Archive for November 21st, 2011

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SWTOR: Massively Yours

November 21, 2011

Gathering for a world boss.

Now that the gag order has lifted from the Star Wars: The Old Republic beta test, I want to get something off my chest. This is something I’ve wanted to talk about for the past few months, but every time the topic comes up I’ve had to hold my tongue because of the NDA. Well, no longer.

For a while now, it’s made me very uncomfortable whenever I go on Twitter, the forums, or other gaming community websites and see people apply the term “single-player MMO” to SWTOR in a deprecatory way. I’m sure we’ve all seen the type of comments. You know, the kind that imply SWTOR isn’t a real MMO, or that it’s just a single-player RPG pretending to be one, or something along those lines. It was so far-reaching at one point, that I began having my own reservations when I first got my invite to general testing, and wondered if SWTOR would not turn out to be the MMORPG I’ve been looking for.

Looking back now, I was crazy to have been worried. Even after just a week with The Old Republic, it was clear to me that this is a gen-u-wine, bonafide massively multiplayer online game, with all the delicious goodness that comes with a very large number of players interacting with one another within a persistent virtual world.

So I got to thinking, out of all the recent MMOs currently on the market and in development, why does SWTOR get singled out like this (pun intended) more than any of them? I mean, yes, it is possible in the game to level from the beginning to level cap solo, but if that’s the definition of a single-player MMO then a lot of current games would fall into that category as well. But I just don’t feel any game gets abused with the “single-player” label as much as SWTOR does.

I have a few theories, but I do believe the single most important factor that leads people to this misconception about SWTOR is the fact that it boasts story, companions, and a quest line unique to a player’s class. Well, if I’m correct, then this has proven to be a double-edged sword. Arguably, these features are the biggest draw about the game, but they may have also given some people the impression that SWTOR is merely a single-player experience disguised as an MMO.

Perhaps it is also BioWare’s reputation as a developer of AAA single-player RPGs. When people hear the name, no doubt their recent successes like the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series spring immediately to mind. And yet, it is true that SWTOR is their first venture into the MMO space, so it’s only natural to to be curious whether or not BioWare can break from their long history of developing single-player games in order to make this monumental leap.

The thing is, it is highly likely that BioWare knew full well from the beginning that proving they can handle an MMO was going to be an uphill battle. I say this, because I’ve seen the way their game goes above and beyond to encourage interaction and socialization between players, as well as provide plenty of opportunities for group play:

  • Group Quests – Around half a dozen of these on each planet, intended to be completed with 2+ or 4+ players. The former are sometimes soloable, but the latter are definitely not. They mostly reward commendations or very nice blues.
  • Flashpoints – SWTOR’s version of instances, designed to be experienced by a full group of four players. In addition, some FPs have bonus objectives within them that require the involvement or cooperation of two or more people to complete.
  • PvP Warzones – Success in a SWTOR WZ often requires strategy and understanding of the rules and objectives, e.g. Huttball (dear lord, don’t even get me started on how many times I’ve seen a player who doesn’t know how to pass, or run a ball back to their own end zone). A group of random players will likely be at a marked disadvantage against a premade whose members are coordinated and knowledgeable
  • World Bosses – Most planets have one or two that I’ve seen. If the live game will be anything like testing, world bosses will also drop some very rare loot. For example, the boss droid on Alderaan has a chance of dropping a white crystal that as far as I know, you can’t get anywhere else in the game (at least in that build at the time). I’ve defeated world bosses with as few as four players, while others take more. The aforementioned Alderaan killer droid, for instance, took ten of us including a few high 40s to just barely take him down.
  • Crew Skills – Sometimes, crafting will require getting necessary materials from crew skills you may not have. While the Galactic Trade Network was still being tweaked in testing, many of us turned to direct trade with our friends and fellow players.
  • Datacrons – Here we get to the activities that are more specific to SWTOR. Datacrons are an optional element of the game, and are objects placed throughout the worlds for enthusiastic explorers to find. A few are easily stumbled upon, but most require some poking around the entire planet. Once you located them, however, the true challenge is figuring out how to get to them. I’ve encountered DCs that require everything from creative thinking, solving logic puzzles, finding unconventional paths, or yes, even grouping.
  • Social System – As I’ve mentioned before in an earlier post, I love this feature in SWTOR and it’s the only MMO I’ve ever played with something like this. It is completely optional once again, but it’s a nice perk. To gain social points, all you have to do is group up and participate in group conversations. Every time you win a convo-loot roll you gain the maximum number of points for that roll. Even if you lose the roll you gain points, just less. Racking up social points will help you gain social ranks (I, II, III, etc.) and each time you go up one you get a nifty little title. And the best part of all, rare cosmetic and vanity items from social vendors become available to you!
  • Bonus XP - Thanks to my guildies for helping me confirm this, but I believe that unlike most MMOs, experience is not as reduced per mob kill for group members who are at a similar level, so you’ll be progressing faster. In addition, there are ways to gain bonus XP in groups — completing a class quest with your buddy will reward you with some XP when he or she completes it even if you don’t have it in your log, for example. Doing “bonus” type quests with others will also reward you some extra XP if you complete it in a group. It is a HUGE incentive, making it in a player’s best interest to group up whenever possible.

Thinking about it now, throughout my journey from 1 to 50, if I had seized upon every single opportunity presented to me during my time testing in order to take advantage of the above, I would have easily spent 25-33% of my time grouped up. Maybe even more. So you’ll forgive me if I really don’t see SWTOR as a “single-player MMO”, or at least not any more “single-player” than the bulk of what’s out there.

Solo-oriented players need not fret though! You can still play the game and complete your entire class story by yourself — nothing in your personal storyline will require a group. And as you can see, much of what I listed above is completely optional, and the advantages you gain are extra perks but definitely not of the game-breaking variety. But SWTOR is a huge game, and your class story will only be a fraction of the content — I do urge everyone to participate in group activities once in a while. If you’re a hardcore solo-er you’ll still have a lot of fun without ever having to group up with another player, but be forewarned you may also be missing a lot of good stuff!

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