Dual Wielding: A series featuring two bloggers writing on one topic and answering the question, “If the pen is mightier than the sword, what happens when you dual wield?”
Don’t miss out on Ironweakness’ take on the subject.
The last edition of Dual Wielding was all about the “one or many MMOs” topic- as said, it’s a big topic for me as i don’t have much time to play and also divide that time by too many MMOs i play or i’d like to play. I think it was an interesting experiment and i really enjoyed what Ironweakness wrote on the topic at hand. Basically, both of us don’t think there is a “right” or “wrong” answer, but that the key lies in choosing one style or the other. Both come with distinct advantages and caveats.
Based on what we wrote and my own experience, i chose to have a 3 MMO approach- one being my main MMO that hopefully serves as MMO home, two other MMOs with their main focus being on casual and varied gameplay depending on mood. I’ll allow myself to change the two side-MMOs on a monthly basis, the main MMO on a three-monthly basis that, again, hopefully doesn’t come into fruition. The main MMO also needs to become a side MMO for a month after it had its time in the spotline and the new main MMO needs to have been promoted from the side MMOs.
And then i started thinking which MMOs could serve as a main/home MMO and was surprised to not find many candidates. Meanwhile, Ironweakness and i decided on our next Dual Wielding topic- looking at Star Wars: the old republic as possible MMO home.
What makes an MMO sticky?
I hinted at what i’d call an engaging endgame yesterday – basically, it comes down to the use of credits or ingame gold in a broad measure and different ways to gain said gold/credits. This means that there should be as many different systems in place as possible- a bajillion different dungeons and raids don’t serve as engaging endgame for me. There should be credit- but not so many timesinks to accomodate different moods and session lengths. This is not the same; after all, i could make some credits in a very short session by flipping items on the GTN; if, say, one has to finish a main story questline to access game features, the smallest measurable progress in a session would be finishing a step in a quest. Sometimes, that takes a longer time.
Also, an MMO home can’t be of the “play-to-finish” type- quite a popular style of MMO to be developed in the last years- SWTOR began as one, i’d consider The Secret World, Guild Wars 2 and Lord of the Rings Online among them, as well. Maybe even Elder Scrolls Online. Play-to-finish MMOs, to me, are games where you are provided very few ways to play once you finished all the zones. They’re still big- the amount of content available in Lotro, for instance, could keep me busy for years. In Guild Wars 2, this is debatable, as well, since you can do world completion, exploring, pvp, wvw among others. And doing dailies is always rewarded. So it’s not an exact science; different people will view different MMORPGs as being of the “play-to-finish” type.
Another thing that’s important is replay value- if done correctly, you could level different characters without having much overlap in content- World of Warcraft is great in this regard. Star Wars: the old republic isn’t, and that’s why they’re going to activate 12XP again on may, 4th.
Anyways, Star Wars: the old republic came a long way since its release and i wouldn’t put it into the “play-to-finish” corner anymore. I’m no expert on the game by any means, so i might be wrong on some points i’m going to make, but it is my impression for now that SWTOR is one of the best MMORPGs to call a home nowadays.
Can you live in a galaxy far, far away?
SWTOR still is a story-heavy MMO that funnels its players through quite linear paths of worlds, quests and- for the expansions- story. Once the story is finished, there are still reasons to continue playing for players like me, though.
With many MMOs and their wildly used different currencies, one has to wonder why they bother to give players ingame gold at all. I know there’s RMT, botting, exploiting and other things to be considered and alternative currencies are an easy way out, but if i don’t have anything to spend ingame gold on, it defeats its purpose.
In SWTOR, there are huge credit sinks in place now. From strongholds, decorations, the outfit designer and/or even buying things offered in the cartel market (the real-money ingame shop) on the GTN, there are many possibilities to spend hard-earned credits. I don’t know how many credits are considered “much” at endgame, but a fully unlocked stronghold costing 6 million credits and craftable decorations with their materials coming in at 100k credits each on the GTN sounds much to me. There are also some threads of players complaining about them on the official forums- in my opinion that’s a great indicator of some mechanism being in place that is actually healthy.
