Hyperspace Beacon: Putting SWTOR PvP on the right track

Hyperspace Beacon: Putting SWTOR PvP on the right track
This past weekend, a friend of mine came up from Texas. Not only did we talk about our families and such, but we also spent some time talking about Star Wars: The Old Republic PvP. We have both been following the game about the same amount of time, and we are now in the same guild.

I argued that PvP in SWTOR is broken. A couple of Advanced Classes excel while the others are just filler or fodder. Even if there were balance in the classes, BioWare does little to encourage the competitive player. In July, I gave a mid-term report card for SWTOR based on Dr. Richard Bartle's assessment of the different types of MMO gamers. As you might guess, SWTOR failed miserably in the "killer" category.

As I talked to my friend, we came to the conclusion that SWTOR is a PvE game with a side of PvP. However, given some of the additions coming later this year, I think our Star Wars MMO might raise itself above the F grade I gave it a few months ago. Today, marks the start of Season One PvP, and in less than a month Galactic Starfighter launches. Both of these additions mark significant changes to the perception of game through the eyes of a "killer."

The killer
Bartle's killer category should be distinguished from griefing, although one can stem from the other. Killers seek the thrill of direct competition. Most enjoy knowing where their skills rank in comparison to others. A mature killer will enjoy a challenge on an even playing field. Usually the less mature killer will want to have an unfair advantage over other players. Ed "Taugrim" Park, someone I consider to be a mature killer, used to intentionally play either underdog classes or factions just so that he could show that that class or faction isn't as bad off as people were led to believe. Griefers will want to show their superiority by picking fights only with under-leveled or under-geared players, or at very worst, they hack the game. Obviously, MMOs should cater to the mature killer and not the griefer.

Star Wars: The Old Republic started on the right track when it introduced the latest bit of PvP armor. I don't like the idea of a PvP stat, but I understand why games like SWTOR separate PvP and PvE that way. When you look at the stats in the two different tiers of PvP gear, you will notice that expertise caps out at 2018, and there is less than 10% difference in all other stats; most of the time it's less than 5%. This means the even at the lower tier, players have only a small amount of disparity to overcome. This makes PvP less about gear and more about skill, the way killers like it.

Enter the arena
Unfortunately, SWTOR loses points for making ranked PvP only arena PvP, which is all about death match and more about the individual class and skill level. Although I'd be OK with the individual skill level part, not all classes are made equally. Certain classes, like Shadow tanks and Operative healers, outshine the other classes in this particular type of gameplay. I don't have any solid evidence; it's just my perception. However, after a few weeks of Season One, I will have evidence because of the newly implemented leaderboards.

I mentioned earlier that killers enjoy the thrill of direct competition. They also like some sort of evidence that they actually are the best or are better than someone else. And to BioWare's credit, killers will be able to judge themselves against other killers on the leaderboards. Although I believe certain classes perform better, BioWare announced last week that the leaderboards will allow players to see how they compare to not just everyone but to those in their particular class. (I'm assuming that means advanced class, but Systems Designer Rob Hinkle did say "class" not "advanced class.")

The leaderboards alone would raise SWTOR's killer grade from an F to a D. Assuming the Elo system in ranked PvP works properly and the proposed balances in 2.5 actually make real changes to certain underpowered classes, then the grade might raise even further. Although I have high hopes, I want to keep my expectations low so I'm not disappointed. It might be possible for SWTOR PvP to even raise itself up to a C or B.

Starfighter
The B grade might be more likely if Galactic Starfighter works well. Obviously, there are many ways for a venture like this to fail, but the idea of a PvP zone that is in no way related to the rest of the game does make things interesting.

As I was talking to my friend, a huge supporter of Star Wars Galaxies: Jump to Lightspeed, we talked about how there was no PvE side to the space game in SWTOR. He believed that it was a good that there wasn't any PvE side, which surprised me a bit because of his support for the previous Star Wars space game. He explained that many of the issues we have in the ground game result because the developers are constantly having to balance PvP abilities with PvE abilities, thus weakening both. Neither the PvP game nor the PvE game can live up its full potential because of the constant struggle between the playstyles. With Galactic Starfighter being its own entity, there is no need to attempt to balance it against any other part of the game.

I don't know that SWTOR will ever earn an A in PvP, but for the moment the game seems to be headed in the right direction. Hopefully, we will continue to see improvements, which I believe is one of the greatest parts of playing MMOs. If the game is good when it launches, then over time, it stands a chance to get even better.

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.