Star Wars: The Old Republic — The Question of PvP

A few days ago, Fogsong wrote:

Star Wars: The Old Republic. My LoTRO guild is debating whether to go with a Player vs Player (PvP) server or Player vs Environment (PvE) server. We are caught on the horns of dilemma – we want to be able to quest and experience the story but also [want to] have a strong and active PvP experience. We have gleaned everything we can about Warzones, Huttball, open world PvP on the various planets (Alderaan, Illum and vague mention of others). I don’t have any experience with MMO’s beyond LoTRO so I find it hard to decipher what everyone is talking about regarding PvP or why the pluses/minuses are important.

So – question – have you decided how you are going to start out with SWTOR (Faction, class and server type)? And if you have, would you be willing to share your thoughts?

Would I be willing to share my thoughts?

I think we all know the answer to that


George Lucas enjoys a number of hobbies, one of which involves methodically excising joy from my childhood memories, and another of which centers on the practice of claiming that Star Wars was always essentially a series of stories aimed at five-year-olds.

Which even an actual five-year-old will tell you is complete bullshit.

In New Hope, a ship is boarded, gunfire exchanged, and rebel soldiers are left stacked in the hallway like cordwood. Guys get strangled to death. The protagonist’s family is executed, their charred bodies left to claw at Tatooine’s pitiless sky. A genial old man lops off a guy’s arm for starting a bar fight. HAN SHOOTS FIRST. A princess gets tortured by a droid specifically designed for that express purpose. A planet with billions of people on it is blown up. A kind old grandpa figure gets cut down after he lowers his weapon.

And a space station with tens of thousands of people on it is blown up… by the good guy.

Yes, George: Nick Jr. should pick this shit up for adaptation immediately.

The point I’m trying to make here is that Star Wars is a pretty violent story that pivots on a fulcrum built entirely on conflict between the Empire (nee Sith) and Republic. In my opinion, any game based on Star Wars needs to reflect that reality and, for an MMO, that means putting a lot of thought into Player Versus Player conflicts.

I haven’t looked too hard at all the (hours of) press on this subject, but let’s take care of that right now and take look at what Star Wars: The Old Republic is offering.

First off, it looks like there are three server types:

Player-vs-Environment (PvE) servers can be considered representative of the standard play style and rule set. The focus on PvE servers is on experiencing the story and working with friends against the non-player enemies in the game world.

Player-vs-Player (PvP) servers have a slightly different rule set as PvE servers. On a PvP server, players may be attacked by other players from the opposing faction in more areas of the game world.

Role-Playing (RP) servers use the standard PvE rule set, but are identified as great places for players who enjoy acting out their characters in the game world to congregate and find other like-minded players.

My immediate reactions:

  • That’s really just two server types.
  • It’s a damn shame (and kind of a headscratcher) why they didn’t make any PvP RP servers.

Okay, beyond that, I’ll say that this breakdown looks a lot like the way WoW does it (no surprise there: BioWare modeled a lot of WoW’s successful structures) — the PvE servers are going to restrict their PvP options to instanced mini-games (more on those in a minute) and (I would guess) 1 on 1 duels.

Conversely, the PvP servers will allow ‘open world’ PvP to occur, in addition to the instanced mini-games. The way they word the description is interesting: “players may be attacked by other players from the opposing faction in more areas of the game world.”  I can’t really find anything that definitively states what “more areas” means — some folks who really hate open-world PvP predict you’ll get ganked anywhere outside of the starting areas. Other folks seem to think that it’ll be “non-civilized” places. No one official has actually said, as near as I can tell, but I imagine it’ll be a lot like WoW: open PvP outside of the starter zones, with certain areas (Coruscant, most bars) made safe(r) by patrolling them with many dangerous NPC guards who shoot any rabble-rousers if they start trouble.

What do I think?
Well, let’s compare this set up to some of the games I’ve played, from least to most PvP-centric.

  • Wizard 101 only has arena duels, accessible from a single static location. The duels have no effect on the storyline in the game as a whole, and there is no threat of PvP anywhere in the actual game world. Winner: Star Wars. (Though the duels can be entertaining.)
  • City of Heroes has really pathetic arenas accessible in a few static locations and some interesting but cut-off zones that allow PvP, neither of which allow you to influence anything that’s going on anywhere else in the game world. Advantage: Star Wars. Barely.
  • WoW does basically what Star Wars does, so call it a wash… except WoW has RP-PvP servers for the guys who want to monologue when they turn you into a sheep.
  • Lord of the Rings Online allows impromptu 1 on 1 duels, and has a PvP-only zone where you fight players running “Monster” characters (orcs, shamans, wargs, giant spiders, et cetera). Successfully holding these lands gives the entire server’s “Hero” player population XP and damage boosts, or gives the monsters boosts if the Ettenmoors are held by Sauron’s forces, so while you’re not affecting the overall storyline, you are affecting the whole “world”. Advantage? I’m going with LotRO in regards to the way it lets you affect the world, but with Star Wars for making the PvP more accessible with the minigames.
  • EVE Online lets you attack people pretty much wherever you like, provided you’re prepared to deal with the consequences. PvP has huge impact on the game world both at micro- and macro-levels;  you can literally take another guy’s stuff away, permanently, or in fact take hundreds if not thousands of guys’ stuff away. IF (and that’s a big if) you’re into that, there is no comparable experience in MMOs: it makes your losses sting more and makes the stuff you manage to hold onto that much more precious. Near death experiences have that affect. Advantage: EVE, provided it’s not something you’d flat out hate.

