Tag Archives: Camelot Unchained

Factions Have Outstayed Their Welcome

The hype around Battle for Azeroth has once again brought the seemingly endless conflict between World of Warcraft’s Alliance and Horde into the spotlight. Despite being a long-time WoW player, though, I find myself giving serious thought to passing on this expansion altogether for the simple reason that I have long felt the factional conflict is, in a word, stupid.

A Lightforged Draenei character in World of Warcraft

And that’s not just true of WoW. Factions in MMOs — or at least in PvE focused MMOs — have always been one of my pet peeves. They harm games far more than they’ve ever helped them.

Factions Add Little

First of all, it needs to be said that factions really don’t add much to the experience of playing MMOs. They’re unnecessary, at best.

The chief argument that seems to be put forth in favor of dividing players into factions is that it instills a sense of pride and faction identity, but I’ve never heard anyone clearly articulate why that’s actually a good thing. Mostly it just seems to feed toxicity between players (more on that in a minute).

The next biggest argument for factions is that they provide a basis for PvP, but in reality they’re completely unnecessary for PvP. It’s entirely possible to still have player competition without them. Guild Wars 2 offers multiple PvP modes, including massive world versus world, without any discrete factions at all. And that’s just one example that I could give.

If anything, factions harm PvP more than they help it. It’s very difficult for developers to balance the population numbers between factions, especially given people’s predilection to gravitate to whichever faction has more “pretty” races. Just look at Aion’s eternal struggles to balance the Elyos and Asmodae factions.

The only benefit from factions that I personally have ever seen is that they offer variety when it comes to storylines and leveling content. Leveling up as an Imperial character in Star Wars: The Old Republic tends to be a very different experience from doing those same levels as a republic character.

The Iron Marches zone in Guild Wars 2, a game blessedly free of player factions

But even then, factions aren’t really necessary for that. Guild Wars 2 offers a healthy selection of distinct starter zones and personal stories based on its various races without any need to divide players between arbitrary factions.

They Go Nowhere

Another thing that grinds my gears about factions is that the conflict between them can never truly go anywhere. It’s a story with no drama. To keep the game balanced, neither side can ever win a major victory or suffer a major loss. Doing so means favoring one group of paying customers while disadvantaging another, and that’s such bad business it borders on economic suicide. No developer is ever going to do that, nor should they.

When Blizzard revealed that Battle for Azeroth would be an expansion focused on the Alliance-Horde war, they immediately revealed that it would be a filler expansion and killed my hype right out of the gate. We already know this story can’t go anywhere. Neither side is ever going to win or lose this war.

We see this already with the pre-patch. The Alliance losing Teldrassil or the Horde losing Undercity each individually could have been a powerful moment for this story, but this perfectly balanced eye for an eye scenario pulls the curtain back from how stale and artificial this conflict truly is.

This isn’t a unique problem to WoW, either. The fundamental nature of MMO design prevents faction conflicts from ever having a proper resolution. Even in games where players are able to fight other factions for territory directly, true victory or defeat is impossible. It doesn’t matter how often the Daggerfall Covenant loses in Cyrodiil; they’ll always keep coming back.

And They Drive Us Apart

For all the reasons listed above, I consider factions in most MMOs to be superfluous. But that’s not why I’m really against them. The worst thing about factions is that they divide the community.

Even Star Wars: The Old Republic frequently unites the Dark and Light sides

Firstly, they divide us in a simple, literal sense. If I’m playing Alliance and my friend plays Horde, one of us has to transfer, or we can’t play together. If your game has two factions, you’ve effectively cut your playerbase in half. In a genre where more people to meet and group with is almost always better, that’s a powerfully asinine move.

You can mitigate this by allowing people to group across factions — as Elder Scrolls Online wisely has — but at that point one has to wonder why bother having factions in the first place.

Worse, it breeds toxicity in a genre that already has far too much of it. Developers seem to think factional rivalries lead to fun, neighborly competition, but the reality ends up looking more like a blood feud between competing mob families.

