Player-versus-player gameplay is an integral part of most modern MMORPGs. However, even some of the most experienced MMORPG players may have reservations when it comes to participating in this facet of the game. There are several factors that make PvP an entirely different (and sometimes very intimidating) experience, and in some of the worst cases, players who traditionally focus on PvE may feel completely alienated by a game's PvP mechanics. By examining some of these dynamics and BioWare's proposals regarding how they will be handled, perhaps we can make PvP in Star Wars: The Old Republic a little less intimidating and a lot more appealing for players who typically wouldn't participate otherwise.
In SWTOR, an important part of the PvP experience will take place in Warzones. Warzones are instanced battlefields where Republic and Empire players will face off against one another to accomplish specific goals. These Warzones contain a story component, offer a variety of rewards and provide some unique opportunities and challenges for players.
There are a host of reasons that players are hesitant to engage in PvP. For example, some find the unpredictability of facing off against human players to be daunting, while others find themselves absolutely befuddled as to what Warzone objectives might be or how to achieve them. Bad initial experiences, imbalance and a more personal sense of defeat from PvP combat are other reasons people may shy away from the experience.
The most obvious difference when comparing PvP to PvE is the fact that it pits players against other players. Players are real, living, breathing, thinking people that may or may not do what you expect them to do in any given situation. This is a huge shift from the PvE game. In PvE, the artificial intelligence of creatures and bosses means their behavior is typically static and unchanging. Dealing with unpredictable human players means learning to adapt to a dynamic situation. In PvP, players can't simply visit a website, read up on a boss strategy and know what to expect. There are no YouTube videos that will show exactly what an enemy is going to do next. It takes quick thinking and even faster reactions to survive and succeed in PvP.
Another unpredictable aspect for players just getting their feet wet in PvP is that it can be difficult to figure out what exactly the objective for a given Warzone might be. It's usually not as simple as just killing the opposing players as many times as possible. In fact, even if your team absolutely decimates the other team in terms of kill count, your team is not necessarily guaranteed a win. Learning the objective and picking up on strategies to accomplish that objective will go a long way toward making the battle seem less chaotic.
For some players, PvP left a sour taste in their mouth because their first experience was unpleasant. This can often happen during world PvP, in which a player is killed by another player when they least expect it - usually due to an unfair advantage or inadequate preparation. Maybe they were tricked into flagging for PvP by accidentally wandering into a contested area of the world where PvP is allowed, or perhaps they even made the mistake of rolling on a PvP server without realizing what that entailed. Being "ganked" while trying to quest, being corpse camped in world PvP, or always being outnumbered honestly isn't much fun. If this is a player's first experience with PvP, it doesn't create a favorable first impression. Fortunately, Warzones are designed to avoid this type of unsolicited slaughter; players go in knowing what to expect and the odds are generally fair.
Another aspect of PvP that can cause players to be hesitant about participating is imbalance. While Warzones are designed to pit evenly matched teams against one another, there are other factors involved when it comes to balancing a match. It's often perceived that PvP combat is not fair because of certain imbalances. Most players don't want to subject themselves to something they feel is unfair since that usually means it won't be much fun.
Balance between different classes and specs is a juggling act that all developers must deal with. SWTOR will surely be no different in this respect, and it is something that can be frustrating for many players. If certain classes appear weak in PvP, people playing those classes will be less likely to participate. Likewise, if certain classes are overpowered, it can be expected that these classes will be over-represented. Hopefully a reasonable balance will be present when the game launches, as it is clearly something that the developers are aware of.
BioWare's Gabe Amatangelo talked about class balance during the Fan Site Summit:
Quote from Gabe Amatangelo
Georg and I sit next to each other so we talk hand-in-hand and there's compromises made between PvP and PvE, but at the end of the day things when you have mechanics like guard and you have things that bolster stuff like that, we have the instruments to tune the difference between the two. Again I mentioned it, no I didn't mention in the presentation, but we're committed to ensure that everyone has a role in PvP but there's going to be at least one spec in every advanced class that's going to be that sort of 2% competitive edge in PvP we're committed to do that. More hopefully, but we'll be monitoring to make sure that everyone has that, that there's not going to be an advanced class that's like, hey I've got no PvP place, they will. That's what we're committed to keep hammering at.
