Return to SWTOR

I’ve been meaning to write this post all week but never did because I kept forgetting to take some good screenshots to support it. I still haven’t but y’all know what Star Wars: The Old Republic looks like anyway, right?

Without really planning to, I’ve been taking a tour of old MMOs for the past month or so. Last week I noticed a few friends have been playing SWTOR, then the trailer for the next movie came out, and I figured “Sure, why not?” I’d only gotten it installed when the Star Wars Celebration Event (that I was unaware of) kicked off and suddenly my Star Wars interest spiked.

My old, old account was protected by a security key which I couldn’t find. It was from back when they put a piece of hardware in the game box (yes, younglings, games used to come in boxes that you bought at a shop) to help you secure your account. Best guess was I’d have to call support to get that account back so I said “Heck with it” and bought a starter kit that came with 60 days of game-time for less than what I would’ve normally paid for 60 days of game-time.

You can play SWTOR for free but my recollection was that there were a lot of limitations and I knew I’d end up subscribing anyway so…

Corso is staring at me again, isn’t he? SO CREEPY!

Anyway, so new character on a new account. I’d forgotten about the Legacy System where all your characters contribute to leveling up and unlocking things or I might’ve made the effort to recover the old account. Eh, water under the bridge now.

Bioware has put out a few expansions since I played and they REALLY want you to play this new content. You can create a character ready for the new content (level 50 or something) but I created a basic level 1 character. I can’t handle jumping into a game and being handed 2 dozen skills all at once.

Still Bioware pushed. There is a permanent 200% experience bonus while you play the vanilla content, and by default side quests aren’t shown on the map. They want you to just play your story missions and the main storyline for the planet you are on. I’m way too OCD for that so I turned on the side quests and jumped in.

She looks fine but her armor needs better textures, no?

Generally speaking the game holds up pretty well. All it would take is a high-definition texture pack to make it look quite good. The kind of stylized design of the characters ages well, but the armor and weapons could really used some more detail. It’s an old enough game that when it detected my graphics card it said “Gosh I have no idea” and set everything to “low” but I toggled everything to max settings and holding 60 FPS is not a problem.

Gameplay-wise, this vanilla content is very easy since you’re leveling so fast. By the time I left Coruscant, the first ‘main’ planet in the storyline, I was level 35. The game auto-scales you down (to 18 on Coruscant) but you’re still a beast. My companion even more so. If I set the companion to heal I almost think it would be impossible to die, but I haven’t tested this. The only enemy I didn’t try to kill on Coruscant was the world boss. Everything else, including heroic missions, was a cake walk. Too easy, really.

Finally got my ship back, now I’m off to the Republic Fleet

They’ve also added a solo mode to flashpoints, the “dungeons” in SWTOR. Originally designed for groups of 4, you can now do them in solo mode with you, your companion, and a provided combat droid. This was very easy too, though it took a long time just because the enemies still have a lot of HP to burn through.

What is really saving me and keeping me in SWTOR is the story and characters. I’ve played through all of this before but it was such a long time ago that it feels fresh. (I’m also playing a female character which changes things a little, based on some of the interactions.) I may also be paying more attention to the story since I’m not looking over my shoulder to see if some NPC is going to kill me, or feeling like I’m falling behind my friends as they level quickly. There’s something to be said for the pure solo-ist lifestyle in a game with this much story/dialog.

My only real concern is that if I stick around long enough and get to where I’ll have to actually fight smart I won’t know how to. I specced my character as a healer (way out of my wheelhouse) because I thought I could practice on my companion as I go along, but I’ve had the opportunity to heal him maybe 3 or 4 times, he’s such a beast.

I’d forgotten there was space combat

But knowing how flighty I’ve been recently, that’s just borrowing trouble. I may never get that far. For right now I’m enjoying plowing through this content, meeting nice (NPC) folks and bashing the villains. I have my ship, a nice apartment, a couple of companions, and a shiny blaster. What more could a Scoundrel like me want?

Books and movies are influencing my gaming tastes

This has probably always been true but I just really noticed it for the first time.

