In 2001 a game called Dark Age of Camelot graced the shelves of department stores and game retailers. It was published by a little known company called Mythic Entertainment which much later on merged into BioWare. Dark Age of Camelot, or DAoC, was the game that founded “RvR” or realm vs. realm combat and, to this day, remains one of the best open world PvP games to have ever been released.
However, some see the RvR formula as a fluke. Many games, even one produced by Mythic itself, have tried to copy the formula to no success. Game after game has tried to have RvR, but it has always fallen flat. Even our beloved Guild Wars 2 has RvR in the form of World vs. World. Considering the past failures, is GW2 another etch on the “RvR isn’t a viable mechanic” tombstone or has it bucked the trend? Well, to answer that we first have to look at the successes and failures of DAoC.
A History Lesson
DAoC’s history is one mired with ups and downs, ultimately culminating and a slowly coming death kneel after the release of its second expansion, Trials of Atlantis. The beginning was in 1995 when two companies merged, Adventures Unlimited Software Inc. which ran a subscription based MUD (multi-user dungeon, or a text based game) known as Aradath (which, by the way, the subscription was $40 a month) and Interesting Systems, Inc which produced Tempest which was later renamed Darkness Falls. DF eventually became the codebase for DAoC.
The game launched in late 2001, about two and a half years after the launch of Everquest. It was hailed as the anti-EQ, the game that was trying to buck the curve. The world was “seamless” which means you could go zone to zone with no loading. There was an anti-camping experience system to keep players from camping one group of mobs for extended periods and get them walking. Then there was loot.
In Everquest, loot was everything. In true RPG fashion, it was the end all everything of the game. You existed to farm loot. In DAoC, loot was a purely player crafted experience. Raiding provided neat gear, but you could pretty much get the best-in-slot by having it crafted and imbued with stats through spellcrafting, thus itemizing the gear the way you wanted. This is critical, because this is part of the success of RvR – no one was better than anyone else, except for realm levels (or strategy).
Another big difference was PvP. DAoC has a persistent open world battleground between the three factions (Hibernia, Midgard, and Albion). Players could travel to each world’s battleground and fight it out, taking keeps and relics, and in general engaging in large scale sieges and open field battles. Some players choose to zerg in massive numbers, while others went in smaller groups trying to gank stragglers. Some choose the stealth life, where they would hide in the shadows and try to take one or two players out.
All was fine and well until Trials of Atlantis came out. The game then introduced artifacts, weapons and armor with superior stats that you had to farm not only the artifact, but the scrolls. This turned the game into a true EQ clone, camping out for a day or more trying to get a spawn and farming enemies endlessly for scrolls. This unbalanced RvR because gank groups, who could put the time investment in, became unkillable. My Cabalist had an almost instant cast time, which allowed me to solo groups of players without much of a sweat.
New Frontiers released shortly thereafter in an attempt to revitalize RvR. It was neat; it added boats and towers (exactly like the GW2 towers). It also added cliffs that you could go down but not climb up and made the entire RvR zone seamless. No more porting to the enemy’s location, you had to huff it on a boat. The problem though was that it took away another big component of RvR that everyone loved: Emain Macha.
As a quick diversion, many of the issues were patched and fixed. Master levels and artifacts can be purchased with Atlantean Glass.
The Emain Macha Problem
Emain Macha was the highlight of RvR. The system was simple, but deep. There were three borderlands to match the three factions that were at constant strife. Hibernia, the celtic inspired faction, was the hotspot because of Emain Macha. Emain Macha had the two outposts (where the Albions and Midgardians teleported to) on the top right and bottom right of the map while Dun Crauchon, a keep, was on the middle left. A road ran down the middle into Briefine, a flat zone with four keeps (Dun Bolg, Dun na nGed, Dun da Behn, and Dun Crimthainn) that was the perfect sparing arena.
Fights would break out in Emain as groups fought along the road to reach Briefine where the keeps were. It was, ultimately, a great system and needed no upgrading, but they upgraded it and it just drove the playerbase mad once more, as New Frontiers didn’t offer flat blank land to fight on, nay it offered all kinds of cool strategic stuff, that wasn’t… well, a blank area just to do what you want in.
