Wednesday, 4 January 2012


Although it's still early I think I've seen enough of TOR to offer some opinions about how it compares to the previous Star Wars MMO.


Actually, they're incredibly similar, at least on the low quality settings I run SWTOR at. Running around SWTOR it's easy to forget which game you're in if you're a SWG veteran. I think the graphics are fine although I do want to gripe about performance. For a game that looks rather dated SWTOR is a beast. When I first started playing it defaulted to low on everything which was borderline unplayable until I turned shadows off. It still chugs and loads slowly.

I sometimes fantasise about running a games company and one of the things I would do is put a Computer of Death into the office. This is the weakest machine we want our game to run on, an old Pentium I found in a jumble sale. And all the staff would spend a week on it at a time. Chosen by drawing straws on Friday afternoons. Because if the people developing these games didn't have state of the art overclocked beasts to work on all the time then maybe we would see games that are play decently on a normal machine.

It's particularly disappointing after Bioware recognised that too high systems specs had previously been a problem with many games (notably Age of Conan and Vanguard) and made a special effort to ensure this game would "run on a toaster".

To be fair SWG released as a horrible buggy mess that crashed to desktop and bluescreened so SWTOR wins on graphics, just.

The cutscenes

These are very well done, beautifully produced and well acted. Some of the plot twists are amazing and some of the dialogue are clever. The acting is genuinely brilliant, you can read a subtitle and think that's not an impressive answer, then hear it spoken and think "oh yeah!"

SWG hardly had any cutscenes, just a little bit with Han Solo at the beginning as I recall and the iconic scrolling slanting text so SWTOR is a winner here. It's a good feature, beautifully made.


That does however bring me on to a serious criticism of SWTOR, in fact what may be it's deepest flaw. The game is badly paced. Cutscenes are great but they come so thick and fast it's hard to tell whether I'm playing a game with lots of film or watching a film with interactive bits. It gets too much. I found myself space-barring them after a few days because I'd had enough of cutscenes.

More importantly there's an overall rush to SWTOR that is very unappealing. People got to 50 in a few days. Now barely 2 weeks in almost everyone in my guild is 50. You don't really learn and explore a planet because you're only there for a day or two. You don't really learn and explore your skills because you get new ones every few hours. It just scrolls by too fast.

As players we optimise ourselves to beat and push the system but we need the system to also push back to create a fun dynamic. Push at SWTOR and you win, you max out, you save the universe. It lacks substance.

WoW, remember built itself up as a game where it took on average about 6 months to max level. There were people who still hadn't maxxed out a character by the end of Vanilla despite playing regularly. When we did Stranglethorn Valley we spend a fun 3 weeks there. Now although WoW isn't like this now, and you can level very fast, that early slow leveling played a crucial part in establishing WoW's popularity. It seems people look at WoW and copy what it is now without realising what it had before that got it to the top.

SWG, despite being remembered as a sandbox, was very much a leveling game and quite a slow one. It took months before anyone mastered an Advanced Profession if we don't count Architects who mastered because a whole guild gave them Ore. Those months were some of the most enjoyable times I've ever had in a MMO.

I think SWTOR loses on this aspect as do several other recent MMOs like Rift. Content becomes meaningless when it zips by in a flash. WoW can get away with it because WoW is established but WoW established itself on a game based on slow paced leveling.

Group content

I've been disappointed with SWTOR's group content because it's quite hard to get groups. I'll admit to having been spoiled by LFD tools but I can't be bothered to send out tons of tells and slowly build a friends list in the old-fashioned way. It's annoying enough that I was thinking it's probably best to let my sub lapse and come back when they've put one in. I really like doing group content as I quest through the solo content. There's no chance of finding a group while out questing and it's a tedious process hanging around the Fleet space station spamming.