A couple months back there was a Star Wars Celebration weekend, where they showed off trailers for the new movie and teased the upcoming game. That put us in a Star Wars mood and over the next month or so Angela and I watched all six Star Wars movies, and I started reading Star Wars comics via Marvel Unlimited. It only made sense that I should go back to playing Star Wars: The Old Republic.

I couldn’t have been happier logging in every night and enjoying the pew-pew of blaster fire and that seductive electronic hum of lightsabers clashing.

Then we ran out of movies to watch, I got tired of the comics and something distracted me (I find inertia is a huge motivator for me in MMOs; when I play regularly I keep playing but if something causes me to take a break it’s easy to drift away) and now I don’t find myself too inclined to log into SWTOR.

At about the same time the new season of Game of Thrones hit HBO and, having set aside comic reading, I went back to working my way slowly through the novels. So instead of a galaxy far, far away I was spending my media time in a pseudo-medieval world. And as it happened, circumstances caused me to log into The Elder Scrolls Online. I wasn’t intending to really play it, but I’d taken advantage of a $20 pre-order of the upcoming PS4 version, and I knew they were going to ‘clone’ our PC accounts onto the console accounts, so I logged in to do some housekeeping and get things orderly for when that happened. (I deleted some lowbie alts, cleared out my bank a bit, and things like that.)

But now I find myself logging in almost every night. I don’t even really do a lot (I’m kind of trying to keep the game ‘fresh’ for the console launch). I’ve been working on crafting writs and slowly working an alt through Betnikh. I do some fishing. Read books and talk to NPCs. But I just find it fun to kind of be in a world that is somewhat similar to that of Game of Thrones.

One of the things I’ve always really liked about The Elder Scrolls Online is that, like me, it doesn’t have much of a sense of humor. Or at least, it isn’t silly. It’s a fairly somber world in a lot of ways. And I think it’s safe to say the same about the Westeros. Not a lot of silly things going on there. I think that’s why out of all the pseudo-medieval MMOs out there, ESO is scratching this Game of Thrones-induced itch of mine.

I’m guessing next fall when the new Star Wars movie comes out, I’ll find myself back in SWTOR, though.

Bioware: No good deed goes unpunished

Yesterday Bioware announced that customers with a level 50 character will be getting a free month of access to SW:TOR.

In response a certain segment of gamers (a sub-section of those who play SWTOR and don’t have a level 50 character) got really angry. They’re pissed that Bioware values the level 50 owners over them.

I think Bioware’s mistake was wrapping this bribe (because let’s face it, this is a bribe) in a marketing angle. They called it a loyalty reward. I’m sure that’s not what it is. In fact, the title of this post is totally inaccurate because this free month isn’t a good deed at all. It’s an investment in SW:TOR’s future.

Here’s what I think is really happening:

Back at launch or even before launch, Bioware was talking up the story aspect of SW:TOR. Players wanted to know what happens once their character’s story was complete, and Bioware said they had a series of additional content planned to keep the stories going.

To the best of my knowledge, very little of this additional story content has materialized (I should note that I don’t have a level 50 character even though I’ve been playing since early access). I’m guessing the majority of the team has been working on getting version 1.2 out so the game has the basic functionality of other programs, like UI windows that you can move.

I’m betting that level 50 characters who aren’t interested in rolling alts are getting bored and leaving the game. Bioware needed to buy some time so they’re offering those players a free month to stick around while they aimed the team at delivering the next chunk of story content.

So I wonder what these angry customers would have thought if Bioware had said something like this:


To our level-capped players. We know we promised additional content to keep you engaged in our game, and we know we haven’t done a good job delivering that content. With Patch 1.2 out there we can now focus our efforts on extending your character’s story. This new content isn’t ready yet but it will be soon.

By way of apology, we are offering you 30 days of free game time in the hopes that you will stick around. We think you’ll find it worth the wait.


Would transparency have made a difference? I’m not sure. But by calling the free month a loyalty reward they definitely opened themselves up to very valid criticisms that customers who’ve been there since day 1 and have a gang of sub-50 alts are no less loyal, and in fact may be more loyal, than customers who joined in March and charged right up to level 50 on their single character.

