SWTOR Review

Bioware has a history of building strong, story based games that fundamentally change their genre for the better.   The Old Republic is no exception to this rule, and even if this game is as good as it gets, we're happy to have been a part of this historic release in the Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (MMORPG) genre.  The voice over of all of the quests, the engaging story plots, and historic references to previous games (KOTOR and KOTOR II) are all spot on and leave the players wanting and begging for more.

However, we all also agree that we would be doing ourselves and this company an injustice by simply sitting by and singing the game's praises when there are so many inadequacies that need addressing.  There is a lot of leeway for RPGs with regards to patching and bug fixing, but MMORPGs have a monthly fee associated with them.  They require not only a lot of time and effort, but a monthly fee to play; and as a result, the race to get the game "up-to-par" is an ever present challenge.  It is for this reason that our guild, Midnight Reveries, having cleared all of the content in The Old Republic (in two different raid groups), have decided to address these issues in the forthcoming thread.


Section 1:  Player Versus the Environment (PVE)


The bread and butter of any MMORPG is the Player Versus Environment (PVE) aspect of the game.  The PVE aspect can generally be broken down into three distinctive sections:  Leveling, Story, and End-Game content.  While Bioware, as always, has delivered an amazing story, the rest of the PVE aspect of this game needs addressing.  So we'll start with the most important of these three sections,  End-Game Content.

End Game Content

First of all, let's address why Bioware should care about end game content, and why it should be on the top of their priority list.  The reasoning is very simplistic in nature: people don't play MMORPGs to farm content, they do it for the never ceasing challenge.  With content on "farm" status, players tend to only log on to raid, take extended breaks until new content releases, or simply move onto other games.  This results in a less active player base, and ultimately, less subscriptions to the game itself.

Now, there will always be "those" guilds that clear the content the same week that it is released, and no video game developer in their right mind is going to design their game around those exceptional individuals.   However, when you have guilds clearing the content with half the recommended number of players a month after the content is released, then it becomes evident that there is an issue that needs addressing.   While the three tiered progression system is far more efficient than WoW's two-tier system, it is not far from perfect. 

While TOR did improve upon WoW's tiered progression system by adding a third tier, the tiers themselves seem lazy.  When the only change in the content between the tiers is bigger numbers, it doesn't actually add any content to the game.  Blizzard's model of reskinning a boss and calling it "new content" by adding a Hard-Mode only ability was brilliant and kept players engaged for a very long time.  TOR saught to improve upon this by adding three tiers (normal, hard, and nightmare) - but ultimately fell short of the mark.  TOR needs to adopt this mentality of different difficulties equates to different abilities, different strategies, and in essence different boss encounters.  When Bioware can successfully create different encounters for each tier then the MMORPG community will be forever changed and, in the opinion of this author, we will see more games adopt a three tiered progression system.

 
 

Finally, the loot system in the tiered progression system is inherently flawed.  To say that Tionese gear is next to useless would be an understatement, as people can get Columi gear from Hard modes and the Champion gear from PVP is better allocated that Tionese gear, even with the Expertise.  In addition, with no difference in gear between Hard Mode and Nightmare Mode, there is no reason to farm the harder of the modes except for novelties that can only be obtained once (like the title, "The Infernal").

Also, as a digression, can we please stop giving tanks +power and DPS the +endurance relics?

The Looking for Group System

It sucks.  There's really not much to say about this other than it is probably the worst implementation of a LFG system since EverQuest I.  It is ineffiecient, clunky, and unusuable; so players often result to spamming General chat in their fleets to gain access to groups.  For a game as advanced as TOR, we seem to have gone back to the 1990s in this aspect of the game and, quite frankly, that is unacceptable.

Companions

The companion system in this game is genre changing in its current implementation, but it is so underutilized that it is depressing.  While we, the players, love the current changes and improvements on the traditional crafting and farming system; we feel that companions is a very rich and plentiful area of improvement for Bioware to improve upon not only TOR but the MMORPG genre as a whole.

