With the launch of early access for Shadow of Revan on Tuesday, Star Wars: the Old Republic retired a subscriber perk that had allowed hordes of casuals like myself to finally get through each class story and have a character at the former level cap. Today's article is about that perk and whether it ultimately had value to the game.
Don't worry, we here at MMORPG will be reviewing the new content properly, including both story and the new Discipline system, but in order to write a proper review, we need enough time in-game to make it fair. In the meantime, however, I'm going to look at that subscriber perk. I'll admit, I pretty much ditched most of my other games since the preorders went up for Shadow of Revan, including World of Warcraft's new expansion, because it could wait, and this was on a timer. The notion of getting to play through just the class stories (which are the game's strongest, most immersive and personal stories) is extremely appealing, especially if you're a player like me who actually does play multiple games and likes alts and simply does not plow through content faster than the Millennium Falcon on the Kessel Run. I set my completionist self aside for a couple of months so I could jump into the Star Wars pool of awesome and finally get those class stories sorted out. Ironic, when technically I'd already known (and forgotten) the basic gist of many of them due to having read the SWTOR Encyclopedia when it first came out. In fact, I spent my last day in 12x class XP replaying the female Jedi Knight story on another server because it was my first 50 and that was oh so long ago.
And yet, was the buff the godsend that it seemed to be? Perhaps. You'll note in the picture above that the medium-armor-wearing Sentinel is actually wearing a light armor Consular's chest piece. The logistics of 12x class XP quickly became evident. As a mechanic, any subscriber's character would stay on-level for the planets they visited if they did them in order. The added perk of have free training for additional abilities helped keep their credits afloat if not rolling in the cash, unless one bought or crafted upgrades every few levels. However, gear lagged severely behind level, and if one hadn't learned the rotations, then boss fights become harder due to companions dying early or not being able to hold aggro or heal well. So, I was wearing a mid-30s light armor piece with Willpower on it as a level 40 because the endurance and armor stats were better than the medium armor Strength piece that she'd had since finishing Coruscant.
Certainly, if you had alts on the same server, you could keep up with gear by crafting it or buying it if you had a stash of credits to play the GTN, but when you're power leveling like that, I suspect many players did as I did and simply kept chugging along, because we kept dinging every other quest. I think I spent most of my time on Monday simply getting from quest-giver to quest-giver to be able to hand in the quests. I saw no value in stopping every few levels to churn out more mods for orange shell gear and I didn't make enough credits to buy them off the GTN. There were just enough drops going to occasionally upgrade, but since I was running with the foul-mouthed Ewok Treek as my go-to companion all this time, most often I'd be spending my quest loot choices on the droid parts so I could pop out their mods and keep her going.
Another of the downsides to the focused class mission XP is the simple fact you miss everything. It takes time away to explore all of the planetary maps, to get through the jumping puzzles for all the datacrons that would help boost your stats, et cetera. You often miss codex entries for having killed various beasts along your way or various lore objects scattered about. It's nearly impossible to keep up on gathering crafts without taking precious time away from questing and worst of all, you miss the natural progression of companion stories.
That being said, the boost was good for the game and overall a good mechanic for getting many more people to level 55. Unlike other games with recent major updates and expansions, SWTOR hasn't touched elder game story content in any fashion. While we have mechanical changes with the advent of Disciplines, the story of the game from level 1 to level 50 is exactly the same as it was on launch day, and 50 to 55 on Makeb hasn't changed since Rise of the Hutt Cartel. So, for a game that gave nothing new for lower levels to do other than 'relearn your class', it needed this mechanic. To be fair, they could have done it the way Blizzard did and offered a free character boost with a preorder and opened the door for a bit of moneygrubbing by having a paid boosted character service. SOE did something similar with both EverQuest games in the past year too, and so did Lord of the Rings Online with its Gift of the Valar, so it's not unheard of in the industry. However, they didn't. It really was a nice perk to encourage subscribing, and for once, their verbiage didn't smack people over the head too hard with the 'suggestion' to preorder and subscribe.
Still, was it a good idea? Sure, class stories were very much easier to follow and felt more cohesive if that's all you were doing, but I also believe that it made the game feel smaller even as it concentrated all of the Star Wars feels without having to do the 'kill ten womprats' quests all the time. For example, I played my other Jedi Knight for 15 hours on Monday, but not hardcore, often chatting with friends and devs in Landmark on my laptop at the same time. I wound up going from level 20 to 42, which is over half of Chapter 1 and all but the tail end of Chapter 2. That's about half of the class's elder game content in one casual sitting. One of the many complaints people have leveled against the game is that there wasn't enough story content. Many players coming from other BioWare properties such as the much-lauded Mass Effect or Dragon Age have expected a richer and far more complex world than we have, and this hyper focus on class-only stories brings to us the sharp reality that SWTOR aren't those games despite a number of accusations that it plays like a single-person game like them. True, they're not MMOs, but sometimes logic doesn't precede player expectations.
Despite this, the notion of a fast-path mechanic might be something BioWare should trot out again in some fashion. After all, with the game now officially having a potential lifetime equal to that of any game under the EA contract with Disney, players who missed this particular boat might want to take advantage of something similar in the future when the game's level cap goes even higher and more future content is again only available to people at the existing cap. With a rich release schedule of so many other games during the same timeframe, there are certainly players who didn't choose SWTOR for their gaming time because of one or more of those others. So let's say they're hypothetically thinking about bringing the 12x class XP boost back. I'd agree with the basic notion that it should remain a subscriber-only feature, although I could see the cash grabby notion of them putting it out there on the Cartel Market as an unlock (albeit a rather expensive one if it's going to be account-wide). Once added account-wide, players should also be able to get some kind of disabler that turns it back off for a specific period of time in case someone wanted to go back to a more natural leveling path. LotRO has an equippable trinket that does disables all XP gains until it's unequipped, so it's not unheard of.
I also wonder what having such a mechanic in play permanently would do to the game. For example, while it was on, I didn't bother with any PVP, Flashpoints, or group content. I was hurriedly button-mashing to get to level 55 so I could move onto my next character. It really did limit social interactions or the need to group up. However, if someone was going to take a break from their class quests and do a bit of PVP or FPs, they wouldn't be in level-appropriate gear unless they took further time away to craft or buy mods. That could be fatal in a Flashpoint, especially if they're blazing through content so fast they're not learning their class abilities.
Perhaps the old double XP weekends would instead be a better solution. They were popular with many players looking to get through some of the grind more quickly, helped the economy through people buying a ton of XP boosts and mods, and didn't overstay its welcome. However, I will not advocate the notion of a fully boosted character like Blizzard's instant level 90s, definitely not for a game this young, and certainly never for a BioWare game, where story is paramount.
What do you folks think?