Planet Hopping

There is/used to be a trend in most (fantasy) MMOs wherein the earlier zones were the nice, lovely places in which you wouldn’t mind buying a vacation homes, but as you progressed you’d find yourself in increasingly hostile — and ugly — territory.  Privately, I called it the “lava field syndrome,” because many of these endgame zones were forbidding landscapes dotted by volcanoes and Apple Stores.  I never liked this trend because it was like the game was punishing you for leveling up by forcing you to go to these eye-bleaching environments just because you were successful.

I don’t think this is as true today, as I’ve seen plenty of more modern MMOs save gorgeous zones for higher levels.  I’m glad this has happened, because it doesn’t make leveling as painful for people like me who are heavily impacted by the “feel” of environments.  As I make my way up through the 40s in SWTOR, I’m equally grateful that BioWare has mixed up the beautiful, forbidding, and interesting in terms of zone design so that it’s not a straight progression from pretty to ugly (a reverse duckling?).  In fact, my character started out on one of the more gross places.  Looking back so far, I’d rate the beauty of each planet as such:

  • Hutta: Fugly
  • Dromund Kaas: Strangely pretty
  • Balmorra: Ugly-ish and irritating
  • Nar Shadda: Garish, but in a fun, different way (going to a much more urbanized planet)
  • Tatooine: Pretty, loved the wide-open spaces
  • Alderaan: Gorgeous
  • Taris: Disheveled and ugly, cluttered
  • Quesh: Felt like coming back to Hutta (fortunately it was a quick revisit)
  • Hoth: Attractive if lacking in diversity
  • Belsavis: Really pretty, nice juxtaposition of glaciers and tropical hotspots

Beyond subjective interpretations of planetary attractiveness, I’m just enjoying the concept of planets in SWTOR versus zones in most other MMOs.  I know, it’s mostly semantics, but it still feels different when you know that the other places aren’t crammed up against your current location, but a hyperjump or two away.  Star Wars lends itself well to the MMO zone design template, in which most zones adhere to a wide-reaching feature (the ice zone, the water zone, the hilly zone, the autumn zone, etc.).  After all, pretty much every planet we saw in the movies was dominated by a singular terrain type.

It’s hard to compare the size of SWTOR’s combined landmass with other MMOs, but from my perspective, it all seems really, really big.  There’s a lot of places for one to strike off and explore, if that fits your fancy, and the game always keeps you on the move.

Speaking of which, another pet peeve I’ve had in MMOs is that once you level past a zone, you’re done with it.  That always felt contrived and artificial, and I never liked it — why wouldn’t your character come back for other missions?  Happily, SWTOR has given me several reasons to return to previous planets, usually through the class storyline or via bonus missions (which, if you aren’t doing them, come highly recommended for XP, rewards and additional story).  I think bonus missions are set up in a way that get you off the planet earlier than the level curve would’ve demanded.  It breaks up the scenery, and for anyone who’s spent weeks or months in the same stinking zone, wishing desperately for escape, it’s a boon.

It’s also pretty cool to know that over on the Republic side are not only a couple unique planets that I’m not going to see this time around, but a few different versions of planets (like a lowbie Taris).  Of course, I hope that in the future there are more planetary paths to the level cap — or even multiple paths on the same planet — but for now I’m enjoying the tourist aspect of planet-hopping.

16 thoughts on “Planet Hopping

  1. rowan January 26, 2012 / 4:09 pm

    ‘Splain to me how Bonus Quests get you off a planet quicker. Seems to me like they try to keep you on the planet longer. So far I have not had a problem with level, usually outleveling my class story in the course of doing the planetary quests. Haven’t needed the bonus quests yet. Granted I am only to Tatooine on my Main, with my SLC just a few levels behind on Nar Shadaa. On the whole, I agree with your assessment of the planets that I have seen so far; especially Balmorra. What is wrong with that planet?

  2. Syp January 26, 2012 / 4:33 pm

    Rowan – Let’s put it this way. Say a planet has 6 levels’ worth of content. Instead of keeping you there for six levels straight, the game might have you there for 4-5, then you leave to return at a later time for that last level or so. It gets you hopping around more than you could’ve otherwise.

  3. rowan January 26, 2012 / 4:42 pm

    Have you *needed* to do that yet? What I mean is, like a few others, I’ve noticed that I tend to be above the level of the quests I am trying to complete, either for my class or the area I am in, and the gap is widening.

  4. Yeebo January 26, 2012 / 4:46 pm

    I am a big fan of the “planets as zones” concept. It solves the zone transition problem really neatly. While a few developers are able to pull off seamless zone transitions in a typical open world set-up (LoTRO comes to mind), all to often you get zone transitions ala the Durotar-Barrens zone transition in WoW where one side of a stream is a rocky desert and the other side is savanna. It’s a quibble I admit, but such obvious zone transitions can really pull me out of a game.

