With patch 1.2 nearly in our collective rear view mirrors, to say nothing of the game as a whole for a lot of people, it’s time to dissect what I think they did right in this patch and what I consider a failure. There was a lot more good than bad in this patch cycle, but I do have some serious concerns that I think they are seeing as an “improvement in accessibility” rather than the “waste of resources” and “short-sighted modeling” that it truly seems to be. Let me state again that I am not a game designer and I have never worked for a video game company. I am simply a guy who has played a lot of games, particularly MMOs, and competed in various levels, many times at the highest levels, in several of them.
The first obvious thing they did right was the inclusion of another PvP map that has a simple and familiar, yet still different enough to feel new, mechanic. I am speaking of Novere Coast. This map is interesting that is was built as a map that allows same-faction competition, and includes a different introduction based on whether it is a cross-faction match or a same-faction match. If it is a same-faction match, the introduction discusses how this is a war game simulation for training purposes only. If it is a cross-faction match, you need to protect the coast line from those dastardly invaders trying to see your strategic turrets. This is roughly twenty seconds of voice acting, one paragraph of text, but it bespeaks a level of care that you wouldn’t normally see in PvP exposition. Giradda the Hutt would be pleased. The mechanic is simple enough, it’s point control with the twist of you must control at least two turrets to score any points. The terrain is vastly different than other maps, and it allows for some clever play if you are willing to really go to the effort of using the surroundings. The more people at the point when someone is accessing the mainframe, the faster it captures. There is also a slight cooldown on personal re-use of the mainframe, so it sort of prevents the “click the glowy” spam that occurs in other PvP matches. Situational awareness is key to the map, and it quickly becomes evident who has it and who doesn’t. The best part about it, to me, is that it’s prevented in a very straightforward manner, so none of these lessons could be perceived as obtuse or overbearing. This is a map that new players should hope pops a lot, it will only teach them good habits, provided they choose to play the game as it should be played. This is, of course, a later point I will explore.
The worst thing that occurred in this patch cycle was the removal of counterplay. This happened in PvE as well, but I haven’t done enough of it after the patch to speak to this with any degree of authority. I will pause here only to say that one of the things I liked in PvE before was the fact that a group that had their shit together and communicated use of their abilities did extremely well. That seems to have been dumbed down to make it more reasonable to take mercenaries and commandos through PvE content, or even to just reduce the onus on the dpsers of the group. This is a shame, and speaks to the larger issue at hand for PvP. There wasn’t much counterplay to begin with, and the problems with that became even more apparent in this patch cycle. The interrupt skill is already less powerful in SWTOR than it is in other MMOs, only shutting out a single ability rather than the entire “school” associated with the ability. This makes it more of a soft counter, which is fine, but stun is then the only hard counter the game has. Offensive dispels are missing almost entirely, which makes some of the decisions they made particularly infuriating. This is most obvious in the sniper/gunslinger, operative/scoundrel, and marauder/sentinel changes.
Cover has been a problematic mechanic since inception, and it’s understandable that they want to make it more effective, however it’s now a frustrating mechanic where the hard counter is stun or knockback. Unlike interrupts, which are given to 7/8 archetypes, knockbacks are less prevalent. As it stands, it is impossible to pull or charge to someone in cover. Previously, you could maneuver yourself behind them so that they were not in cover from your perspective and then engage them with this ability. However, that has now changed and they still have protection from cover. Even though you have a straight line to them, they are immune to these forms of gap closing. This is, of course, coupled with a fairly reasonable complete protection from interrupts ability. Add on their added damage bonus, three so far in this patch cycle, and they are complete murder machines. Now, I agree that pure dps classes should be the best at dealing damage, but this added survivability and protection removes any sort of compelling game play. It devolves into a stand there and wail on each other situation where the higher damage class will always come out on top. I am over simplifying for the sake of narrative, obviously, but I feel strongly that the lack of meaningful choices is a valid criticism of SWTOR PvP on the whole, and it’s been exacerbated in this patch cycle. The same criticism can be applied to the healing increase that Operatives and Scoundrels received. Yes, these guys needed help in PvP, no question. However, I feel that simply bolstering their healing does strange things. First, almost everything is a Heal Over Time with an instant cast time. This means that their healing cannot be prevented without a stun, see my later discussion of Resolve for more on this, and that the many classes who receive additional healing passively end up being unkillable beasts without focused fire. Now, this is generally fine, but with no dispelation mechanic, this gets more than a little frustrating and tedious at times. Coupled with the passive increase of damage that the classes received at base, they teeter on the brink of effective hybrid that was so reviled previously. This is to say nothing of stealth and cover mechanics. This is all pared with an astounding mobility that’s received from their ability to just use instants. In short, they got a lot from a lot of different places and while they are still squishy at the start, they rule the roost without equal later on. It’s the way of MMOs to cycle like this, but the increases were pretty evident and it doesn’t seem to be a point of concern to anyone but the players.
