A Requiem for Alterac Valley

There was once a place where “just let them win” was never said.  Once there was a battleground upon which epic back and forth battles raged for hours on end as players endlessly butted heads in bone littered fields of white.  Once there was a place called Alterac Valley and it had meaning beyond honor points and purpose beyond grinding reputation.


Many players in vanilla WoW received their first epics from the Alterac Valley factions.  The Unstoppable Force, besides being linked to various Chuck Norris jokes, was a staple for both factions.  There was once a time where you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing someone wielding this 2handed mace.  The game has changed so much since then.  No longer are epics worn as badges of honor. 


Before the days of linked server battlegroups, most servers might have a handful of AV instances up and running at a given time.  Queue times could reach an hour or more and it was considered moderately acceptable to leave an instance or questing group with a simple “sorry got the AV queue, GTG.”  On a small server like Azshara there was rarely more than one instance up and running at a given time.  AV battles that lasted for several hours were quite common, and I can remember one that lasted for about 10 hours straight leading to a Horde victory.


AV had its problems and ultimately trying to fix these problems lead to its demise.  Blizzard never could quite get the map balanced.  Creating two unique bases for each side created discrepancies that players would exploit.  Choke and starting points were also not equal creating further problems for the design team.   The choke points issue was never addressed but Alterac Valley was up and running for nearly three years before they finally moved the Horde starting location further back, set almost identical in distance from various objectives as the Alliance point of attack.


The infamous “Cave Defenders” entered the scene once the honor system was changed.  Prior to this patch change just before the launch of TBC, PVP gear was very difficult to obtain and required hours and hours of playtime each week for a rank up.  Eventually once you got your rank high enough you would have access to various tiers of gear.  Players seeking top ranks would be forced to play in battlegrounds for 10-12 hours a day (more on some servers) in order to reach the top spots.


Now that honor was simply treated like points that you accumulate you had the leaches entering Alterac Valley.  Gradually the game deteriorated.  Instead of 40 vs. 40 you might end up with 25 vs. 25 due to the large number of “heroic” cave defenders.  To combat the honor leaching problem Blizzard removed a large number of elite named NPC defenders, which were previously worth honor when killed.  They also greatly reduced the number of static NPC spawns in the zone in order to try and speed the matches up.


The net effect of all of this was to change AV into a zerg vs. zerg battleground.  Each side simply raced down the field, completely ignoring the other teams offense and letting all of their towers burn.  This was seen as the fastest honor points per hour and thus was the accepted norm.  Players that tried to defend would be accosted in chat for causing a “turtle” as taking key graveyards would force the attackers to spawn after being killed back in defensive areas and thus prolong the match.  Players rejoiced, as even loosing a quick AV match would yield more honor per hour than winning other battlegrounds.  Towers and NPC Captains provided a consolation prize that was lacking in any other battleground.


Seeing the lack of PVP taking place in what was supposed to be a large PVP theme park, Blizzard took a drastic step to force players to defend objectives and set a limit on the length of matches.  This was largely seen as a needed change but would soon herald the end of Alterac Valley.  Each side was now capped out at a “reinforcement meter” as players would die or towers would burn, you would loose reinforcements.  Taking a mine would slowly increase the number of reinforcements that you had available, but there was no other way to offset the losses of players and towers.


Now players had to defend, as a final last stand by defenders at either base would never be successful again.  The reinforcement meters forced you to defend and recapture towers, not simply sit in the best defensible position killing enemy players in waves as they rode in.  The stratagems employed by players in what were essentially PUG 40 man raids would have to change.  Some players would use third party addons to queue up entire pre-made raid groups, a practice never stamped out by Blizzard.


Some problems still remained.  With the honor system in place, players had little incentive to be the actual player that would defend objectives.  Essentially defending an objective just meant standing around and fighting any enemy players that might happen to come and try to capture that objective.  It usually involved long wait times of simply standing around and since you weren’t up where the action was, you were missing out on a massive amount of honor. 


AV was largely seen as revitalized and would enjoy some place in the spotlight throughout TBC and until the launch of WotLK.  With Wrath came the new battleground, Strand of the Ancients.  This battleground was used by Blizzard to bump AV to the side and simply place it on life support. 


Rather than give AV a face-lift they removed any use for AV tokens, providing no reason for players to queue for it over other battlegrounds, by taking the token off of the quest for token turnins.  Instead of incorporating new ideas into Alterac Valley such as vehicle combat, defensive turrets and destructible walls they would rather push it to the side. 


Alterac Valley still is in the game.  On my battlegroup we have about a 45 minute to an hour queue time nightly.  Most matches are extremely lopsided with 30+ horde players and only 15-20 Alliance players at the start.  I find such steam rolls mildly entertaining at best.  Mostly I yearn for the pitched battles of year ago.  When legends were formed on the bone-littered snow-covered fields of Alterac Valley and when the greatest war cry ever uttered was “ALL IN ON VAN!”


~ by Centuri on February 19, 2009.

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