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Star Wars: The Old Republic..With Kids!

By Red Thomas on December 05, 2019 | Columns | Comments

Star Wars: The Old Republic..With Kids!

I’ll put this one right out there.  I’m a huge SWG (pre-CU/NGE) fan and no matter how hard it could try, Star Wars: The Old Republic would have never compared to SWG for me.  To their credit, BioWare never really set out to create a new SWG and were actually really successful at what they were trying to do.   SWTOR is a fantastic story experience set in a visually rich universe with an incredibly well-done score that borrowed just enough from the source material to be recognizable without just being a rip-off.


I decided a few weeks ago to give the game another try, and this time I wanted to bring one of my nephews along for the ride.  I was also hoping to get my niece to give it a try, but copious after school activities and a trip prevented that from happening.  As it was, I had a pretty good time experiencing the game again through my nephew’s eyes.

I’m going to explain a bit about my own feelings as I returned to SWTOR after a multi-year hiatus.  The return wasn’t all sunshine and roses, so I’ll note a few of my issues with the game.  The whole point is to discuss how appropriate the game is for those who’d like to try it out with youths in their family and whether or not this might be a good option for quality family-time, though.

Gold farming is still a viable model for making cash in the game, even after all these years!

 

Red Read Whine

My whole experience initiated with frustration.  I still have my old key fob from when I first played Star Wars: The Old Republic after it released.  My account is still good, but I ran into problems when I tried to reset my password.  For whatever reason, I kept getting errors when trying to use the automatic password reset system, and I suspect my fob has lost time at some point and is giving me bad codes.

There’s a number for technical support, but of course they’re not open in the evening when I was having my problem.  I went ahead and created a new account for myself since I had to create a new one for my nephew anyway, but I did call support later and it was rather easy to get them to remove the security key from my account. After that I could reset my password.  I was frustrated at having to bother with it, but I can’t honestly cast blame because it’s just the nature of these sorts of fobs to desync over a period of several years.  Besides, I found out from the tech that I was talking to that the fobs were discontinued in 2017 in favor of the phone app.

The first thing I saw in game after getting access to my account back was this message that really made me angry.

The second thing that I ran into that kind of tweaked my ire was this “Preferred Status” silliness.  Look, I get it.  Companies have got to make a buck or it’s not worth investing in the development cost of the game.  It’s pretty rare that I have a problem with any form of revenue generation we see in our markets.  As long as cash is exchanged for either cosmetics or time, I’m down with it.

My issue with SWTOR is that it comes off feeling petty in this case.  Two things really struck me as being a little over the line.  For one, the ability to sprint is locked behind that preferred status boundary, and another is that quick slot bars are limited as well.  That’s just… well, petty.  Those are two core components of the game experience and being able to sprint or have access to extra quick slots can really make a big difference in someone’s ability to enjoy the game.

Granted, you can purchase something innocuous and those go away because preferred status is granted once you’ve purchased anything and remains whether you spend anymore cash at all.  It’s the sense of putting something that basic behind a paywall that bothers me, though.   I have no problem spending money on good games, and I even want to do so because I feel obligated to support projects that I like.  I really do not like feeling like I’m being scammed into having to spend money to play the game.   It’s the moral difference between giving something verses having someone demand it, to my mind at least.

It wasn’t long after that and while looking into the F2P options for this article that I discovered the other thing that brought back all those same negative feelings.  It seems you have to be a subscriber to join a guild.   They have guilds for non-subscribers, but a lot of the features are limited, such as the ability to change the names of the various guild ranks and the guild bank is locked behind a cash purchase.  This system just really bothers me a whole lot.  I’m incredibly leery of throwing words like “cash grab” around, but that’s what this feels like to me.

Storylines in the game are where it really shines.  Dialogue options are a bit limp and the story is incredibly linear, but it does tell a very fun and Star Wars feeling epic about your character.

In the end, I tried not to let it ruin my experience of the game, but I won’t lie.  The petty things that this team has locked behind the pay wall really upsets me.  It feels unnecessary and intentionally punitive, and I really don’t like the experience that creates.   Some folks just don’t have the disposable income to spend on fun things.  I get that this is a business and totally support their right to monetize it as they see fit, but we’re also in an era where Free-to-Play has been worked out and there’s a pretty well established norm for what things are acceptable to be charged for.   The ability to have a functional guild isn’t one of the things on that list, and the ability to sprint in game is most definitely not.

