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The RPG Files: SWTOR - Less MMO, More RPG Than Ever Before

Columns By Christopher Coke on February 05, 2016

SWTOR - Less MMO, More RPG Than Ever Before

After two weeks off celebrating a new baby, it’s good to be back talking about RPGs with fellow fans. Over my break, I actually took a break from RPGs. Or so I thought. Instead, high on The Force Awakens, I re-downloaded Star Wars: The Old Republic. What I found was startling: There is a whole lot less MMO in this MMORPG.

Before we go any further, let me explain. You can play SWTOR like a traditional MMORPG, Bioware just doesn’t want you to -- at least in the old world content I’ve been re-leveling through. Aside from the occasional flashpoint, SWTOR is now a game you can safely treat like a single-player RPG. If the tagline of the latest expansion, “a return to Bioware storytelling,” is anything to go by, that’s exactly what Bioware has in mind.

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Let that sink in: one of the most successful subscription/high-pressure F2Ps out there allows you to ignore multiplayer the vast majority of the time. Now, we could say that’s also true of many themepark MMOs, but unlike, say, World of Warcraft, the best parts of SWTOR are single-player. The highlight of most themeparks are dungeons and end-game raiding; playing with your guild. In SWTOR, the highlight is the story, and you can experience almost all of it without ever joining a guild, typing a message in chat, or really bothering to be social in any way. Many games lock their best stories behind raids. SWTOR does that too, but that story is only one of hundreds that lead you along the way.

And you know what? The game is better for it.

The single-biggest issue I had with SWTOR when it launched was the absolute inundation with MMO trash quests. This coming from a guy who loves MMOs and can find the joy in a healthy amount of mindless grinding. But SWTOR was different because it insisted on presenting these throwaways as something more than they were. Full voicing was wonderful, except when that four hundredth sergeant comes out with the latest cut-and-paste inanity and you’re ready to pull your hair out. It insulted the intelligence, pushing these quests into their own silly cutscenes. It was even worse because the whole time all you’re really wanting to do it get back to the main quest.

Then The Force Awakens came out and I decided to spend a little more time in a galaxy far, far away. (It’s a pretty popular story right about now).

So imagine my delight when listening to The MMO Show podcast, I hear Braxwolf and Shannon talk about dramatically sped up leveling, even without the pre-expansion XP boost. And how much greater was my surprise was when I read Bioware’s blog on Core World Changes, which essentially amounts to making all of that, every standard MMO kill quest, entirely optional. You can now level all the way to the latest expansion doing only story quests, whether you’re a subscriber or not. That’s an incredible and positive change.

The net result is that SWTOR feels much more like an RPG in a living world than a standard MMORPG or SRPG. I realize how conflicting that sentence sounds, but it’s true. Leveling up, all of the MMO stuff I love is there. There are other people who make the world feel alive. There is chat if I want it, guilds if I’m lonely. Flashpoints and Operations when the time comes; PVP and a space combat mini-game that reward ridiculous amounts of experience. But at the core, I have my own story I’m working through, and because of the dialogue system, I’m actually roleplaying and not just skipping through quests. The vast majority of the time, I’m enjoying the ambiance of other players but not their actual company.

It might sound odd to be happy about an MMORPG becoming that much more single-player. In this case, I think it’s what The Old Republic was meant to be. Bioware probably had high hopes for an online RPG, and are now realizing their most skilled when they stick to what they know, “Bioware storytelling.” The result, honestly, taps into the best of MMO and RPG worlds. Things may change as my leveling continues, but for now, SWTOR has become a pretty damn good RPG.

Quick Hits

The Division’s beta test landed this week and the feedback is good! I admit to being skeptical after such a tumultuous dev cycle, so it’s good to see that Ubisoft seems to have pulled it off. We’ll see how it holds up once the full game is opened (this test was highly limited) but right now we have cause to be optimistic. Ubisoft also announced that three expansion packs are planned for the coming year: Underground, Survival, and Last Stand.

Harebrained Schemes is pretty cool. Not only did they help revive the ailing CRPG genre with Shadowrun Returns, but have continued to pump out good content ever since. Their latest entry in the series, Shadowrun: Hong Kong was met with rave reviews, and the developer has now added five extra hours of  add-on content and a developer commentary, free of charge. Take note, other RPG devs.

Path of Exile: Ascendancy has received a release date and will officially be available on March 4th. The expansion will feature the labrythine Trials of Ascendancy, 19 new ascendancy classes, new enchantments, skills, and items, and the Lord’s Labyrinth, a zone which reconfigures daily to reveal new puzzles and treasures. Grinding Gear Games has also released several videos detailing three of the upcoming subclasses.

Techland has released an incredible time lapse video showing the evolution of the zombie from the early 1900s to modern day. Of course, Techland’s zombie is the grizzliest. It’s hard to believe it is the same actor through each make-up treatment! This comes by way of promotion for the upcoming Dying Light: The Following Enhanced Edition re-release on February 9th.

A new character has been revealed for Final Fantasy XV, Aranea Highwind! The militant character was shown in action during a recent Active Time Report where the developers also hinted that a new playable demo may be on the way. Either way, please be excited for their Final Fantasy Uncovered event on March 30th where a release date is expected to be unveiled.         

Finally, if you haven’t picked up Darkest Dungeon yet, now is the time! The game recently went live on Steam largely positive reviews. The team has also laid out a short- and long-term road map, leading to an early March update and the eventual PS4 and Vita release of the game.

That’s all from us. Let us know what we missed in the comments below!

Christopher Coke / Chris has been a fan of MMOs since the mid-1990s when he cut his teeth on MUDs. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences.