Hyperspace Beacon SWTOR Update 16 PvP progression
Lead Designer Damion Schubert made an interesting statement during the last Star Wars: The Old Republic livestream. He proclaimed that although the designers don't want to completely eliminate vertical progression, the stats between the upper tiers of PvP armor will begin to flatten out.

As many of you are aware, I am not a fan of vertical progression in MMOs overall, especially in PvP. I have issued many gripes and even stood on a soapbox proclaiming how it's bad. It's not that I don't want players to have a sense of gain as they play the game, but a purely vertical progression system (in which stats only ever get bigger) invites the dreaded power creep. And as I said on my soapbox, power creep is not good for players or designers. So when Schubert talked about flattening out stats, I was excited. Finally, SWTOR is stepping away from a vertical progression system!

Update 1.6 brings multiple changes to PvP specifically. The new warzone, Ancient Hypergates, is probably the biggest. But for today, the most important change is the elimination of the Battlemaster tier of PvP gear and the introduction of Elite War Hero gear. What does this do to the overall feel of PvP, and are these changes enough to soften the heart of the MMO gamer?

Hyperspace Beacon SWTOR Update 16 PvP progression
Currently, PvP is a pure gear grind. The SWTOR developers swear that there is only a 20% disparity between a fresh level 50 in Recruit gear and a veteran 50 in full top-level War Hero gear, but nearly everyone who starts PvP in just Recruit gear will tell you that it certainly feels like a lot more. Personally, I believe that it's more than 20% as well because of how the Expertise mechanic works. Many expert PvPers will tell you that Expertise will make or break a PvP match, and War Hero armor has 45% more Expertise than Recruit. To be fair, 45% difference in Expertise rating doesn't exactly equal 45% difference in damage, but when you multiply the Expertise disparity with the other damage increases, the approximate 7% difference in bonus damage starts to add up quickly. Recruit armor gives an 18% damage bonus through Expertise, and War Hero gives a 25% bonus. There is also a 10% difference in both damage and armor rating.

A friend of mine plays multiple games in MLG, and his most recent class to play in SWTOR was a Marauder. I think it's safe to say that he PvPs like a champ. I know very few people who can beat him. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen him lose a one-on-one duel. Now, he did not get upset at Recruit gear, but he does believe that the amount of damage being done to him by players in full War Hero is ridiculous. He agrees that there needs to be some changes in how that works.

Hyperspace Beacon SWTOR Update 16 PvP progression
As I've mentioned many times, my primary class for PvP has always been a Marauder. Even when the class was grossly underpowered, I still played it. So when I jump on test center to see what's new in the game, it is my Marauder that I experiment with. Bear in mind that any statistical information that I am going to give is completely based on that class.

Of course, the first thing I do when I hop onto the test center after the 1.6 update is check the armor vendor. Now, I'm going to give you some raw numbers, but sometimes raw numbers can be misleading. That's why I am giving you percentages as well (although those can be misleading, too). These are the current stats for Marauder gear on the PTS.

Stat Recruit War Hero Elite War Hero Recruit to WH % WH to Elite WH % Recruit to Elite WH %
Armor 3351 3699 3801 348 10% 102 3% 450 13%
Damage 884 972 1010 88 10% 38 4% 126 14%
Strength 826 1034 1090 208 25% 56 5% 264 32%
Endurance 930 1222 1296 292 31% 74 6% 366 39%
Expertise 944 1370 1396 426 45% 26 2% 452 48%
Critical 290 442 497 152 52% 55 12% 207 71%
Surge 90 318 268 228 253% -50 -16% 178 198%
Power 417 397 390 -20 -5% -7 -2% -27 -6%
Accuracy 360 212 269 -148 -41% 57 27% -91 -25%
Force 1178 1298 1346 120 10% 48 4% 168 14%

What can we gather from these numbers? I see two major things. I am very happy about one and no-so happy about the other.

Bad news first: If you are in Recruit gear, your face is still going to get murdered. Sorry. In fact, it's probably going to feel even worse for you. There is a 48% difference in Expertise, but what is going to hurt the most is the armor, damage, and surge differences. Straight out of the box, you're going to have to make up for his 39% more health through endurance while he's smashing your face in with at least 20% more power. I'm really sorry.

The good news comes when you look at the differences between War Hero and Elite War Hero gear. First of all, only 26 points of Expertise separate the two armor sets. This means that the Elite War Hero will gain only a minimal damage bonus. And to make things even better, this disparity is only found in the relics, bracers, and waistcord -- the easiest pieces to gain. Secondly, there is significant differences in secondary stats like surge and accuracy. This means that min-maxers will be able to tailor their gear as they see fit, even using some War Hero mods in their Elite War Hero gear.

On the whole, I believe that gear progression is going to the right direction. It's not there, yet, though -- it's not perfect, but I like what I see. Future PvP will no longer depend solely on a single stat, and players are closer to being able to augment gear based on playstyle. Good job, BioWare. Keep up the good work.

The Hyperspace Beacon by Larry Everett is your weekly guide to the vast galaxy of Star Wars: The Old Republic, currently in production by BioWare. If you have comments or suggestions for the column, send a transmission to larry@massively.com. Now strap yourself in, kid -- we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!

This article was originally published on Massively.