If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone make the earnest claim that Horde players are bullies or that Alliance players are crybabies (both stereotypes that have more truth to them than I care to admit), I could pay for my subscription for years to come.

It’s not just the occasional snide comment on forums, either. The bile between player factions can sometimes escalate to serious, ongoing harassment. Developers have been known to receive death threats when one faction or another is viewed to be unfairly favored.

MMOs should be about bringing people together, but all factions do is drive people apart.

* * *

There are some games for which factions make sense. PvP focused games like the upcoming Camelot Unchained simply wouldn’t work without player factions, and I have no problem with that.

But it’s time to acknowledge factions as what they are: A niche feature that doesn’t fit in most games. For a PvE themepark, factions offer little, and take away much.


Faction PvP Warfare Failures

Faction warfare has served as the backbone for dozens of MMORPGs’ PvP rule sets. The beauty of such a system is that players have no shortage of human combatants yet are still protected by a large community. Free for all PvP like in Eve Online offers a very different dynamic, one where concern for player safety isn’t a high priority. Faction PvP provides the player base the flexibility to engage enemies on their terms with a worthwhile incentive for doing so (if the developers did their job well).

Faction War MMORPGs

Dark Age of Camelot gave us this potentially amazing system first with an ongoing three way battle between the mythical realms of Hibernia, Albion, and Midgard known as Realm vs. Realm (RvR). Most would agree that Dark Age of Camelot handled this subgenre’s ensemble effort very well. The three way system kept all powers in check and wars were waged on a constant basis. Those envisioning castle sieges, rallying war cries, and armies clashing were pleasantly rewarded for their playtime. Gamers to this day continue to reminisce fondly over the enjoyment they found in DAoC.  Factional PvP remained in a bit of a lull until World of Warcraft’s Alliance vs. Horde hit.

Dark Age of Camelot PvP

Dark Age of Camelot

PvP in vanilla World of Warcraft was light hearted fun but had no meaning until the release of battlegrounds. Even then, the benefit of participating in that PvP benefited only the individual. This allowed for a casual stroll into PvP lane but was a far cry from Camelot’s emphasis on the collective over the individual. Unfortunately for those like myself who enjoy organized PvP in MMOs, the studios and publishers decided to copy the commercially mega successful World of Warcraft over Dark Age of Camelot. Of course, I would argue WoW owed very little of its success to PvP. But when trying to make bank off of copycatting, developers often find it difficult to determine which features should actually be unique. PvP with all of its moving parts apparently didn’t find many champions for change amongst the slew of World of Warcraft knockoffs.

Thus, the vast majority of games eschewed many-faction, collective reward focused PvP in favor of two faction, individual reward PvP. That’s not to say there wasn’t some innovation in PvP systems outside of factional warfare (Eve, Silkroad Online, DarkFall), but again those games simply don’t offer that fine balance of danger and safety. As two faction became the norm, games began to cater more towards instances, quests, and the PvE crowd. Two faction PvP is impossible to balance, with Star Wars: The Old Republic probably proving that better that anyone else. The zerg always triumphs and typically draws the more hardcore players, exacerbating the problem further. Without outside aid, the lesser of two factions has no chance. And thus PvP stagnates and forces developers to focus on PvE or instanced PvP to maintain players. It wasn’t until the announcement and release of Guild Wars 2 that we would again see a game with true focus on multi-faction PvP.

Guild Wars 2 PvP

Guild Wars 2

Unfortunately World vs. World, the name for this system in Guild Wars 2, failed to live up to Dark Age of Camelot’s legacy. For one, guilds oddly mattered very little in World vs World. Two, the developers balanced PvP around small engages and not large ones. Three, the reward system failed to compel players to “fight for their homeland”. Fourth, there is very little continuity between the semi-instancing and resets. Certainly many people enjoyed and still enjoy World vs. World in Guild Wars 2, but it proved to be a far cry from the bar that Camelot set.

Camelot Unchained, the upcoming MMORPG spearheaded by none other than Mark Jacobs who oversaw the creation and development of DAoC, might revitalize factional PvP. It also might not. There are a lot of good ideas, but will they come together in a fun package? Time will tell. But in my opinion there are a few key factors for success to which Camelot Unchained or any faction warfare MMORPG must adhere.

