14/05/2015

Five Myths That Shouldn't Stop You From Playing Star Wars: The Old Republic

While SWTOR is my "home" MMO, I'm still interested in other games and the state of the industry in general. Burnout and content slumps happen, and then it's nice to be able to check out other games for a little while.

While I think that the image of SWTOR on general MMO sites has improved a lot since it had to deal with all those issues in its first year, you'll still find a fair amount of people commenting on SWTOR articles purely to spread misinformation about the game. (I'm not saying that they are doing this intentionally, but the effect is the same, whether the intent was malicious or whether they are simply basing their judgement on outdated information.) It always makes me pretty annoyed, but when has anything good ever come out of arguing in an internet comment section?

Nonetheless it's not good to have this stuff out there, because people who genuinely don't know anything about the game will read it and think it's true. (I'm pretty sure that I must have some pretty warped views of a lot of games that I've never played myself, having used random internet comments about them as my knowledge base...) I thought that I could at least try to provide an article that those who are curious, who want to learn more about the game and are wondering whether some of the bad things they've heard about it are true can read as a counterpoint - a counterpoint from someone who has actually played the game since launch.

You might argue that this makes me biased, and of course it does, but I've never claimed that SWTOR is perfect or that everyone should play it. However, if you don't think that SWTOR is your cup of tea, I'm sure that you'll be able to come to this conclusion based on actual facts, not rumours and myths that some people like to perpetually regurgitate in comment sections.

Without further ado, here are five myths about SWTOR that shouldn't prevent you from trying the game, where they originated, and why they are wrong.

1. SWTOR is effectively a single player game

I actually wrote about why this wasn't true shortly after launch, but sadly I still see it pop up quite often even three years later.

Why do people believe this? When SWTOR first launched, the way it delivered quests with cut scenes, multiple-choice dialogue and voiceovers was quite revolutionary for the genre, even if its ultimate importance was overhyped. Since then other MMOs, such as The Secret World and Elder Scrolls Online have adopted similar systems of quest delivery, but at the time of SWTOR's launch it was very novel. It was the closest thing to questing in a single-player RPG that any MMO had done before, and it made sense that people noticed the similarities. However, some players got so caught up in their class stories that they ignored everything else and were then confused that nobody wanted to play with them.

Why is it not true? SWTOR is, on average, no less group-friendly than other theme park MMOs. You receive bonus experience while in a group, there are group quests and world bosses on every planet, and the endgame is very group-centric. In fact, it's other MMOs that have introduced features like XP penalties for grouping and forced solo instances! In SWTOR, being in a group is pretty much always rewarded and there's no content to which you can't bring along a buddy.

Yes, you can make your way to the level cap on your own if you wish, but you've been able to do that in pretty much every major MMO since the launch of World of Warcraft. The mere option of being able to play on your own does not turn any virtual world into a single player MMO. I always found it odd how SWTOR got singled out for this as if it was something new.


Busy being bored in my no-endgame, single player MMO.

2. There is nothing to do at endgame

I can understand why people believed this at launch, but at this point it's just baffling. Do you honestly think that Bioware hasn't added anything to do in three years?

Why do people believe this? At launch, a lot of very vocal people burnt through the levelling content very quickly and then found themselves bored with the endgame. Even then it wasn't true that there was "nothing" to do at max level - there was PvP, two daily areas, an operation, three normal max-level flashpoints and nine hardmode flashpoints even at launch, but it's understandable that this wasn't enough to keep people busy who had burnt through the entirety of the levelling content within days.

Why is it not true? Speed levellers were never a good benchmark to measure when people would run out of content. Personally, despite of playing for several hours a day immediately after launch, it took me over a month to hit level 50, by which point Bioware had already patched in another operation and another flashpoint. I never experienced a lack of things to do at max level.

Since then the game has kept adding patches at a pretty steady rate of about once every two to three months, raised its level cap twice, and added space combat and housing. There is plenty to do.

