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Star Player

Musings and ramblings on MMO design philosophy and mechanics. Allstar - BOON Control - @AllstarMMO

Author: Allstar_MMO

Inferiority complex

Posted by Allstar_MMO Monday May 20 2013 at 5:23PM
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Complexity and difficulty are two very different things. They are often, erroneously, used synonymously when in reality they represent two very distinct mental operations.

 

In this article I will briefly discuss how Complexity and Difficulty are both affected by players, and the impact they have on design and player ability.

 

Complexity describes a level of process that players, as humans, use to interact with the game world whereas difficulty represents the effort or energy expended to complete a task, beat a boss or complete a tricky quest.

Difficulty can very easily increase without requiring a new level of complexity, for example a boss encounter on one difficulty setting might require players to move in a certain way at a specific moment, whereas on a higher difficulty setting they would be required to do so faster.

More difficult? Sure, but it certainly isn't any more complex.

This is because the mechanic still remains in the lowest level of Bloom's Taxonomy: Knowledge.

 

Learning is fun, kids!

 

Its only when we move up the scale, into “Comprehension” that things start to get more complex.

Sure, a player knows that they need to not stand in the fire, but they also need to interpret that knowledge and to understand the consequences of hot feet and its effect on their healer's patience (pissed off healers isn't a reason to execute mechanics properly, its just an amusing symptom of failure) or to understand why half the raid blew up when they didn't move out with the debuff.

 

Are raid encounters inherently difficult, or complex?

This is a difficult question to answer, it could be argued that they are both (or neither, if you're a pro) but most encounters do lean towards complexity over difficulty, as when executed properly a practised strategy by a raid team that knows each other well looks extremely easy, few and far-between are the bosses that are still difficult even when done 100% correctly.

Even on higher difficulty settings, the standard model of making an encounter more challenging is to make it more complex by adding new mechanics (usually making more mechanics happen simultaneous just to mess with us) but they are also made more difficult by tuning the damage higher and making existing mechanics less forgiving.

 

The interesting thing about humans, however, is our inclination to make things more complex in order to make them less difficult.

If a boss performs a mechanic that players are required to react to in a very specific manner, enthusiasts will invest time and energy creating an addon that will advise and direct players to act accordingly at the correct time.

Creating an addon is an entirely higher level of complexity (arguably the highest levels of Analysis and Synthesis) and difficulty, programming an addon is a hell of a lot harder than not standing in fire by several orders of magnitude but it means that a single instance of expended energy and creativity vastly reduces the amount of effort required by everybody who uses it (assuming they pay attention to it) from that point forward.

 

Everyone went through this stage with their UI

 

Humans are good at this, really good at this, we've been inventing tools and machinery to help us do our work more efficiently for thousands of years ..but why?

Romantically, benevolence. Truthfully, laziness. Scientifically, the instinctive desire to conserve energy.

Whatever the motivation, we understand that as complexity goes up, difficulty usually goes down.

This inalienable truth is what allows players of all levels of ability to have a chance of getting raid bosses down.

 

Complexity actually has very little to do with ability, difficulty has a much greater impact and we can affect that to a much larger degree by changing the way that players are presented with information and how they are able to interpret it.

Players at the higher end of the ability spectrum, fast learners, will learn core concepts of boss mechanics very quickly. This allows their brains more time to analyse (more taxonomy, kids!) sub-sets of information and sort them into important and unimportant categories.

These players probably know that there are tank-specific mechanics to an encounter, they might even know what they are, but as DPS they sure as hell know that they aren't affected by them so they effectively unlearn it. This leaves more room for independent thought, creativity and above all fast-recall of the information that they do need.

 

Meanwhile, at the lower end of the spectrum, the slower learners are still trying to figure out how to deal with the massive wall of text they are presented with when attempting to learn encounter mechanics.

These players will struggle to quickly learn a fight due to the complete information overload they have been burdened with, denying them the critical thinking and information retrieval necessary to execute a clean strategy.

 

When your boss strategy has multiple subdivisions, you have a problem

 

And it is not their fault, whilst they might rightly be considered less-able than others it is categorically unfair to label a player as being “bad” when they are trying to learn, but struggling due to poor presentation of information. These players can perform just as well as (and in some cases, out-perform) their peers when presented with information in the correct manner.

If the challenge of selecting only the information useful to them is taken out of their hands and they are simply taught the sub-lessons (and eventually taught how to recognise and ignore those that aren't necessary), these players will find the fights much less taxing, and be given a much better chance to perform.

This adds complexity to the design process when it comes to strategy, but as complexity goes up ..difficulty goes down.

 

External sources traditionally do a very good job of this, but most strategies cover all mechanics out of necessity, in-game resources need to do a better job of teaching people mechanics relevant to their roles to allow players of all abilities an equal opportunity environment

By all means, keep designing deeply complex and beautifully intricate raid encounters and make them hard as hell, but if you're going to design a boss with enough mechanics to fill a novel, don't punish people who are trying their best to learn by making them read one.

Hybrid Theory

Posted by Allstar_MMO Monday May 13 2013 at 1:25PM
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In recent years, it seems that hybrid classes in MMORPGs have become something of a taboo, developers have intentionally strayed away from them by design but the desire to play them is still there, as is the potential.

In this article I at least hope to defend the idea of hybrid class play in the face of increasing homogenisation and specialisation in the genre if not make an argument for their return to form in WildStar.

 

Perhaps the biggest problem that hybrids face is that whilst players want the flexibility that they provide, they also want to perform a vital role in group-play. While hybrid classes have a history of excelling in solo and small-group play where specialised roles are less important, their viability drops as group size increases.

In larger groups, hybrids only become as effective as the least represented role. For example, If a raid group has 2 tanks, 6 DPS, 1 healer and 1 hybrid the hybrid player is going to be much more useful as a second healer than a seventh DPS, so why not specialise?

MMOS have been trending towards rewarding specialisation recently in an effort to reduce complexity and limit roles to design and itemise around.

 

 

In the rare cases where hybrid play still exists, those who choose to play them have been subject to the phenomenon of “hybrid tax” in that they are forced to be the jack of all trades, master of none and cannot be allowed to perform as well in any specific area as a specialist.

If your hybrid player is healing more than your dedicated healer and doing damage, why bring anything else? But on the flip-side, if they are going to be forced into a specific role where they under-perform, why bring them at all?

 

Some MMORPGs have handled hybrids very well though:

Chanters in Aion could rarely out-heal a cleric but brought an impressive suite of buffs that made them almost vital to group composition.

The same can be said of Bards in many MMOs, although they have been large required to invest time twisting songs rather than dealing damage and healing.

Captains in LOTRO fulfilled a unique role in that they were incredibly flexible in the way that could heal, support and deal damage.

DPS specced clerics in Aion were a fantastic as a “pure” hybrid done well, largely due to the way that healing in Aion scaled (or more importantly, how it didn't) prior to the introduction of Healing Boost stats

Arguably the best example of a hybrid class in an MMO (or possibly just my favourite) was FFXI's Red Mage, with White Magic, Black Magic and Warrior abilities they were as flexible as any potential hybrid but their ability to use Chainspell and Refresh made them an extremely desirable addition to group composition.

 

 

The secret, then, is to give hybrids unique abilities that no-one else can bring to a group composition.

Will Carbine make a return to hybrid play in WildStar? I certainly hope so, with  two confirmed classes having the ability to both heal and deal damage there is certianly room for it, after speaking to a couple of people who attended the Arkship events they claim that it was certainly possible from what they had seen.

What this essentially boils down to though is creating a fourth role, outside of the "Holy Trinity" and allowing players to fulfill a support role. But is this a hybrid, or merely a new standard of specialisation?

The answer lies in itemisation and the flexibility of the CBC system, the base abilities that the class would be equipped with and skill choices.

