SWTOR: Epic Interactive Stories
I will never forget playing the open beta for SWTOR. I loaded up my Jedi Knight and instantly fell in love. Tython was a joy. The story telling, the voices, the choices…my friend and I busted out the first planet but I refused to go on because I knew I’d be playing the hell out of the game when it released. I pre-ordered and waited anxiously. When it came out, as I predicted, my addiction hit hard and strong. It rapidly became my all-time favorite MMO.
First off, the Pros of SWTOR (Original Release)
- Multiple Start Points: Each faction has two points they can start from: Korriban and Hutta for the Dark Side, Tython and Ord Mantell for the light. They pair up the stories incredibly well so that if you team up with the alternate class starting in that location, it will organically keep you moving together to maximize your experience. This works fantastic because a smuggler and soldier end up making sense and they can continue on from their starting planet to the rest of the game.
- Eight fully realized stories: Told in three chapters, every class has a full on story they can complete. I’ve done them all and I can say that while a few were weaker than others, they were all fascinating and well done. In essence, you got 8 single player games when you got into SWTOR and that unto itself is pretty bad ass. I’ve rated my favorite stories on another blog but again, these are all worth checking out.
- Full voice for every character: With high quality actors providing the voices, SWTOR sounded great and the immersion was spot on. They took the dialogue options from Mass Effect (even to the point that you don’t necessarily know exactly what they’re going to say when you click on the item) so it’s familiar and intuitive.
- Feel like a hero: Your character is a bad ass and you feel like it all the time. The way you look is customizable and the outfits are fantastic and iconic. The extra races help you enjoy the Star Wars feeling and everywhere you travel, you experience a world both familiar and new. It’s very well done.
- Light/Dark/Options: You have multiple options for your playthroughs. In one, you can be a total jerk (on either side, republic or imperial) or you can be benevolent. I took an evil Trooper through and he committed war crimes. My dark Jedi Consular murdered several Jedi Masters. My good Sith Warrior fought with honor and my stark Bounty Hunter murdered people’s families. The options are awesome and they really do shape the story to come, encouraging multiple playthroughs where other MMOs simply do not.
- Entertaining PvP: Fighting in the various arenas was pretty fun and you could get experience for completing matches. Plus, you got some decent PvP gear that helped you advance in the PvE world. All around, I liked playing through these and took a couple of characters really high in Valor levels. Definitely one of my favorite experiences for PvP but it did have some faults.
Now for the cons:
- Linear Motion through Game: After the initial starting zone, there was only one path to go through the game. Yes, each character had their own story to complete but in order to do so, you had to do the same side missions to build up your level as you did with the previous character you visited the game with. In a sense, you can have two fully unique experiences beyond the opening planets because Dark Side and Light Side do the planets in different orders but otherwise, it’s a linear game in that regard.
- Side Quests during Ultimate Danger: Some of your class quests are so epic, stopping to smell the roses would be completely out of place. Example: Jedi Knight is trying to save the planet from total destruction and is on a time limit. There’s little chance they’d be able to stop to grab some stuff for the displaced people of a small mining camp but if you don’t do it right then, it’s inconvenient to go back.
- Trash Mob Fights: These start to get VERY boring and then melt into annoying. They are evenly spaced to delay you more than anything. Stealth characters can get by pretty fast but then they suffered from XP loss (this isn’t a problem anymore). Ultimately, one of the reasons I left was I got tired of trash mobs being the number one way they slowed you down from finishing quests. The battles held little meaning and simply became time sinks.
- Non-interactive Crafting: You send your NPCs to do the work for you. That’s kind of okay…and for me it worked out pretty well but I never felt like I was really making anything. I’d get stuff in my inventory and then send them out again. I liked that I could keep questing while my inactive companions were working but as far as a crafting system goes, I didn’t really think it was that great.
- Space Combat: It’s a rails shooter and while it was kinda fun (and helped level you up a bit), it got boring fast. The path of course never changed but you’d end up just having more difficult to kill mobs. They tried to correct this with Star Fighter but I’ll discuss that in a moment. Ultimately, this was just a boring tack on that probably could’ve been left out.
- Unbalanced PvP: Some matches, you just knew you were going to lose early on. There was little chance you’d beat the imperials for whatever reason, on Alderaan. I found that to be crazy frustrating. Also, Hutt Ball just took the immersion out of the game. I enjoyed it…but it didn’t make sense.
I played through the Jedi Knight, Imperial Agent, Smuggler and Sith Warrior first. They were a lot of fun and I felt I got a broad feeling for the stories of the game and how each faction worked. I did get a little burned out by the time I finished my fourth character because I’d been through the same side missions and killed countless mobs. I needed to step away and wait for some new content.
