12 Things That Are Very Different in SWTOR after 10 Years

The other week I was having a chat with some WoW players I know and the subject of SWTOR came up. Knowing that I play it as my main game, one of them said something along the lines of: "I tried it at launch but it didn't really stick with me. I assume it's a much better game now?" To which I probably should have replied with a simple "Yes, of course!" but since I'm both rubbish at being an ambassador for my favourite MMOs and always have to complicate everything, my answer was some muttered deflection about how I was clearly too biased to make that judgement. Truth is, there are some things that I liked better about the way the game was at launch, which is something I worked through in this post from a few years ago.

But it did get me thinking about what the experience would be like for someone deciding to return now who only played for a little while at launch, or who has at least been absent from the game for more than a few years. With SWTOR's ten year anniversary coming up, I wouldn't be surprised if more people were thinking of checking it out again just to see how it's doing! So I tried to think of some major aspects of the game that have changed since then and compile them in the form of a blog post. Maybe this will alleviate some returning players' confusion... or encourage others to come back if they were on the edge and find out this way that something that put them off back in the day is no longer an issue. Without further ado: Twelve things that make SWTOR very different now compared to how it was at launch.

1. There've been a lot of server merges.

If you still remember the name of the server you played on back in the day... it won't be there anymore. SWTOR launched with a huge amount of servers, just to have to merge them together again and again as the game's population declined. We seem to have settled on there being only five, though that's not as dire as it sounds as they are all "mega servers" and considerably bigger than the average server used to be back in the day. There are three European ones for each of the supported languages (English, German and French), and two US ones for the east and west coast respectively. Note that while the Satele Shan server is nominally considered the west coast server, in terms of physical location, both servers are located on the east coast now.

If you used to or want to play on an RP or pure PvP server, you're out of luck now as neither exists anymore. The RP community just doesn't get much love, period, and world PvP was changed to a purely optional thing on all servers. Basically you have the option to switch to a "PvP instance" on any planet accessible to both factions, in which all players are flagged. There are no special rewards for it though other than sometimes having reduced competition for mob spawns.

2. The game has a free-to-play/freemium business model now.

I know this is a change that happened in SWTOR's very first year, but if you really quit within the first few months, I guess you never would have seen even that get implemented. It's kind of weird to think back to what a drama that was back then, when being subscription-only was considered the gold standard and dropping the mandatory subscription was considered a sign of a failed game. I feel like people have become a lot more chill about that nowadays and seem to consider the business model less important as long as the game is fun and no particular monetisation scheme is too annoying.

The way SWTOR's free-to-play model works is that it gives you access to a huge amount of content for free, but then tries to make you vaguely uncomfortable in terms of quality of life at every opportunity to get you to pony up for the optional subscription. If that sort of thing bothers you, I always suggest subscribing for at least a month if you think you're having any fun at all, as that immediately removes all of the restrictions and unlocks even more content.

The cash shop is fairly inoffensive unless you're a fashionista who needs to own all the outfits as that'll set you back by quite a lot. Note that everything from the Cartel Market can be traded and sold in game though, so if you've got enough credits you can get most things from other players via the Galactic Trade Network.

Aside from cosmetics the Cartel Market only contains a few unlocks that make life as a free/preferred (lapsed sub) player marginally less annoying, but really, if that's your goal it's much easier and better value for money to just subscribe. I wrote a post comparing SWTOR's and ESO's business models a couple of years ago if you find that kind of thing interesting.

3. Levelling has been simplified and sped up massively.

Not that it was ever really hard... but you could die on some solo story missions, and you sometimes had to worry about upgrading your gear or doing some side content for extra XP. None of that is really the case anymore. In terms of combat, I found it quite striking that when Bhagpuss gave the game a try a couple of years ago, he described the levelling journey as such: "Games intended for very small children not excluded, TOR is by far the easiest MMORPG I have ever played." And he's played a lot of MMOs! It does ramp up a bit later on, which is a point I don't think Bhagpuss ever got to, but it's still a far cry from what it was like during the first couple of years, when you could even die on the starter planets if you didn't upgrade and use your skills appropriately.

