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How to Improve PvP

By Michael Bitton on January 24, 2012 | Columns | Comments

How to Improve PvP

Star Wars: The Old Republic Update 1.1 “Rise of the Rakghouls” was deployed to live servers last week, promising, among other things, major improvements to the problematic situation plaguing endgame open world PvP on Ilum. Unfortunately, the intentions were sound, but BioWare made some major mistakes in not anticipating some of the results of these changes.

Last week, we discussed and reacted to the changes in an update to our staff blog titled “How Not to Improve PvP,” and this week I’d like to discuss a number of ways BioWare can improve on the game’s PvP offerings.

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The Republic Strikes Back (Hopefully) 

Let’s not kid anyone, this is the elephant in the room, and BioWare’s changes in 1.1 only served to highlight this: faction imbalance is a major issue. I’m sure quite a few of you reading this are shaking your heads and saying, “Tsk, tsk, BioWare! You should have gone with a three faction game!” Sure, I’d be strongly inclined to agree, but at this point that’s not happening, so let’s try to discuss this in a more realistic manner. Two factions may be an imperfect design, but there are a number of ways to encourage faction parity that don’t require a rocket scientist to figure out.

The most basic idea is to give the underdog a number of incentives, starting with familiar ones used in Mythic’s Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning.  Denote servers on the server list which are unbalanced one way or another and give the under populated side optional bonuses to experience gain. Why optional? Blanket XP buffs were fine for WAR, which was a decidedly PvP oriented game, but given how content driven TOR is, some users not interested in PvP may be concerned about further outleveling story content due to these buffs.

Offering a Valor buff is also a potential option, but one has to be careful here as offering too significant a buff would negate the incentive of participating in open world PvP to begin with. WAR eventually tackled this in a clever way, granting an inherent bonus to Renown XP (essentially Valor) for player kills in open world RvR depending on the ratio of players involved in the fight. This is certainly one option BioWare should explore.

Lastly – free server transfers! The above suggestions will help encourage players to reroll on new servers, but players will still be stubborn. Now, server transfers do have a stigma in this genre. Announcing server transfers are available is basically a PR “kiss of death,” but perhaps if BioWare took a page from Trion’s playbook and made free server transfers a basic service of the game it might lessen the blow. In RIFT, players can transfer quite frequently. Sure, maybe you’re transferring because the population on your server is low, but when free transfers are so easily accessible, players may transfer for a number of reasons, including faction imbalance! The opposite side of the coin is the potential impact this could have on server communities, but that discussion is for another day.

Faction Pride

I realize BioWare never promised “Realm vs. Realm” for Star Wars: The Old Republic, but some of the tenets of creating a solid RvR experience would really lend well to any game claiming to offer a serious implementation of PvP. The most basic of which is instituting a sense of realm, or in this case, faction, pride. There are pros and cons to creating an MMO based around a licensed IP, but one thing BioWare had going for them is a built in sense of faction pride. Ask almost anyone you know that has seen the Star Wars films and they are likely to be staunchly for The Empire or the Republic (or the Rebel Alliance, of course). Just as well, this bias has probably guided a great deal of players’ motivation to pick one faction over the other in SW:TOR. Everyone expected the “evil side” to have more players, but I’m going to wager that the particular level of imbalance is due in part to the fact the Empire isn’t only evil – but well, it’s the freaking Empire.

Unfortunately, the game doesn’t really drum this up much at all. I feel the momentum of that pride is carried through to character creation and the potential is basically lost after that. This is one area The Old Republic could take a lesson from Star Wars Galaxies. Say whatever you want about SWG, but the game offered many ways to be proud of what faction you were part of. Examples ranged from being able to acquire a number of faction specific gear sets and rewards to the ability to place factional bases throughout the game world. I realize The Old Republic isn’t a sandbox, but we have some fairly large play areas, and more can certainly be added over time, so it isn’t impossible to imagine player placed faction bases working here.

As it stands now, PvP in Star Wars: The Old Republic is being approached as something to grind out, a gear treadmill, and basically nothing more. This is unfortunate, as I feel the actual combat involved is quite fun.

Speaking of Progression…Improve It!