Emain was cool for a lot of reasons too. You could hug the sides and flank groups walking down the road (or go up from the road to the sides and flank people sneaking about). It also had choke points outside of the outposts in a nice and even way (very symmetrical). The importance of RvR was also critical, as it opened Darkness Falls (the best XP dungeon in the game) and relics, which would give realms insane power, were held in powerful relic keeps.
The delight of an open battlefield is that there is plenty of room to play in. It’s like a giant sandbox. Everyone can go do whatever they want, assault keeps, have giant fights, and in general have fun. The secret you don’t hear is that in DAoC, a single group could make a difference. A single group could break a zerg, take a keep, and do many great and glorious things for their realm. You could be a true hero of the ages, if you knew what you were doing.
Comparing and Contrasting
It’s difficult to compare WvW to RvR because essentially they are the same. WvW is very much similar to New Frontiers. The same mechanics are at play (even the water warfare stuff, just without boats). Siege weaponry is the same, except instead of multiple players buying supplies to give to one person to build it, you simply lay down the blueprint and the entire team contributes to its construction. Keeps, ultimately, are the same as well. Power orbs, like relics, are also the same – minus the overpowered part.
I really can’t think of too many mechanics that are different. Thieves can’t climb keeps in WvW. In DAoC, the stealth classes could climb keeps and groups of them could swarm the keep lord. The role of a single player is and isn’t that great. A group can’t solo a zerg, nay, but they can really disable the entire team by flipping supply and ganking towers.
Truly, the game is pretty much the same. Death – there we go, death is something that differs. In both games dying is a horrible price to pay. GW2 has a long walk back to the action, whereas you had to sit and wait on a port (every five minutes if memory serves) in DAoC or walk back, which would take a good five or ten minutes.
Of course, copying a system doesn’t necessarily grant you immediate success. Warhammer Online copied many of the elements, although in a much different way, and it didn’t really come out super far ahead. Star Trek Online has an RvR like system, but it’s not an exact copy. Copying things in general doesn’t just grant you “yes, it’s the same, therefore it’s just as good.”
That is where I would argue that you’re both right and wrong. Copying isn’t good just by itself, but ArenaNet didn’t just copy the formula of RvR; they improved it and massaged it into their game almost perfectly. It wasn't shoehorned in, the game was developed with the system in mind.
One of the things I like is that the best parts of RvR came over to GW2 and the worst parts took a hike. As mentioned above, getting back to the action is much quicker in GW2 than in DAoC. Another example is that structures are a bit more balanced. You can’t ram rush a keep and take it, but you can take a tower or keep with a smaller number of players if it isn’t defended.
Another thing is the dynamic level adjustment. In RvR anyone could walk into it, even a level 1 if they so dared. It didn’t create problems, but it made it where you had to spend the months and months reaching level 50 in order to play the most fun part (in my opinion) of the game. If you weren’t level 50, you would be pretty much one shot and the day called.
I like also how GW2 has a counter to siege weapons or door repair. In DAoC you could run lumber to the doors to have crafters repair it day in and day out. The only thing stopping you was encumbrance. In WvW, the attacking players can take nearby supply camps to extend the walk or cut out supply all together. That gives smaller groups something to do and keeps a stalemate from forming from a group of a few players repairing doors endlessly.
The one feature I wish GW2 had was scout-like NPCs. In DAoC, a guard would scream in chat if it was being attacked. This was a cool feature because it let you know a keep was under attack and players could use it as either a false alarm or the guards could let off a warning that enemies were walking through an area. I know GW2 has the arrows, but a better status indicator of keep/tower/camp status would be nice.
Another lesson learned is loot. In GW2, loot reaches its highest quality with exotic. Exotic is an easily accessible quality level that can be easily farmed in almost no time. Not only that, but it’s a small upgrade from rare. Thanks to stat normalization, there isn’t a huge difference in the quality types. A level 20 player could, in theory, solo a level 80. The only difference is the skills and a few stat points here and there.
Ultimately, I feel that GW2 did copy the RvR formula perfectly and it works. The only downside is that it is balanced, unlike DAoC. There aren’t a few players soloing everyone else. However, I think that’s a great tradeoff to make it more accessible and keep people playing. If you loaded into WvW and could never do anything, how would you feel?
Did you play DAoC? How do you feel about GW2? Let us know in the comments section below.