 3. The servers are dead

In the comment section of the old Massively site, I noticed this one guy who liked to claim this repeatedly and "backed it up" by posting a screenshot that showed his character standing on the fleet, alone.

Why do people believe this? Because there was a time when many servers were dead. The game launched with dozens of servers and initially they added even more... so when the game lost over half of its launch population in the following months, a lot of servers were left as ghost towns.

When Bioware actually started "soft merges" by allowing people to transfer off towards a designated number of target servers, those ghost towns became even emptier... yet they were still left open for a while, ready to give new and returning players a terrible impression of the game. (No, I didn't think that was a good idea either.)

Why is it not true? This was back in mid-2012. Ever since all those smaller and deserted servers were merged into a handful of mega-servers, the populations of those have been healthy. Obviously there are still differences in terms of how busy things are depending on the time of day and your exact location, but there are definitely people around.

Somewhat related to this, not everyone understands the way the game's instancing system works. If more than a certain number of people (I think it's 250 on the fleet, less on most planets) are in the same place, the game will create a new instance of that location to split the population up. However, the counter in the top left will only ever show you the population of your current instance. So even in game you sometimes get players going "oh my god, only 42 people on the fleet" - while they miss the fact that there are already two full instances of the fleet and they happened to load into the newly spawned third one.


The Republic fleet on The Red Eclipse on a Saturday morning, ca. 11 a.m., instance one of two.

4. The alignment system affects your gear progression

In other words: I can't play my character the way I want, I have to maximise my light or dark side point gains or I won't be able to wear the best gear in the game!

Why do people believe this? There are items with alignment requirements on them in the game. People who saw these drop early in the game and couldn't use them due to their alignment obviously jumped to conclusions and aren't shy about sharing those conclusions with the world.

Why is it not true? The Torhead database had over 58k items on record when I originally started drafting this post. (RIP Torhead.) If you looked at just the ones that had any sort of alignment requirement on them, the shown number went down to 871. Or in other words, about less than 1.5% of all items in the game have an alignment requirement, and not a single one of them requires max level. Most of them are pieces of orange (cosmetic) gear or levelling relics - in other words: totally irrelevant if you're worried about your gear progression. There are other reasons to care about your alignment, such as the story - but that only makes sense. Gear and character power however are definitely not a concern when you're wondering whether to be naughty or nice to those NPCs.

5. The payment model is horrible and will constantly annoy you

This point is probably going to be the most contentious one and I fully expect someone to pop up in the comments just to go: "No, you're wrong, SWTOR's payment model really is horrible." Nonetheless, I ask you to hear me out.

Why do people believe this? When you go to the official SWTOR website, it advertises on the main page that you can "download the game and play for free". It is somewhat understandable that some people misinterpret this as meaning that it's a free game. News flash: it's not. The game will remind you very early on that it's still a subscription game at heart and wants you to cough up some money. People can get very grumpy if they are asked to spend money on something that they expected (or simply wanted) to be free.

Why is it not true? SWTOR is a subscription game with a free-to-play option/trial and those options work fine the way they are. I suppose you could argue that they are being advertised in a misleading way, but that doesn't change how they work. I've been a subscriber since launch and aside from the fact that the game has inevitably changed and evolved in some ways, my subscription has allowed me to continue enjoying the game in exactly the same way I have since launch. While a cash shop has been added, I receive a monthly Cartel Coin grant as part of my subscription, and since nothing in the shop bestows any kind of gameplay advantage, there is no pressure to buy things all the time. On the rare occasion when something strikes my fancy, my stipend is usually enough.

If you're only planning to play casually, the "preferred" play status, which you gain as soon as you spend any money at all (the lowest amount you can spend is on a bunch of Cartel Coins for a fiver), isn't such a bad deal either, as you have access to a huge amount of content for free, the worst restrictions are lifted, and many of the others won't really apply to you anyway (e.g. if you're just going through the quests for the story, you probably won't amass enough credits to hit the credit cap, and wearing ugly hats or purple gear to maximise your stats is hardly required).