What am I Doing?
Like Fogsong, I’m going where my LotRO kinship is going. In this case, that means that the players I know will be playing their Republic characters on a PvE RP server, and their Empire characters on a PvP server. I look forward to experiencing the differences first-hand.

Wait… What about those mini-games?

Right! What about them? What’s going on there?

War Zones
War Zones are specifically tailored for team versus team combat, and players will experience fierce battles between the Republic and Empire, evoking memories of the famous Star Wars ground conflicts. This week we announced that the first War Zone will be located in the majestic mountains of Alderaan. Players will join their allegiance’s fight for control of several important areas. Over time we’ll reveal more information about the Player versus Player experiences in The Old Republic.

Basically, that sounds like fun: sort of WoW’s Arathi Basin with controllable turrets; instances you can sign up for, get queued into, and then fight. The major pros are that it is quite convenient and keeps matches even.  The cons are that it’s basically a mini-game with (outside the ability to earn gear that’s good for PvP) no influence on the outside world. I want my victories (and losses) on Alderaan to resonate through the rest of the world – to have some kind of impact. Maybe that’s EVE spoiling me a bit, but it is what it is.

On the face of it, though, the Alderaan battlezone seems like fun and (unlike the capture-the-flag, Bloodbowl-with-lightsabers joke that is the Huttball “war zone”) is something I could see my guys participating in from a roleplay point of view.

(Seriously, though: why the hell would a jedi ever sign up to play Huttball? Anyway…)

I’ve also heard good things about one of the other war zones, and rumors of a ship combat one, which both makes me happy (ship fights in Star Wars!) and sad (how ephemeral must the premise be if you can just “hit space and respawn” when you get your whole frakking ship blown up?)

All in all, I think the warzones will add some fun stuff to do in the game — it’s nice to queue up for 20 minutes of quick violence whenever you want. With that said, I would like the PvP to have more bite than it does in most WoW regions (which is SW:TOR’s strongest model): at the very least, I’d like to see something like what LotRO does with the Ettenmoors, where you affect the ‘outside’ world when your side is winning; but my pie-in-the-sky dream on a PvP server would be able to take over “control points” on a given planet (or in a given system) and seriously bottleneck access for the opposite faction (see: the control points in LotRO’s Annuminas area).

What Are You Going to Be Playing?
In traditional MMOs, I tend to make a tank first, then ranged DPS, then support. On the Republic side, that looks like a Trooper, a Jedi Consular, and probably a Smuggler or Scoundrel or whatever they’re called. I’m not 100% sure what I’ll do on the Empire side, but since it’ll be on a PvP server, I suspect an Imperial Agent will be my first option (so I have stealth options for getting around the world), a bounty hunter, and one of the melee sith guys if I decide I hate myself that much.

But I reserve the right to change my mind based on which classes get the coolest companions, because this is a BioWare game, and ultimately that’s the part I’m really going to be into.

Coming back to the old home town: Paragon City

Saturday morning, I revved up the old comp and prepared to get in a little gaming goodness. Would I get back to the incredibly satisfying, incredibly frustrating Braid? How about restarting Bioshock, to get at some of the story I’ve missed? Perhaps a little of the Ol’ Reliable, with Lord of the Rings Online?

None of the above. This weekend, I played City of Heroes.

Now, it’s been a long time since I’ve played CoH, though I think it’s fair to say that, when I played, I logged enough hours to last me the rest of my life, if I so chose. Still, I’ve been feeling an itch to play some supers lately – and, specifically, to play particular characters from CoH – and the opportunity presented itself, so that’s what I did.

Also, there’s two more Supers games coming out this year, and I want CoH fresh in my memory when I go check them out.

I don’t have a lot of nuanced analysis to present, so here’s just some stuff off the top of my head.

