Earlier this week, we put together a shortlist of five not so great things about Star Wars: The Old Republic. Not long after we published this article, I realized I’d missed one fairly glaring aspect of the game that bothers me a good deal: mirrored classes.
Having mirrored classes generally implies that each class has a counterpart on the opposing faction, but in Star Wars: The Old Republic this idea is taken quite literally. SWTOR’s class mirrors are actually not just extremely similar, but identical. For example, if you’ve played a Smuggler, you’ve played an Imperial Agent, and if you’ve played a Bounty Hunter, you’ve played a Trooper. Sure, they use different looking gear, their animations are flavored and styled to be class appropriate, but otherwise every skill and every talent is completely identical.
Of course, there are two major differentiators: the class story and the unique content of each faction. The primary motivation for some games to go the mirrored class route is obviously balance; it’s a heck of a lot easier to balance four (or eight if you count Advanced Classes) over eight (or again, 16), but for the player, I feel it’s a huge drag.
If we jump back in time a bit to another EA game, Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, it’s fairly easy to see why BioWare would be going for fully mirrored classes right out of the gate with Star Wars: The Old Republic. WAR had mirrored classes in the sense that each class had a counterpart that was fairly similar on the opposing faction, but was different enough to stand out on its own. For example, the Marauder and the White Lion; these guys were fairly different in many respects, but similar in core function and gameplay. The same was true for the Squig Herder and Shadow Warrior. However, over time, these differences contributed to a number of balance headaches, as one mirror ended up significantly more powerful than the other (Engineer vs. Magus, Bright Wizard vs. Sorceress, etc.) often to the point of really throwing the balance of power to one side over the other when it came to RvR battles. Fast forward a bit, and Warhammer Online’s classes are now pretty much mirrored identically. This solves the balance issue, but makes the game a fair bit less interesting.
Star Wars: The Old Republic feels a bit similar in this way. If you’ve played one class for an extended period of time and feel like checking out how the other side lives, it’s a real shame to coincidentally pick your class mirror on the opposing faction and realize you already know how to play the character down to the tiniest detail. I really can’t stress enough how identical things are. If we take the Trooper and the Bounty Hunter as an example, the Vanguard DPS role inexplicably focuses on short range blaster attacks with his blaster rifle, and so does the Powertech DPS for the Bounty Hunter role, except that the Powertech’s short range makes sense as he is mainly using flamethrower attacks. It makes sense for a flamethrower to have limited reach, but why the blaster rifle? Simple, these two are mirrors.
Balance will always be a challenge – but so what? Heck, you can still mirror classes without making them completely identical. Will one side’s counterpart be better than the other at times? It’s possible, but most of us are used to this by now. I’ll gladly take the added individuality over homogenization any day of the week and twice on Sunday. It’s disheartening to see abilities that are distinctly part of one class’ identity added to their counterpart for the simple sake of balance. Having access to Force Choke isn’t so cool when the Jedi Knight can basically do the same thing. What sets the two apart, then?
How do you feel about mirroring classes? Share your thoughts in the comments below!