Games that Get PvP Right

So we’re back and the Talkback Challenge 2014 has kicked up a lot of dust in the community. The topic? PvP vs. PvE: Do they Mix?


I think it’s interesting, and totally predictable, that most of us in this conversation think PvP has problems and that it can ruin the gaming experience when mixed with PvE. I also think it’s interesting that everyone of us believes that PvP itself can be done right. So how about we look at some games which do it right?

Obviously, the games below are just my own personal list. But for the sake of discussion, you should take a moment to think about games you think gets PvP right as well.

Demon’s Souls

First of all, this game gets a lot of things right. It’s just extremely well designed and well thought out. So it’s no wonder the PvP is also a very fine addition to what is otherwise a pure dungeon crawler. To quote myself:

One more feature that has a really ingenious implementation is the multiplayer aspect. If you turn on the game while connected to the PSN, you’re automatically in multiplayer mode. This allows you to see phantoms; ghosts of other players across the network. You can’t communicate with them, but you can see their actions which may help you figure out what’s lurking around that corner. You’ll also see blood spatters on the ground which indicate where a player recently died. Touching the blood allows you to see the last few seconds of that players life before they died, giving you clues as to what killed him. Players can also leave short messages scrawled on the ground which can either tip you off to dangers or send you bumbling to your death. Lastly and most deadly is that players can invade each others worlds. If you need a body, you invade the world of a player who has one …and if you can kill him, you can take his body.

Players can invade the world of other players. They want to enter your game for two reasons. One, they need your body (lawl). In DS when you die you return in spirit form, which means you play with only half your health until you recover your body. You can do that by collecting the orbs I mentioned earlier …or you can invade another players game and slay them, taking their body if you succeed. The second reason is for the sheer adventure of it. Either way, if you’re just there to slay dragons you get to do it with the added suspense that your game can change at any moment. It’s a bonus that the PvP encounters are short — you’ll be back to your dungeon crawl within minutes.

The multiplayer feature is really interesting and definitely unique overall. The PvP twist is just icing on an awesome cake. While there are always players who are abusive, DS manages to make it not worthwhile. Players get to rate each other and in a game where skill is everything, players are more likely to give each other accurate grades than to grief or lash out. By making combat meaningful and limiting PvP by designing it to enhance PvE, the game strikes a perfect balance between the two.


I know this may seem non-obvious, but MOBAs are another perfect balance between PvE and PvP. The fact is players can play a round of DOTA 2 or League of Legends without ever fighting one another. It is optional. But no one plays this way, because PvP combat is very meaningful to winning the PvE map. And let’s not forget that it was a pure PvE strategy game that spawned the entire genre (Warcraft).

Still, this is what it looks like when a game gets the PvP and PvE mix correct: you can’t even tell the two are separate.

How hard is it really to mix these two elements? Why do MMOs seem to get it so wrong? I think the hard bit for MMOs is the open and persistent world. To an extent, players must expect open world PvP because it’s an open world. This makes it seem like PvP and MMOs simply don’t mix, because what other way can they co-exist? Battlegrounds and arenas will probably continue to be the primary means for official PvP in the genre, but I still think there must be something designers can do to make open world PvP fairer and therefore more consensual.

For starters, just make it meaningful. Why would players want to PvP? Which elements encourage players to strike a balance between fighting and negotiating? EVE Online shows us the ways that devs have come closer to balancing this, but it fails because it rewards belligerence.

Will there ever be an MMO which gets this right? I think so. I just hope I see that game in my lifetime.

17 thoughts on “Games that Get PvP Right

  1. To be honest, and to use DCUO as another example, treating PvP more like PvE assists in balancing the world to a place where PvP isn’t a “disruption” as much as a aspect. When being killed in open-world PvP means the exact same process as being killed by an AI mob, then it becomes just one more danger out there.

    I’m really trying to think a great example of PvE and PvP coexisting but I’m coming up somewhat blank. Maybe that means it’s a much subtler and less exciting answer because, at the same time, I have trouble coming up with a larger list of games where PvP has a quantifiable negative impact.

