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SWTOR: Returning to their stated PvP goal

I want to preface this post by stating that beginner PvP at 50 is not that bad thanks to their current implementation of the commendation system. Yeah, it stinks for a little bit, but you will end up with several bags within two hours, which gets you one or two pieces of gear. Completing the weekly guarantees three bags, which means a whopping forty-five Centurion commendations and twenty-one Champion commendations. If you haven’t PvPed a lot prior to 50, then your valor is going to be low and it will be a while before you hit rank 60, which is when you can use the Battlemaster commendations. This doesn’t make it any less grind oriented, but it does make it slightly more tolerable at the start. This isn’t really the focus of this piece, but I wanted to touch upon it because it is nice that BioWare is making changes in attempts to take away some pain points. They have a lot to learn, obviously, but I’m willing to give them sometime to work out the kinks and see their content distribution plan. The focus of this piece is to offer a solution to the current PvP situation that allows BioWare to keep their original PvP system intact with very minimal effort, and allows for some issue correction.

The Original Design
To do this, I have to first outline the initial system in as simple terms as possible.
1. Allow for a single PvP bracket (10-50)
2. Gear-based improvement and progression
3. A Single PvP stat to allow for the differentiation between PvE and PvP gear
4. Same faction play as a correction measure for faction imbalance

These are the four main spokes of the original PvP design wheel. While I might disagree with point three with every fiber of my being, I am going to ignore that for now in order to offer a fix or two that allows this system to stay in place.

First, I can’t stress enough the truly revolutionary design of the first point. The ability to always be able to play with your friends is something that people always desire. In order to make this possible, BioWare implemented Bolster, a standard fare buff that increases your hit points and ability damage to a point where you might be dealing close to the same level of damage as someone at the top end of the bracket. It’s never a true level playing field, as it’s a level set and gear obviously allows you to progress over that, and the Bolstered person doesn’t gain access to any new abilities or specialization points. The most glaring issue is that Expertise, the PvP stat, is only available on maximum level gear, for all realistic intents. The stats of these maximum level gear pieces compound the effectiveness of the Expertise stat, making people who have obtained the Battlemaster rank nigh untouchable gods for those without Expertise. It can be of little surprise that this makes the One True Bracket theory one that does not have many proponents with the sub-50 crowd. BioWare separated out the brackets a little over one month after launch, seemingly to never look back.

Gear-based progression is something easy to understand and represents tangible rewards for the players. This is part of current MMO design for various reasons, and SWTOR has embraced this to a degree which is refreshing. The “build your own gear” method allows for tiny, tangible rewards while maintaining a look that you desire. However, this more or less goes out the window once you hit 50, and you are going to end up without your orange, moddable gear for quite some time. This is unfortunate, but I will hold on to my set in hopes that I can be a powerful North Korean Fighter Pilot Sith Assassin at some point. Of course, none of that has much to do with PvP gear progression. The idea of gear-based progression is keeping people involved in the grind, so they play daily, and so that gear overcomes their inherit skill or class discrepancies. As much as people say they want skill based PvP, if they are playing a game that is obviously a gear grind, they do NOT mean it. The model of SWTOR is gear-based, so having better gear needs to have tangible benefits. We could replace this with a skill advancement system, like in DAoC, but as awesome as that would be, the goal here is ease of fix.

I’ve harped on the existence of Expertise before, so let’s just leave it at “This has to stay in because it’s part of the original BioWare model”.

Huttball exists as the current band-aid for faction imbalance in PvP. You can continue to PvP if you outnumber your opponents without cross-server play. A great design decision with community building in mind, but it does create type of game imbalance, leading to a burn out on the map for the heavy faction. Now a lot of people would say, “EL OH EL, who cares? They should have rolled the underdogs!” That’s not my answer here. I support the decision not to have cross-server play, I like knowing the guys I PvP against.

My Answer
My answer is in two parts, first addressing the initial three points and then addressing the final point.

My proposed answer to restore the first three points is to tamper with the Bolster buff. The new Bolster buff would look something like this:
1) Bolster now provides a base amount of Expertise in addition to the other stat scaling.
2) Bolster now provides a bonus to the base amounts based on the gear of the people in the War Zone. If you are over the average, you get no benefit, if you are under you do.

This allows for people under 50 to again be part of the Warzones, keeps Expertise as a stat, and makes people want to have better gear. No only does the gear push them over the flat average, it also raises the average for their entire team. This makes it part of the game world that having better people turns the time of battle, even if the player at the other end is a giant tool.

Since it’s an average, the numbers wouldn’t be greatly in the favor of the team with the better gear, but it’s a tiny bump. It’s also countered by fresh level 10s in the WZ, after all. This should be a pretty easy thing to implement, and it would make WZs much more evenly matched, and make the experiences much less frustrating. All PvPers will not be created equal. Gear will still win out, but it will be MUCH less of a safety net than it used to be. It will hopefully make people less likely to drop games, and more willing to tough it out until the end. Bad players are still going to be bad players, but this removes the barrier to entry while retaining the benefit for slogging through the grind…besides being able to rep War Hero.

Finally, allow all WZs to be same-faction. Have Civil War being about the Alderaan Houses seeking aid on their own, rather than being purely Imperial or Republic sponsored. Void Star could easily be a corporations story line, rather than just being Imperial or Republic. This requires only a tad more effort to make sense in the game world, but it would drastically reduce burn out, and it would allow people to learn all three maps, rather than be mystified when they end up in Void Star after thirteen Huttball games in a row. All future Warzones should definitely be designed with this in mind. This doesn’t fix open world issues, but I am not sure I could easily fix BioWare’s issues there.

Is this a perfect solution? No, but I believe it’s excellent solution to revert to the system they stated they were trying to achieve a launch.

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