Dual Wielding: Third Times a Charm in Star Wars: The Old Republic

Dual Wielding: A series featuring two bloggers writing on one topic and answering the question, “If the pen is mightier than the sword, what happens when you dual wield?”

Make sure you don’t miss Kunzay’s take: Is SWTOR a universe to live in?

Star Wars: The Old Republic is a game that has slowly grown on me each time I play. I downloaded the game for the first time back in 2013 after the launch of Rise of the Hutt Cartel but did not spend a dime and never made it further than level seven after a week or two of gameplay. At the time I was still enamored with World of Warcraft and SWTOR was not compelling enough to tear me away. While I found the voice overs and cut scenes a unique component worth exploring, the classes felt clunky by comparison and the restrictive free to play model was a deterrent.

In January of 2014 I gave SWTOR another try having grown tired of WoW and hoping to find a new MMO home in the Star Wars universe. I still did not subscribe however I did invest about $30 in Cartel Coins in order to open up the preferred access perks and to purchase as many account wide unlocks as I could afford to make the F2P experience more bearable. This time I leveled in to the teens with several classes over the course of a month but in the end went looking for greener pastures in other MMOs. Giving the classes more time to develop did smooth out some of the choppiness I experienced the first play through and my minor investment in Cartel Coins removed many of the F2P restrictions I disliked but ultimately I searched elsewhere for an MMO home.

However looking back I don’t think either of those experiences with the game were a fair assessment. The first encounter was too brief and the second was cut short by my unrealistic expectations of finding a “perfect” MMO to replace WoW as my permanent virtual residence. So before even getting into the reasons why I am not only playing SWTOR but doing so somewhat exclusively I want to point out that the main element that has changed since those first two trials is not the game, but me; my expectations, goals, and interests in regard to MMOs are quite different now than they were a year ago.

Firstly, I had not played many other MMOs by early 2014 so there was always the promise of another title being better. I’ve since played through quite a few and recognize they all have their strengths and weaknesses but none of them will perfectly embody everything I want in an MMO. Secondly, I was searching to recapture that feeling I had in WoW during my first year in the genre and I now realize that just isn’t possible. Even World of Warcraft itself cannot grant me the experience of being new all over again. Looking for an MMO I like at this stage requires compromise on my part, discovering what features I can’t live without and which weaknesses I can overlook.

So what is it about SWTOR that has me hooked? The game has certainly received its fair share of criticism. WildStar seems to be the new contender but for the longest time SWTOR was the go-to MMO “failure” the community loved to jeer. Bioware and the loyal fan base have stuck with the game over the years and now with several expansions, features, and quality of life improvements added, as far as I’m concerned the game can really hold its own in the current MMO market.

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“Look mom, I’m a Twi’lek on Tatooine!”

Star Wars Story

The first and perhaps most obvious reason I am enjoying SWTOR is because of the IP. While I’m certainly not the biggest Star Wars fan, I have spent quite a few hours reading books from the extended universe (at least thirty titles), watching the films, and generally enjoying the vast galaxy imagined by George Lucas. Bioware is known for their ability to tell stories through video games and SWTOR is no exception. Quality or significance may vary from quest to quest but with the attention to detail and the inclusion of voice overs and cut scenes you cannot escape the investment they have made in story. To hear the development team speak of the game now, this seems to be their primary focus going forward, which I cautiously applaud. Storytelling is the backbone of SWTOR and should be highlighted so long as content with greater replayability is also being developed to compliment it.

I wasn’t always in favor of this element, though. At first when I returned I found the cut scenes to be a constant interruption of gameplay. Having come from other MMOs where story is delivered through quest text I was used to rushing through to get on with my questing. In SWTOR you have the option of bypassing the conversations but I have made the decision to listen to (or read) each one of them. Now my pace has changed and I enjoy the delivery much more. When I do quest, it is far more relaxed and I enjoy the break in combat and the character and story development that occurs. However I still wish Bioware had focused the labor intensive storytelling to the class quest line and let the minor planetary quests go without. Quest hubs take too much time with the amount of cutscenes you have to watch all at once and in the end it can be difficult to remember them all.

Nobody does planking like SWTOR. Nobody.

Nobody does planking like SWTOR. Nobody.

Diverse Gameplay

The second reason I am playing and the main reason my opinion of SWTOR has changed over the last year is the diverse gameplay features the title offers. Granted, many of these features were added in the last year and were not available when I first tried the game but they are accessible now and their inclusion illustrates that Bioware is indeed still invested in this game. When I log on I can play through the class story, run Flashpoints, Tacticals, or Warzones, participate in Galactic Starfighter, complete a Space Mission, or work on my Stronghold. There’s also crafting, gearing companions, gearing your ship, and even a Casino if you’ve got credits to spare. For guilds the game includes flagships for invading planets in order to earn conquest points in competition with other guilds on your server. Then there is the new costume designer which also provides additional gameplay variety for those so inclined. What it boils down to is that you can have a different experience with the game every night of the week or adjust your end game goals as your personal tastes change over time.

