Most people who know me recognize me for the bitter old cynic I am. Frankly, I’ve been playing MMORPGs for as long as acronym has existed, and because of that, I tend to exercise a greater degree of scrutiny when judging a newly released game. While Mike Bitton’s review from MMORPG.com for SWTOR was both well written and rational (not to mention his own valid opinion), I’d like to offer my own view on why Star Wars: The Old Republic fails to impress me, as well as provide a little constructive criticism on this early state of the game. It’s my hope that the opinions expressed here will lead to some genuine discussion within the SWTOR community, preferably without too much trolling or banner-waving on either side of the argument, and pave the way for some positive changes.
I’d like to begin by saying that I’ve played nearly every major MMO that’s been released to date, and have always preferred the games that sought to bring a little innovation to this genre; games such as Ultima Online, Dark age of Camelot, Shadowbane, Darkfall, Guild Wars, and even World of Warcraft (in its day) all readily come to mind as prime examples. While I genuinely enjoy playing Star Wars: The Old Republic, I can’t help but feel as though the game does little for the genre that hasn’t already been done, and worse, that in many cases hasn’t already been done better. However, before I go on, yes, we’re all well aware that SWTOR has fantastic fully voice-acted questing, and that this is perhaps SWTOR’s biggest, if not only, contribution to the MMO genre - but even voice acted cinematic questing has been done before, albeit at a quality lower than what’s found in SWTOR.
While I thoroughly enjoy the fully voice-acted cinematic questing found in SWTOR, I can’t help but grumble at the fact that the majority, if not entirety, of the questing provided feels completely superficial. My actions are of no real consequence, and I’m rarely faced with a decision that has any sort of lasting impact on my gameplay experience, beyond the occasional accruement of light or dark side points. NPCs are oblivious to my benevolent actions, unaware of my insidious deeds, and completely indifferent to anything that happens outside of their direct quest lines. Part of what made questing in the other BioWare RPGS fun was that the player’s choices gave a sense of some sort of lasting impact on the world, the characters within it, and the opinions of those characters towards the player. In SWTOR, the quests throughout the galaxy just lack the sort of cohesion or significance found in those other titles, and as such, come off as either trivial or linear. So, while I think it’s great that EA spent more money on SWTOR than any other game in the company’s history; I wish they would have put aside a little less of their budget on the superficial aspects of quests, and a little more on the essence of what it is that makes quests worth doing. Giving us real consequences to the decisions we make would be a fantastic step in the right direction.
On that note, a few more dramatic plot twists would have been nice. As far as I’m concerned, every good story should have at least one Ned Stark.
My biggest complaint with SWTOR isn’t regarding the questing, since I do find it fairly enjoyable, but rather, with the classes available and the combat at their disposal. The classes in SWTOR seem to lack the sort of depth and originality found in other contemporary games, and I believe this has largely to do with the fact that SWTOR’s classes, on average, only have about 20-30 active abilities each, some of which are functionally identical to abilities found on other classes and in other games. To make matters worse, the skill trees currently available in SWTOR follow the same sort of linear structure as what’s found in World of Warcraft: Cataclysm’s talent trees, meaning that most players have very little real choice in how they specialize their characters. After playing games like Rift and Champions Online, where the player is given a staggering degree of customization options, it’s difficult for me to play SWTOR and not feel like I’m taking a step backwards. Heck, even the developers of World of Warcraft seem to agree with me, given that they’re completely scrapping their Cataclysm talent trees in their next expansion.
The low number of abilities and the lack of character customization both blend together to make the combat come off as a little lukewarm. While the classes are distinct to a degree, I just don’t feel like the Sith Sorcerer, as an example, truly plays differently enough from the Republic Commando, aside from aesthetics and a few defining abilities. Furthermore, I don’t feel like any of the classes seem truly unique to SWTOR, lightsabers aside. One of the reasons why World of Warcraft has lasted the test of time is that each of the game’s classes provided a radically different experience from the next – a Warlock played nothing like a Mage, which played nothing like a Rogue, which played nothing like a Death Knight, and so on. In fact, when I reflect on my time spent in other games, I often find myself fondly looking back on the original play styles of the classes that I enjoyed most in those games, and I can’t help but feel that SWTOR’s classes just lack that same sort of panache. Five years from now, will I look back on the time I’ve spent on my Sith Sorcerer with the same sort of fondness as when I look back on my Undead Shadow Priest? Somehow I don’t think so.