The XP you get from main story missions has also been multiplied so many times that doing anything but the main storyline(s) is now redundant for levelling purposes and if you engage with things like side quests or group content at all, you'll be over-levelled for the story in no time.

4. Side quests are now hidden by default.

Speaking of side quests or "exploration missions" as they are now called, not only are they not needed anymore to fill your XP bar, someone at Bioware also decided at some point a few years ago that their mere presence was confusing and/or off-putting and decided to make them hidden by default. If you still want to find and do them, you have to open your map and tick the "show exploration missions" box on there to make quest markers appear over the relevant NPCs. You're welcome.

5. The game is fully level-scaled now.

On the subject of being over-levelled for the story, a few expansions ago SWTOR introduced level-scaling. The way it works in most cases is that each planet has a defined level range, and if you are within that range or below, you'll simply play as your current level, but if you exceed it, you'll be down-levelled to the highest "permitted" level for the planet, while keeping all your higher level abilities and secondary stats, meaning that you're still going to be pretty OP. But it does mean that you can't simply run around lower-level planets one-shotting everything, and that you do keep getting XP for doing quests no matter where you are (with the exception of some low-level areas on Coruscant and Dromund Kaas), so if you're enjoying the lower-level content you can do most of your levelling by simply doing that.

6. Travel around the galaxy is faster now.

Something I'd almost forgotten until I re-read the post by Wilhelm that I linked earlier is how annoying planetary travel used to be sometimes, what with having to go to your hangar, loading into your ship, picking your travel destination, getting off there, exiting the space station or spaceport, and so on and so forth. Nowadays, the only reason you'll have to do that is if you have a quest inside the hangar or on your ship while levelling, but otherwise you can open the galaxy map from (almost) anywhere, click on your desired planetary destination and simply go there instantly. You might just have to briefly navigate out of a spaceport or station after arriving.

There are also a lot of other convenient travel options. Planetary taxis are now all available without having to unlock them first. Both quick travel and the emergency fleet pass had their cooldowns shortened drastically, to the point where subscribers with legacy perks have no cooldown on either of them (when it used to be something like half an hour and... twenty hours? respectively).

Strongholds (more on them below) also offer a way to instantly travel to a safe place and back if you need it. And people in a guild with a guild ship can instantly summon a group from anywhere in the galaxy to their location. WoW used to have this as a guild perk called "Have Group, Will Travel" that they took out at some point because it was considered too overpowered or something. Not so in SWTOR! I've written about the evolution of travel in SWTOR in a bit more detail here.

7. There's housing now, called strongholds.

Housing is one of those things that I really don't care that much about in an MMORPG, but I know that there's a dedicated audience for it that considers it an absolute key feature. Again, this is something that's actually been in the game for quite a while now (since 2014 to be exact), but if you left in the first year you might not have known that. You can purchase various apartments and estates on a number of planets and decorate them to your heart's content.

The way decorations can be placed is hook-based (so not completely free-form) but at the same time not as restrictive as in other games that use similar systems, as you can change the layout of hooks you use (e.g. by choosing whether a room should contain a lot of small hooks, a couple of big ones, or a mix).

8. The way companions work has been changed quite a bit.

At launch every class could acquire a total of five unique companions by completing their class story. Each companion had likes and dislikes, and you could only progress their personal story if they liked you enough. They also required constant gear upgrades to remain effective (the same way as a player) and each companion was locked into only being able to perform one trinity role (tank, dps or healer).

With the launch of Knights of the Fallen Empire, everyone's class companions were taken away (once you start that part of the story), though you later get to re-unite with them as the story progresses. However, now all characters get access to (almost) all companions, plus a whole bunch of new ones.

