My mage has finally gotten high enough to participate in the crown jewel of WoW's new emphasis on World PVP, Lake Wintergrasp. I wrote a bit about Wintergrasp Incentives previously, but now I can report on actually having played it.
The good news is that I don't have any pictures of myself in a gun turret, firing a cannon to try and destroy oncoming enemy seige engines. The battle is sufficiently heated that it doesn't occur to me that I should be taking pictures for my blog until the dust has settled. That said, there are some issues that may need attention.
When's the battle?
Eve Online has recently been the butt of some jokes following their request that players inform the devs of when and where their major invasions will occur, so the server team can prepare. This is, I suppose, the absurdity of scheduled invasions. Then again, Wintergrasp seems to go out of its way to make it hard for someone who WANTS to participate to figure out when the battle is happening.
I've been to Wintergrasp four times, but I have only participated in the battle twice. The other two times, the battle had ended before I was able to finish traveling to the zone.
To back up a step, the winners of the battle for Wintergrasp control the zone for 2.5 hours after the battle ends. The battle itself can last for up to 45 minutes - if it does, the defending side has won, while the side that does not have control of the keep wins if it captures the giant glowing orb before time expires. The result is that Wintergrasp is not on any fixed time schedule.
If you're physically in Wintergrasp, you can see a timer indicating when the next battle will begin. If you're not physically in Wintergrasp, you have to look at the continent map to see whether there is an Alliance or Horde Icon by the zone name (or you can watch for the previous winners to lose the continent-wide buff). Neither of these out-of-zone options will tell you how long until the battle will start or how close the battle is to concluding. There is a zone-wide announcement in Dalaran city before the conflict starts (and an hour beforehand). Still, in general, it's easy to accidentally miss the battle.
I suppose Blizzard doesn't want to encourage the "everyone on the server, go here NOW" effect that is giving Warhammer's keep sieges such a hard time with performance of late, but it is a bit irritating. (Maybe someone has coded a UI mod that informs you automatically when the zone changes control?) Depending on your exact hours, you might only have a single opportunity per night to take part in Wintergrasp, so it's a bit frustrating to miss out because the notification system deliberately fails to provide notice.
Tenacity and the numbers game
Wintergrasp has a stacking buff called "Tenacity" that is designed to even the odds when one side has superior numbers, so that the more populous faction doesn't simply control Wintergrasp 24/7. Players can get up to 300% health and damage, at which point enemy players may have more HP than your seige vehicles. In practice, the system works well - perhaps too well.
I was in a battle this morning defending against attackers with seven stacks of Tenacity. We were literally pushed back all the way into our keep, and I spent the last minute of the battle frantically spamming arcane explosion to interrupt capture attempts. As a cloth wearer, there's little scarier than an enemy with 50K HP, capable of killing you in 3-4 hits.
Do Incentives Overvalue Survival?
In the wake of spending much of the TBC era fighting an incentive system that encourages players to spend time AFK in battlegrounds, Blizzard was very concerned with keeping the incentives in Wintergrasp for actual participants in the battle. Blizzard did implement a [Wintergrasp Mark of Honor] that is only awarded to players who got some honorable kills during the battle, but, strangely enough, said marks aren't actually used for anything yet. Instead, the system uses the [Stone Keeper's Shard] as its main incentive currency.
There is a daily quest to win the battle, but it awards only a single shard. That's a pretty small number, especially since you can get multiple shards from a single instance run while your faction owns Wintergrasp. A better option is a daily quest that awards 3 shards for killing 20 enemy players. I'm not sure exactly how this quest works - I've obtained 20 HK's long before getting credit for 20 kills. My best guess is that players are actually considered tapped by a group for the purpose of kill credit, even though players in other groups can get a share of the honor. Since Wintergrasp does not force grouping, other players can, in principle, boot an AFK'er out of their group and thus deny them the rewards.
The catch, which you might have gathered from the previous section, is that you won't get credit if you're at the spirit healer waiting to be revived. This can be very frustrating for mages - and, I'd presume other classes with limited survivability. If an enemy is facing a 5 on 1 matchup, they're not going to pound away on a heavily armored Warrior or Death Knight. They're going to squash the mage. I haven't actually tested whether you still get kill credit if you don't release your spirit and wait for your party to kill the guy you were fighting - the right thing to do is release so you'll return to the battle sooner. The net result, though, is very slow progress at your kill quest.
This issue isn't at all new to Wintergrasp - it was also a major complaint I had about playing a healer in Warhammer. I'm not sure how exactly you balance low survivability with the need to limit rewards to actual participants. Perhaps Warhammer's approach, with tanks that directly reduce damage taken by squishies, is part of the solution. I just hope someone comes up with one before I feel compelled to level a low priority target of a plate wearer just to get shards at some reasonable pace.