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The Problems with PvP in SWTOR

STAR WARS: The Old Republic > English > PvP
The Problems with PvP in SWTOR

Tirium's Avatar

04.14.2012 , 09:35 PM | #1
Hi folks. This is going to be a really long post, but I have spent a long time thinking about what's wrong with PvP in SWTOR. It is also in multiple parts. Feel free to skip any of these parts if they don't interest you, feel redundant, or if you're simply not interested.

The general point of MMOs in general -- and PvP systems -- is to create a sense of achievement in players. This, above all else, is the central guideline of all game systems.

I have a guideline when approaching any PvP system. I call it DERP. I will detail DERP a bit, as this is a system I've developed since I was about 10-years-old and starting knowing what I was doing playing Dark Age of Camelot.

After I detail DERP, I will analyze SWTOR through the lens of DERP, and then further analyze the current state of SWTOR's PvP in terms of what it does present and its effectiveness at doing so.

Finally, I will conclude this post by explaining how I would fix many of these issues.

Table of Contents
Does SWTOR meet DERP?Fixing the Current System

Going Forward (Open World)

D - Dynamic. Player versus Player content is dynamic. This is what PVPers love and why they engage in PvP content to begin with -- they love dynamic content. Every PvP fight is different, but employs many of the same need for strategy as PvE, giving it another level of complexity. The more dynamic Player vs. Player content can be, the better it is. The more levels of dynamic content to a PvP system, the better. For example, objectives can create a dynamic element because they can be in different states. There is no telling, when you log in, which state that objective will be in, or how the PvP will be altered because of the state of this objective.

This is why structures (such as keeps, forts, towers, etc.) are such good playgrounds for PvP. They add another level of dynamicism and help shape (and focus) the combat. This remains true in objective-based instanced PvP (such as warzones); however, this element is limited in instanced PvP (hereafter specifically referring to warzones) as the objectives, in quantity, are more limited due to regulated numbers.

E- Engaging. PvP has to be engaging. There are a lot of ways to determine this element, but I mostly view this as the PvP being complex and rewarding. There's plenty of theories on how to make PvP engaging, and it's hard to detail specifically how to make it engaging. For me, I have a few specific ideas. My observations on systems that are engaging:
1)Complex. The nature of the complexity is very specific -- it needs to not be burdensome, but require decision making. Part of this simply upping the "dynamic" elements. For example, more valid specializations for PvPers can generate an element of surprise.
2)Robust Toolkits. This is another level of complexity but I consider it something separate. Giving players a large toolkit to work with in Player versus Player can create very interesting situations. Players have to focus more and need to be more familiar with classes in order to know the toolkits available and respond appropriately to potential threats.
3)Burden of Knowledge. I have mixed feelings about burden of knowledge, but the truth is that a higher burden of knowledge creates a more engaging player versus player experience. For those that may not know what is being referred to with burden of knowledge, it refers to the amount of systems, abilities, etc. that a player is required to know in order to be effective in the game. It simply adds to the ability to be surprised, and is an expansion on the robust toolkits.
4)Reward skill. Rewarding skill in a PvP system makes players focus on their toolkit, making the overall PvP experience much more engaging as they are forced to focus and engage with the metagame.

R -- Rewards. Rewards are incredibly important in PvP. This is a very broad category and arguably one of the most important to have a successful PvP system. It is very easy to subvert even the most basic reward in PvP, which is the satisfaction of knowing you are a more skilled player than someone else. Above this basic reward, there are of course additional reward elements. These rewards need to be significant. People need to have a reason to play the game, a sense of achievement, and a way to share that achievement. Rewards need to convey a sense of power without overpowering successful players. Players of a high skill level want that skill to be what guides them through their victory. Rewards can also be both momentary and persistent. For example, when a killing spree is announced -- it is a momentary reward. It ends when the player leaves the PvP area (logs off, match ends, etc.) but provides a sense of achievement for the player. An example of a persistent reward is something like, in SWTOR, receiving gear through the PvP system. That gear is permanent and shows other players you have achieved something in PvP. Other games have granted special skills for PvP achievements, other games titles (SWTOR does this too) -- these are also persistent rewards.

P -- Persistence. I have found, in my study of PvP systems, that persistent systems are more successful. This can be found in both the rewards system and the PvP itself. Persistent objectives are a wonderful way to do this, as are persistent rewards. The more persistent elements in PvP, the more successful the PvP is.

That, in a nutshell, is DERP.

Does SWTOR meet DERP?

No. It mostly does not.

Dynamic -- The only genuine dynamic element of SWTOR is the general dynamic element that is PvP requiring 2 players interacting. Warzones, themselves, are fairly non-dynamic. The only dynamic element to Warzones is fairly new, and that is the fact matches can now be as low as 2v8 (possibly 1v8, I have only had one 2v8 though). Unfortunately, players do not have a toolkit to adjust for population imbalances, and so this is actually a detrimental dynamic element. The additional layers of a warzone -- the position of the Huttball, the status of a door in Voidstar, the status of a node in Alderaan, the status of a node in Novare Coast -- are mostly in an on/off state, and swap so easily that they are almost irrelevant in determining the dynamic element of a Warzone with the exception of a win/loss stipulation created by them.

Engaging -- Whether or not PvP is engaging is something of a personal opinion, I will concede that point to any who wish to challenge me on it. What I will say is the elements I feel make a PvP system are lacking in SWTOR. The rewards for PvP are nothing more than a time-sink. They additionally negate the fundamental reward of PvP (player skill), due to the item disparity created by being repeated successful (thus accelerating the grind) creating a stat disparity to the point that player skill can become almost a non-factor, or require such a huge skill disparity to be negated that achievement can only be had by the party that was disfavored, impeding the continual satisfaction of PvP for those players that have maximized this reward. SWTOR lacks complexity. All classes have very few viable specs, and these specs are all cookie-cutter and easily known. Direct mirroring makes it highly likely that a player is familiar with all primary specs and builds for a class and its mirror by the time they reach level 50.

Toolkits are also very limited in SWTOR, as well as the burden of knowledge. Most classes use no more than 5 skills in a given fight, and while this may expand to as high as 13-15 with cooldowns, these cooldowns are essentially used as soon as a fight breaks out and they are up. There is no necessary need to sit down or hold on to those cooldowns -- the immediate moment they become available is always the best time to use those abilities. It is simply the nature of these warzones that there is no reason to hold on to them -- it is likely because the objectives are so easily exchanged that there is no reason to hold on to them. The immediate fight is more important.

There is also a very low burden of knowledge in the game. There's only a few skills used by players, only a few specializations, only a few everything. What stats are stacked, what to expect in a fight, what paths and strategies to use in a warzone, all of this is known by level 50, and it is really the only most effective way to do things. There is no room to surprise someone in PvP.

Reward. This is perhaps the single biggest failure of SWTOR. There are very few rewards in PvP: A handful of unarmed moves (not particularly useful and easily achieved which does not make it feel like something to show off), some titles based of valor rank which BioWare admits itself is nothing more than a measure of time investment (these are perhaps actually the most successful rewards), and gear.

Gear would be a valid reward, except it is so heavily determinant in fights that once you've achieved maximum gear rewards, your only competition is against people who have the same level of achievement, and receiving this gear is simply a function of time investment, accelerated by success in a warzone. Ultimately, the current rewards (with the exception of the titles) negate the sense of achievement. For high end players, the thrill of showcasing your skills is lost in the sheer power of the gear they have received for simply playing the game. With the "unarmed moves" being so readily available, there is no sense of accomplishment in receiving these -- it's a petty reward.

The only other rewards offered are momentary rewards within the warzones with the various "unstoppable!" "immortal!" etc. offerings. These momentary rewards are only pseudo-effecttive, as some classes achieve them better than others, and they are partially luck based (they are certainly not solely rewarded by an individual player).

Persistence. There is absolutely nothing persistent about SWTOR's PvP with the sole exception of the handful of rewards previously detailed.

What SWTOR does offer is the opportunity to create a skill-based competitive PvP environment that limits its dynamicism in an attempt to emphasize its engaging-factor. This is undermined by the current distribution of gear.

Fixing the Current System

There are ways to achieve this if this is the way that SWTOR wants to approach its PvP, however this system still isn't as successful as it could be.

1)Gear needs to be standardized. Yup, gear needs to be standardized for this. Certainly at least negated. Attributes in general scale out of control right now, and the advantages from items need to be slight by comparison.
2)The rewards need to be persistent still. There needs to be a unique, otherwise unavailable aesthetic as a reward for this over such dominating gear. The aesthetic needs to present the power, not necessarily the attributes. I am not saying there should be no power in PvP gear, but only that there needs to not be as much power in it. It should offer an advantage, not a guaranteed win.
3)Communication needs to be standard. Premades can not be fighting against PUGs, and if this has to happen due to population concerns, PUGs needed to be compensated for this in the rewards offered at the end of the match.

I will say that Ranked PvP seemed to be a move in the right direction, particularly comparing War Hero gear against Ranked War Hero gear (though I feel it is safe to say in general the aesthetic of this gear is unliked). The problem is the fact the previous two ranks are so badly outclassed by it and do not present the uniqueness of the War Hero gear aesthetically, nor the power.

This also does not fix certain issues, for example the lack of normalization in rewards in Warzones. Healers, as they did only a version ago, once again struggle to reach the same levels of achievement that other classes do -- Healers simply do not make as many medals, nor do they as quickly. Healers already have the toughest job in a group (especially since if they fail they detract from the fun of other players) and they are currently the poorest rewarded players. This isn't even getting into sheer difficulty in handling the new absurd burst damage against the nerfed healing capacities now present.

Going Forward
What needs to happen is the following.

Ilum needs to be redesigned and soon. The reason why I turn my attention to Ilum is really simple -- it is persistent. Creating objective based PVP in a persistent world is already creating a more rewarding system than what is currently available, as long as those objectives are significant (the previous Ilum system allowed objectives to be exchanged FAR too easily).

The redesign of Ilum should include the following:

Open World Playground Objectives
"Keeps" (fortifications). These are structures which will feature blast-resistant walls and whose only means of breaching are either installing wall-climbing devices (after all, the anti-air guns of these fortifications would make an air assault impossible) or disabling the shield generator by the door. The keep should feature an inner-tower with a General in it -- it too will feature a shield-door with a generator near by. Once the generators are destroyed, the shield falls and the invading force may move through. When the general, at the top of the tower, is slain, possession of the keep will change factions.

The back-up generators, found at warcamps (detailed below), will also have to be destroyed.

On the battlements of the keep should be anchor-points at which siege weapons could be placed. These siege weapons will come in different varieties: some will target players and do bonus damage to them, some will target enemy siege weapons, and some will actually specialize in targeting "door-jammers." (Door-Jammers are a theoretical siege weapon that will specialize in destroying shield generators). Siege weapons will be purchased with a special currency dropped by players in Ilum.

All "keeps" will be outfitted with PvE guards that will spam the number of foes that were involved in killing them when they die to any guild that may have claimed them (more details below).

Guilds will also earn their own currency (theoretically Guild Valor) when their members kill enemy players, take a warcamp (to be detailed below) or keep, capture a planet (also to be detailed below), or make a Major Boss Kill on Planet X (to be detailed 4 sections below). Guilds can do a few things with this currency: they can claim keeps, which will have a daily price of a certain amount of Guild Valor. Claiming a keep will allow you to upgrade the keep (increasing the strength of the shield generator, offering more anchor points for siege weapons, and reducing the number of wall fortifications that can be jumped, etc.). They also upgrade the Guards at the keep, upping their Hit Points, Defense, and Damage. There may also be some quality of life features added for keeps, such as a mount for high level keeps, a merchant, a mailbox, etc.