Moving on; though I enjoy the PVP found in SWTOR to a degree, I feel as though there just isn’t enough depth to it. SWTOR lacks any sort of PVP character progression with the exception of a PVP level that grants access to certain gear. And this leaves bloodthirsty players such as me wanting more. To make matters worse, there are only three PVP instances available at present, with the only truly unique one being Huttball. As a somewhat hardcore competitive player, I find this absence of refinement, complexity or variety to the PVP system to be disheartening to say the least. However, the existence of a PVP leveling system leaves me hopeful that we’ll see a little more attention paid to PVP in the future.
Instancing is another bone of contention I have with SWTOR, and I’m actually surprised to hear so few complaints about it. Much like Age of Conan and Champions online, SWTOR employs a system of zone mirroring, which makes it so that if an area is overpopulated, a mirror version of that zone is created. The result of this is system that we see countless parallel instances for the same zones, and the player population gets split up between these game spaces. I find that this noticeably diminishes the feeling of a giant massively multiplayer world, often results in zones that feel largely devoid of other players – and given that I play on PVP servers exclusively, I find this general emptiness to be a bit frustrating, as it severely cuts down on both organic open-world combat and social interaction.
Speaking of SWTOR’s social interaction, I’d say SWTOR is lacking in just about every category. Guilds have very little in the way of interesting mechanics, there’s no real looking for group tool, and there are no central locations for players to congregate and socialize, similar to something like the Gates of Stormwind. All of this, combined with the previously mentioned heavy instancing, just makes the game feel less like a massively multiplayer game, and more like a massively single-player game.
And don’t get me started on the lack of chat bubbles…
As an avid crafter, I am extremely dissatisfied with the current state of crew skills. Despite the fact that I really enjoy the concept of my companions handling crafting and gathering for me, I feel that there just isn’t enough nuance to the crafting system to keep things interesting. As an artifice, I craft largely the same items at the lower levels of skill as I do at the higher levels, with the only difference being the total number of stat points allocated to an item. Maybe I just miss the complex crafting systems found in games like Star Wars Galaxies, Vanguard, EverQuest 2 and EVE, but I can’t help but feel that the developers truly missed the mark with SWTOR. I had hoped to find a little more randomization of stats in this game, more options for items to be crafted, and a greater frequency for the discovery of all new recipes, rather than merely the ability to reverse engineer a green strength hilt +20 in order to discover a blue strength hilt +20.
SWTOR’s user interface is simply atrocious, and about as malleable as a rock. Given that nearly every MMORPG released within the past decade has provided the player with a wealth of customization options for the user interface, I find it entirely unacceptable that SWTOR lacks even the basic ability to scale my action bar.
It would also be nice to have a greater degree of influence over graphics options, floating combat numbers, and the name display radius.
Honestly, there isn’t much that can be said about space combat that can’t be summed up with two words: It’s bad. Many missions are simply slightly more difficult copies of earlier missions, there are no interesting customization options for ships, combat is an entirely single-player affair, the rewards for participation are underwhelming, and the missions themselves fail to provide any sort of significant challenge.
Beyond that, if I wanted to play Starfox, I’d go out and buy a Nintendo 64. This is Star Wars, damn it – give me something more akin to Rogue Squadron or Tie Fighter, not the on-rails afterthought of a space-system found in SWTOR.
With all of these complaints combined, I can’t help but wonder about SWTOR’s longevity. Sure, the game is playable, well polished, and fun to a certain degree, but I still just don’t see any unique features at present that will keep people playing beyond the maximum level. After all, there have been other MMOs released in recent memory that were not only playable, well polished, and fun, but also provided new and exciting styles of play – yet those other MMOs found themselves floundering after only a few short months of time. Only time will tell, I suppose – but until then, I can’t help but be a little disappointed with SWTOR, and a little more eager for the release of Guild Wars 2.