The PvP of Star Wars: The Old Republic [Preview]

25 Nov 2011  by   Paul Younger
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There are a few major aspects I’ve yet to talk about when it comes to Star Wars: The Old Republic, so let’s rectify that. Today, PvP’s on the chopping block.
Right now, at least, SWTOR has three Warzones (read: Battlegrounds) at which I’ve been able to try my hand: Huttball, The Voidstar, and the Alderaan Civil War. There currently appears to be no way to queue for a specific Warzone, so I’ve played some more than others. To be more specific: I’ve played Huttball 52 million times, so we’ll talk about that first.
Huttball is… well, it’s a sport. Sort of. Two teams (the Rotworms and the Frog-Dogs) compete to carry the ball, which starts in the middle, to opponent’s goal. If the ball carrier dies, his murderer gets the ball. You can also pass the ball, although – naturally – passes can be intercepted.
It’s not, however, a straight run to the enemy’s endzone. Death traps – from acid baths to periodically activating incinerators – line the way, and the only way to reach the opponent’s goal is via a series of narrow ramps and walkways… which you can very easily be knocked off.

I rather like Huttball, and my favoured Assassin seems a decent class for it. Force Speed gives you a  nice boost if you’re carrying the ball, letting you slip past foes or leg it over an incinerator just before it switches on, while it’s easy enough to stealth in the middle of a ramp and try to time an Overload to knock foes off the side.
Everyone else has a rather good time of it too, mind. Ranged classes can perch on the walkways providing covering fire, and there’s normally a mad scramble around the ball carrier so area-of-effect attacks are, um, effective. The stronger melee classes, of course, have abilities of their own, as well as a rather large chunk of health that makes them effective as ball carriers.
As you might expect, it’s all framed as a sport. There’s a ridiculously irritating commentator pointing out how the teams are doing, or when someone gets murdered, and the start of the match has mention of sponsors and the like. The sport framing also means that players from the same faction can take each other on here, too, which is perhaps why I’ve played it so much – an imbalance in the faction numbers would mean that this is the most likely one you’ll get, so that you can take on your own side, as it were. So, all in good fun.

The Voidstar is an assault gametype over two rounds. One team defends a ship that the others are attacking, and then the sides switch at the end of the first round. The attacking team needs to take control of each area on the ship by planting breaching charges on one of the two doors to the next. If they reach the end and secure the datacore, they win.
Although it’s not that easy. While the defending team have to defend two doors at any given time, it takes a full, uninterrupted 10 seconds to plant a charge, and the charge then has to be defended for 15 seconds until it goes off – and it only takes 3 seconds to disarm it. No matter which side you’re on, covering your team is of the utmost importance: while a single player can stop the attackers from planting a charge, they won’t last long if they’re up against multiple foes.
Initially, after a punishing loss, I thought it was skewed heavily in favour of the defenders – interrupting people once every 10 seconds isn’t hard, after all. Now I’m less sure, as clever attackers can easily overwhelm and occupy the defense long enough to plant a charge. Decent teamwork wins out, it seems, and that’s what I’d hope for from a Warzone.

Alderaan Civil War is the third of the three I’ve had access to, and it’s the one that’s been most covered in previews. This is the domination gametype: each team aims to secure gun turrets on the map; once secured, they start blasting away at the enemy’s dropship.
It’s the most standard of the three gametypes on offer, but I admit it makes a nice difference to see gun turrets chipping away at a dropship instead of simply watching points tick down to victory. Context is always pleasant.
The map itself is actually a lot smaller than I thought, though – and then it turned out to be a lot bigger than I thought. The three capture points are located fairly close to one another, but with multiple routes between them (one of which heads underneath the centre of the map) there’s actually a fair amount of space for an 8v8.

And, again, it’s a wonderful place for an Assassin… or maybe it’s because, every time I’ve played it, my foes have had no concept of teamwork. I rarely got into actual fights. I just lurked, stealthed, behind points the enemy had captured. When the guard got bored and wandered away, I stole it (10 second capture time, again) and then stealthed once more. If he then tried to take it back, I’d stun and backstab him. I’m a bastard.
For the most part the PvP’s enjoyable, but crippling lag (which, uh, might’ve been my fault) made it hard to play effectively, and there are a few niggles. It’s as fast moving and “wild” as World of Warcraft’s PvP, and right now I’m not keen on the targeting system. Trying to target any particular player can be an abject nightmare (particularly, say, the ball carrier in the middle of a cluster of battling friends and foes) and quick-targeting with the Tab key doesn’t work nearly as well as I might hope. It can even be a bit tricky to see who you have targeted, although that might simply be a case of getting used to the SWTOR’s own markers for this. Even with groups of weak enemies it’s rarely a problem in solo play, at least, so hopefully I’ll get used to this in time.
There are two other things I want to note about the PvP. Firstly, there’s some good XP to be earned here. I was rested, I admit, but in the course of losing two matches and winning two (completing a few “Win a Warzone” daily quests, with it) I gained about half a level, which is nothing to sniff at. Secondly, there are – right now – no level boundaries, in a manner perhaps similar to how Warhammer Online worked.

Players from level 10-50 can play together, with lower level players having their stats buffed to match. They don’t gain any extra abilities, though, so higher level players are always going to have more utility and some sort of advantage.
As higher-level players are also likely to have somewhat more effective gear there’s still a disparity, but it’s surprisingly minor. As a level 12 I could fight fairly evenly against a level 50, and at level 24 I was murdered by a pair of level 11s – although I did manage to pick off one of them first.
Right now, then, a tentative thumbs up for SWTOR’s PvP. I’d like to see more Warzones (and I’m assuming there will be more) and it’d be nice to have the option to select which one I want to do, but there are certainly valid reasons for not having that choice. We’ll have to see what happens at launch.
Without having played with friends I know and trust (and suffering the lag that I was) it’s hard to give a full opinion on how well the Warzones function for teams with plans, but it’s easy to see that there’s a lot of potential here. And hey, bonus XP is always nice.

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