22/05/2022

SWTOR's Endgame Is Alts, Not Gear

It's been a while since I ran into a piece of content about SWTOR that inspired me to write a direct response to it, but yesterday morning I found a video called "SWTOR Endgame... Why Has EA Let This Happen?" in my YouTube recommendations.

It's by Bellular, who I believe is best known for making videos with clickbaity thumbnails about WoW and other MMOs. The actual content of the videos tends to be much more mundane than the title suggests, and this was the case here too, as I think a more accurate summary of the twenty-minute video would be something along the lines of: "I tried SWTOR's endgame and found it quite disappointing". He does mention that he thinks EA doesn't seem to be supporting the game enough, which is where the title comes in, but that's only really a small part of the video.

Clickbaity titles aside, I think it's a solid piece of content and I don't really have any major criticisms of it. He's not wrong when he points out that keeping players busy at max-level mostly seems to revolve around running the same old content over and over, and I was honestly quite happy to hear someone else point out how crappy GSF is at communicating to players what's happening to their ships in combat, something I also wrote about a few years ago.

I did however take some issue with his conclusion that SWTOR wasn't really suitable for being someone's "main" MMO, seemingly based on the unspoken premise that engaging with an MMO in-depth must mean focusing on a single character, doing some sort of max-level grind, and expecting a steady stream of more of the same so that your single character's progression rarely comes to a halt. I'm not saying I wouldn't love for Bioware to be able to put out more content faster, nor that I think people are wrong if that's how they like to play. In fact, if you're the kind of person who really does just want to focus on a single character and who thinks that the real game starts at the level cap, I fully agree that SWTOR probably isn't for you.

Because SWTOR is and has always been a game about alts. It launched with eight unique class stories, and you better believe that the devs didn't intend for you to only play one of them! Playing alts in SWTOR isn't some kind of side activity that you engage in when you've hit a bit of a lull with the "main" game - it is the game!

I thought it was very telling early on in Bellular's video when he talks about being a bit put off by what he saw at max-level and says: "I'd rather do another origin story, one I haven't done before... but that wouldn't be too fair." I'm not sure how playing the content that seems like the most fun to you, the content that the game is focused on making interesting, wouldn't be "fair". I guess because he considered levelling an alt a lesser form of gameplay? Or thought that you can't compare different ways of keeping busy in different MMOs to each other?

I know we've just had a new expansion (for better or worse) that raised the level cap and gave us new gear to grind for - and yes, that is an activity that exists and that people engage in. However, I think it's important to understand that this isn't SWTOR's "real" endgame. Throughout Onslaught, we stayed at the same item level of gear for more than two years! Improving your gear is something to work on for a few weeks or months throughout the entirety of an expansion, but then you're done with that and it isn't the main gameplay for people who consider SWTOR their main MMO.

I think it's safe to say that most people who consider SWTOR their online home level alts, and not just a few of them. Most long-time players I know have literally dozens of different characters. And when new story content gets added to the game, it's not necessarily just a matter of seeing it once, but of taking all your alts through it to see a number of different variations. And again, I get that this isn't for everyone, but in the same vein grinding out a completely new set of gear every few months isn't for everyone either. (I sure don't have the stomach for that anymore personally.)

Fittingly, the same day I saw the Bellular video and started writing this post, I ended up watching a video by Swtorista called "All My SWTOR Characters", in which she introduces viewers to her entire alt stable on Star Forge (presumably she has even more characters on other servers). It's nearly an hour long, so that should give you an idea! I really loved it though, and not just because it was interesting and funny, but also because I saw a lot of similarities to the way my own alts are organised: There are the mains who have a backstory, have seen lots of play time and have lots of different outfits; the also-rans where there's not as much going on, but there's usually still some kind of story attached to each one, whether it's that you levelled that character with a friend or created it as part of some crazy project. Finally there's "the rest", including many characters that just exist because you didn't have that particular species-class combination yet and wanted to try something different. This is the kind of thing that keeps people coming back to the game, and I do think SWTOR provides an excellent playground for it.

6 comments :

  1. In a real sense, SWTOR was originally presented as a WoW-killer when it was more like a game that turned the WoW-centric notion of "the game begins at max level" on its head. All those people who showed up, raced to the end, and then said "I'm bored" missed the point. EA did a terrible job in promoting the game in that respect, but SWTOR did find it's audience. At least it found it soon enough before it suffered the Wildstar fate, thank goodness.

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    1. Hm, I think we need to differentiate between SWTOR at launch and "some time" in the future.

      I mean it's been 10 years, but I (and everyone I knew) basically accepted it as wow-like, we went to max-level and started raiding. Sure, it took a while, but vanilla WoW also took a while (and I still think back then "the game starts at 60" was not a real thing, but maybe that's because I was part of the slow and late crowd and didn't even know what raiding meant). Most people in my 2 guilds didn't instantly start an alt when they were max level.

      I mean, you are still right that quite a few raced to max level, but the raids were also too easy. We blasted through normal and Nightmare and that's when so many got bored that my guild imploded... But this was an endgame-focused crowd and I don't think it was really mostly because of marketing, EA/Bioware could've said anything and (my) people would've jumped at "Star Wars" plus "raids". But as usual, anecdotes :P

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    2. It was definitely more WoW-like at launch. There've been comments from former devs that there was a lot of a tug-of-war between their vision for the more RPG-like elements and corporate pressure pushing for the game to be more like WoW. The first couple of years actually only had minimal story updates and all the patches were group content or daily zones. However, it hasn't been like that in a long time, plus the appeal of playing alts for all the different stories was always there.

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  2. This has made me think. I used to take making numerous alts for granted. Indeed, I objected as strongly to the term "alt" as I did to "toon". Every character was a character and whichever I was playing at the time was my focus.

    I certainly wanted to see mmorpgs from multiple perspectives, different races, classes, combinations, levelling paths and the rest. In most games, even ones I played for months or years, I rested characters when they reached the cap and swapped to others or made new ones.

    I don't really do that any more. Partly it's because most mmorpgs don't support it the way they used to, preferring to streamline the levelling process and herd all new players into the same areas, but also because the change of payment model to F2P made it more atractive to move to another game when I wanted a change rather than another character in the same game.

    I think I'm going to post on this myself so I'll stop there, except to bring it back to SWtOR specifically. I liked the game while I was playing it but absolutely not for the story or the writing, which in my memory was functional at best. Maybe what I wrote at the time contradicts that - I haven't gone back to check - but I definitely never felt any urge to play another character to see a different story. If anything, I could probably have done with less story altogether, even on the one character I did play.

    I am not much of a fan of story in mmorpgs anyway. I don't find it particularly appropriate to the form. That and not being very interested (Or at all interested, if I'm brutally honest) in the Star Wars universe, setting or lore, makes SW:toR a bit of a challenge for me. Even in The Secret World, though,which did have story that I felt was well-written enough to reward the time it took to get to it, I struggled with playing a second character just to see the alternate viewpoint.

    That said, I think a development model that expects players to occupy their time by levelling numerous characters is absolutely solid and I would personally prefer it to the typical gear-grind endgame. I just wouldn't want a lot of narrative propping it up.

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    1. From what I recall you liked the story more than you thought you would, and your main issue was that the voice acting clashed with your desire to listen to the cricket while playing. Also, I thought you started as a smuggler and then made an agent to check out a different story? I might be wrong about those things too though. :P

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    2. Yeah, but I'm not sure the "intended" path was used by so many people, as the story was just this small part of your journey and going through all the planet stories (which were mostly not THAT different, no matter what you chose, it was still: kill ten womp rats). But I guess the other extreme where you could level by just doing your class story and nothing else would've been a bad idea as well, so as usual maybe the middle ground?

      I'm mostly rehashing this as I was _really_ curious about the Empire side (with my main being a Republic Mirialan Sage) on my Bounty Hunter alt, but interest simply fizzled out just shy of Level 30 and I stopped playing for a while. Sure, the second guild dying on me wasn't helpful, but it was simply too long to do it again right after the other toon.

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