From what we know about WildStar, healing and dealing damage will come from two very distinct stats which gear will almost certainly not share, but if the respective classes have skill tree choices to boost their healing output when in a DPS spec and vice versa it is possible (so too would be off-tanking in a DPS build, but I'll leave the tank-mage for other people to reminisce about).

If, however, they are forced into a choice between damage or healing in addition to unique support abilities then they can't really be considered a hybrid at all, but the potential is there, allowing the archetype to deal damage and heal simultaneously would fill a role that a lot of players crave.

Mike Donatelli let slip (mistakenly, apprently) in an interview that they haven't revealed their "main healing class" but as every class in WildStar so far is able to fulfill two roles it is highly doubtful that it will be a pure support class. Beyond that there are no hard facts to go on so actual speculation is of little use.

But hey, I can dream.

 

 

Immediately prior to posting this, a ..volatile patcher leak was brought to my attention (which I won't link to directly out of respect to Carbine and the NDA) which indicates no less that 5 additional classes or specialisations.

At this moment in time, it is effectively impossible to tell  what combination they will take, or even if they represent the unrevealed classes at all (as opposed to specialisations of existing classes) or classes that might not make the final cut.

We can, of course, speculate as to what they elude to. It certainly seems that the staff-wielding characters seen in some screenshots appear to be a Caster/Healer class.

The immediate question this raises though is that with Espers already being in WildStar, is there really room for another Caster DPS/Healer hybrid? It doesn't really make sense from a design perspective, but it stands to reason for itemisation as Espers are the only class that currently uses "Magic" as a priamary attribute so there is certainly room for another.

It is possible though, from the datamined information we have seen, that they will be a "pure" Caster DPS but given Carbine's currently demonstrated philosophy of all archetypes being hybrids this seems unlikely.

 

 

The files seem to confirm speculation of an Engineer class though, along with a few abilities (some of which just sound plain awesome) . As with the "Magic DPS" argument there is also space for another Strength based DPS spec. This seems at odds with the idea of a rifle wielding engineer that many envisage when thinking about the class, we would expect the class to be Dexterity based for flavour, but the math simply doesn't add up.

It could be that the engineer uses the Technology stat to DPS and Strength to tank as a reversal of the standard (Warriors and Stalkers both use Tech to tank, Espers and Spellslingers use Wisdom to heal so the standard seems solid enough) which certainly stands up to the flavour argument, but would put additional stress on the itemisation system Carbine are employing.

 

With E3 in a months time, we will probably see more information released in the near future. I would especially expect to see a response from Carbine given the nature of the leak (as with the March patch notes leak) in the coming weeks and look forward to it with great relish.

What WildStar needs to get right in raiding

Posted by Allstar_MMO Monday May 6 2013 at 2:44PM
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Was the old school really cool?

 

A lot of MMO players wax lyrical about large-scale PVE raids in MMOs of the past.

The pull of nostalgia is difficult to resist and when players had to commit such a huge amount of their time just preparing to raid their attachment is easy to understand.

With the announcement that Carbine will be making a return to 40man raiding in WildStar, many veteran MMO players are rejoicing at the return of “hardcore” raiding whilst some remain hesitant. What if all the nostalgia really is just ..nostalgia?

 

In this article I will be examining the areas where Carbine will need to excel and the pitfalls they need to avoid in order to make the return of the 40man raid in WildStar not only successful, but truly epic.

 

Cosy, I love what you've done with the ..spikes and flames. Very ethnic.

 

 

We are the 1 percent

The announcement that Carbine will be catering their 40man raids to the “1% of players who want the really tough stuff “ came as something of a shock to a lot of gamers. MMO developers in recent years have geared their design philosophy toward accessibility for all with multiple levels of difficulty, allowing all players to experience their game's content whilst keeping the very hardest content present for the upper nth percentile of players.

 

This method, of course, comes at a price. A large number of (particularly vocal) players have complained about this approach with the argument that it cheapens the overall experience for those with greater desire and, perhaps critically, more time to dedicate themselves to the game and clear the most challenging content.

