The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

RSS feeds: v0.91; v1.0 (RDF); v2.0; Atom.

Previous entry. Next entry.

6:20pm on Friday, 4th May, 2012:

May the Force be Without Me


I cancelled my Star Wars: the Old Republic account today. I would have done it earlier, but I held out because I wanted to see if anything special happened because of the date (it didn't).

As I regularly mention, I don't play MMOs for player fun. In terms of designer fun, I could have stopped a day after I started, but
I kept going for reasons of credentials and solidarity. I was also determined to get involved with the endgame more than I usually do, in the hope that it might offer something new (it didn't). I achieved this goal with some fairly intensive playing that ate up rather too many evenings, but work is work. I reached legacy level 37 (the highest in the guild by some margin) with a /played of 19d 8h 30m on my level 50 Jedi sage healer, 11d 11h 45m on my level 50 gunslinger ranged DPS and 2d 17h 45m on my level 40 Jedi knight tank. Including assorted other characters, that means I played for around 33 days of elapsed time over 137 days, or roughly 25% of my time. This may sound excessive, but when I was marking assignments I was spending 60% of my time on that; I can be dedicated when the job demands it.

SW:TOR is shedding players by the bucketload now, at least on the Republic side. It used to be that our guild could put together three operations (ie. raids) at once, but yesterday it couldn't even put together a group for the Lost Island flashpoint (ie. instance). I can go to planets such as Ilum (where PvP takes place and there are lucrative daily quests) and be the only Republic player present. It may be different for Imperials, but on the Republic side the game is a multi-player wasteland.

I won't be going through the 93 pages of notes I made to tell you why I believe things aren't turning out as well as they might, but I believe that the fundamental reason is the too-large dissonance between the levelling game and the endgame. The levelling game is all about story and solo play; the endgame is all about group play and grinding through dailies. There's too great a disconnect. If new content had been added to the levelling game in patch 1.2, things could have been different. However, the new content added was at the endgame; indeed, the developers' view seems to be that players want to skip through the levelling game quicker on their alts, judging by the introduction of shared buffs across all your characters and legacy items you can use to over-gear them. As a result of this, my level 15 trooper ranged dps is cutting through content like a hot knife through butter. SW:TOR was sold on the strength of its story elements; encouraging players to scoot through the story to get to a generic endgame is of course going to cost it players.

The game does have its strengths. The companion system adds to the gameplay (once you get the right companion, which for my smuggler was tiresomely late). The storylines also work well, even if they are a bit predictable (I know what my Jedi knight will be doing at the end of his) (oh, but I hated the end of Chapter 2: you do not wrest control of a character from the player in an MMO). I think the combat system is well-designed, well-balanced and allows good players to outshine worse players with better gear; other MMOs could learn from it. I also like the space combat mini-game, but that may be because I seem to be superb at it (probably from playing so much Starfire in the arcade where I worked in my teens).

The game's weaknesses are mainly to do with either its over-copying of WoW's mechanics or its integration of single-player story into a multi-player environment. If my character has just inherited a vast spacefleet from putting down a rebellion, why am I going into this same cave to rescue the same prisoners I rescued yesterday to help out the same officer who's standing in the same place with the same sob story about his incompetence? Even the much-heralded legacy system is a joke (level 37 is indistinguishable
from levels 36, 35, 34, ...). There are some other irritations such as the lack of imagination in later quests (oh, more medical supplied to go find, yay), the convoluted yet samey maps (Corellia is so tedious to get around that you can use the droids that always attack you in certain places as landmarks) and the wilful ignoring of common-sense concepts (my XS Freighter Flyby means I can call my spaceship to doe area-of-effect damage, which is great, except it works underground and in Rakata mind traps). These are common across MMOs these days, though, so SW:TOR isn't really alone in that regard.

What finally persuaded me that the wrong people were winning the designer arguments, though, was this:

This is what my Jedi consular looks like in her full Rakata gear (which was the highest tier prior to patch 1.2). She may have strange roof tiles on her wrists and shoulders, but she looks pretty classy. The hat is like a Shell petrol logo with added elf ears, which is why I don't show it, but nevertheless it's easy to believe that she's an important, respected and powerful Jedi wearing an outfit like this.

Here's what she would have looked like if she'd got all her Black Hole gear, which is the upgrade introduced in patch 1.2:

She looks like she's some kind of cavewoman. It's a ghastly, inappropriate statement of an outfit. Why would anyone remotely interested in their character's story want to swap from the Rakata gear to this? For all I know, it could be deeply-rooted in Star Wars lore and we're supposed to be impressed by the attention to detail. However, if you want someone to play for story reasons, rather than gear reasons, you can't expect them to prefer this abomination over what they had before. This means that the developers didn't expect
players to like it for its look. This in turn means they don't see their players as being storyphiles, but raidingphiles.

My questions as to how this game is going to go in future are thereby all answered, so I don't need to play it any more.

Now to see if there's a HUD for Skyrim to render that game playable for PC users, so I can pick up where I left off there.

Latest entries.

Archived entries.

About this blog.

Copyright © 2012 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).