Wednesday, 25 September 2013

SWTOR: A preliminary look into arenas

In about a week, the PvP update will be released and arenas will be added to the game. So I thought now would be the right time give you a look into what to expect (and totally not because I've been slacking with finishing this post of course! *cough*).

You all know my great sorrow after the news that 8vs8 ranked warzones are going to be removed from the game, but I'm a positive girl, so I tried to cheer myself up by investigating their replacement: 4vs4 arenas. So for the first time in my life, I copied my characters to the public test server (PTS) and tried some out. This is what I experienced:

Epic dramatic background music would've been appropriate. My apologies for the lack thereof.

Sorcs & sages in arenas

After I got stomped several times on healing sage Ravanel I swapped to healing sorcerer Fárah instead - she has way better PvP gear so that has to count for something, right? RIGHT?

To clarify, I'm talking about healing sorcs here, my main spec and the one I use in ranked. 

So what happened? Even on my properly geared sorc we got stomped and stomped. I recorded those matches on video and watched them back, but I couldn't see any significant mistakes I made. Sorc healers everywhere notice how they are now getting enough heals off in warzones and fail to keep the group alive.

Right now, healing sorcerers aren't viable in arenas against a group of similar skill with an operative healer. The same counts for mercenary healers.

Why? Because class balance issues present in 8vs8 warzones get exacerbated and become very significant in 4vs4 where pressure is high and the only objective is to kill the others. Remember:
1) Defensive cooldowns: these are non-existent apart from Force Barrier, which use doesn't allow you to do anything else (= rest of the team dies)
2) Spec shutdown: Interrupt Healing Trance/Innervate and there's only the slow Deliverance/Dark Infusion or the force insufficient Benevolence/Dark Heal left. Provided you get them off. The AoE heal Salvation/Revivivication is a hotspot that people need to fysicially stand in, making themselves vulnerable to smashers.
3) Force management: It's inevitable to run out of force after a while. With constant pressure on you, it's suicidal to use Noble Sacrifice/Consumption to get force back (it damages your health).

Wait, doesn't this list sound somewhat familiar?

So, what happens to Heal 2 Full, line of sight and let them pay for trying to kill you? Well, I guess you can heal to full if you're line of sighting and healing yourself. However, the rest of the team will die in the meanwhile.

Operatives do have defensive cooldowns (Dodge and Shield Probe) and they can keep on healing when they are up. If they would need to line of sight, they can have HoTs on the rest of their team that will still heal them.

A glance into the crystal ball

Now all of this is of course officially 'subject to change'. However, I think the three recent dev answers to exactly the sorc problems mentioned here aren't exactly a source of great hope (they basically told us to live with these problems and learn to play). We can expect no class updates within the coming months.

What what are my options?
  • Keep playing healing sorc: you probably can get away with this in regular warzones when playing against a team with less experience, however it won't be viable in ranked.
  • Switch to DPS sorc: even though these are squishy as well, they can still deal okay damage. I'll never be as good on a DPS class as I am on healer, though.
  • Roll an operative: this is basically what every ranked healing sorc on my server is doing. I'll need to level Yuniper up all the way from level 18 onwards, and I'm not sure if I like operative heals as much as sorc.
  • Play a DPS class: the highest one I'm not utterly crap at is a sniper, but she's level 20 or so still. I doubt I'll be able to play her on ranked quality though.

So what does the ball predict?

First, the servers will be overflown with scoundrel/operative healers, since the other healing classes are way behind. Guardian/juggernauts are also preferable to shadows/assassins in arenas, so we might see a bit more of them as well.

As free-to-play players will get unlimited access to warzones, we'll find a higher amount of casual players in our warzones who are unfamiliar with the mechanics. Arenas will be mixed with the other warzones - there will be no option to pick whether you want to play them or not when you queue. This might encourage people to play deathmatch in other warzones as well (as opposed to following objectives).

The 'base group' for an arena will consist of:
  • guardian/juggernaut tank
  • scoundrel/operative healer 
  • 2x DPS class

However, players on the PTS have already been experimenting with other group compositions that might be fun to try out.

Alternative group compositions

"Super Dong Cleave"

Source: (AioriBFZ' twitch stream)

To the left a regular team (voice chat is theirs), to the right the "Super Dong Cleave" team.

This setup revolves around having 3 or 4 DPS vanguards/powertechs spamming loads of AoE damage. Will work until groups learn to position themselves so that they are never grouped up (although they will be pulled into the AoE now and then).

Madness sorcs

Source: (mudclot's twitch stream, start from 3:40)

This group stacks Madness sorcs, heavily depending on DoTs. Without healing sorcs in the opposite team (as a result of the aforementioned) or due to the sheer number of DoTs players are getting attached to themselves, damage output is pretty crazy.


Knowing that I won't be able to play my favorite class in ranked greatly diminishes my initial curiosity/careful enthusiasm for arenas. In addition, I don't think arenas are 'for me'. For as far as you're able to make any objective opinion after getting stomped over and over, I thought the lack of objectives and constant killing made the gameplay plainly boring. The experience strangely enough reminded me a bit of shooter games, which I really don't enjoy playing. 

Winning or losing a warzone will depend strongly on what class composition you have and are up against. From what people have tried out on the PTS, either the basic team or stacking classes is a win. There's a fat chance people will want to play it safe by taking the jugg x op x DPS composition. I think this is a shame, as I believe class diversity is something that makes warzones more fun. Everyone playing the same classes is just (excuse me for saying it again) boring.

That said, we can't be sure how big the influence of arenas will be since there are still the old warzones mixed in the regular warzone queue. Also, regular warzones will be less affected than ranked ones. I do look forward to trying Dong Cleave for giggles with my vanguard, and I just hope I'll discover the (hopefully existing) charm of arenas when the time is there.

With many thanks to Tiger for keeping me up to date with all the arena streams posted.


  1. You are a braver woman than I. I winced in sympathy when those smashers jumped on you, don't I know that feeling too well...

    That "super dong cleave" looked quite funny. Though I think the best part was watching the video from the other group's point of view and listen to them rage about how dare an unusual combo defeat their cookie cutter team... :P

    1. There's not really anything brave about it... it's not as I had any choice! I kept looking for the 'run-away-screaming' button, but it seems Bioware has failed to deliver one, alas.

      I had to laugh at the commentary too, although then I realized that this is probably what is going on in our minds too when faced with a group that will just win by classes. Whether you win or loose might just almost exclusively depend on what group setup you end up playing against.


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