There should be other objectives on Ilum. These objectives will be called "Warcamps." Warcamps will have many of the same features as a keep, but they will not have the same fortifications. They will have a couple of anchorpoints (where appropriate), still have guards (though fewer guards), and a General. After killing the general, the attacking force is required to reroute the power of the generator to their own keep.

To help encourage taking warcamps, majority control of the warcamps will be required in order for the door to fall when the shield generator falls.

Additionally, every keep or warcamp held by a faction will provide a small, faction wide bonus (these would be things like 2% increased Valor or XP, or 2% more WZ comms for Warzones, things of this nature). These bonuses would be additive -- so if owning a Warcamp is +1% Xp, it would have to be small values like this to prevent one faction from getting too heavy of a bonus. The alternative is to set a numerical value needed on the objectives, so for example, owning 1 keep would do nothing, but owning 3 keeps might unlock 4% increased Xp for your entire faction.

The Overarching Campaign
When one faction controls all of the "keeps" of a planet, a global small buff (2% damage, for example) will be applied to the faction until control is rested for them. The longer a faction controls a planet, the weaker its defenses will become (after all, there are only so many forces in the galaxy, and the factions need to focus their resources). The planet at this point is considered "conquered" by the faction.

Additional PVP planets need to be created. They will feature a similar set-up to Ilum and similar rewards. Initially, I see three planets, and I will use three in order to articulate my intent with these. When all three planets are conquered, "forces are alleviate to allow secure travel to "Planet X."

Planet X
Planet X (working name) will be a planet for levels 10-50, each section of the planet offering content appropriate for a certain bracket. These brackets will be tiered (10-20, 21-30, 31-40, 41-49, 50, Operation).

At the "core" of this planet would be Operation-level content which will provide its own currency. Just outside of this would be 50, and so on, with the lowest level content being closest to the spaceport.

This currency would be spent on gear which would be comparable to "good" gear (somewhere in between a blue and a purple) for the top level of the bracket. This gear, however, will have its own aesthetic which will not be craftable. The operation gear will need to be appropriately updated so that it remains competitive.

As soon as one of the planets is no longer conquered, the enemy faction is able to travel to Planet X as well. The only way to lock Planet X to your faction is control the three PvP planets. If the enemy locks all three planets while you are on Planet X, you will be sent to your respective fleet on death and no one from your faction will be able to travel to Planet X.

I am aware this is an insanely long post. I haven't edited it yet. But this is my rough idea on how to fix PvP for SWTOR.

Edit: Rewards. I forgot to talk about my solution for rewards for PvP. Firstly, Valor needs to be changed. It needs to do two things. I agree with the general function that Valor shows time investment in PvP, but it also needs to function like levels. Every time you get a Valor rank, you get a Valor Point. A Valor Point is used on a Valor Tree, which unlocks various PvP-only skills. These skills will feature long cooldowns, and generally impact more than one person. The idea behind these skills would be to allow for players of high valor rank to be able to counter population imbalances, without gaining too much power in individual contests.

PvP gear, in general, needs to provide an otherwise unachievable cosmetic value and additionally needs to be less powerful. This isn't because stats in PvP should be low, but someone who is a good player in Recruit gear should be able to beat a poorly-skilled player in Battlemaster or even War Hero gear if the poorly geared player is truly THAT much more skilled.

TLDR: The single biggest problem with SWTOR's PvP is it fails to reward players properly and minimizes dynamic and persistent elements. There are solutions available (that I have detailed in this thread).

Though you really should go read the thread.
7-21-11 Midnight PST: Never Forget.
An ignored thread on how to fix PVP:

teambff's Avatar

04.14.2012 , 09:36 PM | #2
2>gear gap
3>no punishment for quitting
4>teams being down in numbers
5>damage is out of control
6>alderaan war zone.
"the scoobygang legacy" on server mind trick, and in all other games, and things, and in life.

