PAX – The Alderaan Warzone Experience
You’re probably wondering: “Bill, why didn’t you write this sooner!?” but truth be told, Alderaan isn’t the most talked about Warzone right now, and there were lots of other talking points for The Old Republic in the past couple of weeks, so forgive me if I held onto this bit for a little while. During PAx Prime’s “Press Hour” on Friday, we writer-types were pitted against one another in a match to showcase the eight versus eight Wazrone. It was my first taste of TOR’s PVP, and I have to say… it’s a whole lot better than I expected it to be.
To be fair, I may have been thinking a little bit harshly on BioWare’s competitive expertise. I mean, I don’t think they’ve ever made a competitive game. If they have, it was a long time ago, and certainly they’ve never made an MMO sort of competitive gameplay. However they’re not going it alone: BioWare has adopted a lot of folks from Mythic to help out with TOR’s PVP, and it shows. Warhammer’s Scenarios are excellent representations of the eSport side of MMORPGs, and Warzones seem (at first glance) to take what Mythic learned about this side of the game from WAR and improve upon it in TOR. I know a lot of folks might have a raised eyebrow when they hear Mythic is working on the PVP, but be honest: WAR’s brightest spot was just that. And DAoC was made successful on the back of PVP (or RVR if we’re being technical).
Anyway, let’s put all those old arguments aside and get down to the details. Alderaan consists of two competing eight-person teams. One side is Empire, the other is Republic. Each team begins the match in a large dropship above a base which controls the planet’s defense systems. Your goal is to take control of the defenses, and you’ll do this by arming and defending turrets which will in turn destroy the enemy dropships hovering above the base. Got that? The match is won when one team’s dropship is destroyed. There is one large central cannon (the one you want to keep manned the most), and a couple of smaller cannons that can do additional damage off to the left and right sides of the base. Basically, it’s a really fancy capture and hold map.
I say “fancy” because the way the entire fight is presented retains the goal BioWare has of making the PVP part of the cinematic nature in TOR. You begin on the dropship and have to take a speeder bike down to the base. You’re flown around the base, given a good view of the action, and can even use this time to find out what’s going on throughout the battlefield should you fall in battle and need to resurrect. There’s no respawn timer that I remember, rather your delay in getting back to the fight is caused by taking the speeder back down to the battle. As you fight the other team, you can see these massive dropships in the background being bombarded by turret fighter. Explosions, lasers, sound effects… the whole shebang is there and it makes the map feel very intense and well, like a warzone should feel.
The map is designed nicely. The turrets are equidistant, and there’s an underground “shortcut” you can hazard to get from one to the next. Smart teams will use this wisely and defend against it, while unorganized bunches will just rove about the over-ground areas wondering how the Bounty Hunters keep getting from one side of the map to the other so fast. Even though it was my first time on the Wazrone, I came to grips pretty well with the layout and our goal even though I couldn’t hear Designer Gabe Amantangelo’s instructions during the match (my headphones were really loud). I played on the Empire side as a Mercenary (Bounty Hunter Advanced Class). Odd as it sounds, I found myself serving as one of the team’s main healers alongside my DPS role.
The Merc can be spec’d into healing if they go far enough into the Bodyguard tree, and it seems BioWare had set me up to at least do some healing during the match. I also had this wicked force-field at my disposal that was absolutely essential in taking and capturing the turrets. I’d pop it on myself or the person taking control of the guns, and the enemy team could do nothing from afar to stop us from taking control of the turrets. Of course when it wore off, that was a different story as many a Jedi killed me that day… I think they were ticked that I kept turning the turrets on the dropship. The nerve of me.
In essence, I can see what Gabe and James meant during our PvP Interview recently when they said that TOR’s PVP is designed for group play and not for one-on-one situations. It’s about fulfilling your role in the battle, and making sure that you know what class is weak against you, and what skills you have to help your team out. Once a group of Jedi encroached upon me and my pal from Massively while we tried to take a turret. I used my jetpack to fly into the air leaving a hot mess of fire and smoke in my wake that sent the Jedi hurling through the air from the force of the propulsion. It’s a pretty nifty AOE knockback skill, and it made me feel extremely handy in that moment and time.
I went into the Warzone expecting just another “Battleground” type experience, but I should have known better. The main reason I enjoyed Warhammer were the scenarios (the RVR Deserts were blah), and it seems that BioWare and Mythic have done well in transporting that part of the game over into The Old Republic and giving it a life of its own. It bodes well for TOR that PVP is being generally well received by the press and players alike once they get their hands on it. Originally an afterthought, PVP is becoming a big part of the game, and we can’t wait to see if BioWare and Mythic have learned the same lessons from WAR when it comes to world PVP.