What World vs. World Can Learn from Edge of the Mists (And Vice Versa)

Alrighty, I’m back off the hype train of expansion, Heart of Thorns, all that jazz. I now return you to your regularly-scheduled Tough Love Critic.

Note: This will not be my only post about World vs. World (WvW), and it might not even be my only post about Edge of the Mists. In an effort not to have Monolithically Massive Posts of Doom™ that take ages to write/read*, I’m narrowing my topics down a touch. But only a touch.

*The Fractals post was over 5,800 words long. Hard Mode was over 3,900.

Edge of the Mists is Such a Waste of Potential

Let’s be honest: Edge of the Mists sucks from the perspective of its original intention and marketing. It was designed, tested, and pitched as a way to have large-scale fights over unique objectives when the queue was full or the time for a protracted war wasn’t available. An overflow map made for the WvW hardcore.

And everyone knows what it actually is (and has been since mere weeks after its release). On the one hand, the fastest way to level without crafting. On the other hand, the fastest way to gain WvW rank and roflstomp a bunch of upscaled people just trying to level.

Sieges? Defense? The triumph of superior strategy over poorly-executed sloppiness? Not in Edge of the Mists. The battle-tested, Wuvwuv-approved overflow map is nowhere near its design ideal.

But Why?

That’s a question that’s been poked and prodded at for almost a year now, and the answers have been beaten like a dead horse. As a quick rundown:

  1. You don’t know your own team, much less the opposing ones.
  2. No control over the experience you’ll have or which overflow you get.
  3. Green servers have an inherent population advantage.
  4. No feeling of permanency due to the short matches.
  5. Rewards are really good for offense, still nonexistent for defense.

You don’t know your own team, much less the opposing ones

NOTE: This is more exacerbated in EU than it is in NA due to the differences in language.

Server culture is an important aspect of mass PvP. There needs to be a sense of camaraderie, of pulling together with a hundred plus of your closest gaming friends to make some of the more drudge-related stuff (or the heartbreaking failed defenses) a worthy cause.

Just as important is the enemy culture. Friendly rivalries, a desire to punch a really good opposing guild in the face by taking their stuff, and being able to steadily assess strengths and weaknesses of the enemy.

Without culture, both allies and enemies are faceless blobs throwing particle effects at each other. And with faceless blobs, there are no teams, no feeling of triumph. Steamrolling a zerg only has brag value in the piles of bags around, not because it was that server’s zerg and they’re crazy-tough to beat in open field.

So the fight itself in Edge of the Mists loses its sense of accomplishment and challenge, because one doesn’t even know who they’re fighting.

No control over the experience you’ll have or which overflow you get

One underplayed advantage of WvW maps is that from the get-go a player can decide what sort of experience they wish to have. Is it fighting for Stonemist and knocking the enemy thirds down a tower or two for the tick? Is it defending the homeland against the enemy? Or is it being the thorn in the side, resetting defenses in enemy borderlands?

But every Edge of the Mists is identical to the next, with the same layout, same side you are on, same set of Eternal Battlegrounds-type objectives. Furthermore, what map you end up in is different every time. Sure, it’s possible to ferry in all your friends, but there’s a lot of difference between Overflow IP #243 and Home Borderlands.

Green servers have an inherent population advantage

The tiers are imbalanced*. One look at the Millenium site shows that clearly. Far and away, the green server of a given tier is crushing the blue and red ones by sheer population advantage.

*Okay, most obvious statement ever. Had to be said!

Now multiply every green server against every by-definition smaller-populated blue and red server*. That’s Edge of the Mists, and due to the nature of an overflow map, the people on the green servers likely have less to do due to owning most of the maps, and are more likely to pop onto Edge of the Mists to do something.

*Yes, I’m aware that due to close ratings sometimes the 1st place server is actually blue or red, but that’s the exception, not the rule.

Vicious cycle. Blue and red are trying to retake stuff, while green has nothing to do but farm Edge of the Mists or spawn camp. End result: green outnumbers even more massively in the overflows than it does in normal WvW.

