The first thing that struck me was the mixed-faction nature of the warzone. I had read about it of course and it does make sense from a lore point of view (I do love that SWTOR even wants its warzones to tell a coherent story), but it still felt weird as hell to be grouped with Powertechs and Sorcs. It may sound weird, but it honestly left me feeling a bit confused. Unlike in other warzones, I never once managed to get a real sense of who was on my team in the Proving Grounds, because spell effects from both factions were just flying all over the place and I couldn't tell what was what other than from the fact that some names were green and some were red. It felt very counter-intuitive and seemed to reaffirm my initial dislike of the faction-mixing system. Where was the benefit to gameplay? You can already play same-faction matches if the two sides have unbalanced populations, surely mixing it up just that little bit more won't make enough of a difference to be significant?
Well, there was actually one gameplay advantage to the mixed factions that I did discover: better skill balance. I've complained time and again on this blog that, on average, the Empire wins so much more on TRE than the Republic. Well, guess what? When both teams have a mix of both factions on them, that skill imbalance is gone. It may very well have been a coincidence, but at least Tuesday and Wednesday night I experienced an almost perfectly balanced win-loss-ratio. How odd.
But anyway, on to the warzone itself. My first impression was that, somewhat to my surprise, it seemed somewhat less confusing than I expected it to be. Admittedly I had read a guide, but even so... while there's complexity, the objectives struck me as a lot more straightforward than for example those in Ancient Hypergates. I figured out battle mods pretty quickly and ended up having a lot of fun using them to my team's advantage, particularly the green one that lets you slice an inactive control point. The only one I didn't like getting was the red one to deactivate a currently active control point, because while I did successfully apply it to an enemy node once or twice, most of the time it just seemed to make you a target for a focused nuke from the enemy team. The only painful thing about the control point and battle mod mechanics is that this is the first time that someone not knowing the rules of the warzone can actively harm their own team. Sure, you can be a doofus in Huttball and run the ball onto your own line, but you won't score that way. Compare that to the humility of people deactivating their own team's control points in the Proving Grounds or even applying a boost to an enemy-controlled node... oy vey.
Not me of course. I'd read the guide!
If nothing else, Bioware definitely succeeded in introducing a game mode that feels very different from any of the others already in the game. The map is extremely closed off compared to any of the other warzones, with lots of tunnels to disappear into and very limited opportunities to see what your enemies are up to unless you're piled right on top of them. Combined with the fact that kills do not add to the score in any way and that the fast-paced nature of the rounds makes it so that overwhelming a control point only pays off if you can do so quickly enough, this leads to a situation where I would say that actual combat is almost discouraged. Whether at an objective or not, if an enemy takes too long to kill, it's pretty much always a waste of time. I often ended up making the best contribution to my team if I just ran around between control points, applying battle mods and ignoring everything else. It's different, but slightly odd!
While this may not sound like the most ringing endorsement, I definitely enjoyed my first look at the Alliance Proving Grounds. It helps that for once it made me feel like I'd landed somewhere where my class and role were a very tangible advantage. While not as OP as Sorcs with their knockback that also roots, I did have my own knockback, limited knockback-immunity of my own with Hold The Line, and seeing how I just mentioned that refusing to die quickly wastes the enemy's time, being a healer was excellent, even when I was running around on my own and eventually headed towards (slow) doom.
Have you had a chance to look at the new warzone yet? If so, what did you think?