Good

  • Well, it’s fun, isn’t it? Not having to worry about bad guys getting behind you, the fairly intuitive interface (with some important exceptions), and hell… it’s super heroes – that’s pretty damned fun.Don’t discount this bullet point: it balances out a GREAT DEAL of the “Bad” and “Meh” below.
  • CoH is easy to play. If you don’t want to sweat the details, you really don’t have to, and that’s okay: you get an arrow telling you where to go to get missions, then you get an arrow telling you where the missions are, and then you do the mission and repeat. Provided you don’t ramp up the difficulty setting at all, I’m convinced a half-trained monkey could get a character into the mid-thirties with no problems at all. If you’re working with familiar contacts in a big zone, you can fly from mission to mission of mindless fun.
  • Extensible. If you like crafting systems and character stat tweaking CoH definitely comes through, limited only by your pocket book.
  • New content. Seems the development team is still doing solid work, and while I haven’t messed with the Mission Builder (nor am I likely to do much creation with it — my days of creating custom stories for CoH are long past (when it was much harder to manage), and that desire has NOT returned at ALL), I’ve heard that some of the new player-created content is excellent, and there certainly is a LOT of it.

Bad

  • Fucking. Timed. Missions. Why aren’t all the timed missions LABELED AS SUCH? It’s a simple, fixable thing, and game is, basically, fucking rude for not warning people. It’s doubly annoying when combined with this: I think they MUST have changed this somewhat since I last played, because damned if I remember this, but WHY IN THE HELL do you automatically get the next mission in a chain when you turn in the previous one? I just click on the NPC and BOOM: new mission? WTF, over?
  • Bugs. Perhaps I got so used to it last time that I didn’t notice, but DAMN the game is buggy. Kind of stupid bugs, also. Base problems. Costume options that migrate to some other table and screw up your character’s look. NPC pathing stupidity that borders on the laughable. Weird door bugs. Those stupid fucking CoT teleportals that go the wrong direction. Crashing the game if I’m using the wrong power when I zone. Seriously: for a game that relies SO HEAVILY on Zoning, it should be less crash- and bug-prone.
  • Zoning. Ugh. So much zoning. I don’t care if it’s fast (it isn’t, even on a good comp), it’s overused.
  • Inventory Management. The inventory capacity on CoH characters is STUPIDLY small. You can get 10 enhancements before being full up. Roughly 15 recipes. About 30 types of salvage. Roughly speaking, that’s half the bag space of LotRO – about a third of WoW. The number of times my recipe or enhancement slots filled up (with useful or valuable stuff), requiring a trip to a store (or four) was frustrating.
  • The interface is great, except when it isn’t. Is there any way to get into screen where you can see your powers and how they’re slotted WITHOUT clicking “Manage” in the Enhancement bag inventory? Is there any indicator that screen even exists, if you didn’t already know?
  • Why can’t you just drop a mission? I don’t mean “Drop it and get credit for it.” I mean DROP IT. I have three mission slots (at least one of which I probably got dropped on me without warning when I turned in an old one – see “Stupid Fucking Timed Missions” above), and I end up in a new area with cool new missions and I can’t just drop the crap I have and take these new things – I *HAVE TO* do those existing missions first.

Good? Bad? I’m the guy with the nanites in my blood.

  • Anyone who tells me that CoH doesn’t have an Inventory system, WoW-like auction house, crafting halls, potions, or body looting — YOU ARE FOOLING YOURSELVES, or just being disingenuous. The ONLY difference in the looting between CoH and other MMOs is that CoH has it happen automatically, without clicking on the body. That’s it. Salvage, inspirations, and enhancements? That’s LOOT. Some of it even makes a coin-jingling noise when you get it. All CoH does is remove a single click. (Actually, WoW doesn’t make you click anymore either, really, so…)
  • Level Cap. Like the urban spawl of Los Angeles or Denver, CoH continues to grow perpetually OUTWARD, with no interest in growing UPWARD. This is apples for some, oranges for others.
  • Only three missions can be live at a time? Really? Three? I get that CoH is geared for ultra-casual players, but goddamn: THREE? I’ve got over Forty-five quest slots in LotRO, and I manage. My daughter can count to ten without using her fingers; give us some fucking credit.

Now, did I enjoy myself? Oh hell yes. I played enough on Saturday that I didn’t get much of anything else done, and Sunday wasn’t much better. I’m pretty sure I dreamed about it Saturday night – it gets into my pores. It holds a special place in my heart – surrounded by a bit of scar-tissue, but still.

And Kaylee loves it. More than any other MMO, she just loves it. That might be partly due to the fact that she heard it in the womb, but it is what it is – she loves it. Like LotRO, she loves hitting the attack buttons as long as they make a satisfying BOOM, and LOTS of powers in CoH go Boom.

That said, it’s a game I have to approach with some caution – it’s fun and all, but it has a bad tendency to cause me to push other things out of my scope of vision — that’s all on me, not the game, but it is something of which I need to be aware.

NCSoft has a payment scheme these days that lets you pay for a single month at a time via paypal, without the annoyance of starting-then-stopping a recurring monthly plan, just to get some casual play – I’ll probably do that for the next month, simply to get my ‘fix’ for the superhero goodness and to analyze how much influence it still has on my productivity. Maybe I’ll even lure Kate along for the ride: who knows?

But I had a good time. It’s a good game, for all it’s quirks and flaws; maybe even despite – or because – of them.