A little over three months have passed since BioWare’s great hope for MMO players everywhere finally went live on December 20th, and with Update 1.2 – Legacy on the way in April, it’s time to take a look at how the latest MMO on the block is performing at that critical three month mark.
I’ve had more time to delve into certain aspects of the game following my last write-up back in January, including Hard Mode Flashpoints, Raiding and PvP, which like World of Warcraft and many other MMO’s, comprises the end-game portion of Star Wars: The Old Republic. With Guild Wars 2, TERA and Mists of Pandaria all due later this year, BioWare has the unenviable task of finding a way to make their end-game stand out and retain their current 1.7 million subscribers in the face of a heavy hitting MMO onslaught.
With two characters at level 50, and little desire to level any more any time soon, I’m essentially the type of player an MMO retains via constant delivery of content. The upcoming additions to the Legacy system in 1.2 will provide massive bonuses for those who enjoy playing multiple alts, and certainly has advantages for those who prefer to play only one character like myself, but when you tend to focus on one character, additions that benefit other characters in your stable aren’t nearly as useful.
My current SWTOR schedule revolves around PvPing for a couple of hours a night and running operations two nights per week, with a couple of hard mode flashpoints thrown in on the side. I’m also a roleplayer, which means I find a certain value in an activity that others would not share. Make no mistake, connections forged via roleplaying are a huge incentive to continue subscribing, in much the same way that guilds provide a sense of community to a player.
In fact, my first stint in World of Warcraft ended when I lost interest in roleplaying – I took a five month break and came back to the game refreshed. Like Blizzard, BioWare’s challenge lies in providing enough to keep us subscribed outside the ancillary content that role-players create for ourselves. For altaholics, the challenge lies in keeping leveling content fresh and exciting, and for those invested heavily in the end-game, it’s providing challenging content.
So, let’s take a look at the state of SWTOR’s current end-game activities:
While I am by no means a hardcore or proficient PvPer, I’m currently sitting at Valor Rank 62, decked out in a full set of Champion gear with a few Battlemaster pieces to accompany them. Having PvP’d regularly since February, I’m not yet growing tired of this particular activity.
SWTOR’s warzone based PvP is highly enjoyable, though not without its annoyances. The Resolve bar continues to be problematic, with several abilities able to root you in place regardless of supposed immunity to crowd control. While I understand this design is intentional, it’s still utterly frustrating during a game of Huttball. Certain classes also have distinct advantages over others in Huttball, though to a lesser extent in other warzones.
I play a Gunslinger Smuggler, which means I’m fairly good at dishing out damage, and fairly useless in other respects. Carrying the ball is never a good idea. Clever positioning and use of certain abilities make me a great backfield sweeper, or downfield receiver/leaping point for Jedi Guardians. Without a doubt, however, you don’t want to see more than one or two gunslingers on your team in Huttball – we simply lack versatility.
In Voidstar and Alderaan it’s a slightly different story. While the need to remain in cover is limiting, it does provide significant defensive bonuses. These bonuses won’t stop a Bounty Hunter from spamming tracer missile, nor an Inquisitor from throwing dots on you and dancing out of line of sight. At that point, it’s a slow descent into death, especially if you are without means to heal up.
Then, of course, there are stealth stunlocking Imperial Agents, who can rip away 60% of your healthbar in six or so seconds.
For the most part, however, PvP in SWTOR is an enjoyable and rewarding experience – even more so, I expect, for other classes. After almost two months of grinding my way to rank 60, I’m not yet bored with the limited amount of warzones, or the combat within, which certainly bodes well.
Probably the most frustrating aspect of PvP is entirely related to my class, and that is the 1 second or so delay between dropping into cover and being able to use my abilities, such as Cover Pulse. More often than not, this means a class with an AoE knockback will toss me away before I can do the same to them.
This never ceases to be extremely annoying.
Open world PvP in SWTOR has been an unmitigated failure, with the developers admitting as much at the recent Guild Summit. Ilum as an open world PvP zone is a ghost town, with developers returning to the drawing board in the hopes of providing an open world experience which is enjoyable and challenging, as opposed to the hand-holding happy zone, Empire zerg blitz or empty wasteland Ilum has thus far represented. Does the robust state of SWTOR’s warzone PvP balance out Ilum’s issues? It does for me, but that’s up to players to decide.
Hard Mode Flashpoints:
The obvious thing to mention in regard to Hard Modes is that they’re not actually all that difficult. I wouldn’t recommend jumping into most of them as soon as you hit 50, but once you’re wearing full level 50 gear, including purple mods, the Hard Modes won’t provide too much of a challenge.
Certain Hard Modes are easier than others. I wouldn’t recommend bashing your head against Directive 7 unless you enjoy long runs with buggy encounters. For the most part, SWTOR’s flashpoints are fairly simple affairs. I’d place their level of difficulty well below that of Cataclysm’s original crop of dungeons before they were nerfed.
A notable difference between WoW’s style of dungeons and SWTOR’s is that loot is far less varied. A typical Hard Mode flashpoint will yield three pieces of loot, with those three bosses dropping the same piece of loot each time, the only variance being which class would use it. Of those three pieces of loot, only the Columi token from the final boss will be of use to anyone who has already begun running operations.
While smaller, precise loot tables eliminate the frustration of multiple dungeon runs in which the piece you want refuses to drop, it does mean that you have less reason to visit certain flashpoints as time goes on. If you’re undertaking hard or nightmare mode operations, you have next to no reason to run Hard Mode flashpoints, as the gear will be noticeably sub par.
As far as design goes, some flashpoints can be a little lengthy. Generally, after the first few exploratory ventures, I like to be in and out of a dungeon in around an hour. While this is certainly possible with most of SWTOR’s flashpoints, it’s unlikely with others (I’m looking at you, Directive 7).
In terms of quality, SWTOR’s flashpoints are all fairly enjoyable. There remain some annoying bugs, though many have been ironed out, and as I was behind the curve when it came to end-game content, I haven’t encountered too many. Again, if I had to compare, I would say Cataclysm’s dungeons were considerably less buggy at launch.