And it came in the form of Rise of the Hutt Cartel. This promised two complete story paths on a new planet: Makeb. You, as your republic or imperial character, showed up to either save or exploit the planet. All around, it sounded good on paper and it brought me back ready to go. I beat the game with another character (the Sith Inquisitor) in anticipation of this expansion and it left me…well…lukewarm.
On one hand, it was cool to see a couple new campaigns. They stepped up the romance situation, allowing same sex relationships. The two stories were distinct but incredibly linear. The side quests this time around were primarily dailies and they gave enough experience to rise to the level cap quickly. By the end, I did not really feel an urge to play it again, not like the original game.
It all around felt too thrown together and a bit shallow. Since then, I’ve completed it with a Jedi Knight, Smuggler, Sith Inquisitor and Sith Warrior. I can say that while they have different means of dealing with some people and characters, their stories are so similar, it was not worth multiple playthroughs. Now, I would only do it to get to the next bit of content which I’ll discuss below.
The next thing to come out was Galactic Starfighter. This was free flight with a space ship and people seemed pretty excited. Unfortunately, it was (and is) only PvP. This shot it down for me and I didn’t really get into it but they have really supported this mini game in a major way through the market and various releases of spaceships and cosmetics. If they ever would’ve added some PvE content, I would’ve probably dove in hard but since they did not…I kinda shrugged it off.
Stronghold was a cool idea but I didn’t take advantage of it until Shadow of Revan came out. I’d taken a break and didn’t feel like playing it anymore until that was on the verge of release. Part of my excitement came from something I misread on the feature list: 8 new class quests available. I took that to mean the two new planets would have a class focused quest line. What it ACTUALLY meant was what it said: ONE new class quest for each class.
Anyway, before Shadow of Revan came out, they offered 12x XP. It was absurd and it allowed you to ignore side quests. I suddenly had nothing preventing me from finishing stories I previously paused in because I didn’t feel like doing the same crap over and over. This is when I wrapped up every other class in the game and saw their stories to completion. Meanwhile, I dedicated some time to Stronghold.
It’s neat and it’s useful. Mine has an auction house, mailbox, bank and shared bank right next to each other. I’ve displayed my characters, my vehicles and all kinds of décor throughout it. The place looks great and if you’re into building a house, it’s a lot of fun. The Tatooine one was HUGE. All around, it’s a bit of a time sink but it’s still an entertaining experience, one I encourage any player to at least try out.
Warning: it does cost a lot of credits so be sure you’re rich before you try to dive in. I probably spent over a million credits on mine.
So next, Revan came out and I dove in. It starts out with some pretty ridiculous stories. As the imperials, you attack Tython then defend Korriban. As the Republic, you do the reverse. Then, you continue through the prologue and do some scripted, linear quests to get to the actual meat of the stories in Rishi and Yavin 4. This expansion dashed my hopes for TOR in a lot of ways.
First off, my mistake on reading into the class quest thing. I was beyond disappointed with the single throwaway quest they gave me. My bad on that one. But they did a lot of stuff wrong beyond my little misunderstanding.
I hit the level cap before I finished Rishi. By the time I did the last quest there, I maxed out my character AND ended up with decent gear for that new cap. The quests themselves were incredibly linear and left me feeling pretty blah. They tossed a lot of great opportunities out the window and it all around felt lazy. Let’s take a look at these missed chances:
- In one of the prelude missions, you save Jakarro, a Wookie smuggler with a blown up droid around his neck. When I played through it with my smuggler, Bowdaar, her Wookie companion was with her. They could’ve had a quick interaction between the two. Instead, nothing.
- When you arrive on Rishi, people believe you lead a pirate gang. As my Jedi, she perfectly stumbled through the lie and sounded very confused at the prospect. When I brought my smuggler through, the dialogue was EXACTLY THE SAME and she sounded just as stymied as the virtuous knight! Total fail here when my character could’ve been owning that.
- Yavin 4 has a throwaway final mission. If you want to do it the ‘intended’ way, you gather an operation and do it as a raid pretty much. If you don’t have a guild or don’t raid (like me) you do 6 missions for people then you can go do it with all the heroes you’ve been hanging around with. It’s pretty easy and ultimately, did not feel dangerous considering your enemy.
- Speaking of Yavin 4, it’s fast…and when you finish, it feels terribly underwhelming. Another tacked on part to an overall poorly thought out expansion. They know that Hutt Cartel and Revan were lame too because when they started talking about Knights of the Fallen Empire, they used the tag ‘a return to Bioware storytelling’.
