Fight or Kite: Return of the PvP in Star Wars The Old Republic

    
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With the launch of SWTOR on Steam this week (and totally, completely, not a beautiful coincidence), I finally reclaimed my account and rejoined the battle for the galaxy! A quick glance through my old emails seems to show the last time I played was around March of 2012, so you could say I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

Honestly, it’s been so long since I played I barely remember anything. It is legitimately like going back to your 10 or 20 year high school reunion (pre-Facebook days). Seeing Nadia Grell again was just like bumping shoulders with my high school sweetheart. I vaguely remember the stupid things, the mood rings, but everything is so blurry. What kind of crazy shenanigans did we get up to? Oh. Oh no. That’s right, we did some bad things, didn’t we? The dark side makes you do crazy things for love, you know?

Frustrations from a returning player

Before we dive into the thick of things, I wanted to layout some positives and some big ol’ negatives of the experience as a returning player. There is a little bouncy question mark that you can click on that works as a serviceable help system. Anytime you play through some content or view something new, it’ll have new help information about it. For example, I played a Starfighter match, and when I got back I saw the window had some helpful info about how to play the Starfighter matches. That was nice.

Beyond that, though, you are not given a whole lot of guidance about where your gameplay ended and where the newer content can be found. Even the Chapters pane below wasn’t particularly useful.

It’s a big, blank window with no information about how to start or anything. Sure, I might be a free-to-play player at the moment, but what am I even supposed to do with this? I genuinely don’t know how to get this content started without searching around on the internet – is this what BioWare wants? There’s plenty of room to poke fun at the over monetization of SWTOR, but here it would actually make sense! Do I need to buy something to unlock this? Like geez, throw me a bone. And my mission log wasn’t much more help. I’m pretty sure I completed the original game’s story content, but the game itself sure isn’t telling me where to go from there.

Anyway, with all that said, I’m going to be approaching this as mostly a newcomer. While I remember PvPing extensively, I don’t remember how to fight at all. I haven’t kept up with the game outside of our own Hyperspace Beacon coverage – and even then only tangentially. It hasn’t been my game for so long that beyond the general, “Oh there’s going to be an expansion, cool,” I simply haven’t paid it much mind.

So stick with me and let’s see if SWTOR’s got enough PvP to make this an MMO worth our time.

Galactic Starfighter PvP is a breath of fresh air

The first thing to catch my attention in the PvP Activities menu was the Galactic Starfighter mode. I vaguely recall the ancient addition of a space combat simulator in SWTOR, but seeing it in person all these years later really impressed me. It’s a free-flight game too – no rails here!

Basically each player can choose one of four different types of ships to play as, and then you can choose your active abilities by selecting which crew members to bring. It’s a fun way to utilize the companions you’ve met through the game in a new mode.

During combat, you have lasers and missiles on your left and right mouse buttons, as you’d likely expect from a flight game, but you also have those crew skills to activate. There seem to be two match types: conquest and team deathmatch. The conquest matches are 12v12 bouts made up of your typical three contested points to capture: Just hold points and blow away the enemies to increase your team’s score and win. The downside is that the two modes are in the same queue (we’ll come back to that shortly).

The combat was smooth, and the skills that you start with feel useful. There appear to be plenty of different options for upgrading your ships and adding cosmetics. To a complete noob, it wasn’t clear just how much more powerful you can become through these upgrades. I assume that the more you play, the more effective you will become.

To be fair to space combat games, I haven’t legitimately played one of these since… oh, probably Tie Fighter through DOS. I thought that game was amazing, but it’s been half of forever. So I can’t really speak to how well of a space combat sim this is compared to dedicated flight games and similar, only to similar modes in MMORPGs. Either way, I really enjoy it.

A single queue for multiple modes, seriously?

Most MMO PvP comes in a few variants, but they typically follow a well-known format like conquest, team deathmatch, king of the hill, and many others. It’s so common that you’ll be forgiven for not specifically remembering which MMO uses which combination of the above. And then there’s Huttball. Now, I’m sure there are some tendrils you can draw showing where the origins of Huttball are, but it’s still an extremely unique and fun PvP mode.

The long and short of it is that two teams face off with their standard combat loadouts. But rather than winning by capturing points, players fight over a ball in the center that they need to take back over the goal line. It’s chaotic, hectic, and a uniquely fun PvP experience.

And of course, SWTOR also has a passable conquest-style map.

Now, the crux of my issue with SWTOR’s PvP implementation is two-fold. First and foremost, Huttball is mixed into the same PvP queuing system as the normal conquest system. I understand from a low player population point of view that developers might think this is a good idea, but I just hate it. And I’m sure many other players hate it too. Rather than satisfying anyone, you’ve upset everyone.

