SWTOR and the Idea of Endless Levelling

It’s E3 week, but as someone who doesn’t play console games or (most) first person shooters I wasn’t expecting a whole lot in the way of exciting announcements. As it turns out there was a gameplay trailer for next year’s Sim City, but aside from that generally nothing so far has really caught my eye. However, yesterday Bioware/EA gave their conference presentation and included details about upcoming SWTOR patches, and while I’m not personally interested in returning to the game I do find their plans thought-provoking.

There are the expected additions of a new planet, new operations, and new warzones, the slightly unexpected addition of new companions and a new playable race, and the totally bizarre bit: new levels. Now keep in mind that I do not have the longest or widest MMO history, but introducing a level cap increase inbetween expansions seems like a totally new and possibly crazy concept. After some reflection I think it could be really neat, but I’m not sure SWTOR is the game to make this idea happen successfully.

What are the downsides to a level cap increase? The most obvious one is that it can invalidate hours of content. Level 50 flashpoints and operations are at best a lot easier and at worst rendered pointless when you’re 5 or 10 levels above the bosses. It can also invalidate gear and collections — suddenly the PvP gear that you’ve been grinding for months to obtain is less potent than a minor quest drop. On a personal note, as someone who traditionally prefers the end-game to the levelling game level cap increases just seem like an irritant between me and what I want to do.

Of course most MMO players face these issues with every expansion, and my attitude is usually “that’s the way expansions go, so suck it up and get levelling!”. (See the RIFT official forum right now for examples of complaining about this in action.) Between expansions though? That’s a new one.

So why is Bioware taking this rather extraordinary measure? They seem like smart dudes, and I suspect they have a good reason. Based on my totally anecdotal survey, the folks who really enjoy SWTOR are folks who put more emphasis on levelling, alts, and story. If, in theory, SWTOR were to change their focus slightly away from entrenched level cap activites and more to story and levels … it bucks the current MMO design theory, but I think it would be a hit with their core playerbase. And why not! The idea of an MMO where the levelling journey only takes brief breaks is an intriguing one and seems sufficiently different from other AAA offerings.

Unfortunately I don’t think SWTOR has the right infrastructure to make this properly happen. If nothing else the voice acting, while one of the game’s strongest selling points, makes churning out regular leveling content expensive and difficult. I wish Bioware/EA had thought about this more ahead of time and really focused on continuing that casual, story-driven, alt-based gameplay that I think they did so well instead of bolting on a buggy version of WoW’s end game and telling us early adopters to have fun.

I’m not sure I’d personally play a game that was focused on providing a regular storyline and level increase, but it’s a unique idea in big money MMOs. Bioware is going to have to be very careful about how they implement this patch-based level cap so as to not alienate the established 50s, and I’m not sure they have the right setup to make this happen properly, but I can kind of see what they’re thinking (I think) and I’d be interested to see where a different company could take this idea in the future.

My SWTOR Post-Mortem

I cancelled my SWTOR subscription yesterday, although I still have 45 days of playtime left. I felt bad doing it, to be honest. I like Bioware, I like Star Wars, I like “the fourth pillar” of story. Somehow, though, at the end of the day it all came together into something I’m not interested in playing, or at least not interested enough to pay $15 a month to play.

The SWTOR folks clearly did not set out to design a hardcore MMO, which is neat. However, I feel they then fell short on including “softcore”, fluffy things. It’s fine to not have serious PvP, or hardcore raiding, or reputation grinding, or sprawling achievements, but you need to fill that space with other things. You shouldn’t just create a nifty multiplayer RPG and then bolt on a weak version of WoW’s end game.

Let me stress now that even though I am not continuing with SWTOR, I know a fair number of folks are still playing and enjoying it. However, here are a few things that I think would have improved my SWTOR experience:

More Costume Choices: The modular gear was a really cool idea! However, there just wasn’t enough variety in costume gear for my tastes. Jedi gear was always really brown and bathrobe-y, for example. I want crazy alien outfits and parkas and weird sci-fi hats for all classes.

More Race Choices: Under the new Legendary system players can mix up races and factions, creating Chiss Jedi and the like. This was definitely a step in the right direction, but the race selection in general is pretty underwhelming. Human, human with robot parts, blue human, bald human, etc. I totally understand that (I think) it’s a whole lot easier to make armor fit properly if every character is a similar shape, but it felt a little drab. Why can’t I be a mon calamari or a nautolan?

More Mount Choices: Are you sensing a trend yet? The variety of speeders were cool, but again when you have a universe of weird machines and crazy animals, being limited to speeders seemed somewhat staid.

Ship Decorations: This one probably isn’t very surprising considering my housing manifesto yesterday, but I want to decorate my ship. I think the fact that I have a ship is a step in the right direction, but it feels pretty generic. Let me earn flourishes in quests or as part of the Legacy system, and display them on my ship. (A guild ship would of course be amazing, but that seems like a lot to ask for short of an expansion.)

More Involved Crafting: Using your companions to craft is pretty neat and I liked the lengthy completion times for high level items, but even with companions it’s still the standard boring crafting design of picking an item from a list and queueing up several iterations.

Fewer Bugs: The end-game activites were pretty buggy for the first few months of the game. This was also mostly fixed in 1.2, but it was a little too late for me. I was never able to finish the Directive 7 dungeon despite multiple attempts because one of the later bosses was bugged. When learning Soa the Infernal, the final boss in the first raid instance, we wiped due to bugs as often as we did due to strategy errors. New games are new, but it got a little tiresome.

This all being said, there’s certainly a market out there for SWTOR, and it’s a market that has generally been neglected in modern MMO design where levelling is considered a chore that should be finished as soon as possible. I think SWTOR has a great initial levelling experience, and is definitely worth $15-30 for a month or two of that.

For me, though, as someone who usually focuses on one character the game just didn’t have enough obvious fluff to keep me happy. In my experience, once I hit the level cap I found Bioware’s combination of RPG and MMO made each element weaker instead of stronger.

1.2 Pets and Rakghouls: SWTOR Is Worth Revisiting
Apr17

1.2 Pets and Rakghouls: SWTOR Is Worth Revisiting

Bragging time: Over the weekend an article I wrote last year about being a newbie disc priest on the WoW Arena Tournament server was published on PC Gamer. I feel all legit and stuff!

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As someone who was kind of skeptical about SWTOR — I think it’s a great game for altoholics, but I am a single-character kinda gal — I have to admit that patch 1.2 has brought a lot of fun back into the game for me. The patch included a number of huge “quality of life” improvements, some of which I didn’t even realize I was missing, and feels much more like the game I suspect they would have liked to release back in December.

I feel a little sorry for Bioware now, honestly. I think there is no way their game could have lived up to its considerable pre-launch hype, but if they had launched with 1.2 included it would have been better recieved. (To be clear I think SWTOR was buggy, but undeserving of the angry mob treatment.) Folks often say that new MMOs are unreliable and should be avoided during their first six months, but that old chestnut seems to always be forgotten when something new comes along.

I know I advocate not taking any crap from your game distributor, but as has been argued to me in the past MMOs are as much a service as a product and it takes a little time for a new service company to find their feet.

Better late than never, I suppose, and 1.2 is definitely better. Being able to scale down and move around my UI instantly made me feel less claustrophobic, and speeders in space ports removed a lot of the tedium of getting around. As if that wasn’t all enough, along with 1.2 has come the first world event: Rakghoul plague outbreak! I’ve often criticized SWTOR for ignoring the lessons of its predecessors, but I definitely see elements of WoW’s pre-WotLK zombie outbreak in all this and as a fan of that event I could not be happier.

infectedkira 157x300 1.2 Pets and Rakghouls: SWTOR Is Worth Revisiting

Kira isn't feeling well...

I’ll leave a detailed guide of the Rakghoul event to those who know what they’re doing, but to get started just head on over to Tattooine. Strange things are afoot in your faction’s space port city, and I very much enjoyed driving around and checking out what some of the weird new NPCs were up to. I stumbled on the daily (I believe) questline out in the dunes, and while repetitive daily quests are not necessarily my thing they were fun to go through at least once.

And of course what’s a plague without spreading it to others? If your character starts feeling.. lightheaded, say, you might consider porting back to the Fleet and standing in a large group of people for a while. (kaBOOM!) Apparently along with the dailies infecting others will earn you event currency which can be exchanged at vendors for fancy weapon color crystals, a pet, and most importantly to me a random companion plague customization kit. Turning companions into horrible zombies? All over it!

There’s also a separate quest (“Tracking the Origins”) during the event to get one of three different rakghouls. Cute or interesting pets are one of the reasons I love MMOs, so I was pretty interested in this. It turns out there are a few different types of pets out there that I had no idea existed, including orobirds and baby tauntauns. Collector tendencies: ACTIVATED.

As someone who tends to concentrate on one character the Legacy stuff is of varying interest to me, but I do like that it gives me projects to work on like earning maximum affection with all companions, and that was something that I felt was really missing with the lack of achievements.

Along with all this, Bioware has given 30 free days of game access to any players with a paid account and a character level 50 or legacy level 8 character, a free week to anyone who previously had an active account, and a free weekend to everyone else. I think a lot of people checked out SWTOR in the first week and perhaps wandered away for whatever reason, but if you intended to revisit the game “later” I totally recommend doing it now.

“Entitled” Gamers Need to Ask the Right Questions (SWTOR)

Herding Cats is currently undergoing a facelift. Please ignore the mess!

Posting twice in one day?! HOW IS POSSIBLE.

This is just a quick post to address a SWTOR-related debacle that started this afternoon and will still be rolling along tomorrow. Earlier today Bioware announced that along with the release of patch 1.2 every player with an active account and a level 50 character would receive a free month of time. “Hooray!” said people with level 50s. “OMG WTF why do you hate us?!” cried out the sub-50s.

Let’s get one thing straight: I can see how missing out on a free month of gameplay would be a bummer, and I don’t begrudge the passed over folks for the fact that they are indeed bummed. What does bug me though is that thus far I haven’t seen any of the complainers asking the right questions about all this. What I am seeing is a lot of, “Bioware, am I not a loyal customer? Do you hate altoholics and role players? Why are you hurting me like this?” and that, my subscribing friends, is not going to get you anywhere.

Let’s review what I’ve been saying over and over for the past few weeks:

  1. Bioware is not your friend. As a company they do not really care if they slight you, John Q. Jedi. Stop stomping about with hurt feelings and rants about being underappreciated for your dedication to your alts.
  2. There is probably a logical (if unpleasant) business rule at work. In this case, I would bet money that SWTOR has been having a retention problem with level 50 characters, and this is their way of trying to coax people into another month and checking out patch 1.2.

People who have played SWTOR for hundreds of hours and still do not yet have a level 50 are, in both my and I suspect in Bioware’s estimation, pretty unlikely to jump ship. You didn’t get a retention bonus because you don’t need one, and the company isn’t just shoveling out free money for kicks.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be disappointed that you didn’t get a free month, but that you’re asking the wrong question. Asking, “Why doesn’t Bioware appreciate me?” reeks of entitlement. Who are YOU? Why should mega-mono-game-mart care about YOU and all your alts?

The question instead should be, “Is a retention offer important enough to me to cancel or otherwise put my SWTOR account in peril?”. (For me, by the way, that answer is no.) If it is, then act on it because all these posts I’m seeing today about how your BFF Bioware hates altoholics are just wearing out your keyboards.

My SWTOR 1.2 Highlights
Apr12

My SWTOR 1.2 Highlights

Herding Cats is currently undergoing a facelift. Please ignore the mess!

I had kind of wandered away from SWTOR over the past month or so. It was partially for technical reasons (my computer really does not like SWTOR) and partially because .. I don’t know. It just didn’t grab hold of me the way some other games have. I think my general reluctance to roll alts kind of flies in the face of SWTOR’s plan to keep me entertained, and in fact my more alt-tastic guildies have been enjoying themselves a lot.