Naturally this should be considered in a measured approach, just because other players are given an opportunity to experience content at a reduced difficulty shouldn't make players feel as if their achievements are invalid, it's counter-productive to an MMO's growth to suggest otherwise. More-so, allowing developers to invest time making content that they know will be delivered to the majority of their player-base should never be considered a bad thing.

Making a return to hardcore raiding is a bold move for Carbine, and something that has drawn a lot of positive press and feedback.

It remains to be seen though, in an age of instant gratification in online games, whether it will be the correct choice in the long-term or if Carbine will have to adjust their approach as WildStar develops post-release.

 

Dear Marvel, please don't sue.

 

 

Investment Returns

In older MMORPGs, raids took a huge amount of effort to clear, not necessarily because of the challenging nature of the encounters, the reason lies largely in the fact that loot distribution and itemisation was terrible. In vanilla WoW, for example, Gearing up 40 players with bosses the only dropped 2 items meant that progression was painfully slow, and that was only if you were able to clear the first few golems in Molten Core in the first place. Preparing to raid was an adventure in masochism in itself with reputation barriers, horrifying attunement quest chains and consumable farming.

Back then, the investment that players had to make to raiding was enormous, which led to it being exclusive to those with the time.

 

How can WildStar deal with this problem?

At this point facts are unclear, but we do know that raiding will come in 2 flavours; 20man and 40man and that the 40man raids will offer the best loot.

Initially this looks problematic, will the 20man raids be mechanically easier? In recent years WoW has homogenized loot between 10man and 25man raiding with little success, both raid sizes have their advantages (10s being logistically easier to manage, 25s having much more margin for error, more raid cooldowns available and less wasted loot) but nonetheless 25man raiding has been quickly eclipsed by 10man raiding due to the simple fact that a 10man raiding guild is much easier to manage for exactly the same rewards.

 

What many players would like to see is 20man and 40man raids be completely different instances with separate audiences in mind as opposed to the “same raid, less people” method.

This raises some questions, does the relative power of gear come into the equation? Will guilds be able to maintain a 40man raiding roster with the promise of better loot, or will the “epic” experience be enough of a hard sell?

Sadly, the answer to both questions seem to be foregone; players will choose the path of least resistance and will attempt to maximise their investment:reward ratio. Ultimately, better gear is the carrot to the stick of raiding.

Carbine need to develop an incentive to make 40 man raiding worth the logistical investment for guild leaders as well as their members, especially as it appears that guilds are going to be expected to run two 20man groups before clearing the 40man raid.

 

Getting pretty tired of you shooting our cameramen Greg.

 

 

Attunement Therapy

As a concept raid attunement isn't a bad idea, but the delivery needs to be executed well for it to be successful and, above all, fun.

Forcing players to run out of date content in order to raid historically isn't a good way for developers to gate their raid content (and Attunement quests are content barriers by any other name) as it simply removes the element of choice for players, effectively forcing them to do something that they, and their guild in the case of clearing old raids, don't want to.

That being said, attunement quests serve the purpose of a competence-check for prospective raiders beyond the experience that 5-man instances provide, they show that a player has taken the time to prepare properly and is dedicated to take the required steps to progress.

In light of the fact that a lot of story-driven content in WildStar is going to be delivered by solo instances it seems natural to treat Raid attunement in a similar manner.

This would allow players to prepare themselves in their own time, without having to form groups to run old content or worse still, force a raiding guild to clear an old raid for the sake of getting one player attuned to the current content. They could also be used as an introduction to some of the mechanics and themes that would be present in the raid encounters themselves, allowing players to not only prepare themselves in a check-list fashion, but to prepare themselves mentally for the raid environment.

 

Attunement is a divisive subject, but it could be argued that many MMO's haven't explored the possibility in a modern fashion. It doesn't have to be a grind, it doesn't have to force players into older group content and it certainly can be fun.

 

I claim this land! And that bit of sky. The bird too ..and the sun.

 

 

Expectation Value

Raiding is far, far more complex now than it ever has been in the MMO space. Players expect roles, gear and boss mechanics to be tailored to extremely specific standards and to allow players to min-max their way to maximum efficiency in a way that leaves little room for ambiguity in encounter design or raid composition.