    As someone who has spent a good deal of time in New Eden as an industry/mining carebear, the issue tends to come down to the human factor. The vast majority of players aren’t going to gank your mining barge, but there are those who will and there’s little to their own gain in most cases (which rules out the “mechanics” argument). Paranoia is normal in EVE, but there’s a big issue with balance when you have a group like CODE who are literally driving away the PvE/Industry players who form the backbone of the economy. If I could run my mining/indy corp while having an EVE-healthy moderate and reasonable amount of paranoia I’d still be deep into internet spaceships. But when my entire playtime revolves around focusing 120% of my attention to trying to catch that 20 second window where I could actually warp out without being podded, it sucks all the fun out of it. To be frank, I think EVE would be massively improved if they actually did separate the PvP and PvE a little more. At least if they buffed some of the power differentials between defenseless miners and predatory gankers. Frankly, hitting up a mining barge in highsec space should mean that the majority of the time the barge lives and the attacker gets blown from the sky by the patrols. Right now ganking a barge is almost always in the huge favor of an attacker even if the barge is properly tanked since there’s so little meaningful risk on the part of a ganker.

    I dunno, but eliminating the “hardcore” threads from PvP would go a long way to help level out the huge differences in PvE and PvP focus/power/gear. Treating PvP in a similar to to PvE just means you get the dynamic danger of human opponents with the player-friendly get-up-get-back-at-it minimal disruption. If there isn’t anything worthwhile to do OTHER than that one thing that may be camped, then that’s a pretty huge failing of the game itself.

    • ” I have trouble coming up with a larger list of games where PvP has a quantifiable negative impact.”
      I quantified my reasoning in the first article based on the number of players who participate. Surely that is one strong indicator of how much players enjoy that feature, but it’s not the whole story.
      Players in EVE, especially so-called carebears, probably like PvP — but they can’t find a FAIR opportunity to engage in it. They stay away from it. But also the PvP is imply too rare, almost never occuring if we go by the numbers. Important systems change hands maybe once a year? MAYBE? How many of our “best” corporations in the game are hoarding crazy amounts of capitals? How many wars occur so that players can get a taste of that sweet PVP everyone talks about?

      As you said, even in New Eden PvP is rare. This is the most open PvP world in MMOs. And it’s rare.

      So I think the PvP implementation sucks. I think the fact that players don’t participate is all the quantifying we need in this case. Eve is a war economy in which war is rare as hell. When CCP wises up to the fact that it’s open world combat sucks, they will continue to make it easier for players to fly their ships in peace and harder for the sociopaths, while making it more fun for people just looking for some combat adventure (regular ole PvPers). Right now, EVE is the game to play if you’re clinical.

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    • Yes you assume the Eve economy is “working” 🙂 Login for a while.

      True, its functioning, but its far from OK. Years of mechanic changes combined with resource hoarding and RMT — the economy is in trouble. But this is nothing new. Its been struggling with this for a while now.

      The thing about war economies is …there needs to be war. When every side has 100 capitals simply because all they do is manufacture/buy them because nothing is being destroyed, theres no economy. Eves economy is currently saddled with with all these issues.

    • *H1Z1 pans out. I like the sandbox aspect of it, and the though of forming a group that relies on each other for survival. Some people can craft and build and others can defend it. Zombies are PvE, and other players mix in the PvP. Seems like it has all of the right elements. Unfortunately most PvE players probably won’t even give it the time of day.

      • We shall see.. a lot of the newer bigger mmo’s coming out are incorporating these aspects into it so maybe the playerbase will get more experience with being around PvP and realise it isn’t the Devil. Archeage is bringing it forward and it looks like this will be soe’s ongoing approach now.

        I also think a lot of people, a lot are incredibly tired with current themeparks so will try these sandboxes when they might not have before simply because pvp is a feature.. we shall see.

        hizzy does sound interesting in theory but then, soe sure know how to market their stuff

        • Yes, and they also seem to have an issue with keeping awesome games, well, awesome. Many people are jaded by SOE and won’t even give that game a shot as a result. I’m not a fanboy, but am not at odds with the company either. So I’m hoping for the best. People seem to be happy with Landmark, so perhaps SOE is making good ground again.

      • Im so tired of the zombie trend. Pretty sure thats the reason Im not buying H1z1. Or any other game wearing this trope. Cant imagine whats new that theyre bringing to the community. I think youre right about PvE players though, but devs only have themselves to blame for this. Their lack of real solutions and content develop for multiplayer combat has created this mess.

