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Space Butts

December 18, 2012

I don’t even wanna sleep.  But I don’t wanna be a zombie tomorrow either.  Dr. Phil is on the TV telling me how not to talk to children about the Connecticut shooting.  Thinking about that shit makes me want to sleep even less.


I subbed for another month of SWTOR now that they supposedly fixed it and added some value to it for subscribers, and added a free to play option.

But man, is it crappy.  And I finally figured out why it bugs me so much.

Simply, it has the worst, most brazen implementation of MMO tropes.  Every time a new MMO or expansion to an existing MMO comes out, there’s got to be some reason to make you do repetitive tasks.  When the Lich King expansion for wow came out, my raider badass warrior went to Northrend but he wasn’t awesome enough to go kill the big baddie yet.

So after all his accomplishments, he goes to this starter zone where some random person says, go collect eight bear butts for me and you’ll become more awesome.  I have these new pants for you.  Yes, they’re better than what you were wearing when you banished the super powerful demon lord back to the nether.  Oh, they were just laying around.

MMOs (arguably) have to do this because they need to give people goals to keep them playing.  They have to make you put in some time and work before the newest bestest hurdle, and along the way they need you to experience many many short feedback loops of reward.  And to WoW’s credit, they disguise this progression very well, and when things do devolve into “collect x number of widgets and kill y generic monsters” they at least pace it well and dress it up well.  The process of becoming more powerful is fun, pretty much no matter how you do it.

This steady progression is the core of any massively multiplayer game that rewards you for time spent.  In SWTOR it is an absolute drag.  It has throwbacks to the KOTOR games in its main storyline, but in order to progress through it, you have to slog through a TON of the “collect eight generic objects that are totally super important now, and kill 12 generic space bad guys.”  Imagine KOTOR, a ~25 hour game, broken up by about 40 extra hours of that crap.  The fact that every inane, repetitive quest is voice acted starts to feel ridiculous.  I want varied writing.  I want my player character to have a personality.  I want interesting characters and story threads.  They gave all that up to get a bunch of pointless voice acting.  Which was more important?  This is supposedly KOTOR 3-9 right?  Every gaming hobbyist understands that the things that cost a bunch money are not necessarily the things that add a lot of value to a game.  That seems pretty basic, but good luck convincing a giant publisher of that fact.  I guess when you have a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail.

And while you are doing these quests, stuff constantly respawns, it’s packed very densely, a lot of it is unskippable (getting hit while mounted almost always knocks you off your mount), and you don’t get a great deal of experience for killing random trash.

The world in SWTOR is pretty large and broken up into chunks by planet.  There’s normal areas for questing and non-instanced heroic areas for groups, which is pretty nice.  But the art style is not very Star Warsy.  Everything seems barren, and it has this sheen to it, like I’m playing a tech demo in some modern version of the quake 3 engine.  With better technology comes higher expectations, and they just didn’t put a lot of money into making it a great world to look at.  WoW is a crappy looking game by current standards, but they still make things look interesting.  Also, zones are very distinct and easy to get around in.

The combat is really similar to wow, a mix of spammable abilities, abilities with cooldowns, crowd control abilities, varying resources, and it seems like it *should* be fun, especially in groups.  Fights seem to take a while though, which makes the general MMO grind seem even worse.  When things are quick, fun, and rewarding, people don’t mind doing them repeatedly.  But especially when soloing, when everything is together in little packs with one strong bad guy and two or three weak ones, your skill with your character doesn’t really come into play.  One of the hidden joys of any good MMO is becoming very skilled with a character, and starting over with another one, equipped with everything you’ve learned.  There’s not much of that here.  Just fight after fight with static packs of bad guys that get their hits in no matter what precautions you take, meaning you have to stop after every fight or every few fights to recover.  Which wouldn’t be a huge deal, except you have to do probably thousands of these little fights.

That might be it in a nutshell.  They’ve chosen to go with the frustrating MMO grind, punctuated by a good helping of mandatory stopping, instead of high mobility, high skill, fun things that you want to do over and over again.

And just to be clear, I make all these comparisons to wow because that’s what they were going for: a wow clone.  But it seems like they went for a 2005 wow clone, instead of a 2011 wow clone.  MMOs have changed since then.  As much as wow changed things when it came out, it has changed itself constantly, and changed the landscape with it.  And it’s not the only game to take lessons from.  In Guild Wars 2 there’s TONS of stuff to do.  It’s a $50 or $60 game with no subscription fee so there’s no compulsion to play it for a zillion hours a month, but when you do log on there’s people in all parts of the world, exploring and doing dungeons, because there’s rewards for exploring, there’s jumping puzzles, there’s random world events everywhere, you get downleveled so you can’t steamroll everything, but your gear still helps quite a bit and you have all your abilities, so you still get to be your badass self.

I’m just saying, there’s more niches than trying to be the new wow.  There’s already a new wow, it’s called wow, and even though I don’t play anymore, it’s probably going to be around a long time.  SWTOR just stinks of being some heartless cash grab, done by talented game designers and artists who were exploited by others who don’t play games and don’t care about them, except for the fact that they’re a tool to generate revenue.  So they said, let’s make our game exactly like the most popular game out there, and get a piece of that pie.  But they lacked vision, and it shows.

So anyways, I tried it for a few days as a subscriber and I already have buyer’s remorse.  You will find tons of arguments about the free-to-play model that they’ve implemented and whether it’s worth playing or whatever, but the bigger issue is, it’s just not a fun enough game to play, let alone justify a subscription fee.  And, which is worse for me, I love the KOTOR franchise so much that it pains me to keep coming back to this game hoping it will get better.

My two cents: the ONLY free-to-play model that will work is one that gives you the whole entire game before max level, with no restrictions, and the subscription/optional store purchases will be for removing the timesinks.  pay three bucks a month to gain triple experience.  pay two bucks a month for extra health regen, two bucks for 30 days of extra damage so you can get to max level quick and either start subscribing and do competitive endgame, or make a new character and keep buying the practically mandatory powerups.  Wow succeeded because it was fun enough that people would play the same few characters and fight the same few bosses for months and years.  Levelling was fun enough that people would delete characters just to level them again.

If they are gonna give me this SWTOR MMO instead of the sequel I wanted, they could at least make it fun above all.  At this point, what do they have to lose?

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