Raiding over the years has become a game of efficiency over fun where information is easily available to every player about everything they could possibly want to know, players expect itemization to be perfect because, thanks to addons and websites that do the math for them, they know to the exact decimal point what they want out of their gear.

Sub-optimal is not an option any more, whilst this has made a lot of hybrid play and clever strategies for dealing with mechanics redundant it has certainly allowed players to play their class the way that they want to instead of being forced into specific roles that they don't simply because one of their class' specs isn't viable.

What players should hope for from Carbine is for them to allow for a little more flexibility in their encounter design. 40 people is a lot of players to design mechanics around and players should be given more freedom to play their own way instead of adhering to a strict script of encounter mechanics in order to “solve” the encounter.

 

 

Oh come on, I'm level 5 for pity's sake cut me some slack

 

 

Contents may vary

Carbine haven't stated much about how quickly they intend to release raid content, but we do know that they intend to release “large monthly updates“ including group and solo content.

It is, of course, unlikely that Carbine will release raids at anything like this pace, but it does raise the question of how often they will.

Pacing of content is a difficult balance, release content too quickly and the game will feel bloated; Guilds will have difficulty clearing the content before more raids are released.

Too slowly and the hardcore raiding guilds will run out of things to do before the next content patch hits.

It would be a fair estimate to say that Carbine will release raids every 5~6 months, whether these are full 40manraids, 20man raids or a combination of the two remains to be seen but for the content to successfully reach the spectrum and demographic of players that Carbine should be aiming to attract it should be both, along with some solo, 5man and scaling group content.

 

Don't worry tiny phallis-bot, I believe in you!

 

 

Conclusion

All in all, making a return to 40man raids is a bold move.

The attitudes and behaviours of MMO players have changed dramatically over the past 10 years, the wealth of information available to us is overwhelming and developers have been required to react in kind with mechanics and systems that have become increasingly refined over time and altered our approach to gaming.

Sometimes, though, I feel like we've sacrificed the fun along the way somewhere in our quest for maximum efficiency, Diluting and stripping away everything ablative about raiding and being left purely with those mechanics and systems.

 

To be absolutely honest, I'm a little concerned. I find it difficult to imagine many guilds being capable of maintaining a 40man raiding roster in the current gaming environment, and the problem is compounded by the idea of making said raids exclusive to a vanishingly small number of players.

I can't escape the feeling that Carbine are devoting a lot of development time creating a raiding experience catering to an audience that may no longer exist.

 

Fortunately, this is all merely speculation at this point in WildStar's development. Carbine clearly have a wealth of creative talent behind them and near limitless options in creating a new legacy in the MMO market, one that I look forward to with great anticipation.

SW:TOR Revisited: A Year In Review

Posted by Allstar_MMO Monday May 6 2013 at 2:26PM
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With the announcement of SW:TOR going Free to Play this month, I felt that now was a great time to revisit the game with a fresh look at how it has developed since release.

In the runup to the games release, myself and a few other members of this community were vociferous about the games apparent failings and in retrospect these assessments weren't entirely fair.
Like many people of a certain age, I am a massive Star Wars fan. We all grew up watching the original movies at least once a week and letting our imaginations run wild with our friends.
Fortunately the gaming community has been blessed with a vast range of excellent Star Wars games accross multiple genres, chief among those for many was Bioware's Knights of the Old Republic series.
When SW:TOR was announced in 2008 I don't think I was alone in hoping that we would be getting a spiritual successor; a KOTOR 3, albiet on online game.

However, when actual gameplay video started to surface, even those released officially by Bioware, my excitement turned to dismay.
The graphical style initially looked terrible, the animations worse-so, but above all the gameplay had been taken from KOTORs fantastic hidden D20 system to a much more formulaic MMO affair.
The phrase "WoW-clone" quickly attatched itself to the game along with "WoW with lightsabers" and other derogatory terms.

