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.

I play Wizard 101: Confessions of a wizened wizard

Depending on which corners of the internet and gaming metasphere you inhabit, you may or not be aware that Wizard 101 is coming out with an expansion pretty darn soon. Celestia is supposed to come out “late summer or early fall”, which pretty much means “the 10 days I’m going to be out of town with little net access around the end of August.”

If you happen to be a Wizard101 player, it’s a pretty big deal: new level cap, expanded pet system, and new content (Atlantis-style underwater stuff, I hear, and lots of new foes and friends).

And I – I am pretty happy to point out – am a Wizard101 player.

“But Doyce,” you may ask, “aren’t you like… old?”

Hey!

“Okay, okay, quite crying and hitting me like a girl! I just mean you’re a lot older than Wizard101’s target audience!”

Maybe.

I’ll concede that I’m older than what people think of as the game’s target audience; I’m not convinced that the perception is accurate, though, and the best way to explain why I think that is to talk about why I like the game.

Not Family Friendly

You know what I think of when I think of the phrase “family friendly”? Wonder Pets. Wow Wow Wubbzy. Dora the Explorer. Little Einsteins. Super Readers. Captain Underpants. Olivia. The Wiggles.

In short, shows that I’m generally fine — even happy — with my daughter watching, but not shows I myself want to spend hours exposed to. Stuff I can’t help but mock (mostly) silently, from the next room over.

Family friendly? Sure. Family entertainment? No.

Family Entertainment is stuff like Backyardigans. Pixar. Dreamworks Animation. The Hobbit. Avatar: the Last Airbender. Stuff that me and my kid(s) can enjoy together, albeit at different levels.

That’s Wizard 101. Yeah, it’s aimed at kids, but you get lots of pop culture references and humor that really only the grups will get.

Sophisticated Game Play… or Not.

Like the humor and the storyline and the presentation, the gameplay — from the interface to the card-duel-like combat to the gear —  is set up in such a way that it can be enjoyably challenging to anyone from a four year old (Kaylee) to… umm… me.

Gear and equipment:

  • Me: Whoa. I can wear the level 25 gear now… look at the stats on that robe!
  • Kaylee: Ohhhhhhh… this new hat is so cuuuuuute!
  • Kate: These new boots are cute… but the stats are crap… so let’s use the tailor vendor to combine the good gear I already have with the pretty shoes I want!

Tactics:

  • Me: Okay, first armor up so I can ignore the bad guy for a couple rounds. Taunt the bad guys so they leave Kate and Kaylee alone. Then a buff only to my ice skills, so I can keep casting other stuff. Undertaker for a quick heal… drop a buff on Kate so she’ll hit harder for the crazy Meteor thing I can guess she’s about to cast… and that gives me another two power pips…  generic all-damage buff, a last-minute debuff on the bad guy’s defenses, and finally… ICE STORM.
  • Kaylee: I can’t cast those grey cards yet, so I’ll do this shield on… me. Then… I STILL can’t do the good spell yet, so I’ll do a blaster on… that guy. Oh! I got a purple pointy trap spell! I’ll put it on the same guy, and then do the Lightning Bats, cuz they’re Purple too. Got him! Oh! Daddy’s hurt! I need to heal him with a Green Fairy!
  • Kate: Fire blast, Fire Sword, Fire Trap, Wild Fire, thank you for the damage buff, sweetie… and what’s this? A Meteor Swarm? BOOYA, BOYEEEEEE.

Housing:

  • Me: Look at my cool house!
  • Kaylee: Look at my cool house!
  • Kate: Look at my cool house!

Not Really that Social

It’s not (easily) a social game the way most MMOs are, though it does have a (spare) frame of socializing tools. I like this for a couple reasons. The most obvious has to do with the younger players — including my daughter — there are serious barriers in place that block most any access to kids.

(This lack of any easy social interface also affects the game play — the game’s core setup is very accessible and friendly to younger or casual gamers — it has to be, because you can’t fall back on an /advice channel to get help from the player base if you don’t understand something.)

The other benefit to the ‘social framework without a social network’ MMO is a little more subtle — my wife and I enjoy logging in and just playing with our own characters or with each other — unlike other MMOs we play, there’s no pressure to be ‘on’, socially, when you log in — there’s no guild support in the game, no open broadcast channels for chatting, and only limited ‘friend’ capability, heavily limited by the ages of the players involved.  This is nice — it’s good for some quiet, relatively relaxing alone-time game play, free of forced-smiley chatting — and if we don’t feel like logging on for a week or more, there’s no twinge of guilt for the other players who might have been counting on our tank and healer characters for a Krokotopia run.

