It’s been a few weeks since I last posted, as I’ve been busy with corporate work and leveling up my Gunslinger to 50.
I just played my 83rd warzone at level 50 on my Gunslinger, and I wanted to share my blunt thoughts on the state of SWTOR PVP at endgame, from the perspective of a new character.
Let me open by framing my preparation for making my Gunslinger as effective as he could be as a fresh 50 character. Prior to dinging level 50, I did the following:
- Reached the limits of 3500 RWZ (Ranked Warzone) commendations and 2000 WZ commendations, so that I could immediately purchase the War Hero mainhand blaster weapon at endgame
- Saved up the credits to purchase a full set of Recruit gear (aside from the War Hero mainhand weapon)
- Stockpiled Warzone Adrenals, so that I would not need to spend WZ commendations on them
- Leveled Biochem to 400 and crafted the reusable Rakata Medpac, so that I would not need to spend WZ commendations on Warzone Medpacs
I am probably in the very small minority of the population who undertook steps 1-3 above (especially step #1). So keep in mind that my experience was probably better than people who were not as prepared.
As I wrote over a month ago, Patch 1.2 had a very negative effect on the quality of PVP.
Some of the issues were addressed by BioWare:
- Prices of warzone consumables was reset back to what they were pre-1.2
- Rewards were improved for the losing side of a warzone match
- Recently BioWare also changed the PVP daily quest to be based on warzone participation not wins, which was another positive change because it discouraged quitting mid-match
That being said, I was expecting 50 PVP with a new character to be a fairly rough experience. And it’s even worse than I expected.
Issue #1: PVP gear scales too much across tiers
Before stepping into a 50 warzone, I acquired the War Hero mainhand weapon and 13 pieces of Recruit gear. With the Trooper 5% HP buff, that put me at ~13.4k HP, but with a Recruit weapon that would have been ~13k HP.
The issue is that the Recruit gear doesn’t provide a sufficient amount of stats to enable a fresh 50 to be competitive with players decked out in some or mostly War Hero gear, because the latter have:
- ~17k+ HP, or even 18k HP with augmented gear for non tanks. A 17k HP player has 30% more HP than a Recruit-geared player
- Higher stats in every category: more Expertise (which affects damage done, damage taken, and healing), higher primary stats, and higher secondary stats. So they hit (or heal) harder, crit more often, have higher crit bonus damage, avoid more attacks, and have their attacks avoided less often
On top of the gear scaling, a compounding issue with SWTOR’s PVP itemization is that the type of stats on a given slot changes between tiers. The Gunslinger Force Tech’s Battlemaster gear is woefully under-budgeted for Surge, whereas the War Hero versions of Force Tech have a lot of Surge. Surge equals burst, and as the old adage goes, burst damage kills but steady damage is easily healed through. My understanding is that the lack of Surge on BM gear is not isolated to my class.
This makes gear a primary determining factor in PVP performance, just as it was back in Vanilla WoW. This was the exact same problem with RIFT last year, where the gap between Rank 2 gear and Rank 4, and R4 and R6, and R6 and R8 actually increased the higher rank you reached. It created a faceroll advantage for R8 players in RIFT Patch 1.4 – even after Valor (the PVP stat) was normalized.
Unfortunately, BioWare has repeated RIFT’s mistake of having PVP gear scale too much across tiers.
It took months of iteration for Trion to sort out the gear scaling. As you may recall, RIFT went through the following progression:
- Having ranks of gear with increasing overall stats (those related to HP / damage / healing) and an increasing PVP stat (called “Valor”, which provided mitigation only), to
- Having ranks of gear with increasing overall stats but with the PVP stat normalized across all gear tiers (e.g. the Valor normalization that I was a huge proponent of), to
- Having gear scale much more gradually, with more ranks than 8
Let me state that even the 2nd bullet point above was insufficient: R8 still had a faceroll advantage over R2. And such is the case when comparing WH-geared players to Recruit-geared players.
Is having gear such a big factor in PVP outcomes healthy for a game? My strong belief is no.