All around, I considered Shadow of Revan to be a total failure and I will admit, I kind of rage quit. I left them a message of disappointment but how mad could I really be? They’d entertained me for countless hours so I feel I was pretty unfair at the time. But they’d messed with something I loved and didn’t live up to the expectations they built for me…expectations I probably elevated considerably.
In any event, I swore never to go back…but Knights of the Fallen Empire had quite the promise and after watching the videos, I became intrigued. Nine chapters to start, a new chapter every month…I thought I might as well give it a try. I have some pretty mixed feeling about it to be honest and I’ll try to detail them out below.
So Fallen Empire did offer some pretty interesting storytelling but to say it’s a return to Bioware’s old ways is a stretch. First: it’s quick as shit. I beat all nine chapters in less than 6 hours. My second playthrough was less than 5. Second, the decisions didn’t feel all that impactful and much as they wanted to say I mattered, my character no longer felt particularly heroic. I’ll explain that in a moment.
Now, prior to diving into Fallen Empire, I found a sort of side quest/mini-expansion leading up to the story. Essentially, you’re dealing with the emperor. He’s taken over a bunch of people and is having them kill everyone around them. Each death grants him power to become immortal I guess. You eventually save the day and can move on to Fallen Empire but….
SPOILER ALERT!!! SCROLL TO SPOILER END TO AVOID!!!
The entire planet gets wiped out and it builds you up to join a coalition of Empire/Republic forces to find where the Emperor fled to and kill his ass. This begins Fallen Empire: you board an Imperial Warship and it is attacked by the eternal fleet. Oops. They’re crazy bad ass and annihilate your vessel, taking you captive.
From here, you begin a serious of linear missions killing loads of bad guys and encountering characters from your previous experiences, some of which spawn messages of ‘so and so is not amused’ or ‘this lady will remember that’ as if you’re playing a Tell Tale game. Quickly you’ll realize they’re just aping the success of The Walking Dead, Tales from the Borderlands and all those others with meaningless combat thrown in.
Here are the pros:
- The story is fairly interesting. I’d love to have watched it as a movie but what’s happening is neat. I don’t know how the universe would EVER recover or forget the events you participate in but hey, whatever. It’s engaging enough.
- There are technically two paths I’ve found so far. Dark and Light. Classes also have some different choices of dialogue here and there and you get rewarded when you encounter one of your class companions with a brief reunion, one of which I found to be particularly emotional.
- Building the alliance seems like a fun idea but it hasn’t been realized WHY yet.
- You are no longer a big damn hero. My jedi knight fought the emperor and killed him in Chapter 3 of the main story. She’s saved the people of Makeb, defeated a second coming of Revan and hunted down the emperor across the stars. She’s a decorated hero, a saint practically and the shit she’s seen has been crazy. During her first boss battle, she is thoroughly owned almost instantly and I find that to be total BS.
- Linear!!! It drives me crazy how railroad this expansion is. There’s no exploration, no real side quests…just go from point a to b, click some things and kill trash mobs (yes, MORE trash mobs!)
- So far, the story does NOT feel like you have much control. They promise that the next chapter has a big decision but otherwise, I haven’t felt overly impactful on the universe. It’s hard to make it too different because frankly, they could end up with branches and contingencies far too unruly for an MMO so the control makes sense…but it doesn’t fulfill their promise.
- Max Level was too easy. I achieved it before Chapter 5 with my first playthrough and since my Smuggler hadn’t finished Revan or the Rise of the Emperor, she was max level before I got to Knights of the Fallen Empire (in fact, it was scaling her down…another thing I’ll touch on in a moment).
They really want you to get into Star Fortresses and other time sinks. At this point, I’m in it for the story. I think gameplay, they haven’t really made the game better or improved it in any way. The graphics are feeling their age but are still passable. The voice acting is still great. I’m glad I went back to hit these chapters but at the same time, they really need to step up their game to make this GREAT instead of just a desperate attempt.
Final note on the game before my conclusion: at some point, they added level scaling. Holy. Shit. This sucks. If you go to a place like Hoth with your max level character, it reduces you to the 30s. Sure, you can hang with buddies now and apparently this was done to slow down farming of some material or other.
I didn’t like scaling in Guild Wars: my 80th level character shouldn’t be challenged by a level 15 regardless of what’s going on. Elective scaling (mentor system) is awesome. Enforced is lame and the fact that they did it really annoyed me. Now, I don’t have much cause to go back to old planets but when I did, I got pretty testy about their decision.
All around, Star Wars TOR was my favorite MMO experience. I have legendary status for finishing every story. The vanilla game was actually VASTLY better than the expansions they released. My friend and I believed they’d have trouble building expansions and we were right. They struggled to develop new and meaningful content with so many characters, voice actors and events.
Maybe they should’ve just made TOR 2 and called it a day.