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Hands On: Star Wars The Old Republic PvP

Last week we brought you word of the impressive-looking PvE content in Star Wars: The Old Republic. Now is the turn of the PvP. How does this fit into a game that's so story-focused? Read on.

When playing The Old Republic it’s often hard to shake the feeling that it’s an MMO against its own will. Created by the crowned masters of the RPG, whose expertise lies in single-player, personally I’m very excited to see their developing an online game that captures so much of what makes their games great. It’s just that occasionally the online component can frustrate that. I’m hopeful that the end result will exploit this tension, and bring us the best of both worlds. I’m not convinced that’s going to happen via the PvP.

I think my experience of what was only one level of PvP, played four times, was extremely tarnished. Randomly assigned classes, I had the Imperial Agent – coincidentally the character I’d spent many hours with in the PvE. So I knew my way around the skills, boosted with a specialization in Sniper that – like so much with the Imperial Agent – became available when in cover. In an arena with almost no cover.

I should declare my disinterests at the start. When it comes to MMOs, I'm far more interested in PvE than PvP. But it's always my contention that a game's PvP should be able to grip me when I do play it. BioWare are keen to stress that their PvP content is designed to ensure everybody involved has a role. They have a desire to promote team behaviour. Various classes, of which there are so many, can team up to work together, and each can gain what they’re called Badges as they play.

Badges aren’t achievements, but rather honours given to players for completing certain tasks. Perhaps you’ll complete an objective, or perform more than 10k worth of damage. These badges will bolster the awards you receive. You’ll even be able to go on a “Badge Streak”.

Badges award players with Valour. Valour is the PvP equivalent of XP, which while not able to exceed your current XP level, will let you unlock unique equipment. And the higher your Valour, the more important you are in the game’s Warzones. You can also spend Valour on stims – the injections that give you a temporary advantage in combat – from stim vendors found near spawn points in maps.

There’s also something called Resolve in there, which is designed to prevent the frustration of being constantly Area Of Effected to death. AoE attacks will stop working on a player for a short time, meaning others will have to resort to more elaborate tactics.

So our particular Warzone was set in the Alderaan Civil War. The Sith and Republic have found an orbital canon base, and they’re fighting for control of it. There’s three points that need to be captured to gain full control of the canons, which will fire upon the ship of the enemy.

You spawn on your own ship, perhaps visit the vendor, and then ride a floaty bike down to the surface. From there you can leap into action, attempting to occupy the three key points in the arena, in and eight vs. eight battle.

So there’s nothing that we haven’t seen before, clearly trying to borrow from FPS multiplayer in the same way as, say, Global Agenda. And for many in the room it seemed to be lots of fun.

For me, with an Imperial Agent, it was a tedious, miserable experience. Relying on the game’s cover system proved surprisingly untroubling in the PvE content. There was such an abundance of things to hide behind that I rarely felt unable to join in. Here, at any point when another couple of players attacked me, it became clear that all I could do was wait to die, respawn, and repeat.

Of the areas we were defending, two were surrounded by a balcony behind which I could crouch. This was the role I played, trying to snipe out those who were attempting to ‘use’ the target base for long enough. But the level’s design was such that anyone could see where I was, and so all anyone needed to do was run up the ramp to my position and hit me a few times. Such as the Imperial Agent is, as soon as I left cover I was pretty much useless against the full arsenal of any other class, and pretty much had to stand there and take it.

More ludicrous was when I tried to stay in cover and yet fight someone behind me. Oddly this tactic actually worked slightly better, as ridiculous as it looked, but still the Agent’s skills were not designed for melee and I never stood a chance.

After two plays through I had no desire to ever see this Warzone again. We played it a further two times. At one point during these second two attempts we were told, “Of course, this level will have more cover by the time the game comes out.” Of course.

But even if I had lucked out with a character better designed for this environment, it’s hard to be too excited about what was on offer. This was standard Conquest multiplayer. Yes – it’s a great opportunity to pit your character’s skill setup against other players, and it’s certainly more interesting than an old-fashioned PvP slaughter field, but it’s certainly nothing new.

With “Class Roles”, scoreboards, badges, Valour, rewards, Resolve, and so on, this is by no means a quick aside. It seems to me that most of the development on the game is now getting PvP right, for the huge numbers of potential players who will be brought in by that.

The major issue for me is how awkwardly it fits into a game that was obviously intended to focus on PvE. In fact, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that anything that deviates from BioWare’s vision of a story-led MMO has been focus-tested into existence. They’re making a game that’s about Y, but their testers were expecting it to have X, like every other MMO. Instead of sticking to their guns and saying, “Actually, we think you’re going to love Y if you stay with it,” what we’re getting instead is all the potential of Y interrupted by the inevitability of X. An attempt to keep everyone happy.

That said, we saw a tiny fraction of the PvP – just one area, repeated four frustrating times. We were told of one other Warzone, The Voidstar. In this a prototype stealth ship has recently been rediscovered. Each side is trying to capture the tech, with one side attacking as the other defends, and then switching sides at the level’s midpoint.

And I certainly didn’t see it in its best light. In my time playing this section I was thinking, “I’d really like to get back on with playing the game now please,” which remains my positive message. I really wanted to carry on playing the game. Just not this PvP diversion that felt like it belonged somewhere else, in a game that wasn’t about delivering smart story and witty content.

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