14/06/2018

Back In My Day: PvP Warzones

"Back In My Day" is an irregular series in which I talk about how certain aspects of Star Wars: The Old Republic have changed over the years. And boy, has it been a while since I last wrote one of these!

I originally started drafting this post after the Yavin Ruins warzone was released, which got me thinking about how far we've come in terms of available variety of content in PvP. With the big "Summer of PvP (changes)" coming up, I thought it was about time that I actually finished this post. Note that I won't cover all aspects of PvP here - I have limited knowledge of and no particular interest in talking about things like class balance and world PvP, so I'll be limiting myself solely to the subject of warzones.


Apparently I never took a screenshot of my main hitting Battlemaster rank, so here's my first alt hitting it instead.

Available modes and maps

At launch, we only had three different warzones: Alderaan Civil War, the Voidstar and Huttball. The latter actually received quite a bit of attention from critics and was frequently praised for being an innovative and unique type of instanced PvP in the MMO world (at the time). Among the player base it tended to be polarising: On one side there were those declaring it the best thing in the entire game, on the other those who would instantly quit any warzone as soon as they realised it was Huttball. I've had several of the latter type in my guild over the years, though more recently the Odessen Proving Grounds seem to have replaced Huttball as most passionately hated game mode.

Another quirk of Huttball was that, at the time, it was the only mode that would pit teams of the same faction against each other. On servers with a very imbalanced PvP population, this meant that the larger faction would spend a disproportionate amount of time just playing Huttball against itself, which gave people another reason to dislike it.

The following maps and game modes were then introduced to the game over time:

Novare Coast - added in patch 1.2 (April 2012)
Ancient Hypergates - added in patch 1.6 (December 2012)
Arenas (Corellia Square, Orbital Station & Tatooine Canyon) - added in patch 2.4 (October 2013)
Makeb Mesa Arena - added in patch 2.5 (December 2013)
Quesh Huttball - added in patch 2.7 (April 2014)
Odessen Proving Grounds & Rishi Cove Arena - added in patch 4.3 (April 2016)
Yavin Ruins - added in patch 5.6.1 (December 2017)

As you can see, the first additions came quickly and then still more were added at a decent pace for a while, with the biggest gap being the two years between Quesh Huttball and the Proving Grounds.


Ch-ch-ch-changes

Apart from releasing new warzones, Bioware has actually made only a remarkably small amount of major changes to the way existing warzones function (I'm not counting bug fixes, map adjustments to counter exploits and the like).

When Novare Coast was added to the game in 1.2, the idea of same-faction "training exercises" was first introduced. Before then - as mentioned above - Huttball had been the only option the game gave you to play if there weren't enough players from the other faction in the queue to form an opposing team. Alderaan Civil War and Voidstar were modified to support same-faction play two months later, in patch 1.3. Mixed-faction play wasn't introduced until the Odessen Proving Grounds were added to the game, and until the release of the Yavin Ruins it was also the only map that offered this option.

1.3 was also the first time Bioware changed the layout of a warzone, by cluttering up the first room in Voidstar to make it harder to switch from one side to the other. All that junk in the middle wasn't always there! Their reasoning for this change was that too many matches seemed to end with nobody breaching the first door, which was rather boring. Ever since then, your best chance to hold off the enemy has been the second set of doors (after the bridge), where the way from one door to the other is shortest. It's interesting that Bioware's reasoning for many of the upcoming changes to Voidstar has been pretty much the same they gave back then: that there are still too many stalemates in this warzone. The more things change...

2.3 saw a big change to Alderaan Civil War, where until then you had been able to take a speeder from your ship directly to one of the side turrets if you owned it. This made the side turrets quite easy to defend by sheer zerging, and Bioware eventually decided that they didn't like it. They had already previously tried to rein this in by giving the side speeders an activation time in patch 1.1.5, but that hadn't been quite enough.

Another change that I consider major and that came in the aforementioned patch 1.1.5 was that capping an objective would no longer be interrupted by damage-over-time effects. In late Shadow of Revan Bioware also tested the option of making caps unaffected by AoE damage on the PTS, but this was fortunately never implemented into the live game as general feedback was that it was very much not fun. They did however make "fire and forget" AoE like a Sniper's Plasma Probe unable to break caps eventually (in patch 5.3).

Going back to damage-over-time abilities though, do you remember that they used to be cleansable? It wasn't until 3.0 that the ability to remove enemy DoTs in PvP was taken out of the game. As a healer I remember being somewhat annoyed by this at the time, but then again my Commando main had always been powerless when it came to the countless Force-based DoTs anyway, so it didn't end up making that much of a difference to me personally in the end.


Bolster & Brackets

Our beloved Bolster has been in game since launch, though it went through a lot of tweaks over the years. One thing that's interesting to consider is that at launch Bioware was so confident in Bolster that all levels of characters were thrown into warzones together. However, people soon complained about the unfairness of fully geared max-level players smashing everyone else, so that level 50s (max level at the time) were split off into their own bracket as early as patch 1.1.