Bioware’s logic must be “You haven’t hit 50, so you still have things to discover. These level 50 guys have seen it all so we need to bribe them to stick around.” but that isn’t playing well among gamers.

Tangential thought:

I wonder if we’re seeing the end of Beloved Bioware. Between the ending of Mass Effect 3 and SW:TOR in general, the developer seems to have gone from a company that can do no wrong to a company just like any other game developer: one that has both enthusiastic fans and vocal detractors.

Are MMOs the kiss of death? Blizzard was a beloved game developer before World of Warcraft came around. Now there’s definitely a loud Blizzard-hating group of gamers out there. Is Bioware going through that same transition?

SWTOR: The Edgeward Legacy

On Friday I watched a video about how Bioware anticipated SW:TOR’s Legacy System to work and it got me sort of intrigued. I love alts and a game that really acknowledged alts…well that caught my interest.

My “main” still hadn’t unlocked the Legacy system though. I knew I was relatively close since I’d heard you could unlock it at 30 and I was 31 or so. I just had to finish the first chapter of my class quest, so I decided to see if I could get that done. It took me about 8 hours over 3 days but this evening I got there.

It’s nice to have goals. I think part of the reason I drifted away from SW:TOR was because I didn’t have any good short-term goals to strive for. Also, I climbed out of my self-imposed OCD cage this weekend. I deleted all the Heroic Quests from my journal first of all. (There’s not enough people playing to bother trying to group. Saturday night there were 16 people on the world I was questing on). Then all the Flashpoint and PvP quests. Then all the gray quests. Then I started focusing on my class quests, only doing side quests that sort of fell along the path to my class quests.

The game was more fun because I felt like I was moving forward rather than doing endless dreary side quests that (since I was over-level for them) each gave me under-powered gear and a tiny whiff of experience. Talk about feeling like you’re spinning your wheels. There’s some decent story to the class quests, and enough mini-bosses to keep you on your toes. The side quests in SW:TOR are mostly…numbing.

So now I’ve created the Edgeward Legacy. Now what? I’m not sure. I need another goal. But now at least I can play my alts. Ever since I learned about Legacy Experience I’ve focused on just 1 character, which also added to my burnout. Bart The Trooper has great survivability but is dull as dirt to play after a while. Just about every non-boss battle goes the same since he has a couple of ‘builders’ to buff himself with. In order to prevent them from dropping I have to keep spamming those builders and by the time that’s all done the mob is dead. It gets pretty tedious after a few nights of playing like that.

It’s an odd thing, though. Even though the actual mechanics of playing are still not very fun, there’s something satisfying about completing quests and gaining levels and finally meeting the goal I’d set for myself.

I think SW:TOR would be a great F2P title for me. Once my sub runs out I don’t anticipate re-upping but if it was F2P I bet I’d pop in every few weeks for a Star Wars fix in the same way I do with Star Trek Online. I guess I’ve got a while to wait before Bioware takes it down that path, though.


This weekend I finally made it to Tatooine in Star Wars: The Old Republic. I suck as a blogger because I forgot to take any screenshots, but I’m guessing you know what Tatooine looks like. Twin suns, lots of desert punctuated here and there by Jawa landcrawlers.

The first time I stepped out of the Anchorhead spaceport I realized that SW:TOR had been missing something for me: the Star Wars part. Tatooine was the first environment I visited that really felt like Star Wars to me.

Now don’t get me wrong, before now the characters have at times felt Star Warsie, particularly the Force users (but I play a Trooper). It helps a lot that Bioware uses the iconic sound effects we all know from the movies. But Coruscant and Nar Shadaa were both basically corridor crawls and very very “level based.” Plus, as Scopique so aptly put it, Nar Shadaa was Coruscant with some neon lights decals applied to it. And while the design of these cities might be ‘canon’ they’re absurd, really. These places don’t feel like they could actually exist, at least not to me.

