World of Warcraft's fifth Arena season kicked off yesterday, and WoWHead has a guide to the new rewards. A few thoughts:
Rewarding PVP versus stealing PVE's thunder
There's a delicate balance between offering good incentives for PVP and undermining the incentives elsewhere in the game. Sure, PVP gear typicaly includes a large amount of stamina and resilience, and these stats are generally not desired for PVE. Then again, they're not disadvantages either, other than that they occupy item budget space that could be spent on other stats - if two items offer the same overall effect on your DPS/healing but one comes with free stamina and resilience, that's not a bad deal.
The issue arises when the PVP rewards are arguably BETTER than their PVE counterparts. For example, many cloth reputation rewards try to fit all cloth specs at once by including spell power and spirit. Mages get very little benefit from spirit, which means that a DPS-focused PVP reward may actually offer a mage BETTER DPS stats than rare-quality rep rewards, in addition to superior survivability. Of course, grinding WoW PVP honor isn't always fun, but neitheer is hitting the same daily quests every day for progress towards a rep reward. If anything, honor is earned much faster at 80 than at 70, and the new honor rewards are actually easier to obtain than inferior rep rewards in many cases.
This is doubly true for the non-set PVP rewards, where the items that compliment the epic quality 10-man raid equivalent PVP sets are available for straight up honor (and, in fact, less honor than pieces of the lower quality heroic dungeon level blue PVP set for non-Arena players). The jump from rare to epic quality alone is enough to give these items a lot of room to grow above what 5-man dungeon rewards offer.
Dealing with separate gear tracks
Blizzard has set up varying tiers of PVP progression to shadow the tiers of PVE progression. The good news is that the system seems to be well designed with room for growth - there's a large amount of space between tiers for everyone to get upgrades over time. There are a few quirks, however.
Weapons are limited to only the highest arena rating set, primarily because this slot usually has the most effect on player stats, and therefore has always been the most cherry-picked. This means that players will have to do PVE content to obtain a non-PVP-focused weapon until they get to the top ranks of the arenas (if they ever get there). That would seem to harken back to the old days where PVP was ruled by players who had raided to outgear the players who had not. Then again, the new system doesn't really offer a direct path at the best quality armor to players without arena ratings either. I guess the compromise is for neither side to be happy.
What happened to Marks of Honor?
One interesting change is that the rewards no longer seem to require any marks of honor from participating in specific battlegrounds. This is a bit strange since battlegrounds continue to award marks as if these marks mattered. In principle, the only use for marks at level 80 is for the old PVP vanity mounts, and for a repeatable quest to cash in marks for honor points. (I can't confirm this because the questgivers in Northrend say I'm not eligible.) I'm not sure if I trust Blizzard not to change their minds on this one, though, so I'm not going to be rushing to cash in my marks just yet.
Meanwhile, there is some question of whether the Alterac Valley mark is now completely without purpose (again, beyond use for some old mounts). AV has always been a balance nightmare for Blizzard, ever since they made the fateful decision to mix PVP with PVE on an asymmetric map (which, predictably, dissatisfied BOTH sides and caused no end of balance squabbles). The solution appears to have been to punt on the problem by de-emphasizing the battleground altogether.
In many ways, Wintergrasp is a better designed and implemented version of what Blizzard may have hoped that AV would become, so it makes some sense to sunset AV. It just seems strange for one of the game's most popular (and controversial) battlegrounds to suddenly be reduced to irrelevance.