Archive for December, 2011
There is a popular notion (even from those who play the game) that Star Wars The Old Republic is a linear game. As I’ve gotten more and more in to the game I’ve realized that this might be one of the least linear leveling MMOs I’ve seen in quite some time. Don’t get me wrong: this is a theme park experience that is very well guided and on first blush feels extremely linear. But its the modes of play that Bioware gives you really give it a non-linear feel.
My wife and I are both playing the game. As of this writing she’s 27 and I am 31. She is actually FURTHER AHEAD of the story than I am. How is that possible? A wide variety of ways to progress in the game. The viable major modes of play are:
- Story / PVE quest leveling
- Heroic Quests
- Space combat
I and I imagine most people spend most time in the Story / PVE quest leveling game but there is a lot of playability and progression to be found in the other modes as well.
Flashpoints and Warzones are staples in most MMOs these days. Flashpoints are your usual dungeons and Warzones are your instanced PVP battlegrounds. Bioware has however managed to add spice to both of these game play modes. In Flashpoints every 10 levels you encounter a major story driven dungeon. You really can’t call these dungeons in the traditional sense because it would be selling the Flashpoint concept short. There is some great and engaging story content built in to these dungeons and it is a lot of fun to play with people to see how they respond to conversation options and how dynamically the Flashpoint story comes together. Don’t get me wrong. This is only every 10 levels (on the Republic side it is the Esseles and Taval V I’ve encountered so far that are this more dynamic and story driven format), the rest of the dungeons very much play like your usual MMO setup, I find it enjoyable but I know some people will point and decry “das clone”, but whatever.
The Warzones are interesting as well. Alderaan, which honestly is probably the most fun Warzone in my mind is pretty standard MMO fare. Capture and hold 3 points. Hold the most the longest and you win. But the other Warzones are bit different and engaging. Voidstar is an attack and defend Warzone while Huttball is… well … Huttball. It is really an eSport that plays a little like football, although instead of tackling you murder the opposition with Lightsabers and Blasters. It is a lot of fun and is certainly different.
So these two modes of play certainly take a lot of inspiration from the MMO standard set by WoW in these modern times but Bioware has managed to find a way to evolve them and make them engaging. Getting back to the topic at hand they are also great for leveling. Early going you can get around 10k XP and a decent chunk of change for doing a warzone and that’s without the daily quests that can easily double that. Flashpoints will give you at least half a level as well as provide top end gear. Some of them can be run very quickly.
Next we have Heroic Quests. These are not anything new to the genre BUT I would argue that SWTOR is one of the first games in the post-WoW era to really bring them back. One of the fun things about Everquest 2 when it launched was that there were places in zones you just couldn’t go as a solo player. There were very intentionally areas packed with mobs that were tuned for higher levels. It was one of the real strengths of the game, giving groups things to do. SWTOR has blissfully returned to that. And there is quite a bit of it as well. I would say each planet has at least 4 and most of them aren’t just out in the world quests either, many of them end up in mini dungeons after completing over world objectives. Again a really solid iterative move forward for the genre done with a Bioware twist. Too often these days MMOs are solo fests and thankfully Bioware has really put an effort in to building content for groups. Heroic Quests are also very rewarding both in XP and loot.
Last is Space Combat. Richard Garriot once laid out his dream MMO. It would be a central hub game where you’d take an avatar in to all kinds of different worlds and games. Space combat in TOR certainly feels like a stab at this. You are playing a completely unique game experience where your character isn’t really involved. Your ship has gear, you do missions to get better gear and completing those missions also progresses your central avtar by way of XP and credits. Garriot was on to something I think and I hope Bioware figures out how to implement different modes of play above and beyond these.
So that’s how my wife and I can be so far apart in levels, even though she is “farther in the game”. I find myself sitting down for a session saying “ok, today I’m going to do story” or “tonight we are doing Warzones”. Being able to sit down and play several different modes of the game is very refreshing. All with a story line underpinning and Bioware feel. It is very cool.
So the next time someone tells you SWTOR is a linear WoW clone, tell them they are full of it.
It’s that time of year again – time to recap my 2011 predictions!
World of Warcraft: A mind shift that the game’s best days are behind it.
I imagine my man Evan would disagree with me but I feel this has happened. There are a few reasons:
First is SWTOR. It’s hard to judge this factor because SWTOR is so fresh and shiny at the moment and we’ve seen countless games come out swinging and then fall off but I think the IP and staggering initial sales will push SWTOR to terrirtory uncharted by the Rifts and Aions of the world. We all know that every time a new MMO comes out the cries of WoW’s death get kicked in to high gear and I think most people would agree that SWTOR is the biggest threat WoW has faced. One of the things I did in the build up to SWTOR was keep an eye on the MMO-Champion forums every day as the various public betas progressed. I was curious how a fairly WoW centric community would react to the release of a challenger like SWTOR and it was fascinating. Slowly but surely as people got to try the game the sentiment towards SWTOR picked up incredible steam a community that started out as heavily “I doubt I’ll play SWTOR, too much going on WoW” shifted to “I’ll juggle both” to “I’m going to leave WoW for SWTOR”. SWTOR’s voice acting and production values are going to raise the bar in the AAA space and the fact is WoW will for the first time feel a generation behind. Where WoW was an evolution on EQ I think ten years from now we’ll be able to identify SWTOR as the next evolutionary step after WoW. Time will tell, but I think SWTOR is a real threat to WoW.
