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.