Stop whining. Why Faction Imbalance in SW:TOR doesn’t matter.

Good vs Evil.

Jedi vs Sith.

Star Wars: The Old Republic centers on the classic confrontations between Light and Dark that we all know and love from the films.

The one thing I don’t recall seeing in the movies was a time when members of the Republic just sat around complaining about how they were outnumbered, and how it was unfair, and that George Lucas should stop shooting the movie and do something about it. You think Luke Skywalker would have wasted time on forums? HELL NO! He capitalized on years of practical womp rat killing experience and blew up the friggin Death Star! Unfortunately, I can’t read a SW:TOR forum or listen to a podcast without hearing how faction imbalance in the game is some sort of atrocity that needs fixed or moderated somehow by BioWare. A number of players seem to suffer from the mass delusion that imbalance in SW:TOR actually means something, and they’re all wrong.

This is why.

1. The leveling experience is fairly tame.

Don't worry, Republic. The Imperials aren't threatening till max level.

SW:TOR offers a very insulated and safe leveling experience, even on PvP servers. You won’t cross paths with members of the opposite faction until you’re about half way to max level. Oldrepublic.net features an impressive planet progression map which highlights this. This gives ample time for players to familiarize themselves with their abilities safe from predatory players. A fair number of the planets are even faction specific and don’t even allow the opposing faction to set foot on them. As it stands, there won’t be any sort of plundering and occupation of Coruscant or Korriban unless BioWare decides to create some sort of special instanced event.

Beyond this segregation, the other big factor that impedes spontaneous open world encounters is how frustratingly tedious it is to go from one planet to another. While patch 1.2 has cut down on the number of orbital station load screens we have to suffer through needlessly, that doesn’t mean that getting around is convenient. There aren’t any summoning mechanics or methods of fast travel directly from one planet to another. People tend to stay one whatever planet they’re on and focus on some other non-PvP oriented task rather than roaming the galaxy looking to pick a fight.

Even if you stumble over an enemy player in the open world somewhere, and even if you decide to fight, you always have the option to simply rez at the medical center and avoid corpse camping – essentially eliminating one of the major driving factors of open world PvP. It makes perfect sense from the point of view of BioWare wanting to reduce player frustration. Odd as it may seem however, corpse camping led to escalation of warfare in other games. Many a Southshore vs Tarren Mill battle in WoW began as single player getting camped and calling for backup, and ended up looking like something out of Braveheart. With the aforementioned inconvenience involved with planet hopping, even if you happen to need help, it probably isn’t going to come from another planet. At best you may see a handful of local players get involved, especially on lower population servers.

2. Instanced PvP is King – and the King is Benevolent.

PvP in SW:TOR means Warzones. That’s where the rewards primarily come from, so that’s where people go. Without any incentive for open world PvP, and with Ilum broken and discarded for the time being, Warzones are where players need to go to kill one another with elegant weapons during this civilized age. Faction imbalance in other games can make queues for battlegrounds an extremely hit or miss affair. Prior to cross servers BGs in WoW, it was quite common to wait for over an hour for a single game. Today’s players don’t have the patience for that anymore, nor should they. Luckily BioWare came along and gave us the possibility of fighting in Warzones against your own faction. Even if you’re server’s faction balance is skewed to comical proportions, you can still find near instant queues provided your server has a decent population to begin with.  Until patch 1.2 this may have meant a whole lot of Huttball for some people, but we have more inter-faction options available now. Everyone can participate and earn rewards.

At the very worst, one could theorize that faction imbalance may have given one faction more Huttball practice than the other. So what? That same logic means the minority faction got more consistent time in the other Warzones. You could also make the argument that inter-faction Warzones meant that the faction with superior numbers could gear up faster, but even this is pretty thin. With patch 1.2 you can purchase PvP gear with credits so no one has to start from scratch. It still may come down to which team has the highest amount of expertise on their gear, but it probably has a lot more with which team has two  partial premades of Battlemasters on it.

3. SW:TOR encourages, promotes and incentivizes cross-faction alts on the same server. 

Legacy is a pretty big thing in SW:TOR, and the bonuses apply cross-faction. There are so many incentives to level characters on both sides of the force that some guild leaders complained during the Guild Summit that BioWare was eroding the cohesiveness of their guilds. Everyone has a main, at least in theory, but tons of people have already leveled and geared up multiple characters in both PvE and PvP. It isn’t exactly hard to do in SW:TOR. Not everyone has the same time available to them as everyone else, but that’s sort of a non-issue on a long enough timeline. If you believe the grass is greener on Korriban (it isn’t), then nothing is stopping you from coming to the Dark Side and trying it out.

I love my Powertech. There is no doubt I consider that Bounty Hunter as my main. On the PvP front however, I had the most fun in SW:TOR I’ve ever experienced on my Vanguard. I didn’t have to tank with him. There was never a need to respec or worry over multiple gear sets. It was the mirror class, but offered just enough differences to be unique. Hell, it was worth it for the story alone. If I really wanted to swap sides and center on Republic as my PvP faction of choice, I could do so with my Trooper very easily and without the hesitations or aversions I have towards doing so in other MMOs. You fight your own faction in Warzones half the time anyway, so what does it really matter?

BioWare clearly understands that the strength of their game resides in the leveling experience, so which faction you’re on and who outnumbers who is mostly irrelevant. Go where you have the most fun. You don’t really have to worry about which side of the fence is greener when BioWare added a revolving door.

4. Players say they want an Open World PvP zone, but they really don’t.

James Ohlen, a man I greatly respect and admire from his Baldur’s Gate contributions, is a pretty smart guy.

After the Ilum collapse, he created a poll and forum topic asking players what they want in an Open PvP experience. Here are the options:

What kind of Open World PVP excites you most?

‘Raw’ Open World – faction vs faction, with no faction population restriction mechanics AKA ‘true’ Open World PvP. Factions claim objectives.

PvPvE balanced – bolstering the underdog faction through NPCs, turrets, etc. Factions claim objectives.

Faction population capped – strict balancing in place between faction populations in objective areas. Factions claim objectives.

Guild based – everyone is your enemy except players in your guild. Guilds claim objectives.

The majority of players currently opted for the PvPvE balanced approach with almost 50% of total votes. But that’s not true open world PvP. It’s Wintergrasp 2.0 in the making. Once you create mechanics to make everything ‘fair and balanced’, it isn’t open anymore. Since that isn’t the case, the whole concept of faction imbalance no longer applies.

Ilum was egg on BioWare’s face, and I’d wager it was enough that they lost subscriptions over it when combined with buggy Operations and lack of other basic MMO features that 1.2 has now partially corrected. They’re smart though. Just listen to Georg Zoeller speak, and tell me he doesn’t sound like a Bond villain. I’m willing to bet that, whatever they have in mind, they’re smart enough not to make the same mistakes twice. I’m not sure what form it will take, or how long it will take to implement, but I’m hopeful it will be the last nail in the faction imbalance argument – at least for a little while. You may never fully put it to rest in a game centered on binary factions, but in SW:TOR imbalance doesn’t really count for much.