It’s a deterrent for new players to try PVP at endgame and enjoy it because they’ll get their ass kicked repeatedly until they can gear up (hundreds of warzones), and it’s a hurdle for existing players to gear up alts at endgame. This is not to say people won’t do it – the most hardcore PVP guilds on my server are full of FOTM re-rollers (notably Sentinel/Marauder, Shadow/Assassin 31-pt tank, and for healing Scoundrel/Operative).
Issue #2: Class Compositions Influence Outcomes
As I stated consistently before Patch 1.2, SWTOR had the best class balance of any MMORPG on the market.
This was not to say it was perfect – pre-1.2 Watchman Sentinel/Annihilation Marauders, Shadow/Assassin 31-pt tanks, and Assault Spec Vanguards/Pyrotech Powertechs were overpowered, and Scoundrel/Operative healers were underpowered.
I loved PVP in SWTOR pre-1.2 in both the 10-49 and 50 brackets. Raved about it consistently here and elsewhere. Why? Pre-1.2, we could run comps with a wide variety of classes/specs and do well in warzones. What mattered the most were the players behind the keyboard. That’s the way it should be.
But after 1.2, that is no longer the case – the class balance gaps are too significant to ignore from a mechanics standpoint. With the sweeping changes to classes in 1.2, PVP outcomes are now heavily influenced by which classes your group contains. The same healer playing a Sage/Sorc versus Operative/Scoundrel will heal much more effectively with the latter. I know this from talking to multiple players who re-rolled and from killing them.
The parallel between RIFT and SWTOR in terms of the progression of class balance is striking. RIFT was trending in the right direction in terms of class balance from 1.0->1.4, and then 1.5 and 1.6 went in the wrong direction. SWTOR PVP in terms of class balance was trending in the right direction from 1.0->1.1.5, but then 1.2 launched :(
Issue #3: The Grind
If there is one word I would use to describe the experience of playing Patch 1.2, it’s “grindy”.
With respect to PVP, to be competitive you not only need to grind many hundreds of warzones to get a full set of War Hero gear, but you also need to acquire augmented crafted War Hero gear, which requires purchasing crit-crafted gear and then paying to yank out the mods from the vendor War Hero gear so that you can insert them into the augmented gear. You also need to purchase augments, which as acknowledged by James Ohlen typically run for 75k+ credits each on the AH, roughly the same pricing I’ve seen on Ajunta Pall.
To give a concrete example of the grind, buying a WH mainhand weapon costs ~3.5k RWZ comms plus ~1.5k WZ comms, which equals 12k WZ comms ((3.5k x 3) + 1.5k). Assuming you earn 100 WZ comms per match, that’s 120 warzones to fill one of your weapon slots. Or 240 warzones to fill both weapon slots. Filling in the other 12 slots costs tens of thousands of additional WZ comms, which again is hundreds of more warzones.
Granted, WH gear should be easier to earn once the Ranked Warzones system goes live, but we haven’t received a date for that yet, so it is what it is until then.
Some people claim that pre-1.2 was more grindy, but let me make a correction: for a long time, pre-1.2 PVP gearing was RNG-based, not grind-based because you were limited by your dailies, until they added a change where you could acquire BM bags with commendations.
My server, Ajunta Pall, has been consistently top 10 in terms of active population according to torstatus.net since January. In recent weeks, we’ve gone from having a critical mass of players – typically 100-170 on the Republic Fleet during primetime – to 50 or less. The result has been increasingly long queue times – for much of the weekend I was waiting for 10+ minutes per pop.
SWTOR is losing players, and it’s not simply because other games have launched. As BioWare has previously stated, PVP has been (unexpectedly) very popular ever since launch. But the majority of players I’ve talked to agree that the quality of the PVP has tanked with 1.2.
There are some players who believe that the Ranked Warzone system is the silver bullet for keeping PVP players engaged. While it is a much-desired piece of content, the issues with SWTOR PVP are more fundamental: the emphasis on gear and increasing class imbalance need to be looked at. SWTOR 10-49 PVP is still very entertaining, but there needs to be sticky PVP content at endgame to retain players.