The battle for Lake Wintergrasp

31st March 2009 – 10.28 am

The battle for control of the open PvP zone Wintergrasp is an attackers' game. Despite the defenders having a fortress in which to be protected and medium-range turrets to repel intruders the attackers can assault the fortress from many sides. The defence generally either tries to stop each attack at the same time and thins its forces to be mostly ineffective, or concentrates the defence on each attack in turn and suffers heavy damage on the undefended sides. In both cases, being lulled in to completely obliterating each wave of attackers instead of leaving ineffective stragglers to retreat and lick their wounds is a tactical weakness. The attack only needs to be pushed back. Chasing after the retreating forces for that extra kill or two only pulls you away from effective defending. And once the main wall is breached a known bug allows the demolishers to squeeze through a gap in the inner walls less than half their width, letting them trundle right up to the main internal door of the fortress to create advanced havoc.

There are strategies for the defenders to follow. First, don't try to assault the workshop closest to the enemy's spawn point to the region. Even if a significant number of defenders attempt this they will be met by dozens of hostile characters bolstered by overwhelming numbers and, although you may get a lucky kill or two, they will overrun you quickly. It isn't that this tactic won't even slow them down much, it will actually speed them up. Each character needs a certain number of enemy kills before gaining a promotion that lets them pilot vehicles, so by throwing yourself at their swords you effectively grant the enemy early access to vehicles, the only means available to damage structures. Trying to defend the wrong workshop will only see a dozen siege vehicles trundle up to the fortress within a minute of the battle starting.

Destroying the southern towers reduces the time allowed for the assault on the keep significantly, giving a slight advantage to the defenders. Getting slow demolishers or siege engines down to the far south of the region is a long process, though, and takes some defending forces away from the battle. Unless the vehicles are defended they are also vulnerable to even a single hostile player and won't be effective against the towers, taking away more personnel from the defence. However, whilst it is definitely worth the time advantage to destroy the towers it may also be worth attempting an assault on them if only to pull away a handful of attackers from the fortress to deal with your single vehicle.

Even so, most of the time the attackers successfully assault the keep and take control of Wintergrasp. I think it is good to give the advantage to the attackers, as it should allow the region to change control regularly rather than remaining in the hands of one side for many battles at a time, if not days, which would be the case if defending were favoured. Because of this, it seems that World of Warcraft has learnt from its own past, as well as probably from other games, and has created a vibrant, repeating conflict in Wintergrasp.

The half-hearted attempts at world PvP objectives with controlling towers in the Outlands regions of Zangarmarsh or Auchindoun, where the combat was held in open PvE zones and the rewards for victory were tenuous, have been abandoned in favour of Wintergrasp's being an open PvP region. Entering the region guarantees the risks of PvP combat being consensual by virtue of your presence whilst remaining entirely optional in the game as a whole, unless you accidentally fly over Wintergrasp. Rather than the eight-hour period of control of the Outlands PvP objectives the battle for Wintergrasp continues two-and-a-half hours after the previous battle is won, making it frequent enough to allow both planned or relatively spontaneous contribution without it occurring too often to prevent other activities outside of the PvP combat.

The rewards are generally the same PvP-based items, except also allowing the opportunity to run the Vault of Archavon instance, which is based in Wintergrasp keep and unavailable if your faction does not control the region. This creates a decent incentive to participate and succeed in the battle, and favouring the attacking side allows a fighting chance for each faction to control the region regularly. It also encourages mutual cooperation to work as a cohesive team, with open raids beginning to form at the fifteen minute call-to-arms, where there is perceived and real benefit from being part of a larger group rather than trying to maximise individual benefit, which is insignificant at best.

The battle for Lake Wintergrasp is one of the more interesting and vibrant aspects of gameplay to be introduced in the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. If I'm logged in, you can be fairly confident that I know when the next battle will start.

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