By Jason Parker (Ragachak)
I’ve been a part of Star Wars: TOR on and off since the Closed Beta. I forget how I got in, but I was there! As long as I wasn’t paying for it, I admittedly enjoyed it a great deal. But, then the game came out. It was heralded the “TORTanic” by many [and maybe even in one or two of my articles. . .]. I desperately wanted to like the game, but I found myself bored and left, only to come back and leave again. It was a vicious cycle. But EA had one secret weapon backing this game that most MMOs can’t fall back on. Bioware is really grand at one thing: Telling an epic single player story. That’s not an easy thing to put into an MMO. It took them a while, but they got into the swing of things! With the 13th chapter of Knights of the Fallen Empire now upon us, it was time to give SWTOR another stab to see if it now lives up to the hype of yesteryear. With no price tag barring new players, and a series of expansions that are free for those who subscribe, there’s a grand universe awaiting the uninitiated trying to scratch that post-May the 4th itch!
So what’s the state of the game now? I’m a little torn, I won’t lie to you guys. There have been huge strides in the right direction made, but on the other hand, it’s still incredibly archaic in other areas. Though I do have to laud them for their tactic in getting people to subscribe again [though I don’t personally know the numbers]: If you subscribe, you acquire all of the expansions, and all the content that is available for as long as you subscribe. There are also plenty of other perks that go to subscribers that make the game a bit more playable. By playable I mean more manageable, perhaps faster. Would I call it Pay-to-Win? Not really. But it is pay-to-go-faster. The good thing? If you stop subbing, you keep your perks, and all content you have so far. So, it’s honestly worth it as someone who wants to give the game a try to at least sub once.
So what’s some key reasons why you should come back? Leveling got a bit better far and wide. You can level 1-60 just by doing Main Story Quests and Planetary Arc Quests. You don’t have to do a million things around the galaxy just to level, and I appreciate that a great deal. There’s also Level Sync. Do you want to stay on Nal’Hutta for a while? Do you have an affinity for it, Coruscant, or any other planet in particular, but you’re going to outlevel the content? Well, now Level Sync keeps you the right level for the content you’re doing, so you can do it as much as you want. When