Taris was a ‘world’ but it was so segmented by impassible terrain that, again, it felt like a bunch of levels joined together. And maybe Tatooine will feel that way too as I explore it. But at least for now I can jump on my speeder and tear across the desert skirting bands of sandpeople and visiting moisture farms and finally, the game feels like Star Wars.

It’s a shame players have to wait so long to see an iconic location, but I’m glad I finally made it!

SW:TOR, the single player MMO

Based on the gentle chiding Oakstout gave me in the comment he left on my prior SW:TOR post, I don’t think I’m doing a good job of conveying my feelings about this game, so let me put this plainly: I enjoy Star Wars: The Old Republic. In my last post yeah, I talked about things that bugged me about it, but I tried to balance those points with the things I do enjoy, and in fact thought I was defending some widely unpopular aspects of it (holocron hunting and space combat). I’ve been on vacation for the past week and the only game I’ve touched has been SW:TOR. I’m playing it to the point where Angela is getting vaguely annoyed at how often I play, though part of that might be because I’ve been choosing my Trooper over the EQ2 Beastlord that I’ve been leveling with her.

So anyway, with that out of the way let me tell you today’s story.

My Trooper, Bart, took Cybertech as a crafting skill. He also took Scavenging and Slicing, but no mission skill. That wasn’t a problem until he wanted to make a Mod that used a metal that can only be obtained via Underworld Trading. I went to the broker to see if I could buy some of this stuff (mulinium, I think it was) and I could, but the cheapest price was 10 units for 5K credits. Bart had about 18K credits at the time and there was no way I was going to spend 5K of them on 10 units of metal.

But Trae, my retired Sharpshooter, had taken Underworld Trading (as well as Armortech and Scavenging). He’d been sitting at level 15 in a Cantina since I’d rolled up Bart. I’d been making a half-hearted attempt to log in to queue up some crafting now and then but hadn’t really focused on it.

I love having a ‘family’ of alts who can aid each other though, so yesterday I decided to let Trae stretch his legs. My goal was to use up his “rested bonus” and then put him back on ice, and while playing him I’d send out his Companion to level up Underworld Trading during all those runs to and from the Senate Tower.

I’d removed Trae from the awesome guild he was in since I didn’t want to have to go through the whole “Hello everyone!” thing every time I logged him in to queue some trade skill missions. So all I had for ‘company’ was general chat, and it so happened that when I logged in, THAT person was online and yammering. Y’know the person I’m talking about? Generally they have an obviously female name (Babydoll or Bambi or something along those lines) and they talk constantly and flirt with everyone, often implying an interest in bisexuality so that no one feels left out. The only thing worse than THAT person is all the idjits that react and feed the ego of THAT person. Anyway, it’s a free game and General chat is called GENERAL chat for a reason, so they have every right to use it like an AOL Chatroom, but I wasn’t in the mood to listen so I switched over to my Other tab that has only game-generated text in it.

And that was how I played from level 15 to level 19 or so. Or put another way, from maybe halfway through Black Sun Territory all the way to the gates of the Jedi Temple. I soloed a couple of the Heroics and ignored the others. It was an interesting experience.

I finally started to ‘get’ what people are talking about when they refer to the stories in SW:TOR. Bart the Trooper’s story hasn’t really grabbed me and I hate his Companion, but I love his gameplay. Trae the Smuggler’s story I find to be pretty interesting and I genuinely like his Companion, but I don’t like his gameplay all that much. To try to maximize Bart’s Companion’s good will I have to “go by the book” with my answers, but Trae’s Companion gets as much of a kick out of Trae being a wise ass (under the right conditions) as I do.

But here’s where I make a confession. I’ve told you all that I’m not a huge Star Wars fan. I saw Episodes 4,5 & 6 in the theater when they came out and I enjoyed them, but I’ve maybe seen them once or twice in the 30 or so years since. We actually own them because, y’know, as a geek you HAVE to own them, but I never feel compelled to watch them.

Here’s the new confession: I’m not a huge Bioware fan. I liked Dragon Age: Origins a lot and Jade Empire was ok, but I’ve never been able to get into Mass Effect and while I forced myself to play through KOTOR I didn’t like it very much. Baldur’s Gate? Played it for a few hours, max.

