Combat Styles
Star Wars The Old Republic

Why I’m excited about Combat Styles

Most of you are probably wondering why on earth am I excited about Combat Styles? I understand the apprehension from the player base though. Change can be pretty scary, after all, especially for a game that’s been bogged down by the same archaic combat system for nearly 10 years.

I can honestly say that for the first time since the Legacy of the Sith expansion announcement stream, I am actually a little hyped about the expansion. If you saw my tweets during the announcement stream, you’ll know I wasn’t very happy about it at all. Jackie’s recent in-depth post about the feedback they’ve been getting from the PTS, clarifying their philosophy behind some of the potential incoming changes, has given me hope for this expansion.

Today, I’m going to break down Jackie’s aforementioned post and give my thoughts about the changes discussed. But first, I’m going to give you a very basic overview of how Combat Styles currently works (obviously subject to change).


Combat Styles 101

What is Combat Styles? Basically, it’s an overhaul of Star Wars The Old Republic’s combat system as we have known it since its launch in 2011. What does that mean exactly?

  • How we get abilities and passives is going to change
  • The number of abilities we’ll have on our hotbars will be reduced
  • We’ll have to pick and choose abilties now

To make things easier, we’re also getting a Loadout system to make it easy to save and switch between different ability Loadouts.

The goal of Combat Styles is to streamline our ability sets to enable more player choice while maintaining each classes unique identity. They want players to make meaningful ability choices for combat that match their situational needs. You can read more about how Combat Styles will work in some of the initial Developer Tracker Posts about the PTS for 7.0. Currently on the Jedi Guardian Disciplines are available for testing.

Remember, this is all subject to change!


Breakdown

Hi everyone,

Following up on the post I made a couple of days ago. We wanted to bring clarity to some of the feedback we’ve been reading. First, we would like to share our philosophy on reducing the number of defensive cooldowns available.

Over several years and updates, more and more defensive cooldowns and abilities have been added to the game. Often times this was for class balance purposes, to allow some classes to keep up with others in terms of their defensive kit. Additionally, this was done without adjusting things like Operation boss mechanics which were designed around the class kits available at the time: mainly less defensive cooldowns. The sheer quantity of defensive cooldowns in the game today makes things more difficult to balance for both PvE and PvP. It has made some PvE mechanics completely avoidable and made the time-to-kill metric in PvP grow steadily to the point where we are approaching tedious levels.

In 7.0, we want to reduce the number of defensive skills overall, across all classes, making for a more balanced and enjoyable experience in both PvE and PvP content, while at the same time making the defensives that remain more impactful and fun.

One of the complaints from players on the PTS was about the lack of defensives in the preset builds. It turns out it is deliberate. As far as the developers are concerned, there is defensive ability bloat. Class balance has proven increasingly difficult for them to manage as more defensive abilities have been added to the game over the years. Especially for PvP. Older Operation encounters have also become increasingly easier with the added defensives. Excessive defensives allow players to ‘cheese’ or skip mechanics making the content easier than intended.

As a PvPer and a Mercenary/Commando Healer main, I have no issues with them reducing the number of cooldowns in my arsenal, as long as all other classes get equal treatment. I hope they take into consideration the cooldown times on defensives with this change. Perhaps they will reduce the cooldown timers to make up for the reduced number of defensives on our hotbars?

Either way, I’m glad they are addressing this issue for both PvE and PvP.

What does this look like in both modes?

– In PvP, our intent is balanced, more dynamic player encounters that move away from rotating defensive cooldowns and move more towards utilizing a broader set of skills in each class’s kit.
– In PvE, our intent is to take into account these changes and adjust NPC encounters as needed to compensate.

This section deals with players concerns about their ability to clear PvE content. As they hinted at in the announcement live stream, they will be adjusting PvE encounters and bolster. Now we know one of the key reasons why; to take into account the reduced number of cooldowns. This also undoubtedly means that the new Operation coming out with 7.0 will be balanced around reduced cooldowns.

