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Analysis: Conquest vs. Domination

Infinity Ward's Modern Warfare 2 and DICE's Battlefield: Bad Company 2 are two of the premiere FPS multi-player games today. After hours with each, MW2's Domination and BC2's Conquest are my favorite modes. What makes Conquest better than Domination?

On the surface, Battlefield: Bad Company 2's Conquest mode and Modern Warfare 2's Domination mode are similar. Both are 2-team game-types with the emphasis placed on the control of three (sometimes 4 in the larger Conquest maps) points. Once captured, these points stay in the control of the capturing team until the other takes it away. Both are my favorites (currently, at least) in each game's multiplayer suite. So what makes Conquest so much better than Domination?

The Premise

Domination involves the same maps used in MW2's Team Deathmatch modes, but the conditions for victory are that teams gain points for the amount of time certain points on the map are 'controlled'. These points are, of course, multiplicative--the more points controlled, the faster the points rack up. Capturing (and re-capturing) involves camping within about five meters of the designated point unopposed for a few seconds.

Individual XP is racked up via kills (as in Team Deathmatch) with triple points (150 v. 50), but the sole condition of victory for the team are the points racked up by holding the capture locations.

Conquest has points that are captured using the same basic premise, but the prime difference are the victory conditions. Each time, not counting the initial spawns, has 100 'reinforcements'. Every time a team member dies, the re-spawn uses up one of those reinforcements. In this sense, Conquest is more akin to Team Deathmatches than Domination--despite the initial similarity.

Superiority and Incentivization

Anyone who's played both can feel the difference in gameplay, yet it's a justified comparison. Is the difference just in the victory conditions? Let's dig a little deeper.

I'm a decent MW2 player in terms of deathmatches, but I probably fall into the bottom third of global players (and where I normally place in the lobby. Yet when it comes to Domination, I'm normally in the top third--if not consistently the top two in the lobby. Because capturing a point is worth three times what a kill is--so my kill/death ratio can actually be worse and I still earn better XP if my primary focus is on capturing points.

Likewise the victory conditions. K/D ratio isn't as important as where the killing is done. It's a singular emphasis put on control, but the way it skews gameplay is interesting. Normally I'm a pretty cautious player, slinking around the edges with a silenced assault rifle. Yet Domination turns me into a constantly sprinting, grenade-launcher wielding, throw caution-into-the-wind animal. The ebb-and-flow is nearly always chaotic.

In contrast, Conquest's ebb-and-flow is more balanced. The key to understanding it lies beyond the difference in victory conditions, but also in the difference in player motivations. Like Domination, player incentive is skewed in favor of capturing (and defending), but nowhere nearly as much. Capturing a firebase gains 80 points versus 50 for a kill--much less of a difference in incentive. This, especially when combined with the victory conditions, gives players the incentive to be a lot more cautious.

Capturing bases is worth more, yes, but all it really does in terms of the match as a whole is give your team a tactical advantage. That has to do with another interesting aspect of Conquest. Whereas in Domination, players spawn at random points using (to the player, at least) the same basic logic as in a deathmatch, players can choose their spawn point using the following criteria:

  • the initial base, or "deployment" area
  • if you chose to join a sqaud, you can spawn on any of your living squadmates
  • you can spawn in the vicinity of any currently controlled firebase

So, not only do the victory conditions contribute to gameplay that is more balanced between offense and defense, but spawning mechanics encourage teamwork. In fact, the only time I ever spawn at the original deployment base (which is usually pretty far from the action, at least by foot) is if a new vehicle has spawned to replace those destroyed in the opening minutes of battle. Otherwise, I spawn on top of my squadmates, or wherever the action is hottest.

I can understand Infinity Ward's motivations in designing Domination the way they did. Faced with the prospect of self-interested players, how do you encourage teamwork? You make helping the team worth more than simply keeping your kill/death ration up.

But DICE's concept with Conquest is a much more fulfilling experience, and makes you feel like you're on a real-life battlefield. This is a combination of having a shared pool of lives, the spawning mechanism, and individual incentives. The Frostbite engine doesn't hurt either. In MW2, sightlines are always the same, but capturing a firebase that's been shelled to pieces late in a Conquest match is sometimes a fun proposition--there's nowhere left to hide.

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