I love my Huttball and I love my normal PvP, but I don’t love being tossed into a queue where I can’t control which game mode I’m actually going to be playing next. That’s insane. Split those queues up. If you need more warm bodies, then try something new with your game modes. Change the number of players on each team, change the length of each match, add extra rewards – do something to encourage play there. But don’t fall into the lazy design and simply throw them together in one bucket. It’s ridiculous.

The second big mistake SWTOR’s made with PvP is limiting the number of matches you can play per week. It’s ten. Ten matches per week. Let me repeat that for those who just experienced a real life spit take. Ten. Matches. Per. Week! Talk about absolute insanity. Has anyone at BioWare ever met a PvPer? Players queue matches back to back to back to back, hour after hour after hour!

The 10-match limit is just one of the annoying free-to-play limitations in SWTOR, as it turns out, but even then, that is totally crazy. PvP is only successful when you have, you know, players. Player vs. player. It’s right there in the name. Why in the world anyone would think limiting the primary resource for improving a game mode, I simply can’t fathom. I wish I had been in the meeting when someone made that decision: “No, no. We simply have too many people free-riding and playing our PvP mode. We absolutely must limit the number of players. That will make them want to sub up.” My head is going to explode just imagining it.

Now that the game’s released on Steam, BioWare, can you address this?

Space fight.

The overall health and state of PvP is difficult to judge

In spite of my generally good impression of the PvP, I found it difficult to really get a read on how strong the player population and the health of the game modes are. Earlier today, we covered the Steam launch and the influx of new and returning players on the platform, but that doesn’t mean the PvP population is enjoying the benefits of that. Some nights, my queues have seemed to pop right away. Other nights, it’s been stale. I often waited 10 or 15 minutes between queues.

One thing to note in addition to the above is that players have the option when they queue to choose whether they are fighting for the light or dark side. I assume this essentially complicates the PvP population further. Luckily players aren’t locked into one side or the other, so you’re free to switch it up. However, I didn’t see any indication on how many players were queued one side or the other. I’m sure there are players who are going to stick to one side, but I’m also sure I’m not alone in just wanting some good matches. If I were to see that the current population is skewed more toward the dark side and I can get my queue to pop sooner by queueing light side, you can be sure I would.

So that’s my refreshed take on SWTOR’s PvP. I really want to keep playing a bit more, but I’m not sold that it’s a good use of my time yet. I know there is some open world PvP and also the ranked matches, but I’d need to level up before I can play those modes more legitimately.

Did any of you join back in with the Steam launch? Did you sub back up or stick with the free-to-play route for now like me?

Every other week, Massively OP’s Sam Kash delivers Fight or Kite, our trip through the state of PvP across the MMORPG industry. Whether he’s sitting in a queue or rolling with the zerg, Sam’s all about the adrenaline rush of a good battle. Because when you boil it down, the whole reason we PvP (other than to pwn noobs) is to have fun fighting a new and unpredictable enemy!

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HalLundy
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HalLundy

A 10-match limit sounds about as counter intuitive as you can get. You enlarge queues for everyone, subs and free players alike.

Also I think it’s a bit unfair to pin the monetisation choices on Bioware, a subsidiary (read puppet company) of Electronic Arts. I doubt they have any say in these choices.

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EmberStar

I’ve commented on SWTOR before. I’ve commented on PVP before. I have nothing really new to add to either discussion… so I won’t. I’m just here to bump site traffic numbers, I guess.

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Sykes

As a free player, I believe you can bypass the 10 warzone limit if you either queue with a subscriber or pick up a pvp pass from either the cartel market or resold on the GTN for credits.

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Bruno Brito

They should just get rid of the limits. F2P players are warm bodies for PvP, it benefits everyone.

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NeoWolf

I’m not a PvP’ers in fact it has been recorded on MOP for many years how much I dislike it..but Huttball, now that I enjoyed :)

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Hikari Kenzaki

I mean sure, you could stumble around the UI because you’ve played this before and get lost.

Or you could push the giant button in the upper left corner that told you what to do next?

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Anstalt

Whats the actual gameplay of PvP like these days?

I played at launch for about a year and spent most of my time PvPing (the raids were too easy, so it only took 1 night per week to clear them all). Made it to rank 80ish.

I did enjoy some of the battlegrounds. Hutt Ball was great fun when running with a premade (or, better yet, getting lucky on the queues and having full guild run), the increased importance of positioning and movement really gave a new dimension to the PvP. The other modes were fun, but basically just boiled down to hitting on each other a lot.

PvP also offered one of the few opportunities where CC was useful. I seem to remember nearly every class having a good amount of CC, but you rarely needed it when soloing because it was easy, and you rarely needed it when in groups or raiding, because everything was immune. In PvP, it finally had a purpose, PvP was basically the only time you could experience what little depth the combat mechanics offered. I assume that this small amount of depth and the cc mechanics were the final remnants of Mythic making themselves known.

