Separating PvP Abilities From PvE

I’m not a hardcore PvPer in the way that I play games like Darkfall and lament the loss of old school FFA PvP such as that found on certain Everquest servers where high level players could just, and did, repeatedly grief and gank everyone and anyone without care. No, I’m the type of guy who prefers sanitized, sanctioned PvP in which every player is on a (more or less) equal footing.

Zerging: The best way to win PvP

Zerging: The best way to win PvP

This is not just because I hate losing to players only because they’re 40 levels higher than me and I never, in anyone’s wildest dreams, ever stood a chance against them but also because I take no satisfaction in defeating an opponent in an unfair fight. Now, this doesn’t mean I follow some strict code of the Samurai or an ancient chivalry philosophy, it just means I want to know that I beat my opponent because I was better than them and not because I had a huge advantage in levels or class imbalance which they could do nothing about.

Balancing inter-player combat is tough in any situation but unfortunately in games like World of Warcraft it’s made even tougher by the fact that the developers need to make sure everything works and fits into PvE as well. Unfortunately, however, it’s been my experience (from a variety a MMOs) that this feat is practically impossible to accomplish. Even with the best will in the world, PvP and PvE are essentially two separate games existing within the same universe and trying to mix them together so they can exist in harmony is very, very difficult thing to achieve.

Some solutions do exist though and probably the best one I’ve seen was in Everquest 2. The developers came up with a very simple, yet very effective, method of dealing with the divide between PvP and PvE: they gave every PvE ability a special PvP version. For instance your normal Kick might deal 200 damage when used in PvE but only 100 damage in PvP (as mob hit points scale higher than player’s and thus this offset the difference). Likewise a Scout’s stun ability might last 6 seconds in PvE but only 3 seconds in PvP and so forth. Simple, elegant, perfect.

Although the system wasn’t perfect and the devs spent a lot of time tweaking things, the fundamentals were sound. And if an ability was prone to exploit (such as Scout’s Evac) it could be altered in PvP with no impact whatever in PvE. Not only did this make the devs lives a lot easier and PvPers a lot happier but it also created a nice separation between these two forms of gameplay. PvE could remain challenging and balanced without affecting PvP and vice versa.

Last month I wrote about how Everquest 2 is a better game than World of Warcraft and this is one of the many reasons why. I played on Darathar and Nagafen (the EQ2 European and US PvP servers respectivily) for 3 years in total and never felt the frustration or annoyance that I sometimes feel when I PvP in WoW. It’s not that hate WoW PvP or want to rage quit or anything like that, I just felt like writing a commentary about the situation and giving SOE the credit they deserve. If I was a MMORPG developer, separating PvP abilities from PvE is definitely a fundamental I’d observe.

Anyone else know of any good examples of mixing and balancing PvP with PvE?


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  1. ziboo says:

    I wasn’t aware EQ2 did that with PvP, but then I’ve never got past level 14 on Nagafen – lol!
    That is a good idea though and definitely has merit.

    I’ve often thought WoW could instead of 3 branches of the talent tree – do a PvP, PvE, Raid branch – dual spec in those or choose points based on how you want to craft your character. IDK!

    Class balance vs skill – hard task!

    • Gordon says:

      It’s difficult for Blizzard because they have to try and balance two completely different things together. Paladins are a great example of classes that have perfectly sensible PvE abilities but when used in PvP can be overpowered. I think it would be easier to just separate the two completely.

  2. Longasc says:

    Who separated PvE and PvP abilities earlier, EverQuest II or the fantastic, awesome, genre-expanding Guild Wars? :)

    No idea, but Guild Wars ended up the same – PvP and PvE were completely different environments, and balancing for various pvp modes and pve alike became very difficult. Especially as every pvp balance often annoyed pve gamers and nice skill ideas in pve were not possible because they would cause issues in pvp.

    But there was also a drawback: Someone got the idea that pve players love imba wtfpwn abilities a lot. And pve “balance” got lost a bit, players getting ridiculously strong skills, making areas incredibly easy that required careful and experienced players before.

    Counter example for no different skill sets: Ultima Online. The game was not made with the differentiation between pve and pvp in mind initially, an open world free for all game.

    PvP and PvE belonged together, some skills just worked better in pve, some in pvp. But then they separated the world in a free for all pvp and a pve “facet”, basically you stepped through a gate to enter the pvp or pve part of the world, which was almost an exact mirror world of the other one. Except that of Felucca, the pvp facet, the trees had no leaves and pks were killing carebears. Trammel had lush trees, nourished by the fresh whine of pvp players who simply could not kill the dumb carebear happily noobing around in front of them!

