20/12/2015

Happy 4th Birthday, SWTOR!

Has it really been four years? My, my, how time flies.


Shintar the trooper over the course of four years... I finally decided the trend towards bigger guns needed to stop. People might think I'm compensating for something...

2015 has without a doubt been the most exciting year for the game since its launch. Nothing can beat that original cycle of hype and disappointment of the first year, resulting in the game's eventual conversion to free to play, but the past year certainly came close. Where 2013 und 2014 were mostly about solid additions to the game that didn't excite the games media too much, EA and Bioware decided to go all out in terms of marketing and effectively re-launch the game in 2015. The year had started out fairly quietly before that, with Shadow of Revan's storyline continuing in a solid way, until the Fallen Empire announcement blew everyone away in June. The announcement made it clear that the game was going to re-focus on the player's personal story as well as see a lot of re-tooling of basic systems to make the experience smoother for new players, which included the introduction of level sync, a revamp of the companion system and a complete repurposing of all existing group content.

As a result, a summary of the year in review comes across as unusually bleak in terms of actual additions - where I could previously list a bunch of new features such as new operations, new flashpoints (was it really only in 2014 that we got six new flashpoints in a year?) or new PvP maps, we got none of that in 2015. What we did get was more environments and more story - first in the form of the Ziost storyline and then the first nine chapters of Knights of the Fallen Empire. We also saw the introduction of the game's second new playable species since launch, the Togruta. As mentioned above, a lot of things got reworked and that may well have taken up a significant chunk of developer time, but long-time players have nonetheless been feeling a bit neglected, seeing how they are basically being asked to enjoy content that they already completed years ago just because it got a new paint job.

In fact, the atmosphere in the more "hardcore" community, whether it concerns raiding, competitive PvP or just deep investment in the game, is probably bleaker than I've seen it in a long time. (You can read about some of players' recent concerns on Calphaya's blog here or on Xam Xam's here.) Interestingly, at the same time interest from casual players seems to be at an... I don't want to say "all time high", but definitely a new high. Can you believe that SWTOR came second in Massively OP's community poll on "most improved MMO of the year"? (EDIT: OK, it was second when I originally wrote this but then ESO suddenly received a huge amount of votes and soared from third into first place... who knows how these things work.) Either way, I've seen a lot of comments from casual and returning players that they like the changes. After years of Tortanic jokes, it's almost wondrous to behold.

Of course the question remains of how beneficial it will be in the long run to have traded those previously loyal but now frustrated long-time costumers for what many fans fear may well just be short-term visitors. It's a particularly poignant question because only about a year ago, Wildstar was blasted for supposedly being too focused on the hardcore, which was often cited as the reason it wasn't doing very well after a few months. It would be ironic to see the opposite approach in SWTOR fall on its face just as hard... though I'd rather see the game continue to do well either way. While I'm a pretty hardcore player in terms of investment, I like most parts of the game and can cope reasonably well with Bioware's focus shifting over time by simply also shifting what content I focus on for a couple of months. Nonetheless I can't help but worry a little about the game's profitability right now, especially when I hear things like that they already switched to giving the first chapter of KotFE away for free. It could just be another marketing ploy of course, but personally it's giving me flashbacks to the way they started pushing free trials (back when the game still required a subscription to play at all) when subscriber numbers started dropping after launch.

Do you think that it's been a good or a bad year for SWTOR?

7 comments :

  1. Good year. The reason is simple: EA is no longer hiding from any mention of SWTOR. If SWTOR weren't doing so good --or was doing as well as they were the past couple of years-- there wouldn't have been a mention of it at all in E3.

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    1. Well, they could hardly not mention it at E3, considering that's where they announced the KotFE expansion. :) I'm pretty sure they decided to give the game another push because of Episode VII, which doesn't really give us any clear hints in regards to how it was doing before.

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  2. On the whole, as much as I disagree with some decisions they've taken, I do think this year has been a good one. We've seen the best expansion and story since launch, and due to levelling changes in particular there has never been a better time for new players to join, which I hope will do a lot of good in the long-run for the game's longevity.

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    1. Do you really think that KotFE is the best expansion since launch? I wouldn't argue that the new story isn't amazing, but in hindsight it feels like Shadow of Revan delivered a more comprehensive package...

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    2. I do have to admit that my reasoning does revolve around the "opening to new players" aspect. Whilst Shadow of Revan at least delivered two new planets, flashpoints, and Operations, there wasn't all that much different from the "norm" that we'd all known, outside of 12x-XP.

      KotFE has changed that, and there has never been a better time for new players to get involved than with the changes either brought in or in some way augmented, such as the 'replacement' for 12x-XP through the streamlined levelling, in this expansion.

      I do have to say that I do feel that if there were a new Operation then, yeah, it would deliver as comprehensive a package as SoR did, but given that we're at a "natural halfway-through point", they would have to have shoehorned it in in quite an obnoxious manner. Heck, even the Star Fortresses feel more than a bit tacked-on.

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  3. It's been a good year for the most part. But I think for 2016 to be even better they need to sort out some of their priorities as a MMO has to be more than a single player story.

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    1. I'm definitely keeping my fingers crossed for that too.

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