Marauders and Sentinels benefited from this too, as well as the reduction of the Juggernaut/Knight killing prowess. Rather than rehash what I’ve already said, I will simply say that mobility and ability to sticky, coupled with a massive damage increase, and with only one real hard counter, stun, these guys are powerhouses now. They have fairly high survivability anyway, and it just got better with this patch. These guys are the other flavor of the month class along with agents/smugglers. You see games where half of each team are these guys. This is always a sign that the tuning went a little too far in the other direction.
Skipping back to the good, they course corrected in a major way when it came to maps as a whole. Everything sans Civil War can now be played same-faction. This skips the all-Huttball-all-the-time problem that many people faced. Now, this doesn’t help with the problem of Huttball, but people do love variety, so it’s good for PvP on the whole. Voidstar got a much needed overhaul in a key area, as well. Previously the game would drag on past the point of known defeat. After all, it is a timed milestone game. If your group only got one door, it was obvious you had lost after the second milestone was achieved by the other team. That inevitably forced the game to devolve into apathy or farming. They have since circumvented that by triggering game completion instantly once a team wins on milestones, and thank goodness for that. This makes the game much more fun and keeps the requeuing snappy, you don’t feel as beleaguered afterwards, either. Damage Over Time effects no longer cancel capturing milestones either. While this is a nice change, it doesn’t do much in terms of game play. Civil War remains largely unchanged, save they increased the side point travel times. This helps, but it still has the problems it always had. It doesn’t make it unfun, but it still could use a little TLC to improve it slightly. Huttball remains my favorite game and also the most polarizing. I love the emphasis on both individual and team play, but it could really use a tutorial mode for new players or people that don’t feel comfortable with the game. It’d be tough to implement, but it would definitely help with the continued split this map carries.
Now for some quick thoughts:
Resolve remains as problematic as ever, perhaps even more so with the removal of soft counters from many situations. Stuns are the only reliable method of shutdown now, so Resolve is both throttling and a non-issue. From a stunner perspective, watching Resolve for your chance to shut someone down isn’t exactly engaging but at least it’s something of a visual queue. However, you can’t help but feel envy for those people who have displacement effects or snares that aren’t affected by Resolve. Permanently slowed is still incredibily frustrating, but as long as Resolve remains the same as it is now, it’s not going to be changing. From a stunnee perspective, Resolve seems to never protect you. Death resets Resolve and the meter doesn’t remain high for long. This is coupled with the meter not really providing any sort of Diminishing Returns from the stuns or shutdowns themselves. It really needs to be a gradation of effect, rather than the full hardline that it is now. This is nothing new, I am simply noting that it has not changed as of yet, and it needs an overhaul.
Healing received a nerf, outside of Operatives and Scoundrels, and survivability was lessened as a whole. Mercenaries and Commandos have been hit by this hard, and are now a rare occurrence in PvP. They require twice the work for the same numbers. With effort they still remain viable, of course, but it’s much more effort than other healers. This has also had the impact of making combat a lot more twitchy, and moved away from the smooth kill play that BioWare wants from their PvP. This will be addressed in 1.3 apparently, so it’s nice to know that they have seen the same issues and consider this something that is counter to their stated PvP goals. It wasn’t a huge deal, but it was frustrating for new characters to some degree. No one likes feeling like the weakest link of their team, after all.
Recruit gear seems to have done the right thing. More people were willing to check out PvP, which is a good thing. However, two sits of gear are now legacy and removed from the game, Centurion and Champion. The currency to obtain them is now gone, and it’s a straight warzone comm issue to purchase Battlemaster Gear. This does strange things to the PvP curve and is off-putting to characters in the legacy gear. It would have been much better to allow more granular upgrades by keeping this comm system in place through some means and allow the steady upgrade of gear rather than such a big jump between Recruit and Battlemaster. Of course, I hate wasted resources, and this current implementation reeks of it. When the next patch comes out, I guess Battlemaster goes by the wayside as well as the next PvP set comes out? This is a rapidly wasting system, and it’s a shame. I understand that this is the accepted way of things, but there are ways to fill all gaps here, even if it is simply through the inclusion of all currencies and keeping the numbers of achieving them reasonable. This would allow for steady upgrades along the way and a sense of accomplishment at all points. Instead, it’s purely the gear rotation model. Of course, it still hasn’t solved the problem of half PvE/PvP being the best route. This goes directly with stat and gear scaling, but I’ll just mention that it’s still a problem without end in sight. Oh, and new players still get completely wrecked by those with the better PvP gear. So you know, there’s that. Gear challenges, this game has them.
Finally, the medal system got overhauled. More objective based medals were added, quick win medals were added to stop farming, and more medals were added across the board. It is capped at 8 medals per game for extra rewards, but 3 medals must be achieved to receive anything at all. I thought this might be a problem, but it’s worked out really well. It’s mostly stopped bad game play in the name of the all-mighty medal, but doesn’t really shut people out of rewards since there are so many ways to get medals. It also stops the showboating to some degree as after 8 medals there are no tangible rewards. So all in all, this is a pretty rousing success. This was a big problem beforehand, and one that I addressed at some length, so I am very glad they got their act together. It’s a neat system now.
So there you go, a not-so-brief summary of the current state of PvP as of patch 1.2. Hopefully 1.3 will address even more of those concerns that still remain, but I’ve been surprised and pleased with their response thus far.