Star Wars: The Old Republic PvP Previews

An embargo on Star Wars: The Old Republic's PvP combat was clearly lifted earlier today, as several new previews covering the player vs. player mechanics have erupted online.

I had the opportunity to play a few rounds on the Alderaan Civil War map. The map is a massive snowy valley, with spacecraft floating above either side. These craft serve as the spawn locations for the two opposing teams. In the center of the map, in a line that runs parallel to the craft, sit three giant, grey turrets. The objective for both teams is to capture and maintain control of the turrets. When you control a turret, it rotates to face your opponent's craft and starts shooting lasers at it, chipping away at its shields. When you don't, it's your craft that's being attacked.

It's a very fancy setup for the map that gives you immediate context for the battle. There's no back-story necessary, and you don't have to close your eyes and imagine what the consequences of failure to beat the other team might be. You get to see it happening right in front of you.

We played with characters that had been preloaded by the developers with skill trees that had already been preset. The character we ended up with was a mid-20s-level sentinel-specialized Jedi knight who was focused almost entirely on offense, with extremely limited ability to control the battlefield and no real defensive options beyond The Old Republic's new PVP concept of "resolve." The PVE game has many powerful character abilities that can subdue enemies by electrically stunning them, pelting them with gravel, or using a ton of other methods, but enabling all these abilities to have their full effect in PVP would make for a frustrating experience, since organized players could presumably lock down an enemy character with debilitating effects for far too long. This is why the game will have a PVP-only skill called "resolve," which works for any profession and can be triggered after a character has been zapped by enough negative effects to fill up a special onscreen resolve meter. When characters use their resolve ability, they can immediately break free of any negative effects that are currently limiting their mobility, which can mean the difference between life and death in some cases, but this powerful ability also has a lengthy "cooldown" timer, so it can't be quickly reused.

Aside from resolve, our Jedi sentinel came specialized with tons of offensive abilities, several of which require points of "focus"--a character-specific value that gets built up in combat only after performing certain basic attacks. What follows is a list of our character's equipped attack abilities (we were informed that the characters created for the press event possessed even more skills that had not been loaded into the game's hotkey banks). The Jedi knight's basic attack, strike, is a simple lightsaber swing that builds up two focus points. The zealous strike ability is a two-hit lightsaber attack that builds up three focus points. Master strike is a powerful melee attack that hits three times but costs five focus points. Overhead slash is a triple lightsaber attack that costs seven focus points to perform and carries a chance to briefly stun its target, but it has an extremely long cooldown timer. Cauterize is a lightsaber attack that costs three focus points and briefly causes damage over time to its target. Crippling slash is a lightsaber melee attack that costs two focus attacks and has a chance of slowing its target--but it also has a long cooldown timer. Blade storm is effectively a Force push attack that costs four focus points and, if successful, both deals damage and sends its target flying. Force sweep is a lightsaber melee attack that costs five focus points and potentially knocks its target off its feet. Force leap is basically the Force jump attack from Knights of the Old Republic and can be used to quickly close the distance with an enemy who isn't too far, and isn't too close, by leaping into battle with a strong melee attack. Force stasis is a brief stun ability with a very long cooldown timer.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun:
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.

Today's pitched squabble between Sith and Alliance takes place on Alderaan and in the shadow of three huge defensive turrets, control of which serve as capture points for the war's length. Big though the trio are, they're dwarfed by the outlying spaceships which hover over the land, which serve as base and objective both. The setup is simple enough; gain control of the turrets to fire on the opposing side's craft until its blown out of the sky. Lengthy energy bars on each mean its whoever holds the majority ground the longest will ultimately win.

When the match starts, or when you snuff it, it'll be in the landing bays of these titans that you'll begin. The battlefield is only a speeder bike ride away, with the automated flight soaring you around the structures below to give you a panoramic view of the landscape. It's what you'd expect from the game and setup, wide open areas dotted through with cover, and whose structures lack in any great detail, the bland blues only giving way to eye-catching beauty come the curved cannons of each turret. Still, aside from the automated commute your eyes will unlikely ascend heavenward, and instead be stuck on whatever danger is being cast by the enemy at any given moment.

As of right now, only two so-called warzones have been shown off. Alderaan is one, an example of a civil war raging on the planet, and the other is the Voidstar. The Voidstar is a lost vessel with some powerful ancient technology, so teams fight to control that tech. Battles, at the moment, are capped to 8v8, and a matchmaking system works hard to match players of comparable skills and abilities. Dual speccing (i.e., having a load-out for PvE and PvP separately) will not come with the launch of the game, unfortunately.

Other issues have popped up. Right now, companions are not allowed into the PvP warzones, and the level restriction to enter one is somewhere between level 10 and 20. BioWare is working to allow players to use legalized mods within the framework of The Old Republic; Macros is also being worked on for the game.

While taunt mechanics rarely come into effect in MMO PVP environments, players will be be able to use a revised form in battle. Rather than forcing a target to attack the taunter, the system will instead effectively debuff the enemy, increasing their damage taken for example, or reducing their defences.

The diminishing returns effect, critical to all player-versus-player combat, is now visible to players rather than being an unknowable, hidden percentage to be feared. As you suffer crowd-control effects your Resolve bar fills; once full, the player is immune until it recedes.

And G4:
Most PvP-enabled games have some depth when it comes to post-battle stats and The Old Republic results screen will show its share of statistical and points breakdowns. There's the obligatory damage dealt/received stats, but there's also a score tally for completing objectives, which will encourage many players to stay focused on the tasks at hand.

This scoreboard screen also showed the numerous ways players can earn awards and bonuses. Basic rewards come in the form of credit and XP, which are handed out at the end of the map, so quitters won't be able to benefit. Tokens are also awarded based on performance. This form of currency is exclusive to PvP and can be used to buy new PvP equipment to give your character a distinctive look, perhaps to intimidate enemies on the battlefield. To encourage teamwork and bonding, a player can give an award (one per match) to another player based on their commitment to teamwork. Then there are the Badges, which are essentially mini achievements: six for the Damage Dealer, six for the Healer, six for the Tank, and six extra Badges for fulfilling teamwork-based goals.