Thankfully after playing the game at Dreamhack 2011 and talking to some of the team there I quckly realized that the gameplay, whilst not being ground-breaking, was solid enough and the class storylines were great in places.

 

Chillin' with Malgus at Dreamhack

 

The style of the game was consistent throughout and the game was obviously written with a passion by Star Wars fans, for Star Wars fans.

Sadly, as is often the problem with big-budget MMO releases the game wasn't without its share of problems even after release.

 

Having now played characters on both factions to level cap I'd like to take some time to discuss how Bioware has addressed the game's initial problems as we head towards SW:TORs first anniversary.

 

 

Class and Faction Stories

Whilst I won't pretend to have played though all of the class stories (if there was a way to do so without having to play through the rest of the quests I would absolutely pay extra for that opportunity), I believe that in the Impeial Agent I have seen the best Bioware has to offer and in the case of the Jedi Consular, I have seen by far the worst.

 

Without giving away any spoilers, the Imperial Agent storyline is easily one of my favourite RPG storylines in any game and goes far deeper than I honestly expected it to.
The story leads you to question your allegiances, the value of life as a "mundane" Empire citizen, the Implacable nature of Sith Lords and, as a Light Side player, the true meaning of patriotism.

 

The player is faced with important distinctions in Imperial dogma early in their career.

On Hutta, and indeed throughout the game, the player can chose to play the good patriot by promoting Imperial values of safety through community, the value of hard work and above all stability.
Soon after you are faced with betrayal by your superiors, mind-control and being forced to operate alone behind enemy lines as a double agent, all of which force even the staunches loyalist to question their allegiances and make some extremely tough decisions.

 

The IA story delivered on every possible front, the companion characters could potentially have been more engaging perhaps but that is a very minor concession.
 
Oh, and those Imperial uniforms are just fabulous.
 
 

The Empire: Unlimited Power, Great tailoring

 

After the Agent storyline teased me with this, I was hoping for a similar experience from the Jedi consular storyline.

I was expecting the view of the Jedi Order as unquestioningly benevolent to be challenged, to have questions raised about the real aspirations of Jedi Masters and how they would deal when faced with tough decisions.
What would have worked better would be to have been faced with genuine corruption within the order instead of a disease and to have needed to use real diplomatic skill to prevail.
Sadly, the storyline delivered none of this, instead giving you a mystical power to lead you on a galactic-scale quest to cure the mysterious disease affecting Jedi Masters.
The other major issue I had was that I was raised to a Master myself at a very premature point in the story, its a nice touch, but would have been better executed at the climax of the story rather than at around level 30.
 
I was hoping to play my Consular as a "Grey Jedi", playing to the nature of the shadow specialization I had chosen, but there really didn't feel like much room for it in the storyline and was left with ironically static absolutes (when everyone knows only Sith deal in absolutes) which had very little real effect on the story.
 
On a good note, I thought the companion characters in the Consular storyline were excellent, Tharan Cedrax and holiday made for some excellent comic moments and even I found it difficult to resist his charms.
There was also a sense of togetherness with the Consular companions as a team that I found lacking in the Imperial Agent story, with many mission briefings throughout the plot and a great camaraderie between the characters (although an Astromech Droid would have been a perfect addition Bioware!)
 
The Consular story could have been an entirely rich experience, but I found it largely predictable and was ultimately found wanting for some real drama.
 
Admittedly, I am an Empire sympathizer (as you might have guessed), but having played through both factions quests there is little contest between the two.
The Revan quests lines, the duplicity of Darth Malgus and the progressive nature of the Empire in the Old Republic timeline all contribute to giving Empire players a vastly superior experience playing the game.

 

I desperately want to be unbiased in my appraisal of the faction storylines but I fear my judgement my be clouded here.

 

Graphics and User Interface

This is something that myself and other members of the community found the most galling about the game when we first saw viedos released by Bioware but the style has really grown on me over the past year.

Early in the games release there was an issue with texture quality. There was a huge disparity between how textures appeared in cutscenes versus how they appeared in regular play.