In short…

Don’t discount this game because it’s located in the kid’s section — there’s a lot of stuff a more … ahem … advanced wizard can enjoy.

My daughter, the wizard

I know I said I was going to write my next post about games that use “pushing” and “sacrifice” a big part of getting what you want, but not yet. Today I’m going to talk real quickly about Wizard101.

This game has been on my radar pretty much since it came out in 2008, and I’ve poked at it a very little bit before, but my experience with it can pretty much be boiled down to “I know some people who play it” and “I put it on my nephew’s laptop, and he really likes it.”

That was, until yesterday.

Yesterday morning, Kaylee and I were thumping around the house, looking out at the rainy day, and I figured “eh, why not?” So I downloaded the Wizard101 install and set it in motion.

(I guess I should stop here and explain that Wizard101 is a charming, free-to-play, multiplayer online game in which you play a young apprentice wizard in a magical school in Wizard City. Combat is turn-based, and you cast spells based on the cards in your deck, most of which summon magical critters to fight for you (there’s some generic wand-shooting cards too).  On the whole, it’s sort of combination of early Harry Potter, Pokemon, Cardcaptor Sakura, and the old, much-loved PS2 game, Legend of Legaia.[1])

Kaylee’s been riding along with me while I play MMOs since… oh, I dunno. Infancy, let’s say. She listened to the sound of City of Heroes in the womb. She’s been providing input on the games for the last couple years, and on several occasions I’ve logged a higher-level guy into Lord of the Rings and let her ride my horse around the Shire where she can’t get into any real difficulty.

Anyway, we got set up and made up her girl. (An ingenious process where you answer some personal questions and the game suggests a good match for you from the various schools — it’s not wholly unlike those online quizzes where you can find out if you’re be Slytherin or Ravenclaw.) We ran around a bit, with her doing about half of the steering and most of the combat and stuff like that. We got up to level 2. There was some celebrating.

A wizard is born.

Then Kaylee and Kate took off for a couple hours and I was left looking at this shiny, colorful game. Sooo shiny.

So I made up an account for myself and, because I’m a big fucking pushover for my daughter, poked around in the “real money” online store and bought both of us a very small cushion of in-game currency to buy cool stuff.  

By the time the girls got home, “Dylan Bearheart” was level 5 and had a pet magma spider named Mister Dexter, and Kaylee’s “Melissa Tale” was waiting for her with a collie-sized baby unicorn pet named Sassy… and a pony to ride around on.

Yeah, I bought my daughter a pony. Sue me.

After lunch and a nap, Kaylee pretty much hit the ground at full-speed “I want to play my girl again pleeeeease?” mode. I had anticipated this, and had installed the game on her clunky old laptop. She sat down with a grin and got going.

I watched for a bit. I gave her a few pointers. I reminded her to just go where the Big Yellow Quest Arrow was telling her to go.[2] And then, because I couldn’t take it anymore, I logged in my guy, got us into the same ‘world instance’ of the game (Wu, in case anyone’s curious), made “friends” and teamed up with her to help her with her quests.

We fought ghosts and skeletons and dark fairies turned evil through the power of necromancy. We did some victory dances. I kept the bigger critters busy while she healed us both.

We teamed up on an MMO.

Those of you who don’t know me super well will probably be like “huh, that’s cool”. Those of you who know me a little better will guess how cool this was for me.

Those of you who’ve known me since I played on The Forest’s Edge MUD back in college… you know. Yeah.

We didn’t play for too long before “follow where the arrow tells you” got to be too much to deal with and we packed the laptop up for the day, but it was a good time. A really good time.

Before I’m accused of painting my daughter as some kind of genius, I want to make it clear that there’s a LOT of stuff she doesn’t get about the game. The storyline is, at best, sort of a rough sketch in her head. Obviously, she’s not reading the chat windows or the quest dialogue — she’s only reading the short words at this point, and all out of order. But the combat system she TOTALLY GETS. And she can steer around and follow the quest arrows.

And (I say with a big dopey grin) she loves playing alongside her daddy. It was a pretty good day.[3]


[1] – It was released during the 2008 MMO deluge and remains one of few successes – and bright spots – in what turned out to be a year typified by releases that were disappointments or utter disasters.

[2] – Ingenious little direction-to-your-goal indicator that doesn’t just point as-the-crow-flies, but steers through through doors and around buildings and the like. Genius. All MMO quest guiders should work that well.)

[3] – Not just for that reason — there was a podcast interview and playtime down at the Y with Kate, and a trip to “Old McDonalds” and a photo shoot with Kate — but I’m being honest: the highlight of the day was my daughter shouting “Let’s get that dark fairy queen, Daddy! We can DO it!”