That is all.

This CAN be fun

I haven’t been hitting any PvP in the game exceptionally hard yet, focusing instead more on the single-player, story-mode leveling game. Still, I have played a number of instances of each of the 3 options for instanced PvP, and even had a smattering of 1v2 open-world PvP in Alderaan. The point I’m trying to make clear, is that I have experienced what the game offers in PvP format more or less, and up until last night was mostly underwhelmed. However, I saw a glimmer of the possibility of fun last night. I played my first genuinely fun scenario (warzone, battleground, or whatever the hell it’s called) in SW:TOR last night.

For a nice change of pace, it started as a fresh game, in lieu of my typical replacement of someone who left and opened a spot. I sat in the staging area for the Alderaan fight, which consists of a familiar 3-point capture map. WAR vets: think Gates of Ekrund or Nordenwatch. I was pleasantly surprised to see a guildie who had happened to queue into the match as well. He as the scissors, and me as the rock, went to work. We weren’t even on voice comms together, but clearly, we both knew what we were doing. It continues to astound me how two competent players can play together, without any communication, but still do what is needed on a fairly competent level.

Moments like that make me think there’s the chance for cooperative, competitive play here, and it gives me hope. If the competition can match it, and wait around long enough for me to hit cap, there’s a chance that the PvP “game” might be worth sticking around for. I’m not sure of it, but I have a seed of doubt now where before there was only certainty a two month subscription. In the end, it was a close match, with a good amount of back and forth, and we squeaked out the win with a very narrow margin. The Republic doesn’t seem to win much, so anytime I get the “W” I’m a bit surprised.

Three things SW:TOR has done well

The First Thing

The rail shooter. I have a soft place in the cockles of my heart for rail shooters, and having this as a mini-game in SW:TOR is just good fun. They are quick missions, usually around the 5 minute mark, that you can get dailies off. They have a primary mission, and usually at least one obvious bonus mission. In every one, I’ve found secret bonus missions as well. Your ship is upgradable, albeit in a very simple and shallow manner, but there is that nod to progression still. I do these every single time I play as one of the first things I do. Maybe I just crave a return to X-wing, but it makes me happy when I play these, and that’s at least half the reason to play a game.

The Second Thing

Storyline. I was dismissive of this before playing, thinking story was a joke when it comes to MMOs. Sure, I’ve always had a tertiary interest in the plot behind what I play, and having heard someone go in-depth on the lore of EQ/EQ2 have been entertaining moments in my past, but never have I honestly cared about it. The story has me immersed more than any previous MMO I’ve played. Without giving away any spoilers, I have one companion I never use because of poor compatibility as well as being annoying as hell to me personally, however I had the chance to see this companion get axed but did not take it, because I didn’t feel as if my character would go that route. I made a decision based on the personality and outlook of my character. That’s a pretty hefty jump from skipping quest text, and BioWare should be lauded for that.

The Third Thing

Nostalgia. Probably not intentional, but I have been having some major nostalgia pangs for SWG of late when I play in SW:TOR. It’s most noticeable when I’m on Tatooine which has been all of my last two or three sessions. Speeding around Anchorhead with all the visual consistency you expect of the planet brings back old, deep memories of my time in the sandbox *rimshot*. It’s not something that will keep me playing the game, but it brings a whimsical smile to face. If I have to go to Dantooine or Naboo later, it may really be hard on me.

There are a lot of things in the game that don’t work for me in the long run, as I have little expectation of me making it past three characters at most, one storyline for each side, and MAYBE a second for one of the factions. That’s a topic for a different post that I’ll get into some other day.

Act 1: The Waitening

I’ve been wondering how close I was to finishing Act 1 in SW:TOR, and from reading this it seems I’m pretty close having hit 31 last night. I’m somewhere mid-Alderaan and have yet to set foot on Tatooine, so level 35-ish sounds about right. The best part about Gabe’s little mini-rant is that he’s surprised. Themeparks for years have been giving us meaningless little dickfer missions that are built-in merely as a means to burn time.

You can look at the reasoning behind these “talk to person” quests in couple of ways. The design optimist will see it as a way to enhance drama and excitement by providing a mechanical exposition to the thrilling climaxes of combat. The anticipation to the action. The jaded bitter-vet will see it as a mechanical tool to whittle a players time to help regulate the power level of a server by a forced time-attrition. The lore-nerd will see it as merely a part of the story, an integral portion of any Hero’s Journey is the journey after all. The power-levelers will wonder what you’re talking about as they grind on mobs.

I think Gabe’s reaction to this instance of slap-in-the-face pointless questing is a direct relation to how well hidden it has been up to this point. Because in some ways, all of the above view points are correct, but great themeparks are able to mask, and cloak that bit of the harsh reality in an egyptian cotton blanket, forcing you to wrap yourself into a human burrito and go to sleep in it. SW:TOR has done an amazing job of that kind of thing so far. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been instructed to just go TALK to an NPC and I get a quest completion.  In the case Gabe makes, they just took the blanket away and left him in the cold. It’s a harsh contrast and shifts in extremes can cause shock.

I’ll end with this one last observation. I like that I see modern games using the lore-based reality to sometimes do away with these types of gaming tropes. The City of Heroes franchise was particularly good at it, by letting you call in your missions on a radio/cell phone once a level of familiarity was reached. Star Wars makes use of this more rarely with “Holocalls” and I wish they would use it more. It’s a great tool implementation if the setting allows for it.

Sometimes it is the thought

This morning, at 9:15 AM to be exact, I got an email from SW:ToR [aside: how do others pronounce that? I’ve been going with “Swo-tor” for some reason] congratulating me on my reaching level 10. It was a nice little blurb with links to more information about what I can look forward too in the near and far-run. It covered everything from choosing an advanced class to participation in warzones. A gamut of helpful of advice. All of it nearly completely useless to me, having done it all before in the beta, but it made me feel a warm fuzzy. I’m not sure what that says about me, that a completely automated process of simulated attention is enough to make me feel like a valued customer. Or does that say more about the gaming industry as a whole and it’s take on the service branch of their field.

I don’t know, early morning ramblings.

Accelerated Time-table

With the release of news of SW:TOR having an 85% retention rate going into month 2 (hat-tip), with “most” of them paying at this point. So, I decided to go ahead and look around to see what kind of bargain I could get on a boxed copy of the game. Happily, I found a listed brand new copy on E-bay for ~$35 US after shipping. With a friendly WAR-blogger-fellow rerolling to Republic, I bit the bullet and just decided to accelerate the deal. That was Friday I believe, and I got the game last night. Fast shipping FTW. So, I’m in the game now. Playing a Light-side Jedi Guardian, just like I did in the beta. Happily mashing my space-bar through all the conversations because they are identical to what I did before. I stayed up way past my bed time, finishing up Tython and getting my light-saber.

Things that encouraged me to go ahead and dive in earlier:

  1. MMO boredom: I’m not plugged in to EVE with any corp, and don’t have the time for the highly fun, but time-consuming socio-political machinations that make the game great.
  2. An impressive quote: “As a result of greater than expected earnings in Q3, EA will increase the marketing budget for Star Wars: The Old Republic in Q4.”
  3. The Rahk-ghoul thing: BioWare is hitting the game hard with content updates right out the gate. Keep it up like Trion is with Rift, and you’ll make customer’s very happy.
  4. DotA2 and LoL are methadone: These two games are amazing fun. But if you require a sense of persistence & progression, that’s just not what these games do, and I crave some of that.
  5. HeroEngine: I was curious to see how well it actually played out, and I won’t get another chance until Dominus launchers.
  6. Lum likes it. That’s worth at least giving it a try for $35.

So yeah, let loose the slings and arrows, and all that jazz.