CSI: Balmorra. Enhance!

 


This was somewhat understandable, the Cinematic cutscenes were much less demanding on the engine given that they were pre-scripted and given a short loading time but it was slightly baffling that the option to have the high-res textures in-game was present in beta but not on release.

Thankfully this was resolved in patch 1.2.

Also introduced in patch 1.2 was the option to modify the user interface.

The standard UI was also something that came under close scrutiny at lauch.

Why was the chatbox way up in the top corner? Why was everything so big and clumsy? Why was everything filled with ablative (not to mention invasive) blue clutter?

 

I'm not sure if everyone else was as bothered by this as I was, but the difference that removing the clutter and reducing the scale and alpha levels on the UI elements makes the game so much more of a pleasure, I think the difference between the two is staggering.

 

Its worth giving due praise to the masterful job that Bioware's art team has done with the environments in SWTOR, there is very little evidence of elements being copy-pasted anyhwere (and in the instances where it is done, it makes sense for them to do so).
Many of the environments are absolutely beautiful, I couldn't possibly include all of my favourites but I will include one, Imperial Intelligence.
 
 

Observe, Mr. Bond, the instruments of Armageddon.


 

PVP gear

The RNG of getting PvP gear at release is a case of how I will never understand how some things get past QA, let alone beta testing.

 

Unfortunately, this is something that Bioware found difficult to correct before ultimately making it better for everyone.

 

In patch 1.1, roughly a month after release, the system of aquiring PvP gear was changed from requiring specific tokens randomly received from bags to earning commendations to buy the gear.
This made aquiring PvP gear much more predictable, ultimately getting players precisely the pieces they needed when they needed them.
The problem with this system is that it potentially took a little longer to get the gear than the people who simply got lucky in the previous system, and required a lot of grinding from new lvlel 50s against better-geared players to make progress.
Whilst I think that "they have better gear" is often a weak excuse in PvP, the difference between players who had already aquired Battlemaster gear were at a vast advantage over fresh 50s and grinding out those commendations took real determination as you were going to lose a lit of games.
I still find the progression-system much more satisfying though, I just wish they had the forsight (or the QA team) to implement this system from the beggining.

 

The system was improved further still in patch 1.2 in April 2012 with the introduction of Recruit gear.

Recruit gear is available to fresh level 50s for nothing more than credits, it is the same quality as the Champion gear (1 tier below Battlemaster) and reduced the gear disparity for new players dramatically.
Furthermore, Battlemaster gear can now be purchased with regular warzone commendations and the new tier of War Hero gear is available only through Ranked Warzone commendations.

 

In a way, I can understand that Bioware wanted to differentiate themselves from WoW's honor system and that is admirable, but its difficult to see why these systems were ever implemented to begin with.

 

World PvP

World PvP was also a mess at release, although I'm not sure this was entirely Bioware's fault.

Ever since Dark Age of Camelot, there has been a very dedicated sector of MMO communities that crave large-scale combat.

The problem is, the fickle nature of the MMO community means that a lot of titles don't have the longevity the playerbase would like. New MMO releases come along and these communities will attempt to shoehorn large-scale RvR gameplay into games that simply aren't designed for it, leading to developers making approximations of the play-style with mixed success and a high failure-rate.

Warhammer Online tried it with a degree of success (WAR will always be the MMO that really broke my heart, the game it should have been would have been amazing).

Aion did an exemplary job of it prior to 2.0.

 


Another evening on Hellfire

 


 

We have seen it to an extent in World of Warcraft with Wintergrasp (and its inferior descendant; Tol Barad) with a some aplomb as one would expect from Blizzard but it is a design they have eschewed for Mist of Pandaria.

In RIFT, we saw Trion attempt to implement world PvP objectives, although I suspect this was more of an effort to prevent players griefing people that were trying to quest and felt largely tacked on, although I would commend Trions efforts in responding to player feedback in the timely manner that they did.

Currently ArenaNet are making their own foray into the genre (for better or worse, which I shan't discuss here).