SWG on the other hand despite not having proper instances did have some fun group content that emerged out of classes interdependence. The Ranger class for instance had to make camps for people to progress so Ranger players tended to organise interesting expeditions for other players. It had caves like the Squill Cave on Tatooine which attracted crowds of people in very chaotic public raids

The Rails

To compare these two games we need to look at the rails, the system where the game channels you towards the content it chooses.

In SWTOR rails are firmly in place but nicely crafted. You can only do what the designers had planned for you to do but it's good enjoyable content. In SWG the designers had a sandbox philosophy, they put in stuff that could be interacted with but didn't necessarily know how players would interact with it.

Each side has its fans but my concern with regard to SWTOR is that the rails may simply run out. What happens when the train reachs the end of the line? You can roll an alt or raid or pvp but none of those things are quite enough for me. The sub-based model implies that the game will be your main or even your only game and will endlessly immerse you. Where I think SWTOR is heading is what I saw in my Rift raid guild. At the end of a raid people would ask "when's the next raid?" be told Tuesday then say "cya Tuesday" and not log on until then. There was no point playing.

That's a serious flaw in an MMO. SWG always had something to do so it wins clearly here.


SWG had asymmetrical spontaneous pvp where SWTOR has pvp battlegrounds that you queue up for and where you face a matched team. I'm miles in favour of asymmetrical pvp. It feels like pvp as war, with strategic depth, rather than pvp as sport.

I probably shouldn't assign SWTOR as the loser as many people prefer that instanced sanatised safe form of combat. Let me just say it doesn't particularly appeal to me, for me pvp should feel dangerous.

The economy

OK, the design teams have come from completely opposite poles and I'm going to plunge in and say that SWTOR's philosophy here was half-baked and terrible.

In Galaxies economic professions were a fundamental part of the economy and almost everything was made by players. Resources were rare, searching them out was time-consuming, the top crafters were astonishingly hardcore. Later on this philosophy, as with many aspects of Galaxies became diluted but in 2003 the economy was fascinating.

In SWTOR the philosophy is throw it all at the players so they won't whine. Have unlimited money with a gathering profession that literally just gathers cash. Level to max in a few days. Have 5 crafting characters on one with your crew of willing slaves working 24/7. Oh and the Auction House is a worse database than one I could build on Open Office freeware in an afternoon.

Some elements of it are well-designed. The crafting/missions/gathering division is elegant as is the reverse engineering mechanic and some of the item design. But the whole thing more ressembles Kid in a Sweetshop than Economic Simulation. Bioware have profoundly failed crafter players.

SWG of course had one of the most interesting and admired crafter economies ever done.

Space combat

SWTOR wins hands down. I really like the space combat minigame. SWG launched with none but then added a space game that was just too hard for me.

Player housing and cities

One of the outstanding SWG features. In SWTOR you get a ship which serves as a player house and is nice but it really feels barren without the ability to fill it with junk and decorate it.


SWTOR is too generous, too casual and simply too finite. It feels like a single-player game, like there's a point where I'll say "Done!" and I really will be done. It's very worth playing for a time, an improvement on the KOTOR series which were very good single-player games. But that's the thing - it feels like a massively single-player game. All the elements that should encourage interaction are absent or half-baked. There's a lack of cool things to find because it's all on rails. There's a lack of groups because there's no LFD tool. There's no economy. There's no war.

SWG will remain a high point of my gaming experiences. Hopefully its demise will catalyse other products that suit the people who liked it. It's a very strong influence on Dominus which I'm looking forward to more than ever now. And I feel that when SWTOR fails to retain the numbers it was built for, when it fails to "kill WoW", people will look back to older game designs and see if there was anything there that can be delivered in fresh ways to modern audiences.


  1. While I can understand some of your concerns, I vehemently disagree with your issue that SWTOR needs an LFD tool. LFD in WoW paved the road to the anonymous, soulless game it has become today.

    I am not sure what times you play at, because I see tons of people doing heroic quests. Sure, you have to work on finding a group, but that's all part of an MMO for me.

    Once they start introducing a cross-server, poke a button for instant gratification LFD tool, I will likely be on my way out of SWTOR.