When the level cap was raised to 55 in 2.0, the levelling bracket was split again, into 10-29 and 30-54, which is how things have remained ever since, though the separation line has moved slightly upwards as the level cap increased yet again (currently the brackets are 10-40 and 41-69).

The 2.0 patch was also when Bolster first took gear rating at max level into consideration. Before then it had only applied to levelling characters, and once you hit the level cap it disappeared, which meant that characters who had only just arrived at the level cap were faced with a nasty surprise when they entered their next warzone, as they were suddenly much weaker than they had been in the levelling bracket. Bioware had initially tried to counter this by handing out cheap (and later even completely free) starter PvP gear, but eventually figured that it was more straightforward to just bake the effect into people's stats (as in, make it part of Bolster) as soon as they entered the warzone. I remember that they got this hilariously wrong at launch though, resulting in characters being at their most powerful if they wore no armour at all - as I noted in my Rise of the Hutt Cartel launch post while being mauled by Imperials in their undies.

Ranked

Ranked 8-man warzones were first introduced in patch 1.3 in June 2012 and were live for a little over a year until August 2013. Considering the brevity of their lifespan, it's quite astounding that there are still people campaigning for them to make a comeback nearly five years later. However, fact is that they were only played by a tiny, tiny minority of players (which Eric Musco has confirmed multiple times by now), which meant they weren't really viable in the long run. My own experiences with them were limited to not being hugely excited the first time I participated, being impressed by the community efforts displayed by those who cared about the system, then finally watching all the dedicated PvP guilds transfer off the server to chase the dream of some kind of ranked nirvana on the then-PvP server Tomb of Freedon Nadd, until the whole system finally collapsed.

Ultimately 8-man ranked warzones were replaced by 4-man ranked arenas, which have also had their ups and downs, including issues with cheaters and win-traders, but since they are still in the game nearly five years later I guess they must have worked out OK. I can't really comment on what's been going on with them otherwise, as I haven't actually set foot in one of them myself since the very first ranked arena season, unless you count the one time I accidentally ended up in a team ranked match with some guildies after the guy who queued us pressed the wrong button (we had meant to queue for normal warzones).


Gear

Finally, it's worth making a brief mention of gear. Without going into too much detail, PvP gearing didn't go through too many major changes before the introduction of Galactic Command, which eliminated all distinctions between PvE and PvP gear. Before that, PvP gear had been defined by its expertise stat, which increased your output and decreased your damage taken in PvP only. (I've actually had a long-time player claim that expertise wasn't in game at SWTOR's launch and was introduced later, but I haven't been able to verify that. It was certainly around by the time I started PvPing, though admittedly that wasn't on day one.)

You've also been able to buy gear with earned commendations since as far back as I can remember. Initially the best gear however could only be obtained from the infamous Battlemaster bags, which awarded gear tokens at random. Later the various PvP commendations that the game launched with were all rolled into warzone commendations, and the better gear could be bought with special ranked warzone commendations. However, since you could also directly trade the former for the latter at a ratio of 3:1, people were able to avoid ranked while still gaining the best rewards by simply doing three times as much regular PvP. Bioware later tacitly supported this by getting rid of ranked comms altogether and just making the better gear more expensive. Nowadays all ranked rewards are purely cosmetic (titles, mounts etc.).

Aside from old gear sets being retired, new sets being introduced and various price tweaks, that's pretty much how things functioned for several years... until Knights of the Eternal Throne got rid of the expertise stat and of PvP gear as something distinct from PvE gear and introduced Galactic Command. However, since then there have been mutterings about maybe reintroducing expertise... so who knows what the future will bring?

As an aside, while I was searching my Google folder for the blog to see if I had uploaded the screenshots used in this post before, I noticed that it kept showing me search results whose file name had nothing to do with the search result (e.g. "Battlemaster"). Then I noticed that it had shown me those pictures because there were people with the Battlemaster title displayed shown in the pictures. Your AI is freaking me out, Google.

4 comments :

  1. I forgot about the infamous Battlemaster bags! Great throwback post :)

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    1. Thanks! While doing the research for this I was reminded that there were champion bags as well, only those always contained commendations on top of having a chance of dropping a token, so you could eventually grind your way to enough commendations to buy the full set even if you were unlucky with token drops. Eerily familiar! :P

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  2. Ranked 8v8 was never really supported by Bioware. The entire time it was in game it was in pre-season. Also shortly after the EU PVP community consolidated on a single server by spending real money, Bioware without much warning removed 8v8 ranked from the game and introduced arenas. That move killed several PVP guilds and one could argue it led to the killing of that server as well.

    As for people who want it back they're thinking of the few good times and what it might have been and not the reality of what it would be. For me the highlight of 8v8 was watching the best EU and NA teams duke it out on the PTS.

    It's going to be interesting how the PVP stronghold works out because if it's implemented well then the community might be able to bring back a version of 8v8 ranked.

    On a lighter note my sentinel still wears the old Centurion PVP armour. He got it mostly from doing the daily PVP quests on Ilum. Daily tours of the central section of the pvp area clicking on shinys.

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  3. Okay, the expression that Elite Warlord Shintar O'sirisen has on her face made me chuckle. Someone is way too happy with that cannon she's holding.....

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