PAX 2011: SWTOR PvP hands-on impressions

Screenshot -- Star Wars: The Old Republic
The Force was strong at PAX 2011, and BioWare's presence was unmistakably huge. Lines wrapped around the studio's booth at all hours of the day, with hundreds of hungry gamers itching to get their hands on Star Wars: The Old Republic. I was one of those gamers, and I got the opportunity to step into the shoes of a Sith Assassin for a short PvP match in the Alderaan warzone (of which we have some video, if you're more the a visually inclined sort).

The devs stuck me on a team with a bunch of other members of the media and then pitted us against another team of a bunch of other members of the media. It was a media melee, you might say. At any rate, follow along after the cut for my impressions of my time with The Old Republic's PvP.

For those of you who have somehow avoided the deluge of information on The Old Republic, I'll first go over the basic premise of the warzone. The battle takes place on Alderaan, which players will recognize as the home of Princess Leia and one of the more famous victims of the Empire's Death Star. Both the Empire and the Republic have spaceships hovering just above the surface of the planet in which players spawn. The objective of the battleground is to bring down the opposing vessel by wresting and maintaining control of the three anti-air gun installations scattered around the warzone. These guns, when under your team's control, will turn and automatically fire upon the enemy warship, thereby hastening its demise.

So, in tl;dr form, the Alderaan warzone is a control-point map with three points to control.

The game began as my team and I were jumping and dancing around like maniacs, and we were told to use the speeder bikes that had just spawned in order to be flown down to the battlefield. The devs were anxious to point out that the days of respawn timers are long gone. When you die, you are immediately sent back to your spawn ship to take the speeder bike back down to the fight. However, this doesn't seem to me at all like they're doing away with the respawn timer at all. They're only making it prettier to look at. The speeder bike takes its sweet, precious time in getting you to the fight, as if it really wants you to see the scenery before you commence bashing peoples' faces in, so the bike ride serves as a de facto respawn timer. That little rant aside, I found myself admiring the look of the place. The art looked quite nice and polished, and the animations were generally smooth and fluid.

I ran into a few small annoyances throughout the fight, however. I would occasionally get caught on invisible pieces of geometry, such as when I attempted to jump off a ledge and instead simply fell because I got snagged on something I couldn't see. The UI is still a bit buggy, and many of my abilities didn't seem to adequately indicate when I was or was not within range to use an ability, which proved to be rather obnoxious and got me killed more than once.

Gameplay in the warzone itself seemed to be fairly balanced. I didn't notice any one class completely steamrolling its competition, and the game was neck-and-neck all the way to the very end (we lost, in case you're curious). And while I somewhat enjoyed my time behind the Sith Assassin, I couldn't fight off the sense of déjà vu. I've done this before, over and over for the past six years. I walked away from the hands-on demo rather underwhelmed. That's not to say it was bad by any means. It was simply generic. Yes, the decisions to turn the control points into gun placements and to measure the score in ship shield measures rather than arbitrary numbers were inspired, and it helps to keep players a bit more immersed in the universe and invested in the battle. But the battle itself, from the combat to the principle mechanics of the warzone, is unchanged from anything we've seen in the past six years of MMOs.

So in a nutshell, if you're looking for more of the same, then The Old Republic is looking to be a quality experience that will deliver that to you alongside BioWare's characteristic dialogue and storytelling. If you're looking for PvP gameplay ideas that are new and different from the status quo, you'd best look elsewhere.

  • Graphics are smooth and polished, and animations are fluid
  • Class balance seems to be coming along well; no terribly obvious imbalance
  • Warzone design encourages teamwork
  • PvP and combat gameplay is nothing new (yes, I know, not necessarily a con. Just my opinion.)
  • Some minor environmental problems can be frustrating
  • UI needs a bit more polish
  • Classes can be hard to distinguish, making it difficult to focus priority targets

Star Wars: The Old Republic is finally here, and the Force is with Massively! We've prepared a Hutt-sized feast of class introductions, gameplay guides, lore roundups, and hands-on previews to help you navigate the launch period and beyond. And don't forget our weekly SWTOR column, the Hyperspace Beacon!
This article was originally published on Massively.