There is a dark side to this diversity, however. While it is true there are many types of content, BIoware has not been willing (or able) to update all of them equally or in a reasonable amount of time. New Operations and Warzone maps have come out infrequently and the Galactic Starfighter PvP game has not received an update in a long time and Bioware has admitted there are no current plans to do so. Planetary invasions seemed all the rage when they were first introduced but I no longer hear much chatter on the subject and wonder if this too will go the way of GSF. However, compare this to World of Warcraft which went 14 months without a new raid, has no plans of releasing a new battleground map for Warlords of Draenor, and has completely abandoned the three-player scenarios that were quite common in Mists of Pandaria and apparently plans to do the same with Garrisons at the end of Warlords and it’s hard to criticize a game with a much smaller player base and income for placing similar limitations on development based on popularity and available resources.

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Weakness: 0; Asteroids: 15. I think I’m getting the hang of this.

Local Server Grouping

This last point will likely be a contentious one (and possibly subject to change over the next year) but the third reason I’m really enjoying SWTOR is because every group activity takes place on your home server. The inclusion of cross server group finders in MMOs has made it much more difficult to establish server-based communities. There were so many times when I played WoW that I would meet someone in a dungeon whom I really enjoyed playing with but I would never see them again because they were from another server. In SWTOR, even while leveling I have found myself running into the same people when I chain run Warzones or Galactic Starfighter. Not only does this allow me to meet people on my server with whom I can later interact, but in a PvP environment it also allows for rivalries to form between the factions. In GSF it’s not uncommon for me to see another player say, “watch out, it looks like so and so is on tonight” and of course the player in question is well known and quite formidable.

This limited player pool can be problematic however, especially if you are on a smaller server of if you are interested in PvP and your server has a severe faction imbalance. I have not participated in Rank PvP but from what I hear it can be hours before a queue pops on some servers or factions and that is detrimental to the overall health of the game. However while leveling I’ve found queue times for Warzones and Flashpoints as both healer and DPS to be comparable to other MMOs I’ve played. I’m hoping that whatever Bioware is working on to fix the problem with Ranked PvP does not affect any other game modes as I would like to see the Flashpoints and Warzones remain local to my server. Running into someone on the fleet that I remember from a Tactical is an experience I’ve not had in any other MMO and I welcome the opportunity to get to know my neighbors.

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“She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, kid.”

 

A New Hope… For Finding an MMO Home

I’ve not been looking for a permanent place to hang my hat (or helm) in quite a while, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’m a wanderer and prefer diversity over depth. However with this recent foray into SWTOR, I’m starting to think I may well have found a place to set up camp for an extended stay. The story, features, and community are the top three reasons I am enjoying the game but there are so many others; the class options, legacy features, and my guild to name a few. Clearly there are problems with the game, but SWTOR is so feature rich in all the ways I’m looking for in an MMO that I may have just found my home in the most unlikely of places: a galaxy far, far away…

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Home Sweet MMORPG Home

Last week for the first in a series called Dual Wielding, I wrote on the pros and cons of both staying with one MMO and playing multiple titles. I’ve been hopping around between games for a little over a year now and have been quite happy with the approach. What my post did not cover were the times I was dissatisfied. When I first began exploring new MMOs, leaving the comfort and familiarity of World of Warcraft, I was expecting to find a new long term virtual residence. Instead, I found every game to be lacking something critical and after a month or two I would move on. However, the exposure to other MMOs revealed the flaws in World of Warcraft as well such that when I returned I was still restless.

For a long time I approached every new game or revisited old ones hoping I had found “the one” only to be disappointed by the game or enticed away by another, seemingly better title. Wanting to find a home but jumping from game to game was what made me dissatisfied, and eventually I chose to embrace the multi-gaming approach and stopped looking for a home. But what if I did want to go back to the old days, what if I wanted to make a more permanent home in an MMO? Having experienced the breadth the genre has to offer, what features would I look for and which could I live without? More importantly, what changes would I have to make in my own thinking and habits?

Elliot Lefebvre of Massively OP linked this article in the comments of Kunzay’s first Dual Wielding post. It’s an older article of his in which he describes the problem of finding “the one” MMO home to be primarily with our own expectations and approach. He then compares the process of finding an MMO home to finding a long term romantic relationship. While I may have a terrible track record with staying with a single MMO, I have had success with being married to my beautiful wife now for almost eleven years. When we first met in 2001, in my youthful arrogance I thought, “if she could only see what a catch I am, she’ll date me for sure!” Now, fourteen years later, I’m painfully more aware of my own flaws and foibles and marvel at my good fortune in having married someone who is vastly my superior.