Don’t know if you remember, but early in its development, EA made a big thing about SWTOR being developed by both Bioware AND Mythic. There was a lot of noise about the game being excellent for both PvE (bioware) and PvP (mythic) and that both activities would be equally supported and represented at endgame. We know that things didn’t work out that way ofc.

Main downside to SWTOR used to be the vertical progression.

SWTOR used to be horrendously vertical. The power gaps were attrocious, making the PvE either too easy or too difficult depending on where u were in the power curve. It was extremely rare to find any content that was balanced.

In PvP, power gaps did what they always did: drive people away. At it’s worst, as an endgame-geared PvPer versus a fresh endgame PvPer, I could 2-shot my enemies. 2 seconds of combat, and the other person is dead. That wasn’t fun for anyone involved. So, as always happens, the PvP community dwindled rapidly to just a small group of enthusiasts, any new blood was driven away. Its a rare person willing to be smashed to bits for a few weeks in order to become competitive.

I also noticed that you didn’t mention Ilum in the article. Does “world” PvP still exist in SWTOR? Ilum never really worked at launch, not only were the rewards absent, but it became a slideshow at around 40-50 players, plus with the player cap of 75, it could never hit MMO numbers anyway (swtor is not an mmo).

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overbyte

Ilum is gone nowadays. The engine just wasn’t up to the task so they dropped it.

All gear is pvp gear nowadays and you can get a good tier of it at the end of the story content or with a few pvp matches. After that it slows down a bit but stories abound of people being able to get fully geared in a week so I assume it’s reasonably quick.

There are now 2 huttball maps and several fun objective based maps, a handful more than at launch, as well as a bunch of team death match maps which help the queues to keep popping.

Overall I found it a fun hobby but I’ve never spent hours a day doing it

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starbuck1771

There have been a lot of changes since that first year.

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Life_Isnt_Just_Dank_Memes

In the same boat as you. Last time I logged was 2013(created my forum account in Oct. of 2008?!).

I created a new character and played for 5 levels to kinda get my sea legs back so to speak. It helped a ton.

The thing that stood out to me most was how much I enjoyed it. I returned out of morbid curiosity and could not believe I was really digging the experience. I decided to return to a level 28 character I had instead of one of my level 50’s.

The lack of fast travel to points you’ve already been to(without the 6 minute timer thing)is something I can’t believe they already hadn’t implemented. Not being able to bypass the shuttle space stations on some planets was exasperating in 2020. For a game that has pretty aggressive monetization you think basic QoL stuff would just be in the game. There’s so much they have left to do in that regard.

I’ll play until I’m bored and they may get a sub out of me if I’m still enjoying myself when I get this character to 50. I’ve been shocked that I’ve been able to level up and enjoy my play as preferred which seems better than it was in 2013 when I came back after a year away but that was along time ago so I don’t quite remember.

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Malcolm Swoboda

To be honest I’ve never had a problem with travel beyond the initial zone design being rather barren, and my partner trying the game as F2P-now-early-Preferred has been okay with it too, even with the current travel cooldowns.

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Life_Isnt_Just_Dank_Memes

Yeah, a lot of people are fine with running back and forth for fetch quests because the speeder travel is like 30 seconds. Those to me are arbitrary time sinks from the days when all MMOs were subbed. I’m of the mind that you get rid of the cooldown and make everyone happy. Games that have fast travel>games that limit it.

People who want to RP that they need to use their own speeder probably do so anyways because the fast travel speeder ignores enemies and that breaks their immersion.

I’m of the mind that games that pay close attention to QOL stuff tend to care about their playerbases more.

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Malcolm Swoboda

It might be that they don’t want to mess with Legacy system code (that has unlocks for fast travel) too much. Just making up a possibility, I don’t really think it.

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Life_Isnt_Just_Dank_Memes

This is totally possible. It’s not a deal breaker at all for me. I actually can’t believe I’m enjoying myself as much as I am. It’s a really fun game and I’d forgotten how much I liked it back in the day. I’m sure all the little niggling issues and over-monetization will get on my nerves (hide helmet costs money?!) over time, but for now, it’s like finding a lost comfortable favorite sweater and putting it on for the first time in years.

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Malcolm Swoboda

Thankfully I have at least most (besides like, cargo space and stuff) account unlocks to Premium is just a comfortable Story Mode for me now. For my partner its trickier, but he seems willing to toss some $10s very occasionally if he sticks around, thus getting the coins for account unlocks. Just not a consistent sub nor anything like cosmetic lockbox nonsense.