Yesterday, playing an MMO completely as a solo game, I felt like I finally drank the Bioware Kool-Aid. There were some quests and interactions that DID NOT go as planned and left me feeling really tore up. There were characters who I immediately took a shine to, and characters I really hoped I’d get the chance to kill. I was totally wrapped up in the world to the point where I hardly glanced up when the clock hit midnight and 2012 began.

What changed? I’m not sure but I think a lot of it had to do with isolating myself from the distraction of other players and having everything that was said spooled into the chat log. Quite a few times I found myself rolling back the chat to re-read what an NPC had said, and I think I absorb the story better that way than I do by listening to a character speak while I’m paying more attention to what’s going to make my companion happy and what’s going to lead to Light Force points than I am to the actual story.

SW:TOR is an MMO though and I was reminded of that at about 1 am. I was trying to finish The Works before quitting for the night and I came to an object I had to interact with. Another player was standing there, so I switched over to the general chat tab to ask him if he was waiting to interact with the object (I didn’t want to ninja it from him and make him wait for it to reset). A few minutes later I saw someone looking for a group for the Heroic in the Jedi Temple, which was where I was about to go, so I joined up and myself and 3 strangers had a very enjoyable few minutes of completing that Heroic Quest, snagging the holocron after taking down the mini-boss that guards it, and finishing up the other quest we had in the temple.

It was a really nice change of pace after spending the whole day solo, and the Sharpshooter is a great group class because everyone understands that his role is DPS. My Commando is more open to interpretation. I’ve been asked to tank and asked to heal and he can’t really do either all that effectively (yet), but he kicks ass as a solo character. The Sharpshooter is much more fragile and really struggled with soloing Heroics that the Commando farmed for gear without breaking a sweat.

Anyway, SW:TOR works well as a solo MMO and depending on how content rolls out I may wind up willing to pay a sub just for a monthly new story.

Now it’s a matter of combating my altaholism. I read that Jennifer Hale voices the Lady Trooper and I’m tempted to roll one up just to hear her work. And I kind of want to do another Smuggler and go Scoundrel with it. And I need some more crafters anyway. Hmm….

Space, the most recent (SW:TOR) frontier

I finally got my spaceship in Star Wars: The Old Republic today. I’m probably the last player in the game to get one, save for people who just started playing in the last 12 hours.

I’m a slow leveler at the best of times. Combine that with starting over after I didn’t really take to my Sharpshooter, and then losing all my credits via a careless click (which had me going back to farm easy heroic quests for loot to sell) and I’m just barely crawling along. I also got my ship late: people will tell you it’ll come at level 15 or 16 but I was 19 when I got mine.

Anyway, so far the ship is a bit of a let-down. I assumed it would function like a house in other games: you’d be able to decorate it to some extent and it’d behave as a ‘rest area’ so you could log out in it. But that seems not to be the case (maybe that changes later). [Update: I just noticed when I left me ship I got a “Leaving Rest Area” message. So even though you don’t get an “Entering Rest Area” message I guess your ship IS a rest area.] Getting to it is a chore too, as it sits alone in a HUGE solo-instanced hanger. Why? Why make me run across an empty football field to enter my ship?

I also got an annoying droid with it, to go with my other annoying companion. I was a bit disappointed when I learned that certain classes get certain companions; I hope in some future expansion Bioware opens that up a bit. I’m envious of the people running around with a little R2-D2-esque droid following them. I’ve got a surly cat-man and now a goofball protocol droid. The best part about the cat-man is that whenever I wise crack or flirt, his “affection” towards me goes down. So I do it all the time just to piss him off.

So top of my wish list for Bioware would be a broader choice of companions, a broader choice of ships, and the ability to customize the interior of your ship (I get that customizing the exterior could have an impact on space combat). I’ll be really surprised if we don’t see a cash shop stocked with Companions crop up at some point; that’d be fine with me.