We level with these companions from 1-50, we gain affection with them, we experience betrayal, love, lust, and all of these exciting and raw plot devices with these companions only to hit 50 and find that they are completely useless.  You can not raid, PVP, or Instance with them, and once you decide to no longer complete dailies, you no longer see them unless you're bouncing around the fleet.

We need a way to interact with our companions, like a flashpoint where only you and one (or two if you want to get crazy) of your companions go and complete a mission together.  Perhaps an increased presence of your companion in your social interactions, even when they aren't there.  Say you're running Black Talon and you have Vette maxed out in affection - it could unlock a second light side conversation option that deploys Vette on a mission to escort the captured general to a safe haven.   Whatever.   Just bring these companions back into the fold!

Immersion

Immersion is an aspect of an MMORPG that must not be ignored.  The ability to completely immerse yourself in a story is removed when you prepend "MMO" to an RPG, but developers must strive to make immersion as realistic as possible.  One way to do this is reduce the amount of superfluous loading devices.  To go from the Fleet to Illum, you have to perform 3 hard loads and 3 soft loads, all of which fragment the game play experience and the affect that immersion has on the player.

Second, the dailies in TOR offer nothing to the galactic struggle.  Gather 30 armaments from Central Assault, or wrangle 3 soothsayers with this shock collar?  Really?  Where's the imagination that made KOTOR, DA:O, and ME award winning games?  Dailies are quests that are repeated daily -- they should have more effort put into them than the heroic 2+ quests on Hoth.

Finally, where is the galactic struggle?  Why am I doing this quest?  Why should I do it NOW?  WARhammer Online was an abysmal comeback by Mythic (Dark Age of Camelot), but it had one thing going for it, the ambience.  From the very moment you created your character, you felt rushed to complete your quests, because you felt that the entire planetary struggle depended on your success.  In what way does me running around in a circle at Central Assault aide the galactic struggle?  Why am I doing it?  These are questions that must be answered to give us an immersive experience in TOR.


Section 2:  Player Versus Player


One of the best ways to improve upon the ambience and make the "galactic struggle" real for the player is to simply improve upon the PVP aspect of the game itself.  This only makes sense, you can't have a struggle without conflict, and the best conflict a player can experience is with another player!  So let's start with the most fundamental aspect of a good conflict, the setting.

PVP Zones

The current implementation of Illum is a double-edged sword; while it is a lot of fun, when it works, it seldom reaches that "sweet" spot where the two factions can enjoy the activity.  More often than not, one side dramatically outnumbers the other, or there are two operations going at it and completely locking up everyone who has a computer more than six months old.   Changing it to a world event, similar to Wintersgrasp from WoW, or making it a Warzone would be a far better implementation.

Outlaws Den is a PVP zone that is largely underutilized and, to my knowledge, is only used for guild vs guild events if you're lucky enough to schedule one.  I'm not sure how to fix this, but give us a reason to travel out there from time to time?  Maybe an arena type scenario, last man standing, I don't know.  Something unique would draw people out there and really help the PVP aspect of this game out.

PVP Gear

The current implementation of PVP gear works for the most part, but the tokens really need to be generic.  A PVP token should unlock any piece of PVP gear you want -- allow users the ability to prioritize their upgrades and min/max with mods and enhancements as they see fit.  Punishing users with a abysmally low drop rate coupled with "oh great, another relic" is not a very good reward system and, more often than not, upsets players more than simply not getting a token at all.

This philosophy could also be applied to PVE tokens.


Section 3:  Crafting


While crafting in this game has shown great improvements and potentially revolutionized the way MMORPGs approach gathering and crafting skills, there are a lot of areas in which SWTOR finds itself severely lacking.  The most prominent shortcoming of the crafting aspect of the game is the way in which the player interacts with their companions.

The Crafting User Interface

A single list with no search ability, no filters other than the quality, and really just a herp derp of information isn't really a user friendly interface.  There aren't really any solutions offered here other than, good God.  Please help.

Profession Specific Bonuses

The profession specific bonuses in SWTOR are very, very lackluster.  The overwhelming amount of players that took Biochem should not have been evidence that it needed to be nerfed, but that the other professions needed to be buffed.  Give cybertechs some fancy little gadgets like repair bots, summoning stones, or portable mailboxes. Give synthweavers the ability to change any set of armor into a robe; and if you kill X boss on Nightmare it drops a schematic that allows you a different robe combination.  Not all bonuses have to have an impact on raiding balance, but all professions need to have something that sets them apart from the others in a very fun and appreciable manner.

Relevance of Crafting in Raiding

While not all profession specific perks need to have an effect on raiding balance, each profession deserves one perk that must be balanced in the PVE progression aspect of the game.  Giving synthweavers an a obscure chance to proc a socket in their belts and bracers, or cybertechs a lack luster and hard to use grenade are not ways to acheive this.  I'm not going to suggest any specific bonuses, because I simply don't have enough information to form well balanced ideas to add some flare to each and every profession, but we do need some good, balanced, ideas that make choosing a profession more meaningful than "Cybertech, why? Screw you, that's why."


Section 4:  The Economy


The economy in this game has rampant inflation and is going to have some severe problems down the road should TOR last long enough to enjoy more than one expansion pack.

Relevance of Raiders' Crafting in the Economy

This point kind of piggybacks on 3.2; we need some good BiS gear schematics for each profession.  The ability for end game raiders to charge players simply for pushing a button helps bring some money out of the economy (player -> raider -> repairs) and keep the economy healthy.


Section 5:  The User Interface (UI) & It's Effect on Raiding


No MMORPG is going to have a baseline UI that is going to satisfy all of its users, which is why World of Warcraft's approach of simply opening up the UI for third party customization was a brilliant move that SWTOR should copy with the utmost haste.

The User Interface

Simply put, give us the ability to completely customize our UI.  Give us Addons, give us scalability, give us opaquity, frankly -- give us liberty, or give us another game!  (See wut I did thur?)

Lack of Tools for Testing/Theorycrafting

With the recent ability to transfer characters to the PTR, a lot of this section has been removed and altered.  Thank you Bioware for allowing us to access the PTR!  We sincerely appreciate it.  However, we have two more requests that kind of piggybacks on 5.1:  We need combat logs!  Please and thank you!  Once combat logs are created, test dummies (or, if you prefer to allow for more immersion, some really weak initiates in a "train with a Darth" scenario) would be very appreciative.


Section 6:  Miscellaneous


Server Transfers

We need server transfers if this game is going to be a competitive endgame environment like WoW has.

First off the initial rush to complete all the Nightmare content had mostly to deal with having enough 50's and seeing the content before hand. Condemned completed all Nightmare content 1/19 while the next highest guild was on 1/26. Why did they get such a huge lead on everyone? Because they were a beta guild that tested content for Bioware, they had a full raid group that knew the content and raced to 50, and they got KP Nightmare down so fast because they had a weeks worth of gear on everyone else. I don't mean to take away from that accomplishment but I want to show you why this game without server transfers can't be competitive.

Without server transfers a guild is basically on an island by itself. The only talent they can pull from are people on that server. Even if we pulled every ounce of talent available from Master Zhar Lestin we are still capped on how great we can be. Top Guilds in WoW almost 100% of the time recruited new players from cross server transfers. A guild reaches a point where it gets extremely difficult to improve the quality of its players.

Even without thinking of recruiting specific players for a guild just think of the player base of a server. Currently there is no way to bring new life into a server. As is we are stuck hoping new players click "Master Zhar Lestin" when they go to play the game.

This unfortunately screw raiders over big time. We can't be "truly" competitive when new content hits because guilds are going to hit talent caps when we can't recruit fresh talent.