 

Higher Ground

Now that I’ve burned through some of the negativity in my system, let met get into playing SWTOR with kids.   Specifically, one of my older nephews joined me this time and I think that worked out well.   SWTOR isn’t the most modern engine and the graphics are a little dated after seven years, but the score is still epic and has that very Star Wars feel to it.

As I said earlier in the article, BioWare did what they do best and the main storylines for each character are a blast to play.  I think for older kids, SWTOR is a very viable family experience.  The fact that each class has their own instanced story means that each person playing gets a little of the game that belongs just to them.  One thing that I think occasionally happens when I’m playing with the kids is that I tend to take too much control.   That’s probably fine in a lot of situations, but it also robs the children for having a sense of ownership in their own experience on occasion.  SWTOR gets around that nicely by putting each character in charge of their own main quests.  Between those related missions, we still share the join experience of all the other missions in the game.

I also found myself letting my nephew pick more of the dialogue options and was more interested in sitting back to let him take point than I think I would have been in other games.   In a sense, it was kind of like watching a Star Wars movie that I had a small amount of participation in, and I enjoyed that a lot.

I like the Light/Dark options in the game and it’s fun to see which the kids will pick, I think.

The combat probably wasn’t quite action-oriented enough to really be hugely attractive, but BioWare did a good job with the character animations and skills, so the nephew seemed to find combat at least moderately enjoyable.  Granted, the game is severely biased in favor of the player in early levels, especially when grouped with another player, so there was very little challenge in PvE.  That does tend to feel a little grindy and unnecessary, but of course you’re never really trapped behind a fight that’s too hard to handle, either.

Other than the inability to sprint, the guild functionality and quick slots that are locked behind real cash purchases will never bother my nephew.  We won’t end up playing to higher level, probably will never PvP (not that I really thought much of PvP in SWTOR anyway), and there’s no reason for us to ever join a guild.  In that sense, my issues with the revenue model probably don’t matter much.

As far as MMOs go, this might be one of the better ones to experience with kids.  Star Wars is obviously going to be kid-friendly and may kids have probably watched the cartoons, possibly even the movies.  The art style in the game leans well towards the animated series, which I think helps improve the appeal of the game to younger players (…and not a few older ones, too).

 

Impossible Love

In the end, I probably won’t be spending much time with SWTOR.  I love the storylines and think playing those through are well worth the experience, but the revenue system really kills it so hard for me that I just can’t enjoy the game.  Also, it may be better now, but the PvP system was just such an after-thought when I played years ago that I’m still bummed about how lame it was seven years later.  That’s ends up being another reason I’m just struggling to be interested in SWTOR.

Combat is meh mechanics-wise, but the character animations and sound make it feel a lot more exciting.

The thing that bothers me is that I really want to like this game.  I want to like it so much because I think it’s actually one of the better games out there to experience with kids.  For those who were lucky enough to have played it with kids around release, I can’t tell you how jealous of that opportunity I am right now.  Even now, the storylines and fully-voiced characters make the game very enjoyable for children that probably are less interested in reading dialogue than I am.

I don’t know that there’s enough here to interest kids in their later teens, but I think Star Wars: The Old Republic would be an excellent choice for those in that 10-15 years of age range.  The fact that you can create a couple free accounts and give it a rip make it easy for me to recommend.  If one of the kids plays it and ends up enjoying it, I may even pitch in for a few months of the subscription so that they can really go for it and enjoy the game.

I’ll certainly join in when I see them playing, but I don’t think I’ll voice my issues to the children.  If it doesn’t bother them, then I’m not going to ruin it for them.  None of it bothers me enough not to play with the kids if the opportunity comes up, but I definitely won’t be picking up a subscription for myself unless something dramatically changes.

In the end, yes.  I would recommend Star Wars: The Old Republic if you’d like to play something with your kiddos.  I think they’ll enjoy it, and you’ll probably have fun, too.  I really don’t want to recommend it out of principle, but the truth is that it’s an excellent game and I think some kids will find they really like it a lot.  As an introduction to MMOs goes, it’s a pretty good choice.  Just…  don’t be in a hurry to get anywhere in game unless you’ve got some cash to spend.


Red Thomas / A veteran of the US Army, raging geek, and avid gamer, Red Thomas is that cool uncle all the kids in the family like to spend their summers with. Red lives in San Antonio with his wife where he runs his company and works with the city government to promote geek culture. Follow him on Twitter:
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