No feeling of permanency due to the short matches

Love it or hate it, a primary draw for WvW is the continuity of it. You log off fighting the war tonight, it’s still being fought in your absence, and maybe all the things you built up will still be there when you log back in. And if they’re not, you get to make it that way again.

While there are plenty of arguments to be had about ideal match length, split time zone matches, and the like, that’s not what I’m driving at here. (Future topic bait, I gotta post about something, you know?)

In Edge of the Mists, it’s a four hour short war. Long enough that very few can stay for the entirety, but far too short to have a sense of continuity. You leave and come back, it’s the next match.

Rewards are really good for offense, still nonexistent for defense

Edge of the Mists rewards just about the same loot for killing enemies, keep lords, and capture as it does in normal WvW. One important difference is the addition of a chest to each successful capture that gives a varying amount of Badges of Honor. In other words, there’s even more rewards in Edge of the Mists than normal WvW.

Compare to defense, when it happens: the exact same event completion reward from WvW, which on WvW is woefully insufficient. Sure, wiping the enemy zerg garners some sweet bags, but that’s available to the attacking side just as much.

Taking the primary rewards imbalance issue from WvW and then making it worse in Edge of the Mists isn’t a deal-killer, but alongside the other issues present is another nail in the coffin that makes the others even worse.

Combine It All, and It’s Ripe for Repurposing

Those five reasons combine in a deadly melange for the original design intent. A player, flanked by people they don’t know, faces nothing but faceless enemies in a fight that doesn’t matter for anything, and if you’re not green your chance of winning is pretty much zero anyway. Oh, and the rewards for just capturing stuff are sky-high compared to bothering with defense.

Is it any real surprise in retrospect that Edge of the Mists got abandoned by WvW players and repurposed into a massive karma/rank/leveling train?

To the Topic Title!

Despite that, Edge of the Mists is jampacked with unique and new ideas that would be a much-needed breath of fresh air to the increasingly stale and empty World vs. World main maps. To wit:

  1. Unique and Challenging Enemies
  2. Differing Mechanics between Zones
  3. Challenging and Differing Terrain
  4. Tactically Useful Items

Unique and Challenging Enemies

WvW NPCs have been a laughable joke for most of the mode’s history. Their move sets are limited, their AI is easy to cheese, and against any group of people that numbers greater than two they cease to exist in seconds. Tower and Keep Lords last a few seconds longer.

And Edge of the Mists has unique and more challenging enemies in spades. Sure, a determined group of people will still knock over a boss in a short amount of time, but they really have to be determined and it takes much longer than in WvW.

Why not wholesale steal some of the enemies from Edge of the Mists and port them into various keeps and towers around the standard WvW maps? Any zerg is going to break a mob no matter how it’s coded, but cheesy hackers will have to try much harder than overwhelming the boss mob’s minimalistic AI.

Differing Mechanics between Zones

WvW players have been asking for different-looking borderlands since release (“just palette swap it!”). But palette swaps will lose their allure after the first few weeks.

What the different borderlands need is different mechanics to run against, similar to how Badlands, Overgrowth, and Frostreach have different environment effects, different positioning of objectives, but a chaotic balance among them.

That way it isn’t just a matter of which direction you’re attacking and defending on the map, it’s a matter of which borderland-specific mechanics you have to deal with. While some balancing will likely be required (or perhaps, anti-balancing so red borderlands is just a tougher cookie than blue or green due to likely disadvantage), it will add variety.

Ask any long-time WvW player about WvW, and the #1 word you will hear is “stale,” so variety is always, always a good thing.

Challenging and Differing Terrain

While I’m not advocating a bunch of railingless deathbridges, Edge of the Mists has some really awesome terrain variety, with many different ways to get around and evade sight. Not to mention the plethora of choke points to use/abuse.

Compare that against WvW, where even Eternal Battlegrounds struggles to be nuanced at this point. Approaches are limited, hiding places are few near objectives (sure, the ruins is chock-full of choke points and ways to break line of sight…the rest?), and really the terrain is just there to fight on.

What if WvW objectives themselves were multi-layered fortresses, or contained walls and choke points that had to be fought around? Make the terrain something that’s part of the fight, rather than an inconvenience everyone ignores.