Guilds

Guilds need to play a prominent role in the leadership of their respective factions. It’s easy to think that because everyone already has a “home” with their faction that guilds aren’t critical. After all, competition would be between factions and not guilds. Right? Yes and no. While factions give players a direction to exert their efforts, they don’t inherently do so in an organized fashion. Like any military branch, there is a certain chain of command to keep engagements organized. Guilds are what take us from pick up groups to at least somewhat organized war parties. They also play a critical role in the socialization component.

Camelot Unchained PvP

Camelot Unchained

Engaging in, and especially succeeding in, faction warfare contests will need to provide some level of reward commensurate with the effort. That’s basically the crux of MMOs that effort gives reward. While player rewards are nice, guild rewards create a more community driven environment. Unlike PvE focused MMORPGs, faction war MMORPG guilds care about what others guilds are doing. Progression in these games isn’t just about finding twenty people with the proper gear score, but finding twenty other guilds on which your guild can rely.

Guilds must be rewarded and emphasized for a faction warfare MMORPG to succeed or the gameplay will devolve into a mess of PUGs akin to playing Battlefield on a public server.

3+ Factions

Two faction warfare doesn’t work. One side gets bigger and attracts better players. Then everything just spirals out of control. It’s fine if PvP is centered around non-persistent battlegrounds like World of Warcraft. In that case though the whole faction thing sort of loses its meaning. What does it really matter who your friends and enemies are when everything gets swept away thirty minutes later?

Personally, I think I would most enjoy ~7 factions. This allows developers to add some real character to each faction. Alliances and war targets would be much more dynamic and interesting with a higher number. Unfortunately, it also requires a larger player base to enact effectively which is a risky proposition. Employing something like 3 or 4 factions is a simple balance mechanism that keeps faction warfare competitive. When one side grows too large or powerful, more factions ensure there are adequate numbers to even things out.

Focus on PvP

MMORPGs have evolved a lot in the past fifteen years. One game can not and should not try to do it all. A strong vision is essential to delivering a product worth playing. Creating a game that tries to cater to PvE and PvP blurs the vision, splits resources, imbalances one or both for combat, and brings dispassionate players that contribute to an uninspiring community atmosphere. Of course there is more to MMORPGs than PvE and PvP. Additionally, PvE content does not necessarily hurt PvP content. The trick is unifying all of the features with one concerted goal. In the case of this post, that would be delivering the best MMO factional warfare experience possible.

Delivering that experience requires players to fight each other at all junctions. When I see an MMORPG touting multi-faction warfare, I want the content in the game focused on that. This means that the primary (or only) method of advancement should be PvP. Crafting, balance, quests, and even PvE content should funnel into the grand ole war. If it doesn’t then that’s a sign that it’s either not a factional warfare game (and is just a game with a factions) OR the developers don’t have a clear idea of what they want to deliver. In the first case, that’s not necessarily bad (unless you want faction wars). In the second case, that’s a sign to me that the game is setting up for failure.

Time Will Tell

I really do hope to see factional warfare modernized. It’s an underused player vs. player mechanic that only an MMORPG has the scope to fulfill. There are games on the horizon, but it’s still too early to tell whether they’ll succeed. Time will tell if MMO faction PvP will get the treatment it deserves.


Play Games Because They’re Fun Now

In the past week, I’ve spent a lot of time researching Albion Online, Camelot Unchained, and Crowfall. The thing is, I already know a lot about these games and their value proposition to the MMO world. So when I research these well known upcoming titles (at least in the MMOsphere) I’m looking into recent core gameplay changes, YouTube videos of the latest game builds, public release updates, community feedback, and general hype levels. It then struck me that I’m doing this in large part as a reaction to my engrossing playtime with Black Desert Online.