SWTOR shared the same problem that many "RvR" implentations in MMOs suffer, the engine couldn't handle a large number of players in one area and the community found a way to break the system almost immediately.

The daily and weekly quests on Ilum which rewarded players with bags simply required the zone to be flipped in favour of one faction, which quickly led to win trading and actually killing opposing players there was almost unheard of.

In patch 1.1 the quests were changed to require player kills to complete before being removed entirely in patch 1.2.

Sadly Ilum, and perhaps moreso The Outlaws' Den on Tatooine, never really recovered from their poor implementation, I hope that one day Bioware will return to the concept of PvP worlds but I fear it may be an opportunity lost.

 

Free to Play

I can't pretend that I like the concept of games moving from a subscription based model to a free-to-play model.

 

I have no problem with paying a subscription to an MMO if I think it is worthwhile (which SW:TOR certainly is), it is generally accpted that they money you pay makes for a better experience for everybody in terms of quality and hosting and a subsription fee should be viewed as a hallmark of quality.

 

Games that are designed with it in mind tend to work, League of Legends and Guild Wars are excellent examples, but those making the transition have a tendancy to make drastic changes to the game in order to generate money through micro-transactions.

Sadly, SWTOR is no exception.

 

Among the list bizzare restrictions to the free version are:

 

• Restricted to 2 hotbars - Anyone who played the game with 2 hotbars will tell you that this is not enough for most classes

• Less exp per quest and from mobs, and no rested exp

• 5 Warzones and 3 space missions per week - Combined with the reduced exp from questing, I find it hard to imagine how people will level at all without long periods of grinding mobs

• No Raids, Ranked Warzones and only 3 flashpoint rewars per week - Essentially no endgame content

• No customer service - I cannot fathom their reasoning for this

• 2 character slots only

 

Most of these restrictions can be bypassed by paying for micro transactions but what, then, is the purpose of the free-to-play model at all?

Every player would be better off simply paying a subscription or be faced with a game that is effectively unplayable.

I wish there was something positive I could say about it, perhaps the ability to buy cosmetic gear is a nice bonus even for subscribers.

It is worth noting though, that the servers are currenlty all under Heavy Load with players logging back into the game now that it is free. Some servers even having queues at peak times.

It will potentially be a few weeks before this stabalizes, and if the trend continues it could lead to Bioware being forced to open new servers accommadate the player-base which is almost unprecedented so long after an MMO's release and subsequent server closures.
 
 

 

 

Major Patch Highlights

1.1 January 2012

Kaon Under Siege - New flashpoint

Karagga's Palace - New Operation

 

1.2 March 2012

Legacy System implemented

Explosive Conflict - New Operation

Novare Coast - New warzone

 

1.3 June 2012

Group Finder

Ranked Warzones

Augment slots - Enabling players to add the best mods to custom gear

 

1.4 September 2012

Terror from Beyond - New operation

New Raid Tier of gear

Nerfs to CC in PvP

 

1.5 November 2012

Free to Play

HK-51 Droid companion

New World Boss

 

Conclusion

Going back at this point in time was refreshing, I knew what to expect from the gameplay and all of the elements added post-release make for a much more well-rounded experience.
I can't help but wonder if the fate of the game might have been different if Bioware had been given the neccessary development time to launch the game with the features of 1.1 ~ 1.3, the feature of having a Group Finder for flashpoints alone could have made a huge difference to the casual playerbase.

Sadly it wasn't to be as once again EA rushed an MMO to release before it was ready, let this be a cautionary tale.

That being said, SWTOR isn't a bad game. Its an excellent RPG that was let down early in its life by unfinished or poorly implemented features.
 

Would I reccomend it? That depends.

I would certainly reccoment that every Star Wars or RPG fan plays through some of it at least once (do yourself a favour and play an Imperial Agent, you won't regret it) but as an MMO it suffers the same fate as every other release; It isn't World of Warcraft.
 
Bioware have once again done an excellent job of brining the Old Republic era of the Star Wars universe to life and that, at least, is worth celebrating.

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