Star Wars: the Old Republic has been out over a year now and I’ve been getting a bit nostalgic. Even with many of the issues I’ve discussed over the past year remaining. A few weeks ago a buddy of mine was asking me about the game and I encouraged him to try it out. Turns out he didn’t afterall, but I thought he had and so over the weekend I decided to do another of my “every so often” drive-byes and see how he was doing at the same time.
It’s been so long since I’ve played that I thought it best if I started off in a new character. And Sunday night I did, creating a fresh Sith Warrior Juggernaut which hit level 20 earlier this afternoon. It’s taken me way longer to get to level 20 than it should have because I’ve become so unfamiliar with the quests and the class. I’m currently running around on Balmorra trying not to appear too lost.
I do admit its been kind of fun to stop by again. I went into this with no expectations, so the time I’ve spent over the last two and a half days has been nothing more than simple entertainment to me. Compared to the job WoW has turned into in MoP its been quite pleasant to just run around and cut things apart with my lightsaber. That being said, I still have many of my old concerns with the game. Foremost is that the game really is essentially a single player RPG with coop play. You can quite literally play the game solo from beginning to end without ever grouping with anyone else, purchasing anything from anyone, selling anything to anyone, or even talking to anyone. And doing so wouldn’t slow your advanced down through the game one bit. You certainly have all the tools to do that if you so choose.
However, the tools are also there to group with others, and play the game as an MMO as well. I was always hoping to have a bit more “wars” in my Star Wars MMO than SWTOR delivered, but at least there are the instanced Battlegrounds to get some semblance of that. But if PVP isn’t really your thing you’ll be very happy that the game is staunchly PVE centric. It does, however, have a rather strange way of enabling its players to meet up with others in many cases. For the first few months SWTOR had no means of auto-assembling groups; no “looking for group”. It was a very frustrating period that was caused by a very vocal base of players who had left WoW hating its LFG because in their minds “LFG destroyed the community”. Such utter nonsense, and Bioware ate it hook, line, and sinker. They came to find how misguided their belief in that vocal community was and it was disastrous for them.
I believe the lack of a LFG system was one of the key issues that drove players away from the game, and by the time Bioware was able to incorporate the system in the game the damage was already done. Word of mouth of the frustration players had trying for hours to find others to run instances with (or Flashpoints as they’re called in SWTOR), as well as the Heroic missions on the various planets. And that the best place to find other players is in fleet, where you can’t do anything else but stand around and spam chat. A chat channel, incidentally, which is not available to you on the planets where you’d otherwise be questing away. Yes, it was shocking that a AAA game such as SWTOR would have ever gone live without appropriate comfort of life tools tools that facilitate player grouping.
Still, Bioware did eventually introduce their version of a LFG system to SWTOR. You’d think that Bioware would have learned its lesson from the whole debalce though, and would have designed and implemented the best damn LFG that has ever existed. But one would be wrong. The LFG that was implemented is constrained to the single server, and doesn’t address planetary missions. Planetary heroic missions remain a huge issue and I still see players spamming away — for hours — for groups for them. I’ve spent most of today on Balmorra and I can’t begin to tell you how many pitiful souls begged others to join them for specific quests. I myself tried for a while this morning to get groups going for a couple of Heroic missions but gave up and moved on. Its just not fun and Bioware deserves tremendous criticism for it. I suggest they either remove all Heroic missions from the game, or add the ability for players to use the LFG system for them. And further, make LFG game wide so that players have the ability to pull from a greater population.
For Flashpoints and Operations it works well enough, though again, its pulling from only your server. So the queue times can still be a bit on the lengthy side. I had relatively “good” queue times of 20-25 minutes all the way to an hour or more. I ran Black Talon several times, each time experiencing a queue time in that 20-25 minute time frame. But Hammer Station and Althis were taking slightly longer. In a couple of instances it took me an hour to get into either one. I tried LFG on my 50 Inquisitor and my 43 Bounty Hunter as well and was experiencing 40ish minute queue times as DPS. Fairly comparable to WoW’s wait times for LFR but slightly higher wait time than what I typically experience in Instance/Heroic queues. I’m simply happy that it works because several months ago when I last played I was experiencing hour+ wait times, never finding groups before I gave up.
Fix the planetary heroic mission issue and add a timer to the LFG that shows the length of time you’ve been in the queue as well as the average wait time and I’d probably have little remaining criticisms of it. But two that I do want to specifically mention is that there still are no “dual specs”, and no ability to respec out of an Advanced Class. I simply just don’t get it. Bioware has to understand that SWTOR is struggling. Purely anecdotal, but I never saw more than 228 people in fleet on my server. I had opportunity to visit most of the planets at various times and saw something like 60-150 on most of them at any one point. A simple assumption on my part is that there are a few thousand players playing on any of the eight US servers at any one time. That’s not great considering what was reportedly spent to develop the game. On the top of many wish lists has been the introduction of Dual-Speccing, as well as the ability to spec out of an Advanced Class. Yet here we are, a year after launch with the game truly limping along and these two items aren’t even on the drawing board as far as I can tell. And that just irritates the hell out of me.
To be honest, I’m not completely happy with any of the classes. I’d played most of them back when I was playing a year ago. I didn’t know which class I wanted to play so I played almost all of the classes to see which I liked. I liked the Inquisitor class, ending up leveling a Sorcerer to level 50. But there are many things about the Advanced Class I just didn’t like and tried an Assassin for a while. Likewise, there are many things I don’t like about Assassin either but then I realized it was actually situational. There were things I didn’t like about Sorcerer in Flashpoints, but did like about them while questing. Ditto with the Assassin. I realized what I wanted was to switch back and forth whenever I wanted like I can in WoW. Yet I can’t. In SWTOR if you want to switch you literally have to level an entirely new character which I find pure, unadulterated stupid.
I haven’t experienced enough of the “end-game” to say much about it, other than there was a decided lack of content and boredom suck in quickly. But fix the LFG and the Dual-Spec/Advanced Class respec and I bet a lot of players would actually come back to play SWTOR. You’d think Bioware would be keen to make that happen.