If you were trying to play without paying a single penny, then yes, the game will nag and annoy you a lot. But such is the way of free trials - they are not the full game.

17 comments :

  1. Whatever you do, don't read the FB comments. The EA haters and the "they still play this game" comments make it akin to YouTube comments.

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    1. I don't read FB comments on anything really because they are so user-unfriendly with how hard they are to un-collapse and with how hard it is to see replies to specific comments. I'm not surprised that I don't seem to be missing out on anything. :P

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  2. This is a really good post; I hope it finds the audience of SWTOR newbies and aspirant newbies it deserves. I recognize many of the assumptions and then I always sigh deeply and proceed to explain why this and this isn't true because etc etc.... Next time I'll just send them to this post instead! ;)

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    1. I certainly feel better just having written it down, after all the comments I've had to read that made me shake my head over time...

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  3. I actually enjoy the challenge of trying to make my account functional as preferred status. Almost all the hurdles can be overcome by time and AH. The one that has me "annoyed" the most though (ie it requires the most problematic workaround) is the credit limit. With the inflation 350k simply isnt enough to buy really anything. I still manage by having a friend play my bank, and not picking sales up from mailbox unless he is there to retrieve the money. I also have to have him buy/sell items that are worth more than 350k by themselves, or go outside the AH and sell in chat, and still have to trust people to mail me the money (in packets of 350k).
    It is sort of fun. But it really is a VERY restrictive f2p setup. My friend who subs of cause has none of these issues, and you are right in saying that if you just look at it as a subtame, the model is fine. If you look at it as a subgame the f2p version/demo is a LOT more forgiving than wows max lvl 20 no trading, max 10gold (or something) version. With the wowtoken introduced it will be easier to feel as a real subber in wow than in SWTOR though. Wish they would make something similar for SWTOR :-)

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    1. The credit limit is indeed incredibly low. I remember looking over my ex's shoulder when he played as preferred for a while and he kept getting "you are almost at the credit cap" warnings every time he looted a mob; it was pretty irritating!

      I do think that something like the WoW token for SWTOR would be cool, but it's precisely the credit limit for unsubscribed players that would make it tricky to handle, because I'm pretty sure that a month of game time would be valued at several million credits and therefore out of reach of the people who could use it the most.

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  4. Ohh, and btw, I do aggree with most of your points :-) allthough the lightside/darkside thing still irks me. Even if it is a small issue since the gear isnt the most important pieces exactly, its still a gameplay incentive to play either light or dark, rather than play as you want :-) Now adays i just ignore it though

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    1. I remember shortly after launch the subject of "grey Jedi" came up all the time and Bioware said that they were working on rewards for neutral characters, but that is one of those things that clearly had to be scrapped when the game's priorities shifted in anticipation of the F2P conversion.

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  5. I joined with a friend, then that friend just upped and left for stupid reasons, but I still stayed an play, I'll group up occassionally, but it's not me, I understand this is an MMO, and I understand that some like to group up and etc. But there are still players that just want to play and not be rushed, and for someone that enjoys all the stories, I don't want to be rushed into making a hasty decision or be told a million times over in chat "Spacebar" it ...Guess that's why I just do what I do, and still have fun.

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    1. There's nothing wrong with deciding to fly solo in SWTOR (or most other MMOs really). :) What's wrong is people calling it a single player game (usually in disparaging tones), because it implies that there is no worthwhile group content for those that do enjoy playing with others on a regular basis.

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  6. Peepl still plae diz gam lulz TORtanic

    That's the sentiment I see expressed most often when I start talking about SWTOR. It's sad really ... the game is truly fantastic and I'm loving diving back into it. More's the pity for them!

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  7. Great Scott! Alert the church elders! Hell has frozen over! I disagree with Shintar. All joking aside, I actually agree with most of your points, esp. the one about SWTOR *not* being a single player game. In fact, I’d even say that it’s a lot more group friendly than WoW (or other MMOs for that matter) because XP is increased in groups, most quest items are lootable by every group member and clickable items also count for all group members. None of that is the case in WoW. Or at least that’s how it used to be when I was still playing.

