SWTOR, I don’t know you any more


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?

12 thoughts on “SWTOR, I don’t know you any more

  1. Nick Foster (@goldenhornet) October 31, 2016 / 10:13 am

    All the same things I’ve been thinking over the last 12 months.

    Having been a sub since launch, I finally gave up with the end of KotFE. The horribly single-track, single story was so replay unfriendly I looked at my list of characters and just lost the will to log in.

    As for the F2P issue, I think Bioware are still bitter about having to go that way and have made F2P/Preferred play as unpleasant as possible. With the new expansion, you won’t even be allowed to level to 70, let alone get any (RNG dependent) end game rewards. They really are trying to pretend to be a sub only game.

    It’s a shame, I loved the vanilla game. I have characters of every advanced class with extras, but the retreat to a single story just killed the fun for an altoholic like me.

  2. Moxys October 31, 2016 / 11:09 am

    I couldn’t disagree with you anymore. Bioware gives the F2P community so much. 8 distinct complete playable stories. Blizzard’s F2P model only lets you play to level 20 or so. FFXIV gives you 1 week. So to say they hold them in contempt is laughable. Once you are getting to end game content, you should be subscribing to the game.

    I do agree that the single story is less exciting, but if people are unwilling to sub, what makes you think the revenue will be there for the development of 8 versions plus light and Dark options to be produced?

    You need to understand that there is a business behind this. BW doesn’t even make the ultimate decisions. EA does.

  3. uncledengar October 31, 2016 / 12:40 pm

    We’re in the same boat Syp. I’ve been with this game since Alpha and for the first time, I am considering never returning once 5.0 launches.

  4. bhagpuss October 31, 2016 / 12:50 pm

    Moxys comment misses the entire point. Both WoW and FFXIV are subscription MMOs. They do not have any kind of F2P offer nor any pretensions to having one. WoW has a very limited Free Trial and FFXIV doesn’t even have that.

    If SW:toR was a Subscription MMO, like WoW and FFXIV, then Syp would never have written this post but it is, supposedly, a Free to Play MMO. It wasn’t launched under that payment model, of course – it launched as a full subscription game and promptly failed so badly that in order to save it from closing down altogether it was converted to F2P. As is now clear, whatever powers control the direction of the game would strongly prefer that that step had not been necessary and have done all they can to revert the game to a Subscription model in all but name.

    I think the real takeaway here is the old “looks like a duck” routine. SW:toR pretending to be F2P isn’t fooling anyone.

  5. Warsyde October 31, 2016 / 2:33 pm

    I actually enjoy the game more now than I did at release. I quit a few months in, and then came back off-and-on after the free-to-play transition. Nothing ever really kept me around though. That changed with SWTOR 2.0. It’s now more like a single player game, which is what I really wanted in the first place. My gaming hours are short and out-of-sync with everyone else, so I can’t play with my friends anymore anyway. The unfolding story in SWTOR 2.0 gives me something to keep coming back for, which is not something the game had before. New raids and flashpoints didn’t do anything for me. Does it suck that now there’s only a single path, and many missions require a “showcase” companion rather than whatever you want? Absolutely. But as someone with a limited amount of time to game, that doesn’t really impact me. Having a path forward always available however, is a pretty big deal.

    MMOs like World of Warcraft really don’t do anything for me anymore. Once you get through the quest content (which is generally the same for all classes, btw), you’re stuck at “end-game” doing dailies and running dungeons and raids for 2 years. Or leveling alts. Through the exact same quests you just did.

    SWTOR at least is trying to provide an end-game experience that provides more content gradually over time through the on-going story missions. It’s not perfect, but it’s interesting and different, and I think Bioware deserves some credit for that at least. Beats the hell out of standing around expansion-hub-city waiting for the dungeon finder to pop, or doing the same daily quest for the 117th time.

    SWTOR’s F2P has been a quagmire for far longer than the latest expansion. I think things like limited interface bars and other quality of life issues deserve more complaints than a limiting of advancement at end game. SWTOR gives a vast amount of content absolutely free. They also aren’t charging for their expansions. If you have seriously leveled multiple characters to max level and still don’t think SWTOR deserves any money from you, I’m really not sure what to say.

  6. Shintar October 31, 2016 / 3:57 pm

    Heh, if you want to deplore SWTOR for having “the worst F2P system ever” and complain about how it’s really more of a free trial in disguise, you’re about four years late to the party. The game has always pushed people towards subscribing, especially as they get towards endgame, and that’s not changing. That said, they’ve stated that they are looking into replacing the old passes with a system that will let non-subscribers access the new endgame.

  7. Thomas595 October 31, 2016 / 7:20 pm

    All of this makes sense to me. But really the only reason i dont sub is because i might only play it once or twice in a month and i dont feel the price is necessary for the amount of time im not playing. If it was a subscription system that only counted down when you were actually online, i wouldnt be that mad about it.

  8. nerdshowandtell.com October 31, 2016 / 7:34 pm

    Perhaps its for people like me who haven’t played it since the first year but have come back in the past few months. Ive easily spent what i would have on a sub for all the time i missed in cartel coins and then some since coming back. So glad they are improving group finder, but I still enioy the single player content more.

  9. Togrutas4life October 31, 2016 / 10:09 pm

    Unfortunately, if Bioware didn’t need to go free to play they wouldn’t have. But they didn’t have the subscribers. Those of you who feel subscriber only is the the answer what evidence leads you down that path? And you can’t use stable revenue streams as a defense. If Bioware was worried about revenue stability, they would never have gone free to play in the first place.
    The fact is $15 a month is not enough money to support the staff large enough to create enough content to justify a large sub only population. It wasn’t enough in 2010 even. They would need to charge $15 and additional expansion fees like WOW. SWTOR knows that notion will not fly with the community that has stuck by the game through all this.
    The only way the company can continue forward with just subs is to back away from being a triple A mmo, and become a niche game. If they dumped PvP, Operations, GSF and perhaps FP and support only episodic game chapters, $15 would work. Then the business model only needs like 500,000 subscribers to make a profit? Kinda sounds like SWTOR 2015 don’t it?

  10. Togrutas4life October 31, 2016 / 10:13 pm

    Whoops SWTOR 2016 I mean.

  11. The Nickster November 1, 2016 / 10:36 am

    I agree that the F2Play option is not a viable option. It’s been “sub or nothing” for awhile now, and 5.0 is doubling down on that decision.

    I do like the new questing formula introduced in KOTFE though. One of the things that kept SWTOR from being a WOW killer in 2012 was having too many “kill 10” quests at launch. Kill 10 quests don’t tell the deep stories that classic BioWare was known for.

    KOTFE’s shift toward making your current companion a part of the “mission” let’s them explore the personality of each companion. The big heist in Chapter 13 is a classic example. The companions humorous personalities put a unique stamp on that chapter. Because the companions weren’t background “combat pets” with no lines of dialogs, the chapter is a better one.

    If your not willing to allow BioWare to “stick” you with a random companion, then your stuck with companions as combat pets, and that helps no one.

  12. Madjynx November 1, 2016 / 5:07 pm

    Wow, I read your first paragraph and thought I was transported 10+ years back to SWG and the NGE. How badly burn I felt after that star wars MMO kept me from even giving this one a chance.

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