I know, i know, one shouldn’t talk bad about other players- but let’s face one thing that’s quite obvious when you look at the development of the genre in recent years; players hate it when stuff doesn’t come to them easily and they hate it when their progress is halted by something. For instance, despite open pvp being a thing you can avoid in ArcheAge, its existence was a hindrance to many. In EVE, high-sec life is entirely possible and i, personally, have never been killed, even when moving and mining through low-sec systems- players still don’t like it. Rift’s Rifts used to have a big influence on the zones they happened in- they were nerfed into the ground on the basis of “player feedback”. Rift was also much more difficult in the beta compared to release. Players generally like that things are being gated, but their tolerance ends when they feel they can’t play a game in the way they want and be rewarded in the ways they want anymore. All these things have in common that they are obstacles instead of rewards coming at a certain point.
I don’t know how crafting ties into this- crafting in SWTOR seems to be functional if a bit disconnected from your character- it’s the companions that do the work, after all. But you can get good gear upgrades if you keep it on-level; a thing that will become even more important when 12XP for story missions comes.
So there is an economy
With 12XP, i’d expect many players to start a new character or returning to the game. One major problem these players will encounter will be their gear- sure, you’ll get upgrades from the story missions, but it might not be enough, even when they’ll give out more commendations with the story missions coming may 4th. Some players might use the market to buy gear or crafting materials. So if i were to guess- gathering and crafting now and putting all that stuff on the GTN after may, 4th, will be a good way to make some credits.
SWTORs economy isn’t a big thing in the game – the GTN is global, so there are no differences in prizes depending on regions. It’s still ok, though- i’ve read multiple times that inflation is being kept in check in this game. And if a game can make me (a casual newbie) think stuff like in the paragraph above, there has to be an economy of some kind. Combine that with the ability to spend earned credits, credit sinks that are far beyond my reach for now and you have what i’d call an endgame.
More than just story
SWTOR offers a great variety of content- if i’d like to relax, i’ll go with questing or stronghold decoration/planning, if i’m in the mood to play with others, there are enough Flashpoints. Then there is the on-rails-space-fighting-minigame for shorter sessions, and pvp both in battlegrounds and space. Not that i’m playing that type of content, but it’s there. You can also do achievements, search for datacrons and/or ways to unlock codex entries for the lore. You can raise the affection of your companions, equip your starship and so on. There’s a lot to do at level 60.
It ties very nicely into different moods, session lengths, general involvement and different group sizes – SWTOR was mentioned quite often when Massively Overpowered asked for the best MMO to be played in a duo. The flashpoints are interesting group experiences not only with their content difficulty, but also in story-telling. The conversation options tend to be quite predictable if you play by yourself, but in a group, when rolls decide what kind of story your character experiences, it’s very interesting to see.
Despite the fact that the levelling experience is a pretty linear affair, SWTOR still is one of the most alt-friendly games out there, even more so when 12XP hits, since you can just go for the class storylines without much overlap in content with your other characters. You only have to look at the numbers of characters veteran SWTOR players throw around when they have the opportunity to do so: double-digit numbers aren’t a rare thing, the legacy perks even give some “account progression” system to make it worthwhile and interesting to level more than one character. Roleplaying would be one reason to do so, but it seems alting is quite interesting for longterm SWTOR players.
The legacy sytem
The legacy system is a way to progress your “account” on a server. It’s slow; i’m still level 1 (well, i’m only level 25, after all) with level 2 coming closer. After you levelled up your legacy, you can unlock abilities for convenience, faster progress, faster travelling, unlock new races and so on. There’s a lot of stuff to be unlocked in the legacy system. I think you can unlock almost everything at any time you’d want if you were to spend cartel coins, but you can also progress through the legacy system and spend credits for these perks. There really is so much to explore here; i haven’t grasped the whole thing yet.