Companion stories aren't locked behind whether they like you anymore, and instead unlock automatically once you've progressed far enough in the overall story. "Liking" you isn't that important anymore either, as affection has been replaced with influence, which also goes up if you make decisions that they hate. Gear also doesn't affect companion performance anymore; instead they simply get stronger as your influence increases.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, all companions can perform any trinity role now, so you're no longer locked into dragging a specific companion that you don't like around just because they're your only healer. They've also been boosted incredibly in terms of power and are much more effective at keeping you alive now, which also contributes to the whole levelling being much easier thing (see point three). Again, if you're interested in more detail, I've written more about the evolution of companions in SWTOR in this post.

9. The gear treadmill is minimal.

Speaking of gear affecting power levels, the gear treadmill in SWTOR is minimal nowadays. With the launch of the last expansion they added a new item level of gear but this has stayed the same throughout the whole expansion, even though it was really easy to max out within a couple of weeks after launch. You don't need to do the hardest content to acquire max-level gear either - people have the option to gear up through different activities depending on what they find fun. Additionally, most gear is bound to legacy, meaning that you can freely send it back and forth between your alts, so that a new alt can instantly wear a full kit of max-level gear once you've ground it out once. If you feel like other games are too demanding in terms of making you grind for gear as you'd really rather just chill and enjoy the story or whatever, SWTOR might be for you.

10. The easier group content is role-neutral now.

I thought about starting with "SWTOR has an automated group finder now" since strictly speaking that wasn't in at launch either, though it did get added very soon after. Still, I can imagine few players being surprised by this. What does throw people off more often is that the easier group content (veteran mode flashpoints and uprisings) has been tweaked to be role-neutral now, meaning that you can run it with four damage dealers if you want - no long queue times to wait for a tank. So if the game puts you into a group with no tank or healer, this is not an error but working as intended! The only thing to keep in mind here is that in somewhat of a contrast to the easy solo-levelling, group content without a tank or healer can actually be quite a challenge (depending on the instance and your group make-up), potentially forcing you to actually take care with pulls and use cooldowns to not die.

11. The post-launch content is not unique for your class.

Many hours of new story content have been added since launch, however due to the game not meeting expectations they had to lose the whole "eight parallel class stories" angle and unify the storyline. If this makes you wonder which character class might be best to return to to get the best experience out of the new content, I've got a post for you here!

Still, it's important to know that there's not as much replayability for alts as there used to be. There is some depending on the content - as there are references to your old class sprinkled in here or there, and some storylines are different for Republic and Empire at least. However, eight unique class stories it is not.

12. There are options to skip ahead now.

I'd always advise players not to skip story the first time around, but if you were stuck on something you really didn't enjoy, or on an alt that stalled out while progressing through a piece of content you found too repetitive to do again, there are options to skip ahead to different points in the story now. So for example if you've only been gone for a few years but got bogged down in the "Knights of" expansions because you really didn't enjoy them, you can skip right ahead to Jedi Under Siege, where the story returns to a more traditional Republic vs. Empire setup.

Are you someone who hasn't played SWTOR in a long time and thinking about returning? Got any other burning questions about what has changed since the last time you played? Feel free to leave them in the comments!


  1. With respect to "how many stories to develop," i feel like they have the balance about right in the last expansion I played. There were two very different story lines to play through depending on your faction. I liked this approach in Makeb as well.

    Eight storylines was amazing at launch, but clearly too ambitious to be maintained. Even if they had managed to attract several million steady subs, I think the logistics of developing all that content never would have been feasible to deal with.

    AT the same time, the Knights expansions really hurt their replayability by essentially only having one story. They did have impressive production values, but I was disappointed by how little really changed when I went through the second time making radically different choices.

    1. Very much agreed. I think it was during the Knights expansions that they used the refrain "choices matter" a lot, implying that your decisions hadn't really had enough of an impact on your gameplay before, but now it was going to be different! But this really didn't pan out... there were a couple of major story points that made somewhat of a difference, such as whether Koth sticks around or whether to kill or redeem Arcann, but those are ultimately small moments in hours of an otherwise completely linear-feeling story with very little variety.

