SWTOR: The Codex! Explorers Rejoice!

May 6, 2011

Borg cube? No, datacron.

BioWare introduces The Codex in today’s Star Wars: The Old Republic Friday update. My first thought: “Great, more reading!” By the way, I meant that. Just wanted to clarify, as people often complain how sarcasm doesn’t translate very well through text, but I guess sometimes neither does sincerity!

As I think I’ve reiterated many times before, any time any random bits of text pop up in a game world, be it in an MMO or any other game in whatever genre, I do make an effort to read it all. Probably a good chunk of my 90-hour playthrough of Dragon Age: Origins was dedicated to poring over every word of every single codex entry I found (sometimes, I think that game put me under a spell). I can’t say I was as diligent with the Mass Effect games, since the codex there was presented as more like cut-and-dry encyclopedia entries, but I did read a good number of them, especially those on alien species, lore, and worlds.

SWTOR is going to take the best from both systems, which I’m tickled pink to hear, using the codex to inform as well as to reward exploration. In fact, Principal Lead Systems Designer Damion Schubert references the work of Richard Bartle, specifically emphasizing that the codex would be an enhancement to gameplay for the explorers in all of us. As it happens, that’s the category I most identify with, at least according to the tests (with Killer being the lowest, carebear that I am).

The way it’s described reminds me a little bit of a mash up between the artifact and book collections systems in Rift — giving you lore and background information into the world, encouraging players to wander off the beaten path, and sometimes making you go through challenges to unlock the codex that you need. But the focus remains:

“Currently, none of these are locked behind a serious challenge – our codex unlocking k’lor’slug is a challenge for its level, to be sure, but not a ‘OMGPWN3D go bring back 3 friends in epics!’ challenge – and that’s intentional. Explorer gameplay should, first and foremost, reward exploring.

That’s not to say that some codex entries shouldn’t be challenging. Quite the opposite, we want some codex entries to be worthy challenges – but we want those challenges to be centered on exploration.”

It sounds like a little achievement system all on its own. Especially when you consider the addition of “datacrons”, in-game objects in the world that are sub-sets of the codex entries which players can find, usually in hard-to-reach places like on special mobs or like “on a ledge off in the distance” that require some ingenuity. Uh oh. Again, memories of mishaps and falling to my death during Rift artifact-hunting sessions are suddenly flashing before my very eyes.

These datacrons will apparently spawn in predictable locations, and are useable by each player only once. Mr. Schubert writes that this idea was inspired by a game mechanic in one of his earlier projects, and hopes that over time we’ll see a similar pattern where a social dynamic will emerge, where new and old players will band together and form groups like organized hunting parties to go forth and explore the world.

I think the idea of “shared lore” is awesome. My only concern — my apologies if it sounds cynical — is that as with many MMORPGs these days, information like that inevitably ends up on an online database faster than you can blink. Instead of turning to social avenues within the game to find these datacrons, people may just hit up Google instead.

If the overall positive reaction to this update is any indication though, exploration is still a passion to a lot of players, including me. And I was glad to see a dev blog from BioWare that held it in such high regard.


  1. yeah i was thinking its like a combined artifact/achievement thing. Sounds pretty good, and lord knows i spend way too much time on both in rift.

    • Yeah, I spend a lot of time hunting artifacts and getting achievements too. Sometimes, these are the things I’d even prefer to do over endgame. I’m think I’m going to have a lot of fun with the codex.

  2. Okay, that is seriously cool. I didn’t know SWTOR had something like this in them, but I shouldn’t have doubted that they would develop a modern game.

    And I don’t mind that everything will end up on a wiki eventually. Just like travelling, sometimes you want to explore without direction and sometimes you want a guidebook to lead you to the highlights.

    • I don’t really mind either; I think it’s human nature to gravitate towards any time-saving devices whenever there’s a goal to be accomplished. I just think that in light of this, BioWare’s hopes for the emergence of new social dynamic patterns might be a bit ambitious.

  3. Hmm, exploring vs. guidebooks. Just like RL tourism. I may have post coming.

    • Let’s just put it this way…I don’t mind guidebooks, but I don’t want it to be a “Exploration for Dummies” every-step-of-the-way explained answer book either 🙂

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