21/02/2014

What would you like to see in the next story expansion?

I don't know about you, but the thing that excited me the most about the 2014 Producer's Road Map was the mention of another digital expansion "closely resembling Rise of the Hutt Cartel". While story content doesn't provide me with entertainment for as many hours as say, a new operation, it's still very near and dear to my heart. It's what makes SWTOR stand out from other MMOs, and while I'm glad that other activities exist in game, they are not the main feature.

This got me thinking about what I would like to see in another story expansion, even if it's most likely still quite far off at this point. Which aspects of Rise of the Hutt Cartel would I like to see copied in future releases and which ones would I prefer to see changed?

I'm undecided about another level cap increase. I do think there is a case to be made for continually increasing the level cap as more story content is added, especially in a story-heavy game like SWTOR. Accumulating too much content at the level cap leads to bad story flow in the long run. I've been dabbling in World of Warcraft a bit lately and it's very apparent in that game, considering that it's had four level cap increases under its belt now, always with two-year breaks in-between. The result is that every time you hit one of the old level caps while levelling - previously a point where content accumulated for two years - you suddenly end up abandoning the current storyline halfway through and skipping a huge chunk of content as you advance. The current level cap in WoW also has four patches worth of additions to play through already, and without doing any out-of-game research it's not necessarily apparent what order they are meant to be done in. In terms of story, it's a convoluted mess. Now, you could argue that the number of people that play WoW for the story are only a small minority and you'd probably be right. The Old Republic is a different beast however. So far at level 55, we've battled our way through a Czerka facility and fought the Dread Masters on Oricon. Add a new story planet, and that's a good amount of content to take a levelling player to a new level cap of sixty for example, without running out of things to do or outlevelling the content too quickly. I think from that point of view, adding another five levels would be a good idea.

On the other hand, Rise of the Hutt Cartel has shown us that a level cap increase also results in a considerable amount of upheaval. There are talent tree adjustments to think about, and you suddenly lose a lot of your endgame, risking that players will be bored at the new level cap. Do we really want to go through that again so soon? From this angle, I'm leaning towards no. Don't get me wrong, I actually think that Bioware did a bang-up job with the way they handled the increase from fifty to 55. Classes gained new abilities and talents were changed, but it wasn't a matter of completely relearning how to play. They struck a good balance between making things feel fresh and preserving the familiar. And while the available content at 55 did feel a little thin for the first few months after 2.0, this was alleviated by the fact that the old level fifty flashpoints and operations continued to offer worthwhile rewards for some time and that Bioware embraced that fact instead of forcing the content into complete obsolescence, by supporting it with measures such as handing out Ultimate commendations for doing the classic ops weekly.

So as far as a level cap increase goes, I could see it going either way without me being terribly upset or super excited, as I see both pros and cons.

What about the new story content itself? Should it be like Makeb?

Shortly after RotHC came out, I praised Makeb for being pretty and said that I was looking forward to it becoming a new endgame planet. I was also very happy with the story, even if it wasn't class-specific.

Fast-forward ten months and my opinions have changed a little. I still think that the story was nice, but I have to admit that replayability really suffered from how generic it was. I really believed the devs when they said that it would still feel tailored to different characters' roles and personalities, but... it didn't really. As a result only four of my currently nine level 55 characters have actually completed the Makeb story arc; I just couldn't get myself to repeat the exact same content in such quick succession when I levelled up all my alts. This wouldn't be an issue if the game didn't treat Makeb as chapter four of my class story, always taunting me with that incomplete class story message on the loading screen every time I log onto a character that hasn't done it. So for another RotHC-like expansion, I'd wish for them to treat the new story arc as what it is, a new overall story arc, not my personal character's story. I know it's a small thing, but it really bugged me about Makeb.

Also, my ideas about Makeb becoming a bustling centre of endgame activity turned out to be completely and utterly wrong. Once you had completed the planetary story, there were basically only two reasons to go back: dailies and Toborro's courtyard. I think I've done Makeb dailies all of two or three times, because they are ridiculously spread out. I don't really know of anyone else who does them regularly either. Who wants to constantly fly from one mesa to the next just to do a single daily on each? Pretty much any other daily hub is a better choice. And Toborro's Courtyard? Sadly, it contained one of Bioware's less engaging operations fights, which always felt like too much hassle for too little reward. I haven't been to Makeb in months. So much for the new endgame planet.

My wish for whatever planet they send us to in the next expansion would therefore be that they give us more reasons to go back there and enjoy the scenery even after we've done the planetary storyline. If there are dailies, don't spread them out to the point where they are not at all worth doing. If there's an operations boss, don't make the fight so tedious that it's not fun. Maybe even give us reason to roam the planet's surface on other occasions. They've done a great job keeping various lower-level planets relevant during events such as Bounty Contract Week and for max-level quest chains like the Seeker Droid one. Yet Makeb just kind of sits there and has little purpose after you've played through the main story. That's one thing I'd like to see them do differently in a new expansion.

What would you like to see them do in the next story expansion if you could have it your way? (And don't say "add new class stories", because that goes without saying and we all know that it's not going to happen.)

5 comments:

  1. I wonder if an Ilum done right --kind of more like Tatooine rather than how Ilum ended up-- would be the way to go. Having more engaging PvP content would bring people back, but I guess that'd mean having events on that planet.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Since I never made it to the new cap I can't comment on the effect on skills and class balance. But now that I'm leveling through the game again for the first time on Imperial side I'd say there's another possible dilemma.

    Do I/we want Bioware to create a new planet to visit or extend the use of existing ones? A new planet is always exciting, but as you say above if it becomes abandoned soon after reaching the new cap is that such a good use of developer resources? Perhaps a new story arc that takes place over 2 or 3 worlds opening new areas on existing worlds for higher level characters? It could reference the faction or planetary stories of those worlds while also building a new story.

    Such arcs would give players new reasons to visit older worlds and at least see if not interact with lower level characters also. The new stories would probably need to be segregated off to avoid accidental or deliberate farming of mobs that lower level characters might need (see LOTRO deed farming for an example of how this can ruin a low level character's day).

    My initial reaction would always be "new planet, shiny new planet!", but given the obvious limitations on development resources making further use of existing worlds with a well written and compelling story would be a good alternative.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wouldn't be opposed to going back to existing planets for some more adventure, but I think the Black Hole has shown that the idea of "new area on an existing planet" can turn out to be a lot less interesting than you'd think. I suppose it would depend on which planet(s)...

      Delete
  3. I would love to see an expansion set on Manaan. Considering that it is allegedly the only source of Kolto in the galaxy, I'm surprised that they haven't introduced it yet.

    Would also like to see fully underwater areas added with combat, resource gathering etc as well as three dimensional mob spawns (so long as they are not as numerous as those on Makeb & Oricon). I loved WoW's Vashj'ir.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ugh no, please no Vashj'ir in SWTOR. ;) (I didn't hate it, but I did find the whole 3D environment quite tiresome after a while and wasn't really a fan either.)

      From a practical point of view I can't really see them do anything like that as there isn't even regular water to swim in in the game right now, so an expansion like that would require a lot of groundwork just to introduce underwater mechanics.

      Delete