I wasn’t even THAT interested in the mammoth patch 1.2, which was launched this morning, until I started looking at the reaction from the players today. So, here are a few reasons why I’m now excited to go home and head on into Space:

  • Moveable UI: Over half of the 10 or so hours I’ve put into WoW since being Scrolled was spent fiddling with my UI. Wanna get some ideas or share your setup? A friend pointed me to UI Cantina, which launched today.
  • Improved Gear Textures: Check out this before and after screenie, which was created earlier today by Josh Augustine from PC Gamer. The one on the right is much more sharp.before and after1 300x199 My SWTOR 1.2 Highlights
  • A Cute Pet: Every active subscriber will receive a baby tauntaun pet! I am shallow and one thing I really missed from WoW was adorable companion pets.
  • Improved UI for the Global Trade Network: Playing the markets has quickly become my second favorite MMO activity after PvP. I couldn’t find a screenshot of the new UI, but it simply HAS to be better than the old one, and I bet the markets will be booming again because of it.
  • Speeders in Space Ports: Zooooooooooooooooooooooom!

I admit to being kind of doubtful that 1.2 could get me literally excited to go home and play SWTOR, but here we are. See you in Space!

Missing the Fluff in SWTOR and Sixth Memes
Feb23

Missing the Fluff in SWTOR and Sixth Memes

I’ve been going through a bit of a non-playing phase for the past week or two. Part of it is directly attributable to Supernatural appearing on Netflix Instant Watch — I heard the first five seasons are amazing and it really is quite addictive. Mostly, though, it’s just the natural cycle of things. Sometimes I don’t wanna MMO!

Honestly, I wish SWTOR had more fluff. It might in a few months, of course, and perhaps I am just misinformed about existing content, but I miss grinding pets and reputations and achievements. The newest RIFT event lets you work on currencies for a number of pets, including Rudi the Christmas Corgi, and while I certainly am not encouraging Bioware to introduce Space Christmas or Space Valentines or anything like that my Achiever nature would enjoy having similar projects to work on in SWTOR.

In retrospect one of the best things WoW ever added was also the simplest: seeing guildies’ achievements in guild chat. Yes, the Level 10 or 25 Fish Caught achievements were not great victories, but it helped connect us even when we weren’t grouped together. We could comment on the new alt, or mock a level 85 for finally levelling their professions. We could see and congratulate a character the first time they finished an instance or the raid group for killing a new boss.

In fact, the running list of achievements helped add a sense of action and bustle to guild chat even when we were all quiet and doing our separate thing on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

I appreciate that the SWTOR team is probably still putting out launch fires. They have bugs to squash and mechanics to nail down and big chunks of content to release, but I’m looking forward to the little things really. Give me pets, titles, and crazy mounts. Let me spend time working on something analogous to The Insane or classic Loremaster, titles/achievements that took months of effort done at an individual pace.

Many years ago in the days of TBC, one of my good friends decided that he didn’t care what his character was wearing as long as his stats were good. He infamously declared, “We’re not playing Dolly Dressup here!” And at the time, he was kinda right — our focus was raiding and preparing for raiding, and we liked it. In SWTOR, though, neither our guild now nor (I think) the developers are intending to focus on hardcore raiding. That void needs to be filled with something else beyond brown robes and identical speeders.

Basically what I’m saying is: tauntaun mount now, please. :)

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I was tagged by Logtar yesterday for the sixth image meme that’s been going around, and I cannot ignore a good meme. I cheated a bit though and included the sixth image in my folders for WoW, RIFT, and SWTOR.

sixth wow Missing the Fluff in SWTOR and Sixth Memes

Sadly my WoW screenshots folder has been ravaged multiple times by catastrophic hard drive failures, but I believe this is Machiavellis Cat’s Heroic Twin Valks kill from somewhere in 2009. This makes me downright nostalgic. Other games may have better features and developers who are less creepy than Blizzard has been lately, but they will probably not have a dancing ogre in a loincloth.

sixth rift Missing the Fluff in SWTOR and Sixth Memes

I cropped this one so you could see guild chat, which is why I took the screenie. This was moments after creating our RIFT branch. The Cats have a long and terrifying history of comedy guild kicks. We can’t help it. We’re kind of jerks.

sixth swtor Missing the Fluff in SWTOR and Sixth Memes

This one was just serendipity. The sixth image happened to be an amazing shot of Panacea, cyborg Operative.

This meme started as a WoW-centric one, but I care not for tradition! I’m tossing it over to my fellow SWTOR peeps Shintar, Njessi, and a woman who has the distinction of taking a million screenshots AND being my awesome evil-er twin (in spirit), Arolaide at Dragonsworn. Let’s see your SWTOR images!

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