The aforementioned issues are only exacerbated by how basic the PvP progression track actually is. Once you reach level cap, you can do a number of daily and weekly quests to acquire bags for a chance at loot, while also grinding out Valor levels to use said loot. When there isn’t much to actually care about when it comes to PvP other than loot, well, it’s no surprise that players are just treating PvP as something to grind and are taking the path of least resistance. BioWare took some important first steps in making these daily and weekly quests require that players actually fight each other – but I think it’s still too one size fits all and encourages grinding.

One approach I think may be interesting is to treat the PvP track more like Battlefield 3 and less like a traditional MMO gear treadmill. More specifically, I’m referring to the Back to Karkand expansion pack for Battlefield 3 that required players to accomplish certain tasks in order to unlock the new items offered in the expansion. The tasks were much more specific to the class the new weapon belonged to. For example, unlocking the G53 (an Engineer gun) requires you to do 10 repairs and kill a player with the repair torch. Currently, each class has sets of gear that correspond to the specializations available to that class. Why not tie each piece to some task along these lines? Sure, those looking to just “grind it out” will have a harder time doing so, but maybe they’ll learn more about their class and spec in the interim and have more fun acquiring the piece of gear they’re going for. Tying each task to a piece of an item set would also remove the RNG (random number generator) factor associated with gear bags, something that is clearly much maligned by the SW:TOR community.

I’m not going to get too in-depth about the way tasks could be arranged and what specific criteria to look for, but that is certainly something I’d love to read about in the comments (hint hint).  One thing is for sure, I’d love to see at least some of the tasks require players to participate across the spectrum of PvP options, and not just the Battle for Ilum. Outlaw’s Den – I’m looking at you!

Integrate Crew Skills

I’m sure you’ve seen this conversation play out in general chat about 100 times now:

“What are the best Crew Skills for a Powertech?”

“Biochem.”

“What are the best Crew Skills for a Smuggler?”

“Biochem.”

Crew Skills have their own problem fitting into the rest of the game outside of PvP, but again, these issues are exacerbated when considering optimal builds for PvP. Sure, you can create relics as an Artifice that can be fitted with augments, and the armor crafting Crew Skills offer a few gear pieces that are pretty strong, but in the end you’re best off either taking Biochem outright or dropping whatever you took for Biochem in the long run. Sure, Biochem was hit by nerfs in 1.1, but it still remains the best option by default. The other crew skills simply bring nothing else to the table for a PvP minded player.

Since we’re discussing Crew Skills in the context of PvP, I’m going to leave the general Crew Skills issues for another article, but there are a number of things that can be done (assuming Crew Skills are fleshed out more in general) to make them more interesting in PvP.

First things first – allow players to craft PvP specific items. PvP gear, modifications (with Expertise), speeders, grenades, stims, whatever! These items would obviously be gated by Valor requirements for both the crafter (requiring a certain Valor level just to craft the items) and the person looking to equip them.  The recipes could be acquired through PvP, perhaps from a vendor, bag, random drop off of a player, for completing the hypothetical tasks suggested above, or any number of other possibilities.

PvP recipes would require resources only obtainable through PvP. Much like high-end PvE gear requires Biometric Alloys from Flashpoints or Raids, specific special resources (or even basic PvP resources) could be introduced to PvP areas, including Ilum and Outlaw’s Den. This would give players something tangible to fight over and control of said resources would actually mean something to either faction.

Mission skills and companions don’t need to be left out either.  Players could possibly send their companions out on PvP resource missions, though they risk the chance of being captured and being unavailable for a certain period of time as a result. This chance could be modified by the status of the Battle for Ilum, too. The more control your faction has over the territory, the less risk to your companions.

Finally, BioWare could take a page from their own playbook and implement Crew Skills in PvP the same way they do in some Flashpoints. Design warzones and open world PvP areas such as Ilum to benefit from having players with certain Crew Skills around.  For example, someone with Slicing could hack a terminal to generate more potent powerups in a Warzone (or even disable them for a time). On Ilum, someone with Armstech may get a slight edge in the time required to fire off a rocket at the enemy walker. Go wild with the possibilities! There are certainly many.

Wrapping Up

Whether players are invested enough to stick around for the long haul or open-minded enough to come back to check out new changes, the nature of MMOs is that they are constantly evolving. The current situation in PvP in Star Wars: The Old Republic isn’t ideal, but there is room to grow and these are  just some of the suggestions I feel could make for a better experience.

Do you agree? Have some of your own ideas? Think I’m a total noob making PvP destroying suggestions? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager.
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