Tactically Useful Items

On top of the differing areas and objectives, Edge of the Mists offers items in each area that add a varying amount of tactical and strategic depth. While Sentry Turret is the far winner for strategic use, who knows how handy a zerg-unleashed air strike might be? (I’ve never seen one, so I don’t know)

Consider if items in WvW were more than just siege and a limited set of traps? While those are all useful, they’re the same as they’ve been since release. Even the “new kid” Siege Disruptor has pretty binary use: throw it at the flame rams and/or golems at the front door. Or the arrow carts that are raining down on the flame rams and/or golems at the front door.

Why not add items to each borderland to match a change in terrain and objectives? Or rotate which items are around that can be bought with Badges, increasing the likelihood of interesting fights that aren’t the same as the ones two years ago.

Edge of the Mists Can Learn from Its Inspiration

Flip it around, and if Edge of the Mists wants to ever fulfill its design intent, it needs to take some cues from the WvW it was spawned from:

  1. Falling has limits.
  2. Relatively balanced teams are vital to long-term success.
  3. Knowing your allies is just as important as knowing your enemies.
  4. No changes create staleness, no matter how fresh it was when it released.
  5. It needs to matter beyond the player level.

Falling has Limits

The terrain diversity of Edge of the Mists is great, but the number of places one can fall is absurd. Chokepoints are extended across massive distances, restricting movement for any group size. Sure, it’s a great defender’s advantage, but it’s not very fun to drop off the face of the map with regularity.

While WvW could use some verticality that isn’t purely strategic falling (looking at you, north borderlands), it strikes a better balance of less places to fall to one’s death (though I think it could use a few more).

Yes, I realize that removing a lot of the “edges” from Edge of the Mists is “defeating the purpose,” but when the purpose isn’t very fun as an end result, is it really a good idea to keep it?

Relatively Balanced Teams are Vital to Long-term Success

Recall that inherent green-side advantage? People know that, and know it well, and it eats at the back of their minds when any apparent proof of that advantage shows up (bigger Overgrowth zerg that wipes the floor with them, Overgrowth owning a majority of the map, etc.).

In the kill-and-respawn for-the-greater-good environment of large-scale PvP, this is a morale and deal killer. People know they’re pretty much going to lose, and why would a player stick around and fight “for the glory of victory” when it’s not going to happen?

One could argue that the same problem exists in WvW and yet it soldiers on just fine with constant karma trains nowhere in sight, but it’s different in WvW. In WvW, the score reflects the 24 hour battle, not the occasional balances.

Even the most lopsided scores in tiers is balanced against the fact that for at least some time zones (NA prime on NA servers, EU prime on EU servers), it’s relatively balanced. Sure, outside of prime times and Tier 1 there’s likely one server that has vastly more bodies than the others, but during prime time a tier-based match is fairly even.

To create the same situation in Edge of the Mists, the green/blue/red grouping should  be thrown out the window and replaced with an attempt at balanced populations. Pairing the first place server with the 24th, and tagging each tier in between in an even manner (not all green servers) would functionally create this.  ArenaNet has server population numbers (and doubtless WvW activity metrics), and could likely do a better job of even pairings than I.

Sure, there’s color confusion (I’m blue in normal WvW, but green in EotM!), but compared to the definite advantage of having a good chance of even numbers and equal chance of victory, that’s a near-ignorable problem.

Knowing Your Allies is Just as Important as Knowing Your Enemies

Having a known team to pull together with is so important it’s not even funny. Ask a hardcore WvW player what makes them log in to the Mists every day, and one of these words is going to slip into the response: “team”, “server”, “guild”, or “group.”

Large-scale PvP is fun not just because it’s large, but because of the people you fight with. In WvW, you know who those people are, day in and day out. That’s why mass transfers hurt so much for the people who stay behind: the people they knew aren’t there anymore.

In Edge of the Mists, that same sense of knowing who you’re fighting with is far rarer. Sure, there might be common commander tags or consistent players, but there’s no assurance that you logged into the right overflow for that. The sense of community is lower, and the desire to stick with it even if circumstances are crummy is lower in equal measure.