Once you’ve been exposed to the MMO genre more broadly, it’s much more difficult to be satisfied with a single game. However it isn’t impossible, and I think applying some of what I’ve learned over the years as a bumbling husband may shed some light on what it would take to find happiness in a single MMO, imperfections and all. The following are several questions that I think need to be asked if you are wanting to find a home and stop wandering through a sea of virtual worlds.

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  • Are you looking for a home?

This is the most obvious question but it is important to stop and answer it. Do you really want to “settle down” or are you content with dabbling in multiple MMOs? In the world of romantic relationships I would encourage anyone to pursue a lifelong, monogamous marriage over casual, nomadic dating because of the incomparable blessings that can only come from that kind of commitment. But when it comes to MMOs, it doesn’t really matter in my opinion. As I wrote before, it’s not which decision you make, but that you make a decision and stick with it and stop worrying over what you’ll miss. Maybe you’re looking for a home but when you stop and ask yourself this question, you discover you’re quite happy playing several games, in which case you should continue to do so.

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  • Are you willing to go without, in exchange for a home?

There will be consequences to choosing a single MMO over multi-gaming— features, mechanics, and expansion excitement that other games will offer (and which usually are more appealing in their potential than in reality) you will have to go without. Are you willing to forego those things in order to gain the benefits of playing one game long term? Would you rather experience the depth of a single game and the perks of being part of a single community or are the other options out there just too shiny?

In the world of relationships, once you are married your options for intimacy have been narrowed to one individual. There will be a lot of other interesting and attractive people out in the world and you will, of necessity, miss out on experiencing that kind of relationship with them. You can either spend your days in the fantasyland of “what ifs” or you can make the decision to ignore the rest and prepare for a lifetime spent exploring and enjoying the heart and mind of a single human being.

Similarly in gaming you will miss out on the broader genre but you will gain a deeper understanding of a single game. If you cannot let go of the fear that another MMO might be offering something better and that you’re missing out, you’re going to be unhappy playing a single game, no matter which one you chose.

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  • Do you enjoy the game and community enough to stay, even when “fun” is harder to come by? In other words, are you willing to work for a home?

This question is critical, and is the other side of the coin from question two. You may be enticed away because another game is offering something novel, but you may also begin to wander because the game you are playing has not offered anything new in a while and continuing to have fun requires making your own.

Relationships are no different. When the honeymoon phase is over there are times when making it fun, romantic, and exciting will not come easy. You’ll have to work for it, and your spouse may be going through a season in life in which they are not contributing much to that work. I’ve been on both sides of that situation and it is well worth it to carry or be carried in order to move forward because there is a depth of intimacy on the other side that you miss out on if you go the easy route and just find a new “honeymoon” phase.

The same will be found on the other side of sticking with a single game when the development cycle is desert dry. In fact, making your own fun with guildies or the community at large may provide to be a more fulfilling experience than waiting on the development team to do it for you.

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  • Are you the problem with the “stickiness” of an MMO, rather than the game itself?

Do you remember when I said what a catch I thought I was when I first met my wife? It would have been real easy for me to start courting the idea of dating other women rather than marrying her had I continued to blindly think so much of myself as her own weaknesses became apparent. Instead I became aware of my own flaws and of the difficulties she would naturally encounter being married to me and we both learned to extend grace to one another. As gamers, the situation is different. We are entitled to approaching MMOs as we would any other market, searching for the best product and expecting the developers to do all the work in keeping us happy. But if you want a home in a single MMO, you have to stop thinking like a consumer and start thinking like a community member.

When you are dissatisfied you will want to take a good look at yourself to see if some (or all) of the problem is your own habits, patterns of thought, or blind spots. Hopping from one game to the next is not a new problem for me, I’ve done the same with hobbies throughout my entire life. For years I have been jumping from one to the next looking for “the one” hobby or skillset that I can master and be the best at. Only they all end up feeling like work at some point or another hobby becomes more appealing and I move on. However the problem was never the hobbies I was choosing, it was me. I lacked commitment and I know that about myself now. That doesn’t mean I have overcome the mindset, but it does mean I am aware and can no longer blame the problem on external factors. The problem is me.

You may come to the same conclusion as you examine your own thinking about MMOs, both the one you are wanting to stick with and those that you are not playing. Is it really that game “A” is better than game “B” or is it a character flaw of your own that causes you to jump ship? Perhaps it isn’t a missing feature or a lack of new story but rather your own expectations.

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Choosing to play a single MMO or to play many is not a choice you should spend many sleepless nights worrying over. If you enjoy playing multiple titles and are not interested in the benefits of playing a single game, then you should continue approaching MMOs as you have been; there is no ethical obligation to do otherwise. Regardless of your choice there are things you will miss out on and others you will uniquely experience. If you do decide to focus on a single game, be prepared to ask yourself some difficult questions and to have to make some changes in the way you think about and play MMOs. Yes, you will miss out on features and expansions in other games, but on the other side of all that limitation and hard work will be an understanding and experiencing of a game and community that you otherwise would have missed. Embedding yourself in a single game will not be easy, but if it’s what you are looking for from your MMO experience it will be well worth the effort.

