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.
Sometime about a year ago I decided to take a serious shot at getting to level 80 in World of Warcraft. I had been playing Warhammer Online and the lack of depth PvE in the game was killing me and I really wanted to sink my teeth in to something deeper.
For a time I stuck with my goal of getting up there in WoW – I made it to around level 35-40 but the new Everquest 2 expansion was calling with lots of new dungeon content to try out. Group play, particularly in focused PvE situations (Dungeons and raiding in particular) are really what make me tick with MMOs and the EQ2 expansion was focused almost exclusively around that – so it was a bit of a dream come true so WoW lost out in the end and I went off to play EQ2.
For various reasons after about a month and a half I just couldn’t stomach playing EQ2 any longer (I think I’ve hit that.point with EQ2). For a few months I drifted and even took a full break from MMOs at one point. All of this until around June/July when I decided once and for all I was going to suck it up and get the Level 80 in WoW MMO-goal checked off of my list.
I’m happy to say I’ve finally done it – it took quite a bit of effort (I did the last 20 levels in a pretty hardcore amount of time – I was pure heads down focused on leveling) but in the end it was totally worth it.
I also have to give Blizzard a lot of credit – both the Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King expansions were huge evolutionary steps for the game. Even after climbing this mountain I’m not convinced I would have enjoyed vanilla WoW if I would have done the drive to 60 back five years ago – I still think the game was too generic-MMO but with the two expansions, especially with Wrath you could tell Blizzard was finally figuring out how to tell a story and drive some really compelling content in an MMO.
I have a post that’ll be coming soon(TM) comparing raiding in EQ2 and WoW. We’ll find out if the journey was worth it…
My recent MMO burn out has been well documented on this blog in recent months. One of the things I’ve been considering in the three weeks since my MMO break began is how a genre I once held above all others has lost its shine for me.
I think looking back at it now one of the number one things that has pushed me to this point where I needed to disconnect myself from the genre completely is choice. From June to November of this year I was steadily playing Warhammer Online pretty much exclusively and it was only when my interest in WAR started to drop off and I went in to tourist mode I really started to feel the effects of burn out.
It is odd to single out choice as one of the flaws with the genre as it is at the same time it’s greatest strength. Thinking now of the time where you either played Ultima Online or Everquest is rather odd as today if you look at MMORPG.com’s game list the sheer amount of games available is awesome. The problem is these games do require a certain amount of commitment and attention and that choice of games (that really are not all that different from each other) makes the potential for tourist-distraction/MMOADHD sinking in that much greater.
The problem is the games are all very similar – they each have those little things that make them different but the bulk of Triple-A titles today are based on the EQ->WoW model. This really becomes an issue when you hit a bit of a rough patch with your current game – a sort of grass is greener on the other side mentality kicks in and instead of staying focused on the goals within your current game you flee to another game where similar rough patches await you.
Periods of anxiety and doubt are part of the psyche of an MMO player. It’s not all a cake walk – unfortunately the game developers haven’t found ways to get rid of hell levels or grind points and sometimes it can be very difficult to get past these barriers.
The point of this post is to help me realign my thinking (and to help those going through the same burn out as myself). So, what do you do about it?
My first suggestion is to use microgoals – Microgoals in my mind dates back to the FFXI Allakhazam community. They used to put small milestones (such as ‘level cooking to to 20′ or ‘unlock bard’) in their forum signatures to show what they were working on. By establishing goals within the bigger picture of the level treadmill of the common MMO today you can set things you can do in a single sitting or weekend of gaming.
Limit yourself to one MMO account – I have rationalized again and again (I think I’ve even blogged about it in the past) that it is possible to play more then one MMO at a time. No. It is not. The time, energy and focus commitment required of an MMO just cannot be spread across two games. There are plenty of people out there who will disagree with this but I just do not see how it is possible. I believe you need to stay tuned to the game world you are in and stay focused on it. I know some folks who are at end-game in their given MMO will take on a second MMO “between raids” but I would argue you just are not getting all that much out of your main game it might be time to reevaluate your subscription to what you view as your main game. The point here is focus is required – and you just can’t focus playing two or more MMOs at once.
Be a part of the community. Be social, join a guild, do some grouping, post on some forums. Developing emotional attachment to the community you are a member of will help you stay focused on the game. One potential pitfall here – many people will stay in an MMO well beyond their expiration date in that game because of people. People can only be one of several factors you consider when deciding to stay or go from your current game of choice. If you personally are not having fun but stay just for people the burn out will come eventually anyway and the odds are increased that your quitting the game will be permanent go up the longer you stay for bad reasons.
Maintain a list of MMOs you are “done with” and stick with it – Because of the emotional investment in these games nostalgia can be a hell of a pull. With some games though you hit a point where you’ve just been there done that. Even if an expansion comes and adds more content it will just be more of the same if the mechanics don’t change. Be honest with yourself and if you have a game or list of games like this that you just will never have fun with again DO NOT go back. During lulls in new game / expansion releases it is tempting to go back to these games but you will likely only waste your time and money.
I think by following the above advice I personally could figure out a way to enjoy these games again. I hope by sharing it someone out there can put their own burnout in to perspective and maybe find their way back to MMOs.
As you may know I use twitter regularly and am a huge fan of the microblogging concept. I’ve decided to create a twitter account for tracking my what-I’m-up-to-in-gaming.
I have my Raptr account automatically updating what PC games I’m playing and I’ll also be providing updates on leveling, gear, etc in the various MMOs I play.
If you want to follow this new account head over to the Taasgaming twitter account page.