Bocherel's Avatar

04.14.2012 , 09:53 PM | #3
I have read all your post.

I can't believe I agreed with 99% of what you said, I also love the humour touch of your DERP system

Though I haven't took the time to picture the way your redesigned ilum but overall it seems good.

Now for the 1% I disagree on :

"[Gear] should offer an advantage, not a guaranteed win."

I disagree to some extent, if by advantage you mean +1 all stats out of principle, then yeah, it wouldn't affect any of the fight outcome.

But my feeling is that the only advantage a gear should provide in MMO is an "intelligent" advantage.

Let me explain :

The player should be the one to chose how to spend item stats on gear.

The one who spent them the most intelligently (ie built something fitting his gameplay style) will get an advantage over the one who spent them without thinking or used the gear "by default".

And to conclude my post, I hope Bioware will never hire someone like you, it'd be a waste of talent to work for such a bad MMO company and I hope you will one day get a job in a company that care about PvP for their MMO.

Tirium's Avatar

04.14.2012 , 09:56 PM | #4
Quote: Originally Posted by Bocherel View Post
I have read all your post.

I can't believe I agreed with 99% of what you said, I also love the humour touch of your DERP system

Though I haven't took the time to picture the way your redesigned ilum but overall it seems good.

Now for the 1% I disagree on :

"[Gear] should offer an advantage, not a guaranteed win."

I disagree to some extent, if by advantage you mean +1 all stats out of principle, then yeah, it wouldn't affect any of the fight outcome.

But my feeling is that the only advantage a gear should provide in MMO is an "intelligent" advantage.

Let me explain :

The player should be the one to chose how to spend item stats on gear.

The one who spent them the most intelligently (ie built something fitting his gameplay style) will get an advantage over the one who spent them without thinking or used the gear "by default".

And to conclude my post, I hope Bioware will never hire someone like you, it'd be a waste of talent and I hope you will one day get a job in a company that care about PvP for their MMO.
I completely agree with you, and that is the ideal system. I think part of what made DAoC great is they removed stats from PvP, more or less -- it became about how intelligently you could design your gear, and you really could design.

This is actually a great idea.

The only reason I said there should be SOME benefit is the general masses would be in an uproar if they felt there was no power advantage to having higher ranked PvP gear.

However, the combination of stat-allocation freedom and aesthetically powerful gear might do the same trick.
7-21-11 Midnight PST: Never Forget.
An ignored thread on how to fix PVP:

Tirium's Avatar

04.14.2012 , 10:20 PM | #5
This is a shameless bump in disguise. I won't let this fall to page 2 just because it's long. The devs need to know that someone out there knows what they are doing, even if they aren't on their development staff.
7-21-11 Midnight PST: Never Forget.
An ignored thread on how to fix PVP:

Bocherel's Avatar

04.14.2012 , 10:28 PM | #6
^ yup, also there is absolutely zero way to makes everyone happy no matter how good is the system because people have different taste.

Which is why I believe an MMO should aim at a specific community and never change their audience target. Also they should be clear when you start the game about what you should expect from their product, there should be something such as a "tutorial" disclaimer.

Atm it's quite the contrary, MMO companies try to trick every possible community into their game to finally makes everyone unhappy.

The worse than can happen is to makes people used to a system and then change it totally in a matter of days, players don't like that because they aren't given enough time to adapt and it frustrate them.

Every change should be implemented one by one after being tested a lot.

In my opinion MMO are so "complex(or "huge" would be a better word)" that it should require 1 or 2 years of open beta testing, but it cost so much that it is not affordable for gaming companies and they end up releasing incomplete products.


I went a bit out of topic, so to come back on your system I'd like to add one thing :

I believe the player "knowledge" should also make a difference. I don't really like when people are given the game mechanics right away in tooltips for example. I like when a player ends up on top because he took the time to try new things and test the game.

However it is a necessary evil because if you don't have those tooltips you frustrate a majority of players who don't want to invest time in "learning" the game and you also miss on feedbacks on what could be a bug or a wrong mechanics.