Dual Wielding: Depth Versus Diversity

Dual Wielding: A series featuring two bloggers writing on one topic and answering the question, “If the pen is mightier than the sword, what happens when you dual wield?”

Make sure you don’t miss Kunzay’s take: Dual Wielding: one or many?

Is it wrong to play more than one MMO? More specifically, if you are playing multiple MMOs by cycling through several throughout the week or switching titles from month to month, are you “doing it wrong”? That’s the question Kunzay of Party Business and I set out to answer this week with our first pair of posts in a cooperative blogging project we’re referring to as Dual Wielding. Both Kunzay and I have spent time searching for that one MMO to call home operating under the assumption that this is the correct way to approach the genre. It wasn’t until I began reading Massively-that-was (now Massively OP) and the many adventures of Justin Olivetti who often plays four or five games over the course of one week that I began to consider the legitimacy of this alternative.

Having now approached the genre both ways for at least a year apiece, I would argue that both are valid approaches, but like many things in life choosing one way will limit your experience of the other and for some that potential loss is haunting. However, for the sake of enjoying the hobby of MMO gaming, you must ask yourself, “do I prefer depth, or diversity?” and once answering the question, press onward without looking back.

In order to establish the difference between depth and diversity, let’s consider combat classes in MMOs. There are those who exclusively play a single class in one MMO; Matthew Rossi of Blizzard Watch comes to mind. Matt I believe has four or five max level warriors in World of Warcraft spanning both factions. Before WoW Insider (his previous writing gig) shut down class columns, Matt had written weekly about warriors for roughly seven years. Very few people could tell you the ins and outs of the class not only as it stands now but also as it has been over the life of the game as well as Rossi. He exhaustively understands how the class works, where its weaknesses lie, and how it can best be utilized in any given situation.

But let’s assume hypothetically that Rossi is a WoW purist and has never played a warrior in any other MMO. While he may totally understand the strengths and weaknesses of the class within the context of the game he plays and the historical iterations of that class over the years, that context is quite narrow. Another player focusing on the same class but across six or seven MMOs would lack the same depth but would have a far better grasp of the warrior “essence” as an MMO archetype overall. This player who favors diversity will more quickly identify blind spots in Warcraft’s execution of the class and will have a broader resource of experience to draw from when considering improvements to class design. Depth of experience enhances your ability to fix the object of your expertise. Diversity better positions you to reinvent it.

One set of characteristics isn’t “better” than the other, but they are different. And the decision to focus on one must of necessity be at the exclusion of the other. There is only so much one can learn and experience in a lifetime; even less when it comes to MMOs because you’re talking about a single hobby amidst many other needs and interests generally of greater importance. And so you have to make a decision as to which specialization you will pursue (even choosing diversity is a type of specialization) and come to terms with the consequences or else you will find yourself quite anxious over all those imagined or real missed opportunities. Instead, I say place those “what ifs” on a raft, set them out to sea, and torch that pyre with a flaming arrow from shore so that you can get back to the business of enjoying your hobby. It will always be either/or, not both/and. Coming to terms with this reality and figuring out where your priorities lie will help you determine how you want to approach this genre and grant peace of mind over what you will be missing.

Some of you will notice that I have not touched on the social aspects of MMO gameplay. For many gamers that is the primary reason this issue comes into question in the first place. It is assumed (rightly, I think) that playing multiple games inhibits your ability to build lasting relationships with other players in an MMO community. Personally, this does not have a large impact on my gameplay and so I see it as a secondary issue. When I first started playing MMOs I spent a large amount of time in a single game and developed ties to my guild but not strong enough to soothe my wanderlust. Since then I’ve developed a kind of community through websites like Massively OP, the blogosphere, Twitter, and by participating in a multi-game guild. It’s not the same as my first social experience with MMOs, but it suits my preferences and goals within the genre and I’m happy with it. When you’re a virtual world traveler, the best you can hope for is to find a few people who enjoy traveling as well and share stories along the way.

Is it wrong to play multiple MMOs? Does it go against the spirit of the genre? No, but it is a limiting factor and will change your gaming experience, as will focusing on only one MMO. The important conclusion to draw here is not the rightness of whichever side of the line you fall, but that you must chose an approach that best aligns with your preferences, interests, and goals and say goodbye to those things that will naturally be excluded so that you can enjoy all the genre has to offer in the way you decide to explore it. Renowned local historian or pervasive world traveler? The choice is yours. Choose wisely and be content with your choice.

Otherwise, you’re doing it wrong.