Players need not just choice, but consistent choice to fix this. Rather than relying on the “taxi” mechanic to get groups of people together, exposing the servers to join (a la districts) could create a meta all its own of “District 1 Dominators: For the Hardcore Fight” or “District 3 Leveling Train”.

Let the player base choose where they want to fight, and with a few unavoidable exceptions, the possibility exists to fight alongside like-minded people you know, even in overflow.

One objection I foresee to this suggestion is that it doesn’t guarantee it will fix the problem at all, only lays it at the feet of the player base that can’t self-balance servers for competitive matches (*coughrewardsdisparitycough*).

But consider the LFG system. It already creates a “meta of interests” at the micro level of instanced content and specific open world overflows. For example, Silverwastes can advertise chest runs, percentage of Foothold complete, Breaching, or Vinewrath. Likewise, a run of AC can be scenic, “80s zerk XP only” or any number of other permutations. And players get the choice who to play with.

Going further, remember how getting dungeons and the like were before LFG came onto the scene. You stood in the zone of whatever you wanted to do and spammed map chat until a full party happened. Your full party may or may not have had the sort of people you were looking for, and groups tended to be whatever the majority was interested in doing (which tended to be 80s only speedrun zerk). More niche interests simply weren’t available.

With a similar idea in population-limited overflows, over time overflow districts would self-regulate, removing the “majority rules only” answer that the current situation represents.

Perhaps the majority of overflows will still want to be karma/level training, but as long as a group of players is able to insist that their district is for something and all the other districts are available for that other thing, the majority of players will respect that desire.

(Returning to the LFG example, the “edge case abuse” of not respecting the advertisement happens there too, and can’t be truly removed by a system, so designing around it creates majority rules situations like the current state of EotM)

No Changes Create Staleness, No Matter How Fresh It Was When It Released

Edge of the Mists was the peak of originality and “newness”…in March 2014. One look at the WvW forum should serve as a really good warning for how a large PvP map looks after a year (or two and a half) if nothing changes. Everyone complains about how stale and boring the original WvW maps are, even those who love the strategic opportunities of them.

There’s only so much large-scale fighting that can be done in the same environs without running into the problem of staleness. After the 150th siege of Bay, there’s virtually no ways for it to play out that a player hasn’t seen before.

Even if all the issues analyzed at the beginning of the post get addressed, staleness will sink Edge of the Mists with little effort required. It needs large changes across the map, whether that be altered terrain, changed enemies, different items, or even outright makeover.

Large scale PvP cannot thrive on the same terrain over and over again. It needs to be changed to maintain its freshness.

It Needs to Matter Beyond the Player Level

The biggest nail in the coffin for Edge of the Mists failing its design ideal is how little it matters. Implementing most of the suggestions above should fix this because it can create a team mentality, an interest in pushing through the highs and the lows (instead of simply seeking the highs via karma training).

But one thing they won’t fix is the rewards disparity. Capturing stuff pays off far more than defending stuff, and since there aren’t really upgrades to speak of in Edge of the Mists, there’s even less reason to defend. I won’t actually go into this with this post (that’s another post entirely, because WvW suffers the same problem), but it has to be called attention to to frame the entire problem.

Conclusion

Edge of the Mists was a great idea, implemented in a way that it was destined to fail at its intended goal. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have great ideas contained within it for shaking up WvW and making it fresh again. And there’s always room to remove the things that caused the failure in the first place.

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4 thoughts on “What World vs. World Can Learn from Edge of the Mists (And Vice Versa)”

  1. here is the core problem: weather fights will occur or not, should not be a decision players (or commanders) make. every fixed amount of time several extremely strong npcs should spawn and attack the enemy teams. that way, the fights will occur, the player will only get to decide weather he wants to participate in those fights or not.

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  2. that is the same problem wvw has in my opinion. i know different people have different expectations from wvw. i expect pvp in wvw, massive pvp. unfortunately my server commanders often avoid confrontations and stick to capping undefended locations, which bores the hell out of me. if some very powerful npcs would spawn on each side (say every 30mins) and clash in some part of the map, that would give an incentive for players to kill each other while still allowing the people that like to run around and cap undefended stuff to do what they like.

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