    I have to say, however, that I disagree with your assessment of SWTOR’s payment system, more specifically with the way the cash shop is implemented. Some of the free-to-play and preferred restrictions are simply ridiculous and rather petty. Limited hotbars, inability to unify colours or to hide the head slot; no /hello emote ... WTF?! That’s messed up! I can come to terms with almost all other restrictions, e.g. number of characters, credit limit, mail limit, loot limit, storage limit etc., but there’s simply no excuse for hiding interface adjustments/options behind a paywall. None at all!

    Two more very minor tidbits: (1) playing a “grey” character, i.e. Neutral alignment does affect one’s leveling progression somewhat because all relics below level 50 require a Light or Dark standing. I personally experienced this on my grey Scoundrel who constantly had to leave two gear slots empty (less HP, missing CDs). I will admit, however, that this is hardly noticeable. (2) "nothing in the shop bestows any kind of gameplay advantage" Tell that to Treek ;) IMHO the very best companion.

    Another excellent post as always, of course. :)

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    1. In fairness to WoW, I think it has improved the group-friendliness of its questing a little bit - last time I played it on live in MoP, I remember noticing that the new quests all shared credit even when there was stuff to click on, and the chests on the Timeless Isle were also usable by all group members...

      I'm not saying that SWTOR's payment model couldn't be improved (e.g. I also think that restricting basic emotes is pretty silly) but I don't think that there's anything inherently wrong with restricting some UI features. Since they decided to be generous with the content, they had to make subbing feel worthwhile in some other way; otherwise there is just no point to it. (That's something that I seemed to see a lot in comments about RIFT for example: lots of praise for Trion's generosity, and then admission that paying for a sub doesn't seem worth it because of that.)

      Not all relics below 50 have light or dark side requirements! A lot of them too, but there are other options. (You can check TORCommunity's new item database!)

      I can't really comment on Treek as I only bought her for credits on my main but hardly ever use her as I rarely need a tank companion and her sounds are annoying. I've never had any particular issue with using the "normal" companions.

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  8. I really enjoyed this expose. I have to agree with you, many of these are pure myths rather than fact. Ultimately I think it's what a player does to get the entertainment value out of the game. I personally seek out interaction when I need it or play solo when I want it. There is enough activity going on on the servers across the board that you can indeed fulfill your wants or needs in the game. Now occasionally it may mean a server switch depending upon flavor. I left Jung Ma because I wasn't seeing enough instance content. But if I were into both RP-PvP strictly, I would say that server is bar none the best. I think you have to put in what you want to get out of an MMO and I believe you really put it in a perfect way with your post. Well done Shintar!

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  9. For all that this article gets right, it gets group play HORRIBLY wrong. Not only are there SEVERAL Instances where grouping is SEVERELY limited (admittedly not FORBIDDEN, but still) the biggest mistake is claiming that grouping gives an XP boost. The truth of the matter is, the much vaunted Grouping XP is pretty much non existent because not only is it pathetically tiny, it actually gets replaced with a huge penalty if anyone in the group is so much as a single level apart from anyone else in the group! What's worse, the penalty scales in such a way that the lower level players are the ones that get less xp which pretty much garuntees that the smallest of xp gaps will swiftly turn in to chasms.

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    1. Actually you get a huge XP boost while questing in a group. E.g. if you do a heroic quest in a group of four, you'll receive XP for completing the quest yourself, and then another bunch for every other person in your group who also completes the quest and is of the right level to get XP for it (it doesn't quite quadruple your XP, but it's still a pretty big bonus, especially since things like bonus missions work the same way). I assume your comment about higher level players in your group reducing your XP applies to things like mob kills, but that's a pretty irrelevant part of the SWTOR levelling process really.

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    2. Alright, I'll bite. I'll double check those claims, but so far all of the evidence I've seen points towards some pretty heinous design in the xp formulas. Even if what you're saying IS true, then that still means that mob xp formulas are pants-on-head-retarded.

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