Gear imbalance is often a factor in determining the outcome of fights. A veteran PvPer in epic gear is going to have a large advantage over a player who only recently reached maximum level and is still working on their gear. This is a common dilemma; players cannot improve their gear unless they PvP, but without good gear new players are often cannon fodder and don't stand much of a chance competitively. Fortunately, this is something that SWTOR hopes to address as well.
Gear balance was also addressed by Gabe at the Fan Site Summit:
Quote from Gabe Amatangelo
So then, gear basically is about a 10% difference, so we do want to carrot PvP players to earn that gear and get an edge but it's not going to be like a 50% difference, so skill is going to have a big part and a bigger part. It's not going to be like, hey I've got my full set of PvP gear, you have your full set of PvE gear, bam one shot, get out of PvP. No it's not going to be that, but it is going to be if you go toe-to-toe equal skill everything remaining equal, you're going to have the 10% edge, so skill is going to play a bigger part than I think most people are used to seeing.
And let's not forget the obvious: People generally don't like losing. In PvP, you will lose some fights. If the proposed match-making system works as expected, that means players will be facing teams that are relatively equal to them in class makeup, gear and skill. This should lead to competitive matches. When the competition is equal, the outcome of the match could be decided during a few key moments of the battle. Even the best PvPers make mistakes occasionally. Yes, you will lose. Checking one's ego at the door and realizing that it's impossible to win every PvP match is the only way to get over this obstacle.
However, despite all these concerns and possible misgivings, there is much to be gained when a player decides to throw themselves into the PvP experience. Incentives, knowing one will break the learning curve eventually, and the heady thrill of success against actual other players all make the journey worthwhile.
As far as incentives go, the most tangible benefits players receive from PvP come from the rewards system. SWTOR features several reward systems for PvP participation:
- Valor Points - Accumulated and used to progress through ranks and earn rewards such as titles or special Warzone privileges.
- Valor Tokens - A type of currency that can be spent to purchase items.
- Commendations - These increase rewards gained and are earned during a Warzone match or may be awarded by other players at the end of a match.
These rewards allow a player to tangibly advance in PvP, gain competitive prowess and obtain recognition from other players.
There is going to be a learning curve associated with PvP. As mentioned previously, players need to think differently and react quickly. Typically, this also leads to a better understanding of one's class, as there may be some skills or abilities that do not seem very useful in PvE, but are invaluable in PvP. Becoming more familiar with what a class is capable of can improve a player's skill overall. There might even be some abilities that initially seem intended only for PvP, but are actually surprisingly effective in the PvE game.
Another approach that can make the transition into PvP a bit less painful is to bring a friend. It doesn't take long for one to realize that the unpredictable nature of live players doesn't just apply to the enemy, but also to the random teammates one finds oneself grouped with in Warzones. Grouping with a familiar face allows for some dependable coordination and teamwork towards the common goal of winning the match. While a group of 8 random players may have a hard time working together and communicating initially, a smaller group of friends within that team can set the example of how things should be done and can often lead the group to victory.
Just as clearing that heroic dungeon or finally downing that difficult raid boss can lead to a great sense of accomplishment, so can victory in a hard-fought PvP battle. The challenge that PvP presents and the satisfaction obtained from defeating one's opponents are some of the main draws of PvP. Since Warzones are designed with specific objectives, teamwork and communication are crucial to success. The winning players know they've outplayed their rivals, and occasionally that feels even more heroic than defeating a raid boss.
While PvP can be a daunting proposition for some, players who can overcome a frustrating learning curve and make a commitment to succeed may find it to be a very rewarding aspect of MMORPG game play. BioWare has several ideas for SWTOR Warzones to ease a player's pain and help them become comfortable with PvP. There's really nothing quite like the thrill one receives when wrenching victory from the jaws of imminent defeat. Once you experience that thrill, there may be no going back. Give it a try. You might just like it.