  2. Thanks for this post. A much more verbose response than what I got when I asked the question. :D

    I haven't been impressed with Bioware's writing in a while, but I've always been carefully curious about these "different stories" they lauded in the beginning; it's something no other MMO's seem to have.

    At the end of the day, it's either the setting of the MMO or the community that will make me stick to any specific one for any extended period of time. I don't particularly like the setting of WoW, but the community is great. I'm... sort of a fan of Star Wars, but normally, the more standard stories don't interest me that much. I'm much more interested in stories that don't deal so much in good and evil, but rather some shades of grey and the lives of people not directly involved with the jedi/sith stuff. The Mandalorion probably has my favourite TV/film story, and KotOR2 has my favourite game story, by far, for these reasons.

    I don't know how this is represented in SWTOR, but in my experience, Bioware's story and characters have always been rather black and white. We'll see, though. I intend to give it a whirl, either way, as well as check out FF14 finally. Some day. :)

    1. SWTOR's community... is a mixed bag. Like Blizzard, Bioware isn't very good with moderation, and places like Dromund Kaas general chat can be a worse cesspit than the Barrens. But on the other hand there are a ton of super easygoing and helpful players. It depends on who you run into.

      If you're interested in Star Wars beyond Jedi and Sith (I am too), SWTOR is a great game because you can start as four non-Force using classes! Smuggler and trooper on Republic side and agent and bounty hunter on Empire. They provide really interesting insights into different sort of lives in the Republic and Empire respectively. I think you'd also enjoy many of the optional exploration missions and the world building they provide by giving you glimpses into the lives of more ordinary people.

      In terms of black and white, the way the game tracks alignment is indeed binary between light and dark, but that's really mostly a cosmetic thing that doesn't affect many things. In terms of actual decisions you can make a character that's a little bit of this and a little bit of that, which I think many players do. Most of the individual story choices aren't that deep (there's a lot of "spare or kill") but what makes things interesting is building up your character's story over time and seeing what sort of person they become.

    2. That is what I was hoping for back in the day, when the game first came out; less focus on the Force and a galaxy that must be saved by The Chosen One. Now that they've streamlined the main stories, is this still the case, or will I - as a trooper, let's say - still get embroiled in the battles of space wizards? I mean, I can probably live with that, if there's a lot of other content on the side (like those exploration missions you mentioned), but it was that promise of multiple storylines that really got me interested in the first place.

    3. You are a pretty big deal by the end of your class story, so while not "the chosen one", the story treats you as an important person going forward.

      As for "the battles of space wizards"... looking at all the expansions together, I think Bioware tried to strike a balance between having both stories that are more Force focused (for the Jedi and Sith characters) and ones that are more political/general conflicts (for the non-Force classes). Though there is a major storyline from a few years ago that has very strong "chosen one" vibes (and was therefore not a great time to e.g. be a trooper :P). So it's so-so from that point of view.

  3. You forgot the most annoying thing about the companion changes. If you played through the story back then, your favorite companion is influence level 10 and it's a real pain to get them to 50, whereas if you level a character in 2019 (and I guess, now) you end up with 20-30 at least and it's easier to get to 50.

    1. That was annoying when they originally made the changeover to influence, but it should be less of an issue now since it's so easy to level companion influence via crew skill missions. My main's up to 11 comps at influence 50 just from sending them out on crew skill missions every time I'm about to log out.

  4. Why 12? 10 things in 10 years. Why 12? OCD is kicking hard.

    1. Hahaha, I'm sorry! I actually did start with 10 in mind, but as I kept writing down more things to add to the list I realised that I'd gone over and couldn't decide what to cut - so I just went with 12, because 12 is also a valid number for list posts, right? ^^


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