First let me get this cleared up: I know they are orbs, not balls. The point still stands.
If you didn’t see from other sources, ArenaNet has announced the removal of orbs of power from World versus World. I’m assuming this means the altars of power will either be empty or somehow edited out of the map*. And the largest change to the actual matches will be the associated removal of the stacking 5% bonus for controlling each orb.
[*editor's note: they'll no doubt use these areas to host quaggan dance parties]
Let me start with the understanding side of this change. First, and what I think was probably the largest driving factor in this change, is the hacking (term used broadly). Much like the Diminishing Return changes to PvE and dungeons, this change seems largely driven by the effect that 1% of players who play unethically can and do have on the game--effects that hurt the 99% of players who don’t play that way (We are the 99%). Those players who found a way to steal the orb by jumping through walls and back out circumvented the core mechanics of the feature, and since it only takes 1 cheater per server to ruin the whole WvW match up, the issue is hard to contain.
The other stated reason was that the runaway leader issue was being exaggerated by the orb bonus. When a server doing well already has the orbs, it is easier for them to do better, making it easier to hold the orbs, making them better, and continue the cycle. I’ll circle back to this point later, but in brief I think this is at best, a very minor reason ArenaNet is removing the orbs from play.
I will say this: what they are doing is something I have to tip my hat to ArenaNet for. They have shown that they are willing to upset some of their players if they feel the game is at risk. Better to have a few unhappy people now and protect the game, than have everyone leave your game because it’s a broken, hack filled, mess. I’m assuming solving the issues allowing hacking in the first place are unfathomably complicated and require many more man hours than can be easily mustered. Removing the incentive to hack is easy, quick, and dirty. That said, in this instance I am one of those upset players, and this is my soapbox to yell about it.
/begin soap box
Let’s start with the small stuff and work our way up. This change not only devalues the keeps and garrisons on borderland maps, it devalues the entire northern side of the borderlands. Those 5 points (each) from the three northernmost supply camps hardly seem worth it since there is nothing up there to drive forward for anymore. At least the northeast and northwest camps can supply the keeps on the map, but as I said those keeps are much less important in the grand scheme of things since you don’t need to them to hold orbs anymore.
I know the points still count, but the orb bonus was a driving factor in many strategies that were emerging for borderland control. Especially the ones that saw dedicated pushes into enemy territory.
Part of me has to wonder if this might be an intentional “side effect” of this change on ArenaNet’s part. By making the north of each map (and the keeps as well) less valuable, they will probably end up being controlled by their home server more often. If I were to argue myself on this point, I can (almost) see the benefit to making my home borderland less valuable to enemy players. It gives us a foothold. That said, I don’t want the game to give it to me just because it’s not worth it to the enemy. I think every capture point should have strategic value on the map for each server, and this change makes that much less the case.
This flows into the real reason I’m an upset player at this change. This (and if I may overstate things here) greatly reduces the strategy of WvW. I think the way the meta was moving was to have a focus on the orbs as the launching points for big campaigns in the eternal battlegrounds, and provided a frequent point of contention on your own borderland map as you tried to hold your own orb.
A server that wants to make a push into the eternal battleground would also need to make a push on at least one enemy borderland to try and gain buffs for their forces at the front line. The orb bonus linked together the efforts on the borderlands and the eternal battleground. They gave tangible purpose to players who queued up for the borderland maps of enemy servers (other than “moar pointz”) and a strong borderland team who can grab an orb from an enemy server provides a huge uplift to their whole server, across all of WvW. No other mechanic in WvW does this.
Crucially as well, I feel this mechanic didn’t cause the runaway leader problem so often lamented by players (that’s chiefly caused by other factors such as server population, world transfers, and morale). On the contrary, this mechanic was one of the only in WvW that actually allowed a trailing (and undersized) team to come back and gain an advantage. A well-organized team can, in a short period of time, make a concentrated push into enemy territory and claim an orb (even with the enemy having a 10-15% boost). Even if they remain outnumbered, so long as they focus on a goal (claim 2 out of 3 orbs) and achieve it, they can hold onto their gains despite larger forces against them.
I agree if a server owns all 3 it can be hard to take back, but that’s addressable other ways (mostly smarter players and more organized attacks). And I don’t think just giving the outnumbered team stat boosts straight up is the solution (as many have suggested). That’s forces parity, and it’s always the least rewarding to players on both sides of the numbers divide. And I don’t think keeping the orbs but removing the 5% buff is the solution (that makes them essentially worthless to the strategy of the game).
In the end, I understand why they had to go (for now). All the great stuff I said about strategy above is completely null while hackers can cheat the system. I only hope ArenaNet has something in store to replace orbs that provides the same depth and strategic interest we’re going to miss once they are gone.