The New Character Experience in LotS

I'm kind of at a point in SWTOR where I feel that my several dozen alts are enough to experience what I primarily want out of the game and that I don't really "need" any more, but that doesn't prevent me from occasionally rolling up a new alt for a specific purpose anyway. For example I've been very curious about how the 7.0 class and UI changes feel on a brand-new character. Long-time players like me complaining about losing their 29th ability button are one thing, but I was under the impression that a lot of these changes were primarily targeted at new and returning players anyway, in order to make things more appealing and less complicated for them.

While I can't un-know everything I know about the game after ten years of playing, I could roll up a new character on a server where I don't usually play very much and where I have no notable legacy unlocks, to see what that experience felt like. I already mentioned in a previous post that I created a new Jedi knight on Star Forge, but with the Shadow combat style, which was previously reserved for consulars.

First off: character creation. My opinion on the new character creation screen has largely stayed the same since I first saw Swtorista tweet a screenshot of it during LotS PTS testing. It looks good, but the overall look is just very generic. Obviously changing the first half to accommodate the decoupling of base and advance class was needed, and I also like that gender is simply a toggle now instead of a separate "step", which always felt unnecessary to me. But I do miss some of the flavour that was lost, such as having information about the different species. Also, before this change I'd never really thought about it, but the previous way of having character creation take place on a space station was actually a nice story tie-in, as each class story starts with your character taking a shuttle down from orbit to the planet. Now your character's simply "born" in a black void like in some generic shooter game.

Some problems are still the same old, same old, such as finding a name. They really need to do another round of freeing up the names of unplayed characters some time, because none of the suggestions the game itself provides are ever available. Also, I found myself wishing for a back button when I accidentally overwrote all my initial choices by hitting "random". (I thought it was for randomising the name, not the appearance...)

Anyway, enough about character creation. Once you get into the game properly, the traditional scrolling Star Wars intro is notably absent, but this has been acknowledged as a bug. I know many people still hold up the class stories as the best SWTOR has to offer, but I've got to say that going back to the starter worlds it always strikes me how far the game's come in terms of its storytelling. Sure, the original class stories are still engaging, but everything from the writing to the cut scenes to the quest flow has come a long way in my opinion and is actually a lot more enjoyable in newer story installments. It's just the fact that you've got those eight completely different stories to choose from at the start that makes going back there so appealing I think.

Gameplay-wise things immediately felt a little off though. No, I don't expect the starter planets to be a huge challenge, but that's not what I mean. For example, one of the first abilities a Shadow is given is Force Breach, which starts as a damage-over-time ability. It immediately struck me what a terrible choice that was in terms of fun, because every enemy in those early levels dies within literally one or two hits, so that applying a DoT is utterly pointless.

New abilities now appear on your bar automatically whenever you level up, which is something I grumbled about when WoW first started doing it and I'm still not convinced it's an entirely good move for SWTOR either. Mostly because I think there's value in making a conscious choice to see a trainer at a time that's convenient for you, so you can actually take the time to read your new skills and acquaint yourself with them at your leisure. A new button just appearing on your quickbar in the middle of combat is easy to overlook... admittedly less so during the earlier levels when there isn't much on there yet, but it becomes more of an issue as things fill up and become visually busy.

I also found the lack of AoE for the first few levels very noticeable, as all the mobs come in groups so you're just running up to them and then whacking them to death one by one. I don't remember when you got your first AoE under the old system, maybe it took just as long, but I don't recall it feeling quite so bad... maybe because you generally got more abilities sooner. This time around, I only had enough combat abilities to fill up a little over half a bar by level ten - again, I don't have exact numbers, but I remember those skills coming in much faster during the early levels within the old system.

At level ten I also went to look for some sort of prompt to choose a specialisation and was surprised to find that the game had just put my Shadow into Infiltration spec by default. I guess I can see why the devs would do that, to avoid players accidentally gimping themselves by potentially never even choosing a spec at all. If you do discover it later, the game now let's you change specialisation with the push of a button anyway, without requiring a special legacy perk or that you visit a guy on the fleet. On the other hand though, it makes specialisation a very passive thing to begin with, and I suspect that might lead to casual players being even more likely to remain completely unaware of the concept.

For the Shadow in specific, I also found it interesting that I gained stealth at level ten, but not a single ability that only works from stealth or that behaves differently from stealth, which means it's kind of introduced as just a way of avoiding mobs instead of something that affects the way you do combat. Again, my memory may not be 100% on point here, but I seem to recall that stealth pretty much used to come combined with things that you could actually do from stealth.

On a totally unrelated note, "Introduction to Conquests" is now granted automatically when hitting level ten, which I did think was neat, as it was too easy to miss on the fleet terminal previously.

In the area leading to the Forge on Tython, there's an optional champion droid which used to be quite tough back in the day when you couldn't have a healer companion at this level, and who became utterly trivial to solo after 4.0. I thought I'd give him a go to use him as a sort of measuring stick and was kind of pleasantly surprised to find that while T7 kept healing me, without legacy buffs or anything he couldn't entirely keep up with the damage, so that my health started to slowly but surely decline. In the end I ran away and had to start kiting the droid around a pillar for the last part of the fight in order not to die, which was quite satisfying actually.

Another thing I liked was that upon finishing up my class quest at the Forge, I actually received a dual-saber right away. That may not be a brand-new change actually, but I do remember how awkward it used to be to forge yourself a special one-handed lightsaber, just to then instantly have to replace it with some green that was actually suitable for your advanced class/combat style.

After finishing Tython, the first thing I did on the fleet was to queue for a PvP match, which was a stark reminder that you really shouldn't do that at level 13. I mean, it's always been a bad idea at such a low level, but now it was even worse because I had even fewer abilities than I would have had previously. I could stealth but had no crowd control, so literally all I did for most of the Voidstar match I got into was put my single DoT on every enemy and spend the rest of the time saber/double striking. Unsurprisingly we lost, though at least the Introduction to Warzones quest gave me a few nice pieces of starter gear.

I also thought it was quite noteworthy that I didn't gain any skills at levels 11, 13 or 14, but then when I dinged 15 in the middle of a Coruscant heroic I suddenly got four new actives and a new passive at once - and worse: the passive was the one that completely morphs the way Force Breach works. I was just getting the hang of putting my DoT on every mob, then I dinged, and suddenly my DoT wasn't a DoT anymore, and couldn't be used at all unless I used other abilities to build buff stacks first... not the best experience to have while buried under a pile of mobs in the middle of a heroic. Again, this is why trainers are a good thing in my opinion.

At the end of the day, I'm not a truly new player though, so who can say how they perceive this kind of thing? To me personally it doesn't seem like a significant improvement, at least not in these early levels. For my taste, you spend too much time spamming your most basic attack simply because nothing else is available yet, and the pacing of new abilities feels awkward. I may keep experimenting with it some more though, to see how it feels as you go up in levels or when you play a combat style other than Shadow.


  1. Several DOZEN alts? Where on earth do you store them all?

    1. SWTOR is not stingy with character slots! You can unlock up to fifty per server last I checked.

    2. I think after the most recent server merge the 'normal' cap is 100 characters per server. I do remember someone saying they have something like 350 characters on a single server because of multiple servers being merged into a single current server. Of course, they can't create any new characters, but with that many I don't think they lack for variety. ^_^

    3. Ja, 100 characters per server is correct.

      The first thing i did when i accumulated billions with crafting was buying account unlocks.

      Not that i need 100 characters slots per server, but since credits are useless anyway, you might as well transfer them into something that lasts.

      Another topic:

      Shintar, i'm pretty shocked on your approach to this topic.
      You did not do the necessary research and just wrote based on your memory.
      As the question with server character slots proves, your memory does not serve you well or relys on outdated informations.

    4. You're shocked that I casually answered a friend's question with a "last I checked" instead of researching the exact number first, which wasn't that important to my overall point anyway? ':)

      If you're referring to the blog post itself, I'm not sure what you mean. It's about how it feels to level a new character vs. how it used to feel. I have to rely on memory to some extent because I don't have a detailed record of my moment-to-moment gameplay experience levelling previous characters on Tython, and I fully acknowledged where I'm not sure about things.

      I suppose I could have tried to dig up more details on exactly which abilities a character was allowed to train at which level in what year, but for the amount of work that would have required it would have added little other than perhaps make me slightly change the wording of three sentences in a 1700-word impressions piece. Certainly not "necessary research".

  2. When I leveled a new character on the PTS, the mechanics weren't as much of a concern for me. Partly that was doing it on the PTS. You know things aren't in their final state so odd issues are to be expected. What I didn't expect was how a simple change of Combat Style -- in my case doing the Trooper story with a Smuggler Combat Style with stealth -- felt really fresh. It pulled me through the story because I wanted to see how all the encounters would go, how the game would handle my changed options. (There was also the irony of all the times in cutscenes the Trooper wields a pistol would actually be accurate.)

    I was much more excited to play Swtor and games in general because of the changes. I'm probably an outlier, but for me it update has been a success. That said, I'm sure in time the changes won't be exciting after I've done enough of the class stories as something 'different', but for now I'll ride that wave of enthusiasm.

    1. Yeah, I've heard quite a few people say that just the ability to pick a different combat style for a known class has felt quite fresh for them.

  3. I really like the idea of more flexibility in how I spec my characters. For example a trooper that uses sniper rifles would be really neat. However they seem to have badly botched the ability progression for new players. All of the impressions I have read of the new player experience complain about how the low level combat has been overly simplified.

    1. I'm not sure simplified is the right term - you do still get a fair number of abilities relatively quickly (and levelling is much faster nowadays than it used to be anyway). But the flow feels off to me at least: several levels of nothing, then three skills at once. Starting with a DoT at level one, when everything dies in one hit. Some classes don't get a crowd control ability until almost max level now. I'll have to level some more to articulate it better I think.

      Though I have also seen some comments from newer players saying that they saw nothing wrong with the way they gained abilities.

    2. A lot of the dissonance here is, from my perspective, an artefact of Bioware's design philosophy. Where other games add new abilities with each expansion, Bioware seems to have actively avoided this by "respacing" ability gain equally (haphazardly) across the levels. So, with almost twice as many levels today as at launch (80 vs 50, not quite double, but my point stands), we are receiving new abilities almost half as often.

      It feels like they *have* made some token effort to readjust this, I definitely agree they need to take a long, hard look at ability distribution across levels and do way better at this. It is clear that those devs who actually play the game are not engaging too deeply with the levelling experience (much like many players) and so don't realise the extent of the problem. With other MMOs, where endgame *is the game*, this isn't really as big an issue, as the response is simply "just do the work and level faster" so you can play "the real game". SWTOR has always had more focus on the journey than most, though.

      A good example of this rebalancing is the recent issue with Powertechs/Vanguards. One of their specs' primary abilities (Energy Burst) was brought to a lower level. Unfortunately, to even activate it, you need a passive which changes their energy cell/ammo type and accumulate the energy lodes to use it... which comes at a later level. So, in 7.1, they had to swap the Energy Burst ability with the class' DOT, effectively granting Energy Burst *after* the passive allowing storage of the lodes.


Share your opinion! Everyone is welcome, as long as things stay polite. I also read comments on older posts, so don't be shy. :)