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Star Wars: The Old Republic Column: A Bittersweet Week

By Michael Bitton on May 23, 2012

It’s been an interesting week for Star Wars: The Old Republic. You might even say it’s been bittersweet. On the one hand, the full details of Update 1.3: Allies were announced and confirmed. On the other hand, BioWare also announced that ‘restructuring’ has taken place, resulting in the loss of a number of jobs at the studio.

Let’s kick things off with the good news. Update 1.3: Allies was officially announced this week over at IGN and is, as expected, a content light update. What does this mean? If you’re expecting a new Operation and/or Flashpoint(s) in 1.3, you’re going to be disappointed. Instead, Allies will focus on a number of important feature additions, including the marquee Group Finder and an expansion of the Legacy system with character-specific unlockable perks.

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The Group Finder will allow players to easily get into groups for planetary content (questing), Flashpoints (both normal and hardmode), and storymode Operations.

The Legacy Perks coming in 1.3 are designed to allow players to tailor their Legacy unlocks for whatever they intend on doing with a specific character. For example, if you only enjoy PvPing on your Sith Warrior, you’ll be able to unlock perks for that character that increase experience earned for participating in Warzones. The same will be possible for space, crafting, and all sorts of activities.

Adaptive Gear and Augment Tables are also significant features of Update 1.3. The former will allow social gear items to be of practical use by adapting to the player character’s armor class (they are currently Light Armor only), while the latter will basically allow players to socket existing gear (Premium grade and up) with Augment slots to ensure parity with crit-crafted Orange gear.

Most important of all, Update 1.3: Allies will take a major step towards solving the population imbalances plaguing many of SWTOR’s servers by allowing players to transfer their characters to healthier servers. The exact details of this system haven’t been fully revealed just yet, but how BioWare chooses to handle this service will be extremely crucial to the future health of the game. I really can’t emphasize enough how make-or-break this will be for Star Wars: The Old Republic.

 

Now that we know all about Update 1.3, it’s time we address the not-so-good news.

The ‘restructuring’ announced for Star Wars: The Old Republic is a bit hard to accurately gauge at the moment. As many have mentioned, this sort of thing is par for the course after a major MMO launch. The difference here is that BioWare has repeatedly been on record stating that they intended to keep the development team on as is in order to make major contest pushes and significantly grow the game. Clearly, on some level this is no longer the case.

Though we don’t know how many jobs were affected by the restructuring at BioWare just yet, the act itself still sends a clear message to people following the game, as the move flies directly in the face of what was previously said and comes during a somewhat tumultuous time for the game. The fact of the matter is that EA isn't continuing with the announced plan to push hard on SWTOR with the full development team behind it.

I’m not a business expert, but this is probably the worst thing EA could possibly do for a project like SWTOR in the MMO launch-rich environment that is 2012-2013. I’ve mentioned in the past that it was a good thing that BioWare has been aggressively pursuing new blood for the game and trying to keep current subscribers playing, but the best way to do this is to stick to an aggressive content and feature schedule. If this restructuring ends up affecting the scope and cadence of updates to SWTOR it will have serious implications for the future of the title.

Scaling back SWTOR at such a crucial time for the game would make that uphill climb of maintaining player interest this year that much harder for BioWare and is sure to hurt the long term prospects for the game as a result. I’m glad to hear that EA CEO John Riccitiello is aiming to ‘go for growth’ with SWTOR, but I’m not sure reducing development resources sends the same message to those outside of the studio.

Most of all? The human bit of it just plain sucks. Whatever your feelings are about Star Wars: The Old Republic, a number of people lost their jobs yesterday, and I’d like to end this column by personally wishing them all the best of luck in wherever life takes them from here. I hope you all will, too.

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