Black Desert Online Horse In Rain

So much more to riding a horse in Black Desert

Whenever I really get into an MMORPG I tend to want to cement my place there. I want to justify spending money on microtransactions. My brain translates that to calculating the possobility of something better on the horizon. Logically, I realize the utter futility of these efforts, especially when ‘on the horizon’ is over a year away in the case of Camelot Unchained and Crowfall. But I have a huge issue with loss aversion and that translates to a fear of ‘wasting time’ on a game. It’s not lost on me how silly that notion is for an entertainment product. Yet in my adult life I’ve done this time and again. This sort of ‘confirmation research’ is not limited to MMORPGs either.

I have a strong tendency to look at upcoming multiplayer games and compare them to my current crop of multiplayer games. It’s especially noticeable with MMORPGs and MOBAs because they both require such large time investments. I think it’s a lot easier to play something like a multiplayer shooter more casually for a number of reasons (like The Culling, which I’ll plug as a fun hunger-games-like diversion). FPS systems are more intuitive and more primal. I immediately understand with any typical shooter game that I need to aim my weapons, click my mouse button, and possibly proceed to an objective to win. Sure, there are nuances, but nothing like learning the interactions of over a hundred champions in League of Legends.

MOBAs, like the aforementioned League of Legends, involve a huge time commitment to get the most out of the game. The interplay between League’s 130 champions and 194 items (at the time of this post) is not something one picks up on their first game. Or their hundredth. And with the meta constantly evolving, what I knew a few months ago may no longer be true. Many of the items that existed four years ago when I first started playing League of Legends are no longer even in the game anymore.

League of Legends Items

Visual approximation of the number of League of Legends items

As many readers will undoubtedly know, MMORPGs also involve a huge time commitment. Even in games where reaching max level is a comparatively trivial affair, that time might still equal a full-fledged AAA title. Then there is the ‘Keeping up with Joneses’ need to acquire more loot, more achievements, more gold, or whatever goals the MMORPG emphasizes. MMORPGs were founded as virtual worlds, a place to live with an alternate identity. Living another life isn’t a one and done experience.

These time commitments aren’t inherently a problem. Many people really enjoy diving in and committing to one multiplayer game (or like the idea of doing that, such as myself). The potential problem is that multiplayer games require other people. Some genres need larger audiences than others to function properly. MOBAs with small populations lead to long queue times and difficulty providing balanced match-ups. MMORPGs with small populations don’t even retain their very essence considering the antithetical relationship between ‘massive’ and ‘barren’.

All of this leads to my way over-analyzing the future states of these time intensive multiplayer games. In the process, I lose sight of why I’m playing the games now, which is that I enjoy doing so. Not only does it lessen my entertainment value due to some bizarre first world problem fear of the unknown, but it wastes productive time. Maybe this is an issue isolated to myself. Like most things though, I am rarely ever unique in any line of thinking. There are always more people sharing a rarely discussed opinion than appears on the surface.

unique just like everyone else

As noted earlier, this a line of thinking that surfaced during my adult life. As a preadolescent, time was always on my side. I didn’t fret about whether or not I would be using skills from a game or activity six months later. Even with school and sports, I had plenty of opportunities to engage in a myriad of activities. Not only did my weekly availability have more openings than the present, but I also had over a decade more of life in front of me. As an adult, that lack of time is further compounded in the gaming world by more choices than I ever had as a teenage kid. MMORPGs of today outnumber RPGs of any kind from the 90s. This is where the anxiety sets in making sure the ‘right’ game gets played.

The right game is not so cut and dry though. There is a huge element of timing that impacts the worthiness of a game. Life circumstances change frequently in adulthood, emotions may run high or low, relationships evolve and deteriorate. What is the right game today might not be appealing in a year. Camelot Unchained or Crowfall might be that game when the time comes, but it’s an unknown until the future becomes the present. No amount of research will change that. It’s not just the what for a game but the when.

John Lennon (and a slew of others before him) famously said that ‘time you enjoy wasting is not time wasted’. We play MMORPGs and other games because they are fun here and now. Overcomplicating matters by looking beyond that scope only serves to damage our enjoyment of the present. It’s an attitude that’s worth adopting for years to come.