Sunday, June 12, 2005

Battlegrounds, pure multiplayer joy

I spent about five hours in Alterac Valley (World of Warcraft... turn back now before it's too late) yesterday, and it was fantastic. Some of the biggest gripes about fighting at Tarren Mill are gone, and what's left is just more refined excitement. First of all, there were no more "you were unlucky enough to get killed twice in rapid succession so now you have to wait two minutes before you can play again," one of the primary reasons that Counter-Strike sucks beyond all recognition. Now the worst you get stuck with is a 29-second rez time. Basically what Blizzard has done with Alterac Valley is combine some of the best elements of World of Warcraft and Unreal II XMP (a form of multiplayer that I never got a chance to play in a large group), and add in the big events that you can trigger by finishing quests for your side. Twice in that time I had the pleasure of bringing back enough vials of Alliance blood to Primalist Thurloga in our base to provide her with enough components for her spell, then riding out to the center of the battlefield, and yelling to my teammates to help us complete the incantation, culminating in the summoning of an epic, hundred-foot-tall ice elemental to rain death upon our enemies. Then there are the things that reminded me greatly of U2XMP—the capturable graveyards just like the capturable spawn points in XMP, and the little side skirmishes away from the primary battle front that can have a quick and impactful sway on the tide of battle. And then there are the things that no FPS has that made the whole experience so awesome, like seeing a row of our archers and gunmen lined up on a hill protecting our camp from the onslaught of humans and night elves approaching, and me behind them, prepared for the imminent melee clash when they got tired of being pelted from a distance.

Besides the coolness of the massive creatures you can summon to your side upon killing enough of your enemies, Battlegrounds has two very basic things that makes it considerably more fun than PVP at Tarren Mill and Southshore: the sides are always roughly balanced, which is never the case outside of Battlegrounds, and the map is designed for battle—there are many strategic points on the map, instead of just a couple, so fronts form, tactical retreats are effective, and the battles are more interesting and dynamic.

It's no wonder that you have to wait 45 minutes before you can play. (Oh, and for everyone else's reference, if your spot in line comes up when you're off doing laundry, not only are you not allowed in, but you are completely ejected from the queue and have to return to the entrance to start waiting anew...)

Blizzard has done something very awesome here. I can imagine playing in Alterac Valley for quite some time before it becomes old hat, and I haven't tried Warsong Gulch (CTF) yet. What they've done is create what is probably the most exciting multiplayer experience I've come across based on the first play. I've had a lot of fun playing Red Alert 2, the Unreal Tournament series, Generals, and Diablo I/II over the network, but Alterac Valley was such an awesome combination of things that I like about other multiplayer games and new concepts. And, unlike those other games, I have to pay Blizzard fifty cents a day and wait in line to play. Brilliant.

I haven't really played Guild Wars yet; my character is level 2. So far I've just played a little bit to try it out. I hear that guild PVP can be pretty cool. Now I'm doubtful. PVP in World of Warcraft before Battlegrounds was amusing, but nothing special; now my standards have been set very high. I have a feeling that my to-do list is going to grow unbounded for a while, and I might as well not have even installed the Doom 3 expansion.

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