Ideally, after being beta tested for 1 year or more, you could just release the game like that, but since it's not possible I guess I can't think of another way to give some "power" to knowledgeable players.

(And by knowledgeable, I don't mean "experienced", you can play a lot, have a lot of experience and still don't know about some subtle game mechanics)

Tirium's Avatar

04.14.2012 , 10:32 PM | #7
The knowledge part is what I was getting at with "burden of knowledge." I agree that SWTOR makes it too easy to know everything, and part of it is how few SWTOR. There is very clearly a best build. There are no hybrid classes that can push one way or the other. You know exactly what you are fighting before you go fight it, and it's REALLY obvious what you are fighting and how it is going to be specced. I think the only class that perhaps actually offers a confounding element, and this isn't even true against all classes, is the Smuggler/Agent, since their DoT trees can be slightly unexpected, especially from a a Gunslinger/Sniper, since it is more common on the Scoundrel/Operative, but still.

I completely agree with that as well.

I just hope someone at BioWare sees this and actually at least considers some of this. This game needs help or its PvP players will be leaving in droves for GW2, which is disappointing for such an incredible IP and potential like SWTOR.
7-21-11 Midnight PST: Never Forget.
An ignored thread on how to fix PVP:

Bocherel's Avatar

04.14.2012 , 10:41 PM | #8
Yeah, I liked a lot this part of your post. If you give more tools and more option/diversity in player builds then you can favour the player knowledge and make their decision count.

At the moment most builds are no brainer where you can just fill almost all your skillpoints without making important choice.

For some reason 'hybrid' builds are not popular in my experience on MMO, people see a "healer", "tank", or "dps" class and they believe he should fit that role and nothing else.

Hybrid will always be powerful because you can adapt but if you're not a specialist you will have a hard time against most others classes, on the other hand you also have the ability to deal with most of them.

You can also makes great use of a specialist, and this is where teamplay become important because two specialist who complete each other will be better than two hybrid jack of all trade master of none playing together.

The only MMO where I did not see the community hate on hybrid were MMO sandbox because basically everyone was a hybrid or not by choice instead of being put in a static class.

Tirium's Avatar

04.14.2012 , 10:48 PM | #9
DAoc and WAR actually featured hybrids. They were effective in PvP, although they weren't top pick for PVE (though good enough to get the job done, they wouldn't be topping damage meters), they were INCREDIBLY useful in PvP.

Thanes, for example, could be either formidable melee opponents are decently potent nukers. Because of how things worked in DAoC, Thanes as nukers could shut down other characters and slowly close the gap to beat them in melee (since even a "caster Thane" could out melee a non-meleer), while Melee thanes could still disrupt casters but could (especially now) win most of their melee fights (since they had no other gap closer, this was balanced).

Another great example is the Mentalist. While clearly a caster, a Mentalist could be a Healer, DoTer, and pet class/nuker all at the same time, while not doing any of these three necessarily as strongly as a pure of any of htem, they freed up a group slot by doing it "good enough."

It's all a balancing act with hybrids. You have to make them good enough to pivot a PvP group around them (and make the group size large enough to have room to pivot around hybrids) but not enough to trump a pure in any one area. This allows for different group compositions and an element of surprise in PvP.
7-21-11 Midnight PST: Never Forget.
An ignored thread on how to fix PVP:

Bocherel's Avatar

04.14.2012 , 11:49 PM | #10
Yes hybrid are hard to balance but in the end are necessary to the health of the game imo

I wish I had played DAoC

I've played WAR a lot but gave up when they increased the max pvp level to 100, I had enough with the grind fest.

I've played most major MMO, I couldn't count them, however DAoC and UO were the two I miss. I wish I played them, I experienced DAoC a little bit because some friends played it but I've only seen it through their characters.

I was too busy playing SWG at the same period of time which I don't regret, I wish I played them both in fact.


It's sad your thread don't get any reply, you should make a tl:dr version because people are missing someting right there.