On the other hand, let’s talk about the oft-maligned space combat in the game. Maybe my expectations were pretty low due to all the griping I heard, but I actually enjoy space combat. I wasn’t really expecting it to be EVE Online or X-Wing vs Tie Fighter. And I don’t want it to be. I want a change of pace from running missions, but I don’t want a whole second game that I need to practice to get good at. Jumping in and blowing up stuff in an on-rails mini-game seems fine to me.

One of the things I’m finding surprising about SW:TOR is that it’s not as alt-friendly as I thought it’d be. Since every class has its own story I thought alts would be great. But the truth is that your ‘story’ consists of a small fraction of your missions. Each side has 2 starting planets (2 classes per planet) but then all 4 classes on a side go to the same place. On the Republic side that is Coruscant and it’s a long slog of a zone to get through. The idea of doing it all again with another character isn’t at all appealing.

SW:TOR isn’t alone in this; the days of parallel zones seem to have died out back when EQ2 and WoW launched. Hmm, or maybe Warhammer Online. I guess it’s too expensive to generate enough content for alts to go to different places. Anyway I’m just feeling it acutely because the other game I’ve been playing is EQ2 where for any level range there’re always a few zones you can go and adventure in. By the time Bioware gets around to adding new content they’ll have to focus on level cap stuff, so I don’t expect this ‘funnel everyone through the same zone’ thing to ever improve.

Now let’s talk Holocrons. These are artifacts that (usually) give you character a permanent stat boost, and Bioware hid them in some truly fiendish locations. Of course gamers being what we are, collecting every one soon became mandatory and there are guides with detailed walk-throughs of where and how to find them. I see a lot of angst over these holocrons because getting to them often involves lots of jumping. Here’s another place where I’m running counter to the crowd since I actually find all this climbing around to be pretty fun. I’ve been using guides to find the general area where they are, then I try to figure out how to get to them on my own (though I’ve had to resort to the full walk-through at times).

Basically at this point I’m enjoying blowing sh*t up with my Trooper and running around seeing the world. We launch-day players have until January 20th to decide if the game warrants a subscription or not and I’m still not sure that it will. I hear the higher level group content segments (called Flashpoints) are really long and for me, finding 2-3 hours of continuous time to play a game can be really tough. I did the level 10 one and it was fun but even that took a long time to get through. Most of the Mission Content (that I’ve seen) is meant to be soloed, aside from the “Heroic” daily quests.

Basically I’m not sure I’ll be inclined to pay a sub to get access to a game that I’ll be playing solo almost all the time. If Bioware were to add some 60 minute Flashpoints that I could do with my guild, that’d go a long way to convincing me. We took down a “world boss” the other night and that was a ton of fun; more activities like that, that a busy person has time to partake in, and Bioware might have me for the long haul.

Yes, I’m playing SW:TOR

It is a testament to my wishy-washiness, I guess, that the next post down from this one talks about how sick I am of MMOs, and this one is gonna be about Star Wars: The Old Republic. But I ran into MMOGC in-game and she was surprised to find that I was playing and I realized I haven’t been making much noise about SW:TOR, particularly when compared to all the buzz about it.

But I really think I played things right with SW:TOR. Before the game launched I was very skeptical and told anyone who’d listen that I’d probably play for the free month, maybe 1 month beyond, and then quit. Star Wars isn’t really my thing and yeah I really am kind of sick of MMOs. My long-term plans haven’t changed though for now I’m having fun.

I also more or less avoided beta. I got into 2 beta weekends and played to level 7 in one of them, and to level 3 or 4 in the other. Barely scratched the surface, so now that we’re in (pre)launch I’m playing for keeps and everything is shiny and new (my Sharpshooter is level 12 as I write this). I’m also not bitter because something I loved in beta got taken out for launch (that’s what happened to me with Rift). The only downside so far is that just about everyone in the guild I’m in did beta test a lot so everyone knows everything. I feel like the kid that was locked in the cellar and is finally being let out to see what indoor plumbing and television is all about. I often (sorry any DoGs reading this) just close chat when I feel like exploring and finding things on my own, but on the other hand when I get stuck its awesome that I have a guild to ask; they’ve been super-helpful.

I’m also going outside my comfort zone, joining PUGs, doing Flashpoints (group content) and even Warzones (PvP Scenarios). Side note: I still suck at PvP.

Regular readers know that I’m usually a die-hard solo player, and ironically SW:TOR seems to cater to that type of player. That fact that there’s a built-in “Hide chat” feature and the Companion system tells me they’re OK with people who want to play this like a single player game.

And in some ways, it’s best as a single player game. There’s a lot of conversing with NPCs and story-driven quests that just work better when you’re alone. They’ve done a decent job trying to make conversation trees group friendly, but these techniques definitely impact how you’ll experience the storyline. When you encounter an NPC every group member picks a choice from the conversation dialog, then a random number is rolled and whomever wins gets to see his or her character talk to the NPC. If everyone is generally on the same page this is fine, but if half the group is driving towards the dark side and the other towards the light side, the party can seem a little schizophrenic. In less extreme terms, if some of the part is picking the ‘cocky, wise-ass’ answers and the other is picking the ‘noble, honor-bound’ answers, it again can make the story feel a bit disjointed.

Playing a sharpshooter is requiring a bit of adjustment too. My skills tend towards ranged and many of them work only when I’m behind cover. Playing solo this is fine and awesome, but in a group that’s mowing down baddies it means that I’m always left behind and if I try to use my skills, the mob is often dead by the time I get a shot off (it takes some time to get into cover, and my biggest damage skills take a couple seconds to fire). I tend to end up spamming the equivalent of an auto-attack since it’s fast enough that I can do some damage before the mob dies. I’m sure this issue will lessen as we get into higher content and fights take a bit longer, though.

That’s all balanced out by the joy of wading into a crowd of mobs, flinging a grenade then diving to cover to use my high damage skills to finish off the baddies while my Companion tanks. Combat in this game is just plain FUN in a way I find hard to quantify. I just love blasting things. Given how much of your typical MMO revolves around combat, this is a big deal and is what’s making SW:TOR where I spend my extremely limited free time these days.

Speaking more generally, it’s an odd, odd game. So it has single player Bioware aspects like giving gifts to your Companions so they’ll like you more. And it has Crafting and PvP and Flashpoints for more challenge group content. And the quests are heavy on story. All good.

But then really basic stuff, they don’t have. Like moving the windows of your interface around? You can’t do that. Or I’m missing something obvious. So chat is in the top left corner (I always put it bottom left) and your enemy’s ‘plaque’ is at bottom right at the end of your hotbars (I never even notice it down there). Speaking of hotbars, there are 4 banks (2 bottom, 1 left, 1 right) and one of them you’ll probably devote to your Companion. These get full pretty fast… (I’ve been playing EQ2 most recently where I have 7 banks of hotbars in my standard UI).

I haven’t figured out a way to do implied targeting. Y’know, target a friendly and when you attack, you automatically attack his target. Nor is there a way to open a target’s target window…again, unless I’m missing something. There is a command (I think it defaults to Alt-T) to target the thing your target is targeting…so target a group mate and hit Alt-T and you’ll be targeting whatever he is targeting. So Bioware is aware of this need, they just stuck an extra step in the middle.

So these omissions are weird and slightly annoying, but not deal breakers for me and as I said, I am enjoying myself. In fact I’m enjoying it much more than I suspected I would. My limited time in the beta had my feeling very “Meh” about the game and I was sick to death of the hype about it (I did my best to avoid as much of that as possible). I wouldn’t categorize myself as a fanboy just yet, but I’m pleased and I’m glad I ponied up for the “special edition” with the free goodies. And I’m really glad I didn’t decide to cancel my pre-order. I almost did, a few times.. glad I resisted the urge.

The end of the MMO road?

I’m not the first blogger to write a post like this recently and I wonder why it’s happening all of a sudden.

Nickle tour of my MMO gaming life: I’ve been playing them pretty much since they’ve been making them. I played MMOs before they were called MMOs and you had to pay $6/hour to play on GEnie. Or even more on Compuserve. All the big early players, I played at least for a while. And I might be done.