SWTORs version of housing puts you in appartements on a few selected planets. You can get decorations in a few different ways; from the ingame shop, by doing quests, certain achievements, crafting and so on. Dulfy has a great overview of decorational items and ways to get them. I like that you can make your stronghold functional, as well: you can put in crafting resources (i tried it yesterday- you can collect from every node, even if you don’t have the crew skill needed, but there’s some kind of cooldown on the use, which is good), mailboxes, legacy storage and so on. If i’d look for a downside here, i’d say it’s a pity that the decorative objects aren’t really interactive. Sitting in a chair still is a rare sight in SWTOR; i’d like to water my plants, lie on my bed and so on- all of this has no use, but i think it would add a lot to the game.
The outfit designer is SWTORs way of doing a wardrobe cosmetic gear system. I’m glad they dropped the restrictions on what you’d be able to wear (or is it only because my trooper can wear everything anyway?) for looks. It’s also a big, big credit sink if you’re going to make use of it extensively. Although i found out yesterday that the prize of placement isn’t fixed on 14k per item (it asked me to pay 1k for placing one item into one outfit), it’s still huge if you’re going to open and maintain all 16 slots.
What’s interesting is the monetization- SWTOR seems to go its own route in these things- in other games, you’re charged shop currency to unlock another outfit; in SWTOR, it’s optional- you can pay in credits or cartel coins. I think this is valid for pretty much everything since you can buy/sell everything from the cartel market on the GTN.
So, in the long term, the outfit designer is a thing to work on. Unlocking outfits, putting items in slots- it all has a credit cost attached to it.
The business model
It has to be said- SWTOR’s free-to-play model is often criticized for being more of a trial than a real option- i think that SWTOR’s revenue- i think it’s the second most profitable MMO out there- speaks for the game, in fact. After all, earning money is the goal of these games and they have to do so to provide content in a constant pace, quality and quantity. That BW wouldn’t be able to put out 8 class stories was obvious (to me, at least; that was one of the biggest reasons i saw for the game going f2p shortly after release- there was no way they could add storylines for 8 classes quick enough to retain their subscriber count).
I think SWTOR is entirely playable for free (up until the expansions, of course). It is slower, much slower, in fact, and there are restrictions in place that make you cringe. But you can unlock it all (except for expansions) with credits and buying from the GTN. I’d go the “preferred player” route, though, by spending a few bucks, and then buy all i’d need to enjoy the game either with credits or cartel coins. What to buy, though, isn’t very obvious; in fact, it’s a pain just to find out what the best unlocks would be.
Fortunately, there is a great overview of account types and a list of suggestions on what to buy from the cartel market on reddit. If you want my opinion, i think SWTOR is pretty much a subscription game. But it is possible to play SWTOR as a non-sub game, as well.
I have to say, Star Wars: the old republic is one of the best MMORPGs to call a home these days- the developers seem to make an effort in building up the universe and keeping it healthy, as well. The credit sinks, general prizing both ingame and in the shop, are indicative of this. As are the latest additions to the game from Galactic Strongholds to the outfit designer. Star Wars: the old republic is a great place to be at the moment, with the coming 12XP and whatever the next content updates are going to be possibly adding more story, variety and quality-of-life improvements to the game.
It also speaks for the game that, despite huge credit sinks and not knowing what the endgame really holds, it doesn’t seem very grindy. Sure, after your tenth character levelling alone might feel grindy because of the linear nature, but SWTOR doesn’t gate content (that i know of) behind the main storyline, reputation grind or something of this nature.
This has gotten very long- on a personal note; i plan on having SWTOR in the rotation at least until the end of may, and even then, i’m strongly considering to put it into “main MMO” spot after Final Fantasy XIV in august, maybe, if one of the downsides of FF14 (grind, content gating by MSQ) prove to be too much for me.