        • Zombies have been my thing since long before its current state of popularity. I have yet to play a sandbox MMO with zombies, so I feel like there’s still some untouched gold there. The market is getting saturated, but a lot of it is complete garbage. Hoping H1Z1 isn’t.

  3. I play games that looks interesting to me rather than judging based on whether it is pve or pvp based, and Archeage is one of the game I have my eye on and to be honest didn’t realise this aim to focus on pvp more if I understood that right. Curious what that will be like 🙂 Doone’s description of Demon’s Soul made the pvp aspect sounds interesting! Only thing that put me off is that it is purely dungeon crawler. I’m a quester really.

    • You would probably like Demons Souls. Just dont expect to beat the game. But for challenge and meaningful gameplay, there have been no RPGs of the past 10 years which have done better than DS.

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  6. I’m sorry but I can’t take the MOBA example seriously. While technically, yes, you could tiptoe around the other team and play it without any actual PvP combat, that just makes it a race against the other team. You could say the same thing about certain battlegrounds in WoW, such as Strand of the Ancients, where the contest is to see who can get to the end the fastest. Or you can say the same thing about any lobby-based PvP game that has a practice mode against AI. Hell, at the moment Alterac Valley, probably the best battleground in the game (for epic battles), is in most cases reduced to a race. 95% of the battleground refuses to engage in actual PvP, it’s just whoever can get to the towers first, cap them, and rush to the end guy first.

    Why do they do this? Because of the consequences. The only incentive you have in (random) battlegrounds is gaining honour points…to get more gear…to do better in battlegrounds and arenas…which only get you more gear for…battlegrounds and arenas. So AV devolves into a mad rush to either win or lose quickly for maximum efficiency in farming honour points, which means that the PvP part of an instanced PvP battleground is actually undesirable. To make open-world PvP (OWP) acceptable, if not attractive, you have to give it in-game meaning. And that means consequences for both consensual and non-consensual PvP.

    To my mind the system that has only recently surfaced in MMO gamers’ awareness is the justice system. EVE kinda-sorta has one, in that violating hisec laws will eventually lead to your standing dropping enough for you to be shot on sight. But I think it a) takes too long to reach that point – you can cause a LOT of grief before it comes back to bite you, b) it is too easy to regain standing, and c) there is no way for victims to claim restitution, or even have any input into how the ganker is punished. There was a top-down MMO that got shelved that was trying to implement a coherent justice system where players could be involved with bringing criminals to account (although I think that was a permadeath game so not sure how that would have worked out). Age of Wushu, ArcheAge and Black Desert all have justice systems of some sort, though I really only know much about the AA one, and I would go a bit further than they have in some respects. Anyway, I think the missing link that will allow OWP to exist comfortably in a PvE world is this, a robust justice system. I’d guess that many players who are put off by the prospect of OWP are afraid of losing their stuff, and/or of being camped with no recourse but to log off. I think that those players would love to have that security of knowing they could report crimes, have the criminals hunted down, arrested, and punished (you know, like the real world).

    I keep harping on about this, but I do believe that consequences are the key for OWP. You need to have reasons to engage in it (that are related either to your in-game survival or larger goals such as campaigns, quests, or political/economic/natural events), you need to have sufficient reward for the risks involved, and you need to have sufficient consequences to make the choice to engage meaningful. If you close off access to more and more of the PvE world through indiscriminate PvP actions, that will be a major deterrent to being an arsehole. More importantly, KNOWING that that deterrent is in place will encourage more people to participate in such a world, even though the risk is still there. THAT might be the ‘fairness’ ingredient you have brought up on several occasions.

    • The LoL example is exactly as you say. Which is why my point is true: when its done right, you cant separate the PvP from the PvE. In other words, in any game where the two are separate, both will lack and sometimes both will fail.

      The WoW battlegrounds example is perfect. You give the reasons yourself why they suck. The PvP and PvE objectives do not align properly.

      AV was great in its day and did a good job of promoting PvP, but its also reduced to a race these days and has been for years. This is a design problem. Players WANT to PvP, but given shitty options they will avoid it. See and compare PvP server numbers and populations for reference in ANY mmo to understand my point.

      I think you’re right that consequences have to be up to par. Even Eve slips on this, but it does a better job than most (thats not actually saying much, but thats what it is).

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