I came to this realization when thinking about this weekend’s SW:TOR beta. I wasn’t excited to partake in it. I have the client, have the account set up. In theory once it opens all I have to do is log in, and I probably will, just to gawk a bit. But really play? No, I don’t think so.

I was thinking that it just wouldn’t be worth the effort, given that our progress gets wiped on Monday.

And that’s when it hit me. I play MMOs for progress and really only for progress. I don’t play them because the minute-to-minute experience of playing them is fun for me. It used to be; I remember a time where every battle, or at least many battles, felt exciting and interesting. These days it feels more like an exercise in mundane repetition.

Just to be absolutely clear, this isn’t a slam on SW:TOR; the game systems of pretty much all MMOs are the same way. I’m just using SW:TOR as an example, and anyway this is about me and my personal preferences, not about the games, which continue to be wildly popular. Also consider I solo much of the time; battles of course get more interesting as you add more people to them (and therefore more variability). That’s why I liked Rift so much in the early days when people fought the titular rifts.

Anyway I’ll wait for SW:TOR to launch and play it then when my progress will be saved. I’m still interested by all the people talking about how compelling the stories are. In my first beta weekend I only got to level 7 so really didn’t get engaged in any stories that time out. If the stories are really that interesting I’ll stick around, otherwise I’ll just play my 30 days and move on.

I might need to give DC Universe Online another look; as I recall that had combat that was a bit more fun. But why can’t MMOs have combat (and other) systems as rich and interesting and compelling as non-MMOs? How about throwing in the odd puzzle, or climbing section, or something to mix things up? Why do I have to turn to Uncharted or Skyrim to have a good story and fun combat and a rich mix of things to do? Shouldn’t we be getting more from a $15/month game than we do from a 1-shot $60 game?

They’re handing out winter jackets in hell: I’m interested in SW:TOR

I’m not a much of a Star Wars fan. Sure, I saw all the movies and I’ve read a few of the books, but I don’t obsess over either. I think I own, somewhere, the Star Wars Trilogy on DVD, still in the shrinkwrap. Bought because it seemed like something I ought to own.

I was the one person I know who didn’t like KOTOR when it came out. I played it, because it was an Important Game at the time, but I didn’t think much of it. I played Star Wars Galaxies too, because I try almost every MMO that comes out (well, I did back when only a few came out every year…I guess these days I can no longer claim to try them all).

Y’know, I love fantasy, and I love sci-fi. But sci-fantasy just doesn’t do too much for me. Take The Force out of Star Wars and make it pure space opera and I’d like it a lot more.

Anyway… because of all this, Star Wars: The Old Republic wasn’t an automatic win for me. I know for many, the IP is draw enough. Not for me. And all the fuss about full-voice to me is a detriment, if anything. EQ2 has more voice than any other MMO I play and I find it gets really tedious. I read the text and skip the voice.

And then there was the Bioware hype, implying that this was an MMO that broke all the molds and took the genre in a new direction. I’m not interested in the MMO genre going in a new direction. I like today’s MMOs.

So yeah, SW:TOR wasn’t on my radar.

Then yesterday I watched a lot of footage from the game, and suddenly I’m excited about it! And ironically the reason I’m excited is… it looks just like any other MMO! The HUD was understandable and the quests were pretty typical Kill Ten Rats (ok, Kill 10 Berserk Troopers). The combat looked really fun; more City of Heroes than Everquest (meaning it looked a bit more active than old-school MMOs). The graphics were a nice balance between realism and animation and seemed very clean. Lots of ranged combat, which I enjoy. You killed stuff and got look from their corpses… I love me some monster pi�atas!

So now I’m on-board, but I wonder if others who’re looking forward to Bioware’s MMO paradigm shift will wind up disappointed? Right now the Bio-dudes are saying Spring 2011 launch, so we’ll know before too long, I guess.

I couldn’t find real gameplay video, but here’s a ‘cinematic’ look at the game. No HUD, camera angles jumping around for dramatic effect. When talking to the NPC at the end, think about how long it takes him to say what he has to say, then imagine standing around like that for hundreds of quests…

Update: Gameplay! (Skip the first half or so)

PC GamesE3 2010Star Wars: The Old Republic