When you spend several hours in a Star Wars: The Old Republic “immersion day,” one would think that there would be time to diverge from the espionage and bounty hunting for some old-fashioned PvP. That’s just what I and several other game writers did recently, and while BioWare has not had a deep history of experience with the PvP format, there are a lot of reasons to stay optimistic that this mode of play in The Old Republic will hold up well alongside the game’s PvE.
It was on BioWare’s priority list that the player would be able to seamlessly use the same characters from the PvE experience in PvP. It’s been the studio’s goal to make sure that every character and class has a role to play, even though the game will steer players into traditional PvP roles of the Damage Dealer, the Healer, and the Tank. We’ve already written at length about the specialities that every high level player will develop and even those specific skills will bring value and depth to the PvP playing field.
The matchmaking has been developed in a way that allows lower level players to participate with little-to-no babysitting by the higher level characters. This is done by scaling certain stats and enhancing the potency of abilities but still withholding abilities that the new player hasn’t earned yet. That way, veterans can still feel a sense of accomplishment for the time they’ve spent on The Old Republic.
Yet anyone who has played their fair share of both formats knows that some gameplay changes need to be made in order to make a PvE-to-PvP character transition smooth and actually enjoyable. For example, taking the time to enact healing abilities in PvE is not the easiest thing to do in a fast-paced PvP match, especially if the opposition is mean enough to gang up on a Healer. That is one of the reasons why BioWare added a Guard ability unique to PvP. One of its intended uses is to assign the ability to the Healer, which then provides them with 50 percent damage reduction. The catch is that the player who assigned the ability will be incurring the damage that bounced off the healer.
Some ways you attack enemies in PvE also don't translate well to PvP. Imagine how much fun you won’t have if you’re on the receiving end of a stun fest, being hit with a sleep dart, fire from a flamethrower, and worst of all, Sith lightning. No, these abilities weren’t removed from PvP; that would miss the point and lessen the Star Wars experience. Instead, players now have a PvP-exclusive feature called the Resolve Bar. With each stun attack you receive, the Resolve Bar fills up. Activate it when full, and you’re now temporarily immune to those effects and can now turn the tables. It keeps the flavor of the game without having to remove stun moves.
As we’ve covered before, one of the settings involves Alderaan. Both sides have the same goal of capturing an orbital defense station and using the station’s cannons to take down the opposition’s dropship. The recently announced VoidStar map takes its cue from the opening raid from Star Wars IV: A New Hope. VoidStar involves the capture of a prototype derelict ship. With both sides having spotted it, one team ends up defending it while the other invades. The attacking force tries to take the ship room by room with different objectives, from taking down a power generator to taking a bridge to destroying a door. After the first battle is over, the roles are flipped between attackers and defenders.
It was interesting to learn how the current design of these battles has evolved and been refined though the “fat trimming” process that any well organized studio devotes time to. According to one BioWare spokesman, they initially went with more complex designs, and while testers did eventually figure out how to complete the objectives, it wasn’t as intuitive as the version I got to play. For instance, there was a time when each cannon on the Alderaan map had different firing ranges, which obviously added more strategy in placing value to specific cannons. Make no mistake, there is still depth and complexity to the maps, such as alternate paths, strategically-placed healing, and offensive and defensive power-ups on the battlefield.
Most PvP-enabled games have some depth when it comes to post-battle stats and The Old Republic results screen will show its share of statistical and points breakdowns. There’s the obligatory damage dealt/received stats, but there’s also a score tally for completing objectives, which will encourage many players to stay focused on the tasks at hand.
This scoreboard screen also showed the numerous ways players can earn awards and bonuses. Basic rewards come in the form of credit and XP, which are handed out at the end of the map, so quitters won’t be able to benefit. Tokens are also awarded based on performance. This form of currency is exclusive to PvP and can be used to buy new PvP equipment to give your character a distinctive look, perhaps to intimidate enemies on the battlefield. To encourage teamwork and bonding, a player can give an award (one per match) to another player based on their commitment to teamwork. Then there are the Badges, which are essentially mini achievements: six for the Damage Dealer, six for the Healer, six for the Tank, and six extra Badges for fulfilling teamwork-based goals.
EA, BioWare, and LucasArts are all conspiring to tease us merciless with the PvP mode and map unveils throughout this year, but we at least know of a couple of the battlegrounds. Just as important, it took little time to convince me that this mode seeks to stay true to the Star Wars universe. It wouldn’t be that inaccurate to call The Old Republic’s PVP mode an in-depth, hotkey variation of LucasArts’ Battlefront series; at least that’s what came to my mind.