With my history with MMOs, it should come as no surprise that the PvP in ESO would get the most scrutiny from me. DAoC continues to be my favorite MMO of all time and even in my time in WoW I spent a lot of time PvP’ing. PvP will make or break a MMO for me. If your MMO doesn’t do PvP well or doesn’t do it at all, I am much less likely to spend a significant amount of time there.
It is strange that Elder Scrolls Online focuses so much on PvP. They basically took a single-player, quest driven RPG and made it into a MMO that focuses strongly on PvP throughout. This seems like a very strange decision and one that takes a certain amount of courage. I am not sure how many Elder Scroll fans would classify PvP as one of the things they were looking for if they designed an Elder Scrolls MMO.
That being said, if it is well done, it will succeed. There is a large contingent of PvP players in MMOs and they will support a well made game. Admittedly, there are few truly well made PvP MMOs out there. Guild Wars 2 tried mightily with their WvW PvP but I believe they missed the mark with a few poor decisions and an engine that was simply incapable of keeping up with the large amounts of players displayed on the screen at any given time.
Elder Scrolls Online seems to fix a few of the mistakes that Guild Wars 2 shipped with. The biggest mistake that GW2 made was that the PvP area was so terribly small. This allowed the zerg to control the map. The Zerg could move from one spot on the map to another quickly and there was no place for small groups to hide. Small groups either conformed to the zerg or were swallowed by it. Elder Scrolls Online’s AvA area is, by contrast, simply huge. Unlike GW2, there is only one single PvP map in ESO and it is larger than the all the GW2 maps combined. It is massive.
Luckily, this lessens the effectiveness of the zerg. There will be a zerg, there always is in this type of game but due to the large map size, the zerg will not be able to control the map. They will need to split up to take and hold multiple objectives. There will also be points on the map where it is safe for smaller groups to operate. Tactically using scouts will also allow the smaller groups to identify and move away from the zerg before it arrives. That was simply not possible in GW2 because the zerg was upon you before you had a chance to react.
Taking Keeps and Holding Them
One of the problems endemic to this style of PvP is the problem of making holding Keeps attractive. This was a large issue in Warhammer Online. One realm would take a Keep, abandon it and move on the next one while leaving the old Keep completely undefended. The other realm would follow behind and do the same thing. There was little incentive to hold any Keep.
Elder Scrolls Online attempts to remedy this problem in a number of ways. First of all, you are more rewarded for killing a player defending or attacking a Keep than actually taking the Keep itself. Taking an undefended Keep simply will not provide a substantial reward. Want to get rewarded in AvA in ESO? Go to a Keep or other objective and kill players.
The smaller objectives also have incentive to hold. Like GW2, holding the objectives around a keep will make the Keep much easier to assault and will provide the realm with rewards. This is a perfect opportunity for smaller groups to attend to while larger groups focus on keeps.
Despite the advantages of a large map in this type of PvP, there is one downside. It can simply take a long time to get into the action. There is nothing quite as deflating as getting into a battle, dying right after you arrive, taking long minutes to run back and then getting killed again. Over and over. It is enough to turn you off of this type of PvP forever.
ESO takes a page from World War II Online and remedies this with the use of forward bases. These can be placed temporarily on the map to provide a spawn point nearer an objective. Of course, they can also be destroyed by opposing realms, which creates another objective for realms to fight over.
This is a small point but, I think, an important one. Siege engines are needed. Period. Keeps can not be taken without them. This was not the case in Warhammer Online nor Guild Wars 2. Doors and walls in those games could be taken down by players swinging swords, shooting arrows and using magic. Siege engines would massively reduce the time it would take but they were not strictly needed. Beat on the door long enough and it would go down.
In ESO, the only way to down a door or wall is with a siege engine. Hitting it with anything else would do nothing. This makes siege engines much more important on the battlefield. There is now no use for melee to rush to the door and beat on it, instead it is much more important for them to stay back and protect the siege engines, only to rush forward after the wall goes down. No more door battles.
The Game Engine
This is my final, and most important, point. The graphics and network engine in ESO is just head and shoulders above both Warhammer and Guild Wars 2. Both of the latter games have or had a horrible time rendering the large scale battles necessary for this type of PvP. Large battles in either would slow to a crawl, no matter what you had your graphics set at or how beastly your machine was.
The team at Zenimax Online has done wonders with the ESO engine. It renders battles that GW2 and Warhammer would choke on. I have seen huge battles in Cyrodill and had nary a hiccup in my frame rate. This is with my graphics turned up. I am not sure how they did it but they did. I see no reason to think that this will not translate from beta to live. The engine is stellar. Major kudos to Zenimax for what they achieved here.
Final PvP Thoughts
Zenimax Online certainly has the right ideas. They have put a lot of thought into the AvA in ESO. Will they succeed where others have failed? That remains to be seen but they are on the right track. If they can come close to replicating the Dark Age of Camelot Frontiers, I will be playing ESO for a long time to come.