Spiral Situation: PvP in Wizard101

As promised, I dove into Wizard101 ranked PvP this summer. This was to follow up on some heavy bitching I did last spring about KingsIsle’s (KI) long-standing neglect of glitches in the system. My level 20 Diviner has achieved the rank of Captain via 1v1. The game’s level cap is 60. So in all modesty, this is no small accomplishment. Diviners have the lowest hit points and base accuracy in the game. However, Diviner spells also deal the most hit points in the game. After weeks of deck revisions, spending training points in new schools, and hatching pets to support my toon, I have but one thing to say: I can stop any time I want. Really. Not.

I wrote about this before, but I want to reiterate that KI fixed the questionable nature of Mastery Amulets, and how that equipment could benefit players in PvP by helping them reach Warlord if they could afford to get one from the cash shop. This came about not only from fixing the flaw with the spell Earthquake. KI implemented so many new layers and complexities to PvP that Mastery Amulets are reduced to a standard strategy to which PvP players must simply “learn and adapt” to succeed.

My experiences in the PvP ring have been generally positive.  I’m IRL friends with members of one of the best-known and top-performing PvP teams in Wizard101. I realize this is pretty obscure sliver in the giant universe of MMOs, but observing and listening has given me lots of insight into the ups and downs of PvP. This particular team has a YouTube channel and strongly promotes a code of fair play in PvP that is pretty stringent. What many players consider merely well thought-out strategies or back-door techniques to racking up the wins, this team considers borderline exploitative,  cheap gameplay, and/or a lame approach to the competition.

Although these folks are truly good friends, we don’t always agree on what is fair play in the ring. PvP is a competition. Think of it like any sporting event. My parallel is figure skating. In 1995, Nicole Bobek’s US championship was questioned because one of her competitors had skated more artistically than Bobek had. Bobek’s camped fired back by saying (paraphrased), “This is a sports competition, and Nicole was stronger  athletically. That’s why she won. Go cry in your lunchbox.”

I think of PvP in Wizard101 much the same way. I wish I wasn’t randomly matched against a level six player (in terms of questing level, not PvP level) who has equipped a pet with an eight-pip spell that will one-shot my toon. The only way this player has obtained this pet is by hatching a hybrid of otherwise minimum-Level 58 school pets on a different toon in the same account, and transferring the pet to the level six toon. This gives a gigantic edge in the arena. A player at my toon’s questing level simply hasn’t accumulated enough hit points to succeed against the spell that players can access via these pets. Indeed, it has helped many players achieve Warlord. There’s no way for the random match system to detect that kind of equipment imbalance. The primary focus is to match up players who are as close in quest leveling as possible, with PvP rank secondary.

As frustrating as the eight-pip pet can be, it’s truly not any different from putting eight-pip treasure cards in your deck. These cards are easily available in the bazaar (Wizard101’s iteration of an Auction House, although players aren’t allowed to set their own price when selling), through drops from gardening, and through trading of treasure cards.  Learn, adapt, pack shields, and accept defeat. That’s the name of the game.

Another common complaint is blade stacking. What can be said? It’s a strategy. It’s nearly impossible to successfully use traps in PvP. All PvP contenders worth their salt stacks shields, so using a turn to cast a trap is a wasted opportunity (for the uninitiated, Wizard101 is a turn-based card game. No two battles are the same due to the AI shuffling and presenting the cards in your hand). The best way to boost damage is through blade stacking. The typical blade stacker starts with school-issued blades and layers with treasure cards. Treasure cards are available in at least three stackable versions. Is it kind of dull to sit through a PvP battle in which your opponent stacks blades for a dozen rounds and then one-shots you? Yes. Is it frustrating to be one-shotted by a blade stacker? Yes. The answer? Learn, adapt, and deal with hit.

I’m a heavy shield stacker. I’ve been mocked, probably as much as blade stackers. I couldn’t care less. Layering shields from different schools is the only defense against blade stackers, DOT-casters, and those lucky enough to have two-strike Myth school spells. I’ve paid dearly for investing ten rounds in shield stacking when the other side casts Shatter, leaving me defenseless. However, in those rounds, I’ve build up enough pips (think combo points) and typically preserved enough hit points to strike repeatedly with damage spells. I catch them off guard and, two-thirds of the time, I walk away with the victory.

Tearing down other players’ strategies and tactics would raise a deafening chorus of “qq more” in WoW, even among non-PvP WoW players.  On the other hand, Wizard101 is a game designed for players who are younger than WoW’s approved age for starting. From that angle, it makes sense to have PvP success attainable for all players. On the other hand, Wizard101 is frequently characterized as a MMO bridge for players who have outgrown Club Penguin but are too young for World of Warcraft. Building on that approach of helping  players evolve to 15+ games, if a player is handled with kid gloves in PvP while playing Wizard101, they will feel thrown to the wolves in a fast-action PvP setting like WoW. It’s hard enough to go from a turn-based card game to a hack-and-slash approach. So why not prepare players for the inequities they will face in more competitive games? Chain stunning, fearing and poly-morphing are standard.

Learn and adapt. And remember, it’s pixels.

3 thoughts on “Spiral Situation: PvP in Wizard101”

  1. It’s been quite a while since I’ve played W101.

    However I feel that you’re oversimplifying the situation a lot.

    So you, for example, want PvP where whoever spends more money (treasure cards) and/or twinks (high level pets) basically wins.

    There are a lot of people who think that PvP should be about strategy / skill unaffected by the deep pockets (note I’m not discounting strategy / skill required for ‘spend’ PvP, but it is often overshadowed by who spends more) — e.g. see MtG tournaments where people get random cards from boosters to build their deck from.

    Neither is necessarily right or wrong.

    However I do have a feeling that, given an option, many (most?) people would elect to play in W101 arena that doesn’t allow treasure cards and such to be used.

    If true, the question then becomes why wouldn’t developers allow for that. One option could be that by enforcing ‘spend’ PvP they remove some of the wealth from the game.

  2. Thanks for the feedback. And in all truth, I don’t WANT PvP to be that way. But I’ve accepted that it’s going to be that way. And even if the developer were to devise a way to restrict certain gear and pets from ranked matches (see next paragraph), the player base will come up with new ways to bend the system. The goal of many PvP players is to win at any cost. They consider any strategy that is not specifically banned by the developers to be fair game. So, as I said, once the current near-exploits of the system are addressed, they will merely move on to develop new ones.

    KingsIsle does ban the use of certain treasure cards and certain crown shop items from PvP. For example, if a player has not reached a minimum level, they are not allowed to use high-end spells from the Astral School. They can’t train in them, and they are blocked from purchasing them in the treasure card shop and in the bazaar. They cannot be traded among players either. There are health-boosting elixirs and battle-boosting elixirs from the cash shop that are banned during ranked PvP. A player can purchase them, but they will not be effective during ranked battles.

    The developer could extend these bans to player equipment as well. For example, they could write code to prevent players who are level 57 or lower from equipping a pet that is the result of a hybrid match of level 58 pets. I’m sure at one point they will do so. However, players will simply find another way to imbalance their gear or strategies to give themselves a huge advantage.

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