For more than a decade, Blizzard's World of Warcraft has dominated the MMORPG landscape. Each of those millions of players who at one time (or still do) called Azeroth home can be divided into two groups.
No, not Horde or Alliance. While the game's two warring factions are the most readily identifiable way to distinguish between players, the real thing that sets players apart is what they do once the game's level cap has been reached and the quest for end-game gear begins.
I'm talking about PvE vs PvP. Since the game's launch, these two aspects of the game have been incompatible with one another. Though numerous expansions have come and gone, mixing up both aspects of the game, that one idea has remained constant. You are either PvE or PvP — player vs. environment or player vs. player. Rare is it for somebody to be both.
However, that's going to change in Blizzard's upcoming Legion expansion, due out this summer. For the first time in World of Warcraft's long history, the difference between a PvP player and a PvE one won't be so easily distinguished.
As it is now (and has always been), players who participate in the game's battlegrounds and arena battles earn honor points and conquest points, respectively. Honor is used to buy good PvP gear, while conquest points are used to buy the best PvP gear the game has to offer.
Those who choose to join a raiding guild and participate in World of Warcraft's 25-man raids against massive bosses would find their end-game gear to be much different from that of their PvP-playing counterparts. Different stats, different abilities, different priorities — all gear is not created equal. Those playing PvE have different needs than those playing PvP. Even if a player had some of the best raiding gear in the game, if they went up against a player with the best PvP gear in the game, chances are the PvP player would come out on top. It's what the gear is built for, after all. Gear makes the player.
This is how it has always been. Though there have been numerous attempts to shake things up in the past, none have been so bold as what Blizzard is planning on doing next. For the first time ever, PvP gear and PvE gear will be one and the same.
No honor points. No conquest points. No PvP gear. Gear, Blizzard says, will simply be gear. The catch is that stats will no longer play the huge role in PvP as they do now. Upon entering an arena or battleground, all players will have the stats of their gear nullified, replaced with predetermined ones by Blizzard based on their class and specialization.
This means a more equal playing field for all. Whereas before, a beginning player or raider would be at a severe disadvantage upon starting PvP for the first time, now it is skill, not gear, that will determine the victor.
Gear will, however, play a very minor role, but it's a large enough one that many longtime PvP players aren't happy with what Blizzard is proposing. Whereas gear, for the most part, won't contribute to a player's stats, it will give players a small modifier based on players' average item level, 0.1 percent per item level, to be exact.
That doesn't sound like much, but for PvP players, it's a huge deal. This means that, for the first time, PvE players will be able to walk into PvP with their end-game raiding gear and have an immediate advantage over those who just play PvP. If those PvE players have some of the best gear in the game, it won't be uncommon to see average item level differences of 25, 30 or even 50 or more between end-game PvE players and those who play almost exclusively PvP. That translates to stat differences of 2.5 percent, 3 percent and 5 percent, respectively.
Once again, that doesn't sound like much on paper, but for those who have lived and breathed PvP since the game's launch, to have PvE players simply stroll in and find themselves at an advantage over PvP diehards feels like a slap in the face.
The removal of PvP-specific gear also robs PvP players of a rewarding sense of progression. While Blizzard says it will be introducing a new honor system that will have players unlocking new PvP-specific talents and other various rewards, the removal of gear can't be swept under the rug. It is what PvP players have always fought for, the reason they poured hours upon hours farming battlegrounds and arenas. They want to be rewarded for their time. By putting in the time, they want to have a readily-seen advantage over those who haven't. Growing more powerful is one of the core building blocks of an RPG, but Blizzard seems to be taking that away from those who prefer fighting other players to fighting monsters.
However, soon the opposite will be true. Soon, those who play PvE will be rewarded, while PvP players simply must settle for finding random loot in lockboxes after matches. Suddenly, PvP players have no clear way to become the best of the best. Raiding, it seems, is the only way to get that small but important stat advantage over other players.
That puts PvP players in a bit of a hard place right now. Fans aren't sure how they should feel. A more level playing field for newcomers and PvE players sounds like a welcome idea, but not at the expense of robbing the game's large PvP playerbase of meaningful rewards.
So, why is Blizzard doing this? As mentioned above, making a more level playing field is likely one motivation for the massive changes. The other is for Blizzard to have the ability to more precisely balance PvP in the future. Fans have long complained about certain classes being stronger than others in PvP, but tweaking classes in the past meant also affecting the classes' PvE performance. Now, with predetermined PvP stats, Blizzard has much more control over creating a balanced PvP experience.
"If one spec's Mastery is too strong in PvP, that's fine — we can just reduce the amount of Mastery they have," Blizzard says in a preview of the changes. "If a spec is too easy to kill, we can increase their Stamina. If a healer is having too much trouble keeping teammates alive, we can increase their Spellpower. In short, we can tune classes for PvP in a way that's exclusively focused on PvP."
It's worth keeping in mind that Legion doesn't have a definitive release date yet, only summer 2016. Blizzard announced these changes at the end of 2015, allowing for plenty of time to take in and absorb feedback before the expansion's launch. Historically, Blizzard has always been known for listening to fans and taking in their opinions before moving forward. While these changes to PvP likely won't change dramatically, small changes could go a long way toward mending the sense of betrayal that some longtime PvP players feel right now.
For now, those who enjoyed earning the best PvP gear in the game and showing off their superiority are likely concerned. Come Legion, PvP in World of Warcraft will be a brave new world, one where the old PvP guard are no longer in control of the battleground. The line distinguishing between two fundamentally-different types of players will at long last be blurred, but whether or not that's a good thing will be for fans to decide when Legion arrives later this year. Blizzard looks to be removing what it means to be a PvP player. After 12 years of the game's core PvP model being virtually unchanged, that's one heck of a shake-up for players, and one that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.
Photos: Blizzard Entertainment