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.
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.
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.
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.
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…