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?

Sometimes.

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.

MOBAs

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.