Their PvP philosophy sounds interesting. But for combat to truly become more dynamic, they really need to overhaul Resolve. The biggest hindrance to improving PvP is the lack of tools to deal with the frustrating amount of slows, snares, stuns and crowd control. With the way they are likely going with combining abilities, a reduced ability load will not likely help all that much with this problem. More on Resolve is discussed further on.

Getting a bit more specific, we also intend to give upgraded versions of abilities when being presented as a choice. Here’s one example using Blade Blitz from the current PTS:

Blade Blitz in the Live game:

– 45-second cooldown
– Quickly rush forward 20 meters, dealing weapon damage to enemies in your path and increasing your defense chance by 100% while blitzing. Cannot be used while immobilized or hindered.

Blade Blitz on PTS:

– 35-second cooldown
– Quickly rush forward 20 meters, dealing weapon damage to enemies in your path and increasing your defense chance by 100% while blitzing. Can be used while immobilized and purges movement-impairing effects when activated.

Instead of spending utility points to upgrade abilities, as in the current system, you will be presented with an already upgraded version of several abilities to choose between leading to more interesting decision making, customization, and greater choice for your kit.

Interesting! They are getting rid of Utilities completely and integrating them into Combat Styles in various ways. Keep in mind, we’ll be getting an ability Loadout system too so it’ll be easy to save and switch between various loadout’s and abilities (hopefully).

In addition to defensive cooldowns, we want to streamline other abilities where it makes sense. For example, instead of dedicating an entirely separate ability and button press to a particular effect, we want to merge or combine them with others in an intuitive way. We can see this in action on the PTS with Freezing Force:

– Freezing Force is removed from Guardians on the PTS, but a modification to Blade Storm via the new ability choice tree upgrades Blade Storm into an AoE that also slows. This offers a similar effect to the old ability, but in a more efficient way.

Here’s a good example of how combining abilities to reduce ability load will work. In the above example, a ‘utility’ oriented ability is being morphed with a damage ability. Combining two different ability types is a good way to reduce button presses. This is how I was hoping they would handle reducing the number of abilities we’ll have on our hotbars. Looking forward to seeing how it will work with other classes.

The intent of the new ability system, which will replace the current utility points system, is that players can make meaningful choices to accommodate their play style or situational needs. Players will be able to pick their own ability modifications and customize their skills in this manner, with all of those choices able to be saved to a Loadout. Loadouts will be able to be swapped with similar ease to the current Utility point system. While the ability choice interface and Loadout features are still in development, those experiences are core to the system and we are working hard to get them to a state where they can be shared on the PTS in a future update. We will share more details in the future on both of these features.

Here it is confirmed that Combat Styles will replace the current utility point system. We also have a nice overview of how Loadouts will work. Since they are reducing the number of abilities we’ll have available, they’re giving us a system to easily switch between different ability loadout’s. Their intent is that pre-saved Loadouts will be able to easily be swapped, just like we can easily swap utilities currently.

I’m very much looking forward to seeing how the Combat Styles and the Loadout’s UI’s will work.

One of the reasons we wanted to share these class changes with our players so early is because we wanted to get your feedback as we are still in the design phase of several other classes. As stated previously, you are not playing a final product. While very rough around the edges, the earlier we can share impactful changes like this the more we can take into account your feedback as we continue building out the remaining classes and iterating on ones you’re able to try out on the PTS.

Say it louder for the people in that back! We are nowhere near playing the final version of Combat Styles. We have never had a PTS this far out from a major update before! I applaud Bioware for giving us the chance to offer feedback this early in the process. Whether that will end up being a mistake given how fickle and over-reactionary parts of the player base can be, remains to be seen.

Lastly, for this phase of PTS, the Jedi Guardian was missing both their breaker (Resolute) and interrupt (Force Kick). We understand that players may be worried about what that means for 7.0. It was never our intention to completely remove these from the game. We realize this has caused confusion, so we are going to add these back for the next phase of PTS with the caveat that they may change form in the future. We are currently iterating on different ways of utilizing breaker functionality that doesn’t necessarily require an independent icon on your hotbar as well as considering where interrupts fit in with the overall class and encounter design of 7.0. Because of this, we didn’t include these in the testable ability sets on PTS.

Please keep in mind that breakers and Interrupts will remain in-game, they just might not appear in the same form as they are now.