  2. I think that WoW still "cannot afford" fast leveling, and it's probably major part of overall decline.

  3. The space game in SWG is hands down, a ton better than the SWTOR game. Free roam vs rails is a the decision. Spending month farming the right part for the best Reverse Engineered part. The SWTOR space game is fun, just not better. I'll take a joystick flight-sim space game any day.

  4. When I last played WoW the levels were close to empty with just a few people probably running alts - hard to tell, since noone said very much. A far cry from what was one of the best European servers for several years after launch.

    But, won't the same thing happen with SWTOR? Now it's fresh and vibrant, but in a few months the levels will probably be empty, except for a few alts engaged in power levelling and speed running flashpoints for social points.

    Really it's amazing that WoW was able to maintain such a through put of new players through it's levels for so long; that was probably because of a constant stream of people discovering MMOs for the first time in the years following launch.

    In reality, creating expensive content and then immediately making it redundant (when it gets outlevelled) is crazy design and the fact that it worked for WoW in the early years, doesn't mean it's going to work in the current climate; and SWTOR needs to be leveraging it's content even more than WoW, since that's where most of the cash is invested.

  5. "I can't be bothered to send out tons of tells and slowly build a friends list in the old-fashioned way"

    Do you really want a game where it takes 6 months to level? (I only pick on this quote because I don't have the patience either. I know I used to.)

  6. @ Kadomi For me it's simply that now I know groups can be gotten easily I no longer have the will to make them the old way. Possibly it's a flaw in me that I need the crutch but it's certainly present.

    @ Shalcker You're quite right but while WoW can to some extent get away with it catapulting people past the content the way Rift and SWTOR have done is utter suicide.

    @Anon I just couldn't do it. I managed a couple of newbie missions after many false starts but then had to fly one to Lok as part of the main questline and spent several days trying in utter frustration.

    But then again I've heard there's people who can't play the SWTOR space missions either so I guess it's just one of those things where each of us has a different level where it's just right.

    @ Rog Yup, it does seem poorly planned out.

    @ Spinks I think I do. I've had a lot of patience with Eve where it does take months to be decent at most things. What I can't stand is the feeling that I'll be 50 in 2 weeks because then I start to feel that everyone will burn out so fast there's no permanency. Why bother leveling crafting if no one's going to play for long. Why raid if (like Rift) there's a new raid next month making all the gear redundant? These games simply burn by too fast to make it worth investing the kind of deep effort I used to put into MMOs years ago.

  7. Agree with everything, the game is paper-thin, I've already unsubbed.

  8. Through vanilla WoW and 2.0 I used to reckon a level a week was good progress, despite playing most days.

    Good times...

  9. Well if we're reminiscing, Everblue, back in the 80s it used to take a year to get from level 1 to level 4 in AD&D and a person gaining a level was reason to all crack open a new beer.

  10. You should realize the vast, vast majority of players will not have a max lvl toon after 2 days, 2 weeks, or even 2 months.

    Just because a tiny fraction of the players who happen to be hardcore mmo vets have maxed fast...doesn't mean anyone will.

    Maybe not 6 months (an exaggeration anyway), but let's face it even if you personally were laying original wow, you'd take weeks to max out not months.

    Most noobs to swtor prob don't even have an idea that the are supposed to try and max out s fast as possible. Anyone coming from other bioware games will be playing it like a normal game...not a game where you rush to the endgame.

  11. I was the second Horde Rogue to 60, leveling up by playing up to 16 hours per day, and it took 2 months.

    I don't play anywhere near so intensely now but even playing casually (for me) I'd have hit 50 if I hadn't got a bit bored of the class and made a load of alts. I'm one of the only people in the guild not to have a 50.

    I do appreciate there are some very casual players who just want to pay a couple of hours a week. But for how long will those casuals want to pay $15 per month?

    I think there's a danger that SWTOR may be too casual for the hardcore and too much of a financial burden for the truly casual.