There are other signs that WoW is past its peak: The response to Cataclysm has been mixed. Some feel that game has lost its nostalgia factor in a changed world, the lore nerds feel that with Arthas down they’ll never quite feel the same about raiding never mind how some of them disagree with the directions Warcraft lore has been taken. Other people just aren’t excited about Mists of Pandaria. Some people hate the idea of Pandas (some love it), I personally worry about what the Monk class is going to do to balance (a hybrid class that sounds amazingly unbalanced from a design perspective – auto healing? really?), while others can’t get excited about an expansion without a central boss to go after. Mists is going to be different, but I’m not sure how the fan base is going to react.
Another thing with Mists is the removal of talents. The talent redesign in Mists is essentially a concession by Blizzard that the talent system as it was designed in vanilla doesn’t work (in their opinion). You basically will not be able to customized your character any longer, the new talent system is the most stripped down iteration you could dream of. I wonder if this is where WoW jumps the shark and goes beyond the common denominator. Will Mists be the expansion where WoW gets too easy? Not just easy, but too simple. What does this new talent and class system offer the min/maxer?
So. For the WoW prediction I will give myself the full point.
Bllizard MMO 2.0: Leaks through 2011 and is announced late 2011.
I was wrong. No points. From what I’m hearing we won’t see a launch of Titan in 2012, but maybe we’ll see an announcement? Is the project even on course after the recent team departures? Has the game taken a Warcraft Adventures -> World of Warcraft type of course correction? We’ll see. But I won’t be predicting much for Titan in 2012.
Blizzard MMO 2.0: Is an MMOFPS
While I still think I’m right (duh), we know nothing on Titan.
Planetside Next is announced. Launch will be delayed to 2012.
Swish! Nailed this one. Game was announced and expected to launch in 2011. Was eventually delayed to 2012.
EQ Next: Slow build up to an announcement. Will be a WoW clone
So. There’s been the slow build up, but no announcement. And the early EARLY indications I’m getting from SOE is they expect to bring in sandbox elements and it might actually be a refreshing departure from WoW Diku. One can hope. But I don’t get the points here.
SOE and F2P. Blunders abound, EQ2′s best years in the rear view mirror
I’ll take full marks here. They didn’t exactly commit out and out blunders but it wasn’t a pretty year for SOE. DCUO going immediately to F2P, partial F2P conversion of EQ2 followed by a late year conversion to full F2P and the release of a different type of EQ2 expansion that the community doesn’t quite know how to take yet. F2P might reenergize EQ2 (I really hope it does, I think it is a brilliant title) but we will have to see. SWTOR’s production values and the issues it causes WoW likely impact EQ2 the same or even more.
SWTOR: Huge commercial success at launch. Game will be found extremely linear with limited replay value. Players will find end game the same old same old. However new players and vets looking for a fresh coat of paint will bring a strong sub base.
I’ll take a half point on this for the commercial success of launch. We’ll see numbers in a week or two and they are going to be unheard of, likely including WoW’s launch. The only hard data I have to take this half point is the preorders and the retail tracking services peg TOR’s North American sales at just south of a million. That’s before Digital Downloads and usually Amazon does not report in to these services. So. 2.5 million sales anyone? Another million out of Europe. Asian plans to likely be announced within 3 months. Oh yeah. Go buy yourself some ERTS quick.
The other aspect we’ll see. I still think replay will SOMEWHAT be limited but now that I’ve actually played the game I think it won’t be as bad as I originally thought. I have a blog post coming up that will explore replayability and pacing in SWTOR soon.
Closures. Vanguard dead, WAR 0 dev resources, lots of closures all around.
I’ll take half point here. It was a year of closures for sure. SWG (close to home, I’ll miss it), Lego, Global Agenda, The Agency cancelled. Lot’s of bad news and lost jobs in the industry. A sad year for the genre.
Rift. A success with MMO vets, game will end the year with around 500k subs. Will be viewed as a WoW clone but will carve a niche.
Full points. I think I nailed this one right down to the final subscription numbers. Rift sold well (~1-1.5M range) and I think Trion will be happy with their investment. I think Rift hit just when WoW sentiment was starting to shift with some vets and they flocked to Rift looking for a slightly more old school Diku-MMO vibe. Sadly patch 1.2 (lowered the difficulty of some content) drove a few of those folks away, but despite that there’s still plenty of pie left for Rift. They need to announce an expansion very soon to compete in the post SWTOR space I think. 2012 will make or break Rift.
The Design Gods currently wasting their talents on Facebook will wake up and begin work on a AAA product. I’m looking at you Mr Koster, Mr Garriot et all. This one might be more of a “I wish it would come true” but I’m sticking by it
One day… one day. In all honesty it sounds like Richard Garriot might be starting to get the itch. We can only hope.
So out of 10 points I landed 5. Not bad, this guessing business isn’t easy.