Thank you for playing PTS and giving us your constructive feedback.

Wow! This final part is the icing on the cake. The implications! Are we finally going to be getting an overhaul of the Resolve system? Are the developers finally going to be modernising combat? Honestly the fact that they are investigating alternative ways of utilising the breaker functionality (which will, in turn, affect Resolve) gives me so much hope for the game!

This is what I mean when I said earlier that resolve needs an overhaul. I have wanted them to reduce the cooldown of our breaker abilities and make the timer uniform for all classes for so long. A significant reduction in the breaker cooldown alone would have a major impact on combat and make it more dynamic and fast-paced. But it sounds like they could go beyond that. Will we get a roll-dodge mechanic (or something similar) like every other modern MMO? I for one would welcome that immensely!

Obviously, this is pure speculation on my part and I look forward to hearing more about how breaker functionality will potentially be reimplemented into the game.


Additional Thoughts

I believe Combat Styles has a lot of potential. As someone who has played other MMO’s and seen what combat can be like in games with a reduced ability load, I am very intrigued to see what Bioware does with this new system.

Modernisation

Compared to more modern and more popular MMO’s, SWTOR’s tab-targeting based system, with multitudes of abilities, is primitive and archaic. It is a major turn off for more players to try the game. Keith mentioned on the 7.0 Announcement Livestream how they want to modernise combat while keeping the games unique character. I believe combat styles aims to mesh the best of both these worlds. I am hopeful that they will succeed and with our constructive feedback and understanding, I believe they can. 

Reducing ability loadouts does not always equal easy mode

Keep in mind that decreasing the number of abilities on our hot bars also makes the game more accessible. A big goal of the developers is to increase accessibility. This means making the game more playable for those with any kind of disability. Reducing the number of abilities on our hotbars is one easy way of achieving this goal.

I’ve seen some comments about Combat Styles (ie. reducing the number of abilities we can have at one time) making the game easy mode. Again, as someone who has played other MMO’s with reduced ability loadout’s, I find that attitude hilarious. The number of abilities at one’s disposal is hardly a measurable indicator of skill. Being able to use and manage a lot of abilities does not make you a good player. Having a reduced ability load does not necessarily make the game easier either. It’s how and when you use the tools available to you that’s more important.

I, for one, won’t be mourning a reduced ability load.

Ability Loadout Customisation and Gearing Speculation

Combat Styles is likely going to give us the type of customisation the developers attempted with the gear sets in 6.0. Without the need to constantly add new sets into the game. They have not yet announced how they’re going to handle gearing going forward with 7.0. At the very least, I hope they reduce the number of modification types we have. As we’ve all experienced, it’s a bit ridiculous having more than 20 different types of modifications.

In my opinion, the reason why we stopped seeing unique gear sets and tacticals being released, is that they decided to go with this Combat Styles system to increase player build customisation instead. It may be easier for them to keep things balanced and it may allow them to streamline gearing a bit more.

Combat Styles doesn’t preclude them from multiple set bonuses for each class with this system, though. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens.

Follow what they do, not what they say

If you’re still mad at Bioware after reading Jackie’s post, I’d suggest not taking too much stock of what they say in their future live streams. There is often a disconnect between what they say on live streams and what they actually do on the PTS and on live servers. The player confusion around Combat Styles between their announcement stream and what we’re getting (a very early glimpse of) on the PTS is somewhat understandable. However, I would caution against freaking out too much as again, we are seeing a VERY EARLY glimpse of what combat styles will look like.

Give your feedback. But be kind, think of the bigger picture and remember we’re still around 5 months out from the launch of the expansion. There is still room for things to change!


What are your thoughts on Combat Styles? Have you played other MMO’s? What ideas would you take from combat in other MMO’s and bring to SWTOR?

Owner of MMO Bits, and formerly the owner of Xam Xam Says, Xam Xam is an Aussie who has been playing MMO's for nearly 10 years and can't get enough of them. She mainly plays Healing Classes but will also DPS and reluctantly Tank (if she has one). She prefers to PvP but doesn't mind doing all the other 'MMO bits' as well.

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