    And yeah, you are right: WoW is an awful pvp game. I always want to tell the Arena PvP fans to simply play Guild Wars if they want an awesome pvp team experience. I personally prefer open world pvp, but i don’t think we will see non-consensual pvp anytime soon. Darkfall tried, but open pvp alone on the other hand is not enough to convince me of a game. Still, I have not given Darkfall a chance yet. I will rather play Mount & Blade: Warband. :)

    • Gordon says:

      Hehe, I’m not sure which came out first… EQ2 PvP or Guild Wars :) Either way it’s a good system!

      It’s probably a lot easier to balance abilities in a game that’s designed for both from the ground up but as PvP is tacked onto WoW it’s very difficult. It’s almost like playing a sub-game…

  3. Tesh says:

    Open world PvP is just ganking unless it really is about skill, as Gordon opened with. That means no levels, no gear imbalance, just well designed classes or skills.

    So… Team Fortress 2. ;)

  4. ixobelle says:

    warhammer let you use taunt in PVP, which is huge. You can actually tank in pvp.

    WoW lets you taunt… uhh… pets.


  5. mythokia says:

    I don’t believe skillsets should vary depending if you use it on a player or a mob. This creates for a lot of confusion, and a lot of meta-data for the player to remember.

    The trouble with PvP in EQ2 is that the game was designed largely with PvE in mind, hence all the balancing issues when PvP was introduced later. If consideration had been given to the PvP aspects of the game from ground up, skills could be carefully considered and tweaked before being introduced.

    The disparity between mob HP and player HP is an issue. Although not the most elegant, Lineage 2’s solution was to introduce an additional layer of HP that came into effect only in PvP. I believe this is a lot better than tweaking each individual skill to have separate PvP and PvE effects.

    • Gordon says:

      I agree that it’s confusing and EQ2 is totally more confusing that WoW and it doesn’t try very well to explain itself. WoW is all about simplicity so, yeah, changing the system would probably turn people off. Unfortunately though even WoW was designed for PvE so PvP will always be unbalanced otherwise.

  6. openedge1 says:

    I am with Ixobelle on Warhammer. I am a PVP hater…or WAS a PvP hater…until WAR.

    The integration of the PVP with the PVE is sublime. The tactics are feasible, and can work. The synergy of classes works. And to top it off, no one can overpower another thanks to the chicken mode (i.e: If you are past rank for a tier of PVP, you become a chicken and cannot do anything).

    Lineage 2, AoC, any FFA style PVP is a joke, and is just a way for the buillies to have a place to act out their fantasies. Guild Wars is the only game to come close to being worth a darn in PVP…but, as stated, it is separate…which makes that work.

    I will take more balanced (even though PVP can never be 100% balance) gameplay for my PVP.

    • Gordon says:

      I really enjoyed WAR PvP too and am often tempted to return just for it. I really do like the idea of open world PvP in RPGs… something very appealing about storming castles and fights with or against hordes of Orcs and the like :)

      Thing is, WAR was designed with PvP in mind. WoW and many other games were (and are) PvE games with PvP just tacked on to appeal to other gamers.

  7. I’m a big fan of PvP, especially after WoW, to the point that if I play something now which doesn’t offer it (like LOTRO or Champions Online), the game just feels wrong.

    That said, and especially in WoW’s case, there’s such a constant struggle for balance that messes everything up because Blizzard tries to juggle how an ability functions whether it’s in PvP or PvE. They never get it right and either side resents the other for the failure; people who only want to do 10 and 25 man raids get upset when their abilities are nerfed because of a balance issue in the arenas or battlegrounds, while those who don’t raid get upset when an ability is changed to compensate for a raid mechanic. When they floated the idea of changing how drink and food worked because people would game it in arenas, the raiders pitched a fit about the unintended effect.

    Obviously to me the common sense thing would be to just simply have one ability with dual roles that change whether or not you’re in a raid or in an arena. That way you only have to balance the PvP function against the other PvP functions, and the PvE ones against other PvE ones, instead of attempting to balance PvP against PvE when those players are largely segregated from one another and don’t like being tinkered with at the expense of a part of the game they don’t even play.

  8. Nils says:

    I’d hate that. If I want to play two different games I go and buy two different games.

    Is there actually any developer who has ever tried to balance player characters for PvP and then balance the PvE encounters around the then PvP-balanced player characters?

    In my opinion the “We cannot balance characters around PvP, because of PvE” is an alibi! They just don’t get the PvP balance right. That’s all.

    • Gordon says:

      The balance situation seems to be causing a lot of problems for Cataclysm. A lot of the new class abilities are there to balance PvP but offer nothing in PvE and has thus upset a lot of non-PvP players who think they’re a waste of time.

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