Why MMO PvP is Awful & 4 Ways to Make It Fun
There are four main issues with PvP in MMOs: helplessness, lack of weight, unpreventable death, and skill confusion. Each one is a major issue in its own right, and altogether they can cripple the PvP experience for your average player. They are also issues that often afflict other, non-MMO titles like Super Monday Night Combat.
Helplessness is an issue that affects virtually every single competitive game, and is inherent to the nature of human competition. After all, some people (or classes) are simply better than others in certain respects. Rather than outright removing this feeling, which is impossible, it is the goal of the designer to alleviate this sense of helplessness. This is not the case in most MMOs, and a simple bad class match-up can often lead to one player getting absolutely destroyed by their rival. Helplessness most notably manifests through concepts such as long-duration stuns, slows, knockbacks, knockdowns, and other movement impairing or altering effects. It can also be noticed through one class simply being the counter to another. Nothing makes a player feel helpless quite like walking up to an enemy and just being burned alive before they can so much as say hello, much less fight.
Lack of weight is a problem mostly specific to MMOs, and it can be traced to two genre conventions: moving through enemy units and moving while attacking. When a player is not tied down by their actions, said actions lose the “sense of weight” you might see in something like a good kung-fu or action movie. Actions have reactions, after all, and when your virtual swordmaster can simply run through enemies and fling his sword every which way in the middle of combat, it reduces the impact of those reactions. There is also the concern of actions not having clear visual reactions in the target, which adds to this issue.
Unpreventable death is a bit more finicky than the previous two, and could even roll itself into helplessness. I’m separating it thanks to this specific scenario, however. Let’s say you are playing against a Warlock in World of Warcraft. You beat the snot out of him through any number of magicks and/or skills, and you walk away to go heal up and prepare for the next bout. But alas! Fifteen seconds after you killed your foe, you drop dead from some accursed poison that you could not remove. This specific scenario is far, far too common in the MMO world, and belies an essential misunderstanding of what makes player competition fun.
Finally, skill confusion is perhaps the most insidious and dangerous issue that MMOs face in setting up their PvP. Everyone wants to use that slick new skill they just got against both monsters and players. Unfortunately, every class has a huge variety of skills and each skill has effects ranging from the simple to the incredibly complicated. If you though Dota 2 skill memorization was difficult, try memorizing all the potential skill and talent matchups available in a game like Champions Online. Things get very confusing, very quickly, both for the player on the end of the massive beatdown and for the player issuing it. It’s a very frustrating thing to lose track of your skill order or the enemy skill order in the middle of a PvP fight. That’s why I enjoy low-level PvP in most MMOs: fewer skills makes it easier to identify and rotate important abilities.
Where does this leave PvPer new to the system of MMO combat? Confused as to the skills they should use, feeling like the skills they do use are worthless, constantly helpless and stunned by disables, and killed even when they manage to escape a fight with their lives. No wonder PvP is such a contentious and underplayed aspect of the MMO landscape.