BioWare Austin FanSite Summit: Warzones and PvP Recap
By Evan Lewis
As I have stated many times over, I am NOT a PvP kinda guy. At least, I wasn’t. I tried playing PvP servers and running Battlegrounds on World of WarCraft, but I simply could not get into it. The organized PvP portions felt forced and wholly unnecessary for someone like me who plays the game primarily for the story and developing my character. The world PvP in WoW was downright annoying to me. Even walking around areas that should have been relatively safe was dangerous on those servers. What really killed it for me was when I was waiting for the ship to port at Menethil Harbor and a level ?? Tauren disguised as a human pirate leaped off an Alliance boat and ganked me. Some might say that’s what makes the game more realistic and not “easy mode.” I would say that destroys what should be an immersive experience and makes it frustrating and far from fun.
Now, while I can’t comment on the world-PvP aspects of Star Wars: The Old Republic, I can certainly say that the organized PvP portions, the Warzones, are such an improvement over what has been featured in previous games that I am now a PvP fan. While some could say that Warzones are simply a vaguely updated version of WoW’s Battlegrounds, the similarities end at the fact that they both have two factions vying for control of a given area. The changes BioWare Austin have made to an already successful formula are innovative, but at the same time almost elementary insofar as how much sense they make in their implementation. The fact that we haven’t seen these changes appear in other high profile games prior to this is a testament to this team’s ingenuity. I think the best way to cover all the points about what was so familiar and still brand new is to just start at login.
After we made it back to our main staging area at the studio, we were given the chance to have a Q&A session with Gabe Amantangelo, team leader for the PvP department. I think by that point we were both exhausted from the previous night’s work session, but also so worked up to play the game some more that we couldn’t even think of one question to ask Gabe, though I think the feeling was relatively mutual throughout the site representatives. There were not quite enough PC’s for everyone to have a seat immediately, so some got to sit down and have a practice run and get to know their level 20 characters, whatever they happened to be. The rest of us were taken back to the writer’s den to get some swag. As cool as it was to get to walk through there again and get some stuff (and damn was it cool!), we REALLY wanted our turn.
So, we got back from the swag tour, sat down at our PC’s, each one having a different advanced class. Keep in mind, there were sixteen PC’s, so every Advanced Class was available to us. The way they’d set up the PC’s was in matching sets, for example, two adjacent computers might feature a Guardian and a Shadow, and another set might be playing a PowerTech and Operative. The pair of PC’s Zach and I sat down at for our first round was a Trooper Commando and Smuggler Gunslinger. The dev team then took a moment to familiarize us with what we should expect within the course of playing the Warzone. Waiting for combat to begin is very much what we are familiar with, all the players appear in a holding area, buffing up each other, waiting for the round to start. What sets it apart immediately is the goal of the zone. Rather than fighting over set portions of the environment for little to no discernible reason, your team attempts to gain control of gun emplacements which are then turned upon the enemy dropship from which you and your team emerged. This is where the innovation really starts to show.
Rather than playing with a time limit or until all points are captured as in other MMO’s, the team has taken cues from other multiplayer games like first-person shooters. When you describe it that way it makes little sense. How could you translate the experience one has playing Call of Duty or Battlefield to a role-playing game? Actually, it’s pretty easy, but it’s not simply adding one particular feature or making the action happen faster. For myself, I was instantly reminded of a past series of Star Wars games, the Battlefront series. Whether or not all Warzones will follow this model of gameplay is unknown, but with Alderaan’s Warzone, as the gun points are captured and the batteries turned upon the enemy vessels, each team’s combat reserves are depleted. If each faction starts with an army of two-hundred soldiers, each player will play one of those numbers and with each kill those numbers are depleted by one, but when the guns are captured and they fire on the enemy, their numbers are decreased more substantially. I realize that was quite a dry and probably really unenjoyable description of how it works, but for those who may not have played first- or third-person shooters it may be hard to visualize.
As they say, now begins the killing!
Zach and I each took a moment to rearrange our ability bars, getting to know what powers were at our disposal. My Commando’s abilities were prioritized for healing, which was helpful and felt very natural, but I wanted my combat skills at the ready. I don’t know what, if any, changes Zach had to make, but his Gunslinger was ready to roll for DPS. Rather than going on about how each class plays, I’ll focus more on the feel and pace of combat. No class felt weak or unnecessary on the field of battle. Everyone was useful to their team and, of course, when the team stuck together, we all played better. Each class had their own preferred range of combat, but they all contributed. The Jedi did not feel completely overpowered, nor were they slicing straight through all the non-Force user classes. My Trooper had a plethora of skills that aided my companions as we defended and captured the gun turrets, while Zach racked up quite the kill-score with his Smuggler. Actually, what’s very interesting is how HARD it is for one class to flat-out kill another. There were no times during which a single player seemed to be out-matched by one other. Certainly, when one player got mobbed by multiple opponents there was little to no hope of survival, but that’s to be expected. When it was one-on-one, however, each class seemed equal. Of course, a melee class will have a much greater offensive output than a primarily ranged character. That, however, does not mean that the ranged characters die instantly when engaged with a melee class. The Jedi Guardian I played on our second round could NOT fell an Imperial Agent one-on-one and I was on that guy like glue, using every attack in my arsenal. It did not feel unfair, though. The ranged classes have enough lore-supported game mechanics (special armor, CC tricks) that level the playing field that it makes sense.
Crowd Control abilities are an area that have been much-maligned by critics up till now. I can certainly say that the team has either payed attention the criticism or has withheld this feature till today. CC abilities have diminishing returns; that is to say, the more you use them, the less effective they become. This feature is called Resolve, the means by which a character’s determination to fight increases as their opponents press their own attack.
Obviously, there is a lot to talk about and I could write an essay about it… although I think I may already have… but to wrap up our impressions on the Warzone experience, there is one more feature that should be touched on: rewards. The reward system that FPS gamers have gotten used to with Modern Warfare and others is being implemented in SW:TOR. The better you perform in combat, the more bonus buffs you’ll unlock. Not only might you receive self-attained rewards, but depending on your performance you may also get commendations from your teammates. The team score card at the end, another battleground staple, isn’t a static personal statistic keeper. You’ll see everyone’s contributions and be able to offer rewards to them yourself.
It would have been only too easy to have kept on playing the same Warzone over and over again, but they very gently had us disengage from our PvP session and offered us the chance to either play more origin worlds or try the well-known Taral V Flashpoint, for some, the second time they might have gotten to play it. Zach and I chose to play more origin worlds, but playing with those level-20 characters in such a fast-paced, but highly-strategic warzone really stayed with us. I think the PvP session was the most surprising part of the play experience. I know Zach has somewhat more experience than I in PvP, but I don’t think either of us was expecting to be so enthralled with what we were given. With all the emphasis that BioWare has placed on the story elements, and rightfully so, some may have been worried that the MMO staple of PvP might not have survived. All that needs to be said: Don’t panic.