For a long time, but especially since the success of WoW, MMOs have been implicitly expected to bring a portfolio of activities:
- Quest-based leveling content (preferably soloable, at least the vast majority)
- End-game content based on small and large groups (dungeons and raids for gear progression)
- Player-vs-Player combat (preferably between factions that are decided by your initial racial choice)
Let’s focus on the last point today. Faction-based PvP always seemed restricting and arbitrary to me, especially because it artificially splits a game’s player base, which for all except the really large ones is a problem. There are different ways to implement this, ranging from a largely cooperative game whose players only fight against each other in designated PvP areas, but otherwise are free to play together, from completely segregated communities that can never interact.
Where does it come from?
I don’t know which MMO first came up with faction-based PvP (I’ve not played the really old ones), but it might have been Dark Age of Camelot. Older ones had, at least initially, either Free-for-all “gank-style” PvP (Ultima Online) or no PvP at all (Everquest), but neither had fixed factions. I honestly can’t remember how it worked in UO, but EQ, if I remember correctly, had you start being loved by some and hated by other NPC factions, based on your initial racial and class choice. However, you were free to work on all of them to improve your reputation, and to group with other players regardless of standings.
I’m not a big fan of faction-based PvP. Not only because of the mentioned split in the player base that at least some games avert, but also because I like to play with people, not against them, and the artificial animosities between factions both amuse and annoy me. (I think that’s one of the reasons why Cataclysm was such a letdown for me.) Of course, you don’t need game-provided factions. Just go and listen to “official” statements by leaders of EVE alliances, and how they try to incite their members to fight against their horribly evil, incompetent enemies of the month, and you see that you don’t necessarily need the game to provide factions.
Let’s look at two examples: Rift, because it’s all in the news with their coming change to faction mechanics; and The Secret World, because it’s the original reason I started to write this post, before it grew from a funny aside, filler post, into something with at least slightly more substance.
Rift seems to be the first of the strict faction-based games that so far neither allowed grouping nor guilding or visiting the “enemy” cities, that gets a clue. As far as I understand it, the “Conquest” mechanic introduces a transient, instant choice between three new factions every time you sign up for a PvP battle. I just assume that each faction will have different rewards, to entice people to sign up for one or the other, but still make sure that people have a reason to choose each of them (so there won’t be a player bottleneck by players shunning one faction), and it doesn’t end up with “all mages go ram, all rogues go raven”. Outside of PvP, factions will pretty much disappear.
The funny thing is that the implementation, but especially the lore reasoning, is almost exactly what I had always wished to happen in WoW: the Horde and Alliance splintering over their diverging goals, and giving the player to choice of staying with them, or joining common causes such as the Argent Dawn or the Cenarion Circle. Well, not quite like Rift, more like a crossover between Rift and the EQ way, but still. If I just could get into the world of Rift, I might actually be really happy with the game! Alas.
The Secret World
The Secret World has three factions, of which you choose one at character creation, and which you can never change. On the other hand, factions don’t restrict you much at all. All players share the same zones, you can group up for quests and dungeons, you have common chat channels (though each faction also has their own “private” channel), so that’s fine. And, with the slightly worrying player numbers, definitely a good decision in hindsight, if only for that.
Lore-wise, the factions do fight each other, but it’s more of a political scheming and occasional assassination thing. Each group looks down on the others, but fighting is stipulated by rules that are watched over by the inter-faction Council of Venice. And now that all hell has broken loose (quite literally) in the Real World, the fighting in The Secret World seems to have stopped almost completely to focus on the common threats. Also, the whole “immortalized by spirit bees” thing makes all sorts of killing annoyingly ineffectual anyway.
TSW does have battlegrounds, though. Which makes you wonder what the point is. Thankfully, there is a tongue-in-cheek in-game explanation for this. In the beautifully posh (and fitting for such a most superior organization) Templar’s Club, you meet the Stuart sisters, whose revealing costumes belie their sharp tongues and (at least for one of them) wit, talking to the librarian Gladstone, something of a crossover between Timothy Leary and Erich von Däniken. The topics you can interview them on almost all end in hilarity, but there is one that specifically lampshades PvP and battlegrounds. I found it funny enough that it fraps’ed it, and I’ll end my post with it:
Direct link for feed readers with embed problems. (edit: if you see a video that obviously is not a TSW ingame video, please use the direct link. It seems something wonky is going on with the wordpresss/youtube integration, and it sometimes shows videos from previous posts instead of the correct one.)
This, in one minute, covers everything I love about the Templars: posh locations, slightly snooty behavior and sharp tongues, rooted in history (note them mentioning The Great Game!), and back in time after a day’s work to plush upholstery, Pimm’s, and canapés!
I’m sorry for the bad video quality. It’s the first time I ever uploaded a video to youtube, and it seems I did something wrong. The video looked reasonably good in the humongous fraps output, and pretty much the same after I encoded it with H.264 to 1% of its size, but after I uploaded it, youtube seems to have reencoded it, and now it’s all blocky. But the audio is fine, and that’s what it’s all about in that video anyway.