Thursday, 23 February 2012

SWTOR: parting thoughts

I tried to log into SWTOR earlier and discovered, with relative indifference, that my sub has expired.

SWTOR is in many ways a good game and I hope it does well and entertains a lot of people. I think it will, perhaps not quite living up to its hype, but stable enough to keep a lot of people having fun for a long time. It appeals to a new generation of MMO players and those of us who cut our teeth on pre-Wrath WoW or older MMOs have on the whole not enjoyed SWTOR. I don't think this is a mistake or a cockup by Bioware, it's just the fracturing of the MMO market into games that suit different tastes.

So first, why isn't it my kind of game?

Part of it is the economy. I was actually considering starting a SWTOR gold site, an advice site like Just My Two Copper or Marcko's new Diablo 3 blog. But when I played it I found that the best advice was Just Do Slicing. It failed to make an interesting economy. (To be fair, there is a little more to it than that - there are arbitrage opportunities in certain missions like Underworld Trading missions for instance - but not much more). I also really dislike short duration auction houses. After playing Eve where I can place my auctions for 3 months a 2 day upper limit feels like a tedious micromanagement chore.

Part of it is the socialisation. Meeting people, making friends, arises from sharing experiences. I spent the weekend with a friend and his family with several young children and thought analytically about how relationships are formed with kids. So much of it is simply doing things together - any old thing. "Have you brushed your teeth?", "Hurry up, it's time to go" all of these lead in the end to love. It's the time spent together, solving problems, living lives, that establishes our social bonds, something that's been hardwired into us since we were primates. And it's also true of primates - grooming, searching each other's fur for insects, is a crucial part of forming social bonds in animals like chimpanzees.

And there's just not enough incentive to socialise for people who are borderline social. Very social outgoing people can spam for groups, find group quests and instance groups but unless you are willing to be outgoing it's hard to find the group you need after about level 12. And it's also very easy to skip socialising because the solo game is utterly easy and highly rewarding. People did use to form bonds making groups the old fashioned way in vanilla WoW and EQ and games like that but they did so because the path of least resistance was to form a group. In WoW for instance you got much better loot from dungeons and it would last you a long time because you leveled slowly. It was worth getting the cloth hat from Scarlet Monastery because you'd still be wearing it at 50 which would be 3-4 weeks. In SWTOR if you get an upgrade at level 40 you'll probably outgrow it within 2 days.

However those elements only really matter to veteran MMO players. For someone coming to SWTOR from single player games just the fact that there's an auction house is great. The fact that you can group with others for bonus more rewarding content is awesome. And the things I've complained about would, if designed for my taste, be less attractive for newbies. A cutthroat auctionhouse that allowed me to manipulate large amounts of money off newbies? A brutal efficiency oriented cross server LFD tool where people get shouted at if they're sub-optimal? Sophisticated macro and addon options that allow veterans to differentiate themselves from newbies? SWTOR probably made the correct choices for the market it's aimed at.

So let's finish with some positives. I like many of the touches in SWTOR. I like it that they took a leaf from Rift's book with aoe looting and wholesale selling of grey junk items. I thought the time-based crew skill crafting system was clever and innovative. I think the cut-scenes were superb and the stories well-written. It's hugely innovative to base a mmo so much on solo story and was a brave decision to take. SWTOR is probably the best game for people new to the genre and I think it will bridge the gap between people who find MMOs a bit too involved and us veterans, attracting new audiences to other MMO games. I also like it that it's another game voting against the notion of hybrid tax - the idea that it's unfair for hybrids to hit as hard as pure dps.


  1. Yep, my acct ran out again for the second time and I doubt I will re-sub either. I only re-subbed after the 'free' month as I wanted to try as a tank again and although I enjoyed it, it was just another meaningless gear grind. So I did a lot of pvp as a tank and did well but the same 3 maps with the majority being on hutt ball got aggravating, especially coupled with the sorc lightning spam and merc tracer missile spam.

    I guess GW2, D3 or maybe Tera (after some research) :P

    Hope you're doing well Stabs, see you around one day maybe :)

  2. Last night I tried WoW for the first time in over a year.

    I appreciated the smoothness of the combat and animations and enjoyed a little nostalgia.

    But even the worgen starting zone was quite painful from a questing perspective. No voice acting, poor/no characterisation, no dialogue choices, entirely (!) collect X/kill 10 Y, no aoe loot and I haven't seen a group quest yet.

    Of course, SWTOR has a whole host of other problems, but levelling as a pair is really one of the most enjoyable experiences in MMOs IMO.

  3. @ Whamo Yup, sorry it didn't spark. I'll keep people up to speed with where I'm off to next. Diablo 3 is the one I'm most excited about right now. Couple of months off.

    @ Bernard Interesting to hear you say that. It makes sense that SWTOR has raised the bar. I think it's the first time though I've seen someone say that going back to WoW after SWTOR caused it to feel painful.

    I think that people who started with SWTOR may find it quite hard to "downgrade" to more cheaply-made MMOs.

  4. While I of course respect anyone's choice to not sub to SWTOR anymore, I just wanted to mention that I do not agree with the assessment that people who cut their teeth on pre-WotLK WoW can't enjoy the game. Quite the opposite for me. I have been playing WoW since vanilla, and TBC was my favorite expansion. SWTOR comes closest to my playing experience from that time, with the heroic quest content alone.

    I duo with my spouse, and it's the best experience we had in years. I also went back to WoW recently to show it to a friend who's just starting there, and it was very obvious to me that the WoW duo experience is very inferior to the SWTOR experience.

    That said, it certainly has a lot of flaws, I don't think their end-game is compelling, and it just proves that the hype is a dangerous trap for any MMO. Guild Wars 2, beware.

  5. I agree with Kadomi. I loved vanilla WoW and TBC and I love SW:TOR because for me it resembles that phase very closely. There are actual dangerous mobs out there, it matters where players go and (in contrast to WoW) grouping is actually encouraged. The game certainly has many flaws, but I simply cannot help thinking that some of the criticism that people bash at SW:TOR stems from the pre-set mind to not wanting to like it or to expect the miracle MMO that will revolutionize the entire genre.

  6. I think it's one of those glass half empty half full things. It was my impression that the veterans who tried it and didn't stick with it (eg me, Whamo, Tobold) out-numbered those veterans who are really liking it (Spinks, you guys, etc). That may be mistaken, I don't have any metrics.

    And it may be that if they're retaining 30% of the veterans that's actually really good, as much as could be hoped for.

    I'm not trying to be negative about it - it's not my cup of tea but I appreciate that some people with very great expertise about the genre are very enthusiastic.

    Notably Richard Bartle, who blogged today that he's hit 50 on two characters and is off to make a third. And he pre-dates all of us (MMO-wise).

  7. I've been playing MMOs since SoV era EQ, and I'm still digging SWTOR. My main is still only 47. I don't think the endgame will hold my attention long, but that's not unusual for me since I don't like raiding and only enjoy PvP as long as I'm getting rewards from it relatively quickly. I'm looking forward to leveling alts more than I do in most MMOs, the class and companion storylines are a draw.