite, hope they don’t notice you. :-)

      I’m building another twink, just to see how the 20-24 bracket is playing.

  10. Fantastic post!! I don’t even PvP and I read every bit of it. I can’t comment intelligently as your above guests, but each time I read a CBM post like this it feels slightly less outside the realm of the possible :) Thanks from those of us who can use all the help we can get deciphering the Great Mysteries of PvP.

    • Disco, we need to get you PvPing more. What is it going to take? Do I need to bring a priest over to one of your servers and complain loudly in gchat about how I don’t know what I’m doing if ONLY someone could teach me to disc PvP? :-)

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  12. matthew

    I really enjoyed your article – and read it all! It was insightful and accurate.

    I loved the arena server, and made me a 70 twink mage that has xp off. It’s the closest to that enviornment i can get (except for the random 74 troll haha). I can afford the best PvP gear, gemming is ok, and its about skill, since most everyone there is in my boat.

    Your article made me realize something else too. When i was a junior twink *not hard core just geared and such* I tried not to cremate the newbies. I think I might have been doing that the other day on my hunter, not even realizing it. Yes – I’m going to try to kill other folks in heirlooms to not be ‘that guy’.

    Cheers!

    • I confess; the allure of a 70 twink mage is strong. Really strong. It looks like an absolute blast, and they absolutely pwn my warrior twink. Yikes.

      (That said, mages can’t win AV with a good healer, and I can, so I guess that’s something? :-))

      I used to have a lot more guilt in PvP than I do now. I play a lot of PvP on my son’s characters, and they’re mostly in whites and a few greens. Depending on the class, I can do pretty well in the BGs. I can’t take out a twink solo, but I can gang up on them with the best of ‘em. :-)

      Thanks for reading, and for your comment!

  13. Harvoc

    This post makes me miss leveling before 3.2. Before 3.2, I ran battlegrounds to get enough honor to purchase the PvE gear sold by the battleground vendors without having to worry about outleveling the quests and dungeons I planned to do. I would quest in a zone and once I got a quest for a dungeon, I’d get all the other quests for that dungeon and run it. While questing, I’d be queued up for battlegrounds (this was back when we usually had 10 min queues). Good times…

  14. Gobbledegook

    Great post! I have the low level pvp down to a science but I recently wanted a change of pace and rolled a resto shaman on a f2p account. No BOAs, chants, or buffs. Just hard work and dedication getting geared :) When I got in, I was steamrolled repeatedly by hunters. Rogues are managable, but hunters, oh man. I try and pocket heal hunters to keep me protected throughout the match. It has brought the spark and challenge back to WoW for me (besides RBGs on my main). I suggest everyone roll a f2p account and go Horde! We need the numbers!

  15. “This is why characters start off with one ability and grow slowly – so players don’t get overwhelmed.”

    Hit the nail on the head with that one. When I first began WoW, I made a warrior and it was more than enough to wrap my head around Charge and Heroic Strike, let alone later abilities. Just the sudden feeling of ‘boom, you’re at the enemy, better start attacking before you die’ startled me for a while. Also helped that WoW was my very first MMO ever.

    But last month, when I went to visit a friend, and walking in on him playing SW:TOR beta? He was playing an imperial agent, and his action bars were completely clogged full.

    I asked, ‘So what level are you? All that stuff on your bars, must be near max level, right?’ He replied, ‘What? Hell no, I’m only 15. I couldn’t even *fit* a few of my abilites on the screen.”

    And that right there is probably why I won’t buy it when it releases. A pity, since I really wanted to play with him when it came out since it’d be the only game we BOTH would be playing. I hate Champions Online, he hates WoW.

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  20. MP

    After leveling in Vanilla and bging everytime I hit #9 was amazingly fun. With all the expansions, I honestly don’t see a reason to anymore. Blizzard doesn’t care about low levels enough to change such things. Just hit 85 and try to have fun there or super twink ur lowbies and play whenever you don’t see another twink that can counter u.

  21. Velorama

    I am a F2P account with multiple twinks in the level 20-24 bracket. I have to say this is a very well thought out article. I have a couple of copper to throw in.

    I wish to throw experience unbalance aside for a second though. You can take two equally skilled players and place them in two different classes and have them twink out to the max, and one toon will still destroy the other because of the class imbalance.

    I believe Blizzard screwed up on this. Class balance should have been tackled before even coming up with PvE content. That mistake aside, low levels aren’t even balanced PvE. Right now, my hunter can kill mobs 12-13+ his level (STV) without breaking a sweat. Try that on a druid or a warrior at this level and the result is much different. When there is that much disparity when approaching NPCs, of course there is going to be disparity in the PvP environment. To say the least, some of the imbalance has to be credited to Blizzard’s gross negligence of the lower brackets (though it may be their strategic decision to direct all of their focus on end game). It isn’t to say they could make it perfect, but a little effort would go a long way.

    Gear imbalance isn’t hard to fix. In reality, developing, testing, and deploying stat adjustments on gear just isn’t that hard.

    Most of all, it is clear enchants weren’t designed with scaling or balance in mind. With the introduction of vellum, this enchanting disparity only became easier to obtain for skilled/funded players. My suggestions for this have to do with scaling too. Make certain enchants scale with level, bringing near the same percentage increases no matter what lower level you are.

    I personally believe the quickest fix for BGs right now is to allow PvP only gear. Make this gear have certain stats that only activate in a PvP environment. So leave OP’d classes like hunter alone, but give the Warrior some PvP gear that activates extra bonus stats when in the PvP environment. This wouldn’t make up for ability gaps, but it would be a start to making specific classes more viable in lower level PvP.

    Anyhow, I have gone on too long already. Great post.

  22. Velorama

    I had a second thought to. I wish they would abandon the XP-off/XP-on BG model for a Enchant/non-enchant BG model. That would separate experience disparity/eliminate some of the major stat differences.

  23. Aeveran

    I know this post is a bit old, but I enjoyed reading it and figured I’d throw in my 2 cents.

    Currently I’m leveling a warrior mainly through PvP, and it’s been a BLAST! I have a decent amount of PvP experience. I play prot because it allows you to charge in combat, and gives you shield slam. Sure, hunters are overpowered, disc priests have incredible shields, etc., but the feeling you get when you counter everything they do is amazing. For example, I was dueling a disc priest in Goldshire the other day at level 41, he was 44. I was able to beat him nearly every time because I would just counter his abilities. He would throw up a shield, I would Shield Slam it off of him; he would scream me, I would trinket it off and Heroic Throw to silence the incoming Mind Blast. He would shield and Flash Heal, I would interrupt Shield Slam, he would try to kite me in Shadow, I would switch to battle stance and Hamstring him, 5 second stun, kill. That’s why I enjoy playing a warrior. I do well in RBGs too. Being a tank makes me a great FC, and with a pocket healer I’m basically invincible. I guess my point is that to a certain extent, knowledge and skill can overcome gear.

    • Aeveran

      I forgot to mention here that I’m playing with mostly level 20 greens, two heirloom pieces, and a couple blues. The priest was in almost max heirlooms (helm, cape, shoulders, chest, staff, trinket) with almost all blues of around his level. He had around 3k hp and 4k mana while I had around 2.8k hp.