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Star Wars: The Old Republic Column: SWTOR - The 'Singleplayer RPG'

By Michael Bitton on July 25, 2012

I’ve had the honor of stewarding this fine community here at MMORPG.com as your community manager for the last three years, and in that time I’ve seen all manner of comments posted on our forums. Working in community, you develop thick skin quickly and learn to resist jumping at the opportunity to respond to some of the more ridiculous statements you’ll inevitably encounter.

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Unfortunately, one sort of comment has been nagging at me for going on two years now and I really can’t ignore it (or the subject) any longer. It goes something like this:

“Star Wars: The Old Republic is a singleplayer RPG.”

There are a ton of variations on this comment, but it’s pretty much used both in context when responding to threads about grouping or just as a catch-all criticism about the game whenever someone feels it’s deemed appropriate.

This statement is simply ridiculous, and I’ll explain more in a moment, but the most amusing part of all is that this was being thrown around even before Star Wars: The Old Republic was at all close to being released. You know, when no one really knew either way what the ratio of regular to group content would actually be? In fact, we even used to have a sticky thread dedicated entirely to this ‘discussion’ prior to the game’s launch.

Why is this claim ridiculous? Well, besides the fact it was thrown around prior to launch and seemingly attributed to the game’s focus on delivering storyline in a more cinematic fashion than the ever exciting quest text boxes (the horror!), it’s now being used so as to attack the game for the fact players can solo it up to level cap.

If you want to make that criticism, you’re more than welcome to do so, but SW:TOR is really the only MMO I’ve ever seen receive that criticism and then repeatedly find itself constantly labeled as a singleplayer RPG as a result. Nothing requires me to group in World of Warcraft from 1-85 and this is often true for just about any AAA MMO that has come out since WoW, but I don’t see anyone calling WoW a singleplayer RPG. Curious, isn’t it?

To set the record straight, Star Wars: The Old Republic does feature a significant amount of designated group content. There are myriad heroic area quests on each world, over 15 Flashpoints (group instances), and three raids presently in the game. By the numbers, there’s a decent chunk of group content there. Can you churn through it in your first month of play? Absolutely, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Does the game force you to do this group content to progress? No, but what modern MMO does? In the interest of increasing accessibility to the genre, MMOs have certainly become more solo friendly over the years and SW:TOR is not remotely alone to that end, nor is it the worst offender by any means. You can be unhappy with that trend, that’s perfectly fine, but SW:TOR deserves no more ire for it than any other game of its ilk.

There’s a larger issue here, though. SW:TOR is just the latest themepark MMO to incur the wrath of MMO players who are really disappointed because they feel games like SW:TOR don’t aspire to what uniquely makes MMOs great: the ability to interact, cooperate, collaborate, or even compete with other players in an online world. You’re frustrated that most MMOs these days are cakewalks that can be soloed from level one to cap and I get that. Having begun my MMO journey in one of the genre’s most renowned sandbox games, Star Wars Galaxies, I feel I’ve experienced firsthand what the heights of the MMO experience can truly be. Yet, here I am, enjoying games like Star Wars: The Old Republic, City of Heroes, The Secret World, and so on. And none of these necessarily force me to play with others.

I recently came upon a thread in our SW:TOR forums where the original poster explained that he had hit level eight in the game and had not come across any group quests yet (there are at least two, if not more, on each starter world, by the way) and that’s where I saw the “singleplayer” nonsense being thrown around yet again and what ultimately became the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. This is important to my previous point as this simple and singular thread illuminated to me the real issue at hand:

There’s a distinction between group quests and content and actual grouping.

I play all the aforementioned games, including Star Wars: The Old Republic, with my friends. While people were raging about SW:TOR the “singleplayer RPG”, my experience couldn’t have been further from that description. Every quest in Star Wars: The Old Republic was a group quest for me. Why? Because I played with a group! I don’t need the game to force me to group by gating my progress with group content and if you truly are such a social butterfly and play MMOs to interact with other players, there’s absolutely nothing stopping you from doing so. You have a group finder and you have general chat – use it!

On one of my first nights playing The Secret World, another game that doesn’t force grouping, I ran into some random fellow doing the police station zombie defense quest outside of the Kingsmouth police station. He randomly invited me to a group. We finished that mission and proceeded to play through the rest of the night together doing all manner of quests and solving puzzles together. None of the quests we did required a group, yet we had a great time.  

AAA MMOs are never going to go back to forced grouping. It’s time to let it go. And you should be OK with that, because if the crux of the issue is you want to play with others, you don’t need the game to force you to do that. If you’re as social as you would seemingly claim, you’ll naturally group with other players you meet in the game. I met some of my best friends through my adventures in the ultimate sandbox (to me) that was Star Wars Galaxies, but guess what? SWG didn’t force me to group. Sure, there were dangerous areas of the game you weren’t likely to survive without a group, but I made most of these friends even before seeking out these challenges.

Heck, one of the very first things I did in Star Wars Galaxies was get together with over 40 other random newbies and try to survive running amok on Endor during the first week or so of launch. 

Developers have been trying to tackle this issue in creative ways over the past couple of years, going all the way back to the prototype of dynamic group content in Warhammer Online’s Public Quests, to Trion’s RIFT, and now to Guild Wars 2. ArenaNet in particular has, I feel, best identified (and dealt with) this social interaction deficit in MMOs. Guild Wars 2 has been designed around allowing for seamless, scaling group play any time you want it. I feel this is the right approach. Instead of designating group content and/or forcing groups upon players, Guild Wars 2 simply makes grouping and cooperating  simple, hassle-free, accessible, and more importantly, integrated into the core experience of playing the game. We’ll have to see how it ultimately plays out later this summer.

The fact of the matter is this: Gamers who want to play with each other will simply do so. It doesn’t matter if the game is a sandbox game or a themepark game. It doesn’t matter if you can solo to level cap or not. The beauty is that we now have options to experience these games how we want. Could MMOs use more group centric content to give those so inclined more challenges to tackle? Maybe. But complaints that an MMO that clearly has group content (whether it has enough of it is subjective) is a singleplayer game because it doesn’t explicitly force you to play with others is just ridiculous.

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Michael Bitton
MMORPG.com's Community Manager Michael Bitton gives us his thoughts and opinions on the happenings in and around the world of MMORPGs.
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