Change is to be expected in MMOs. But what happens when an online game changes so radically that it isn’t the same title you knew at all? Game devs know that playerbases will bend with some degree of change, but if you make those changes too drastic, the connection between a player an an MMO snaps and bonds are dissolved.
I feel that this is exactly what’s been happening in SWTOR over the past year. And after looking at what the next expansion is going to bring, I’ve simply lost any desire to ever come back.
It actually hurts a little bit to think back to SWTOR’s launch back in, what, 2010? And to think of all of the great adventures I had in that game, especially over the first year. The Imperial Agent story was tremendous, and the free-to-play switch meant that I could leave and come back at my convenience. I might have drifted away, but it’s always been one of those MMOs that would come back into my orbit sooner or later. I was anticipating this event with this fall’s expansion, Knights of the Eternal Throne, but the more I find out about it, the more I know that this is not to be.
It’s not one big thing or a thousand small things, it’s somewhere in the middle — a death of interest due to a hundred medium cuts. The sheer contempt that BioWare holds for its F2P community is one such cut, and the news that not only will you be unable to participate in the expansion at all if you don’t subscribe but you can’t even get any gear at level 70 makes the free-to-play label laughably obsolete. A free trial, perhaps, but this has to be one of the most unfriendly, unwelcoming F2P systems in the industry. As BioWare holds what it must see as freeloaders in contempt, so I too hold the studio in equal contempt for shunning its free crowd and all but strong-arming people into subscribing.
Hey guys? If you wanted just a subscriber option, you should’ve stuck with it. Remember how your numbers tanked and you went F2P to draw in the crowds? Can’t have it both ways. That’s going to bite you, hard.
Beyond the business model is the structure of the game itself. Up through Shadow of Revan, SWTOR stuck to its original formula, with the classes distinct from each other, with their own companions, stories, and so on. Planets were released as adventuring zones with overarching stories and all was good.
But then comes Fallen Empire, and the paradigm of the game shifted considerably. SWTOR split into two games — the old, 1.0 experience that took players from 1 to 60, and the new 2.0 experience (which BioWare encouraged people to jump right to via boosts) that started in Fallen Empire and is continuing through Eternal Throne. There was a greater emphasis on a cinematic story, which was pretty great for storytelling. Less sidequest deadweight. Some strong new characters. I can’t condemn it for being ambitious or trying to hew more to BioWare’s strength, which is its stories.
Still, the changes were so drastic that they went beyond trying to change things up a little to reinventing most everything. The timeline was shifted five years into the future. The companions and relationships that we’d spent years cultivating had been abandoned, and in some cases, still haven’t been able to be recovered. All classes were funneled down into the same story with the same selection of companions, with many of the missions forcing us to use a certain companion instead of letting us choose. We were relocated away from our ships to the Gravestone. It was a whole lot of change to swallow, and while I was initially on board with it, after a while it left me feeling more disconnected than ever from the character I’ve had since launch.
And to be honest, the whole Zakuul storyline was starting to leave me cold, too. As another blogger said, how many evil empires do we need in a Star Wars universe? Very little of the Fallen Empire felt fun, like a high-spirited Star Wars adventure should. It was perhaps a little too solo, with very little open world exploring with the chance encounter of other players.
I don’t know. Looking at SWTOR right now makes me a little bit angry, but even more sad and wistful. I miss what it was. I don’t like what it’s growing to be. And I have strong doubts that I’ll be coming back to this game world because of it. If BioWare’s mission was to make it as difficult as possible to come back and enjoy the ongoing story, then that is fairly accomplished in this case.
Maybe we should start hoping that someone else starts working on a new Star Wars MMO?