  5. Syp January 26, 2012 / 4:52 pm

    I’m actually very much at level… I found myself going to Belsavis at 39 instead of 41, so I went back to Alderaan for the bonus quest line to catch up.

  6. rowan January 26, 2012 / 5:00 pm

    Not to argue the quibble, but I’ve never been put off by the somewhat abrupt zone changes in some games. After all, it is a themepark, right? Disneyland is fairly well known for its abrupt “zone” changes and how the Imagineers handled them. I wrote a post waaaay back about selective compression. In a sense, Lucas used it in the various movies, the desert planet, the snow planet, the swamp planet, etc. So you knew where the characters were, just from the landscape.

    Plus, older 2D games like Mario Bros. had levels that were distinct from each other. I think some of the ideas of zones come from those arcade-game levels.

  7. rowan January 26, 2012 / 5:03 pm

    I wonder what I am doing differently than you, Syp. It’s somewhat frustrating, as I feel like I should be concentrating on getting through my story “faster.”

  8. Syp January 26, 2012 / 5:10 pm

    I’m not sure. I’ve done a moderate amount of flashpoints, tried to do all the quests I’ve found, but I have been slacking on heroic missions for the past five or six planets. You could just be tapping into a source of XP that I’m not.

  9. rowan January 26, 2012 / 5:29 pm

    I dunno, I like the space missions. Which make tons of credits, BTW. But I don’t run them more than every few sessions with my main. I know am am getting extra XP on the character I am playing with Sctrz, just for grouping. (Imagine that: Not penalizing grouping in an MMO. o.O )

  10. Yeebo January 27, 2012 / 12:20 am

    To argue with a quibble is to split a hair at best.

  11. Canazza January 27, 2012 / 3:56 am

    Just wait until you get to Voss. Very pretty autumnal forest. I kept expecting a Blood Elf to pop out at me.
    He’d get a blaster in the face if he did mind.

  12. Bronte January 27, 2012 / 6:34 am

    I think lore wise it also makes more sense, semantics or otherwise. It’s very strange to see Hellfire Peninsula change into Zangarmarsh and then into Nagrand or Netherstorm on the same continent, barely minutes apart on an epic flying mount. Planets allow you a more logical reason for why a planet’s environments so distinctly different from another.

  13. Leyxa January 27, 2012 / 9:20 am

    I’ll echo that Voss is very pretty, but Corellia is absolutely incredible — by far my favourite zone in the game. It completely redeems BioWare for the linear corridors of the lower level urban zones. Plus it has rocket trams!

    Don’t be too excited to revisit Balmorra and Taris on the Republic side, though. Unfortunately you’ve seen everything there is to be seen at these locations already — the geography is the exact same.

    The bonus series don’t necessarily follow on from the class mission levels from what I’ve seen. Belsavis bonus series actually begins at level 49-50, and several of the others are a few levels higher in the same way. So you can get away from planets that you don’t like a little early, and return to the ones you do like a little later sometimes.

  14. Julie Whitefeather January 27, 2012 / 9:48 am

    I have noticed on both the Empire and the Republic side that I have been sent back to “lower level” planets for higher level quests – and example is the sith inquisitor quest where you go back to Droumand Kass for a quest at level 31. As for bonus series I don’t do them for the level but for the nice story. I appreciate that there are “story line” missions beyond the class missions.

    As for Tatooine, while some people may think of it as a boring place I agree with the Bioware devs that say it embodies everything we have come to associate with Star Wars.

  15. theerivs January 27, 2012 / 5:21 pm

    Can we get a Tor Anroc in SWTOR, I want to force push people in lava!

  16. pkudude99 January 30, 2012 / 2:00 pm

    For my leveling curve on my Commando, It’s been:

    1-12 Ord Mantell (rated 1-10)
    12-22 Coruscant (rated 10-16)
    22-26 Taris (rated 16-20)
    26-30 Nar Shadaa (rated 20-24)
    30-34 Tatooine (24-28)
    34-35 Nar Shadaa bonus (31-32)
    35-38 Alderaan (28-32)
    38-40 Balmorra (32-36)

    As you can see, I tend to be about 4 or 5 levels above the rating for the content. I haven’t done space missions since the upper 20’s. I don’t pvp or do flashpoints, and I generally don’t do the heroic missions either. Maybe the 2+ rated ones since they’re actually fairly easy to solo when you’re 4-5 levels over, but almost never the Heroic 4’s.

    The only thing I can think that might be pushing me up so much is that I actually have several alts that I rotate through, so I *always* have rested xp, so my kills are worth double. Still…. most kills are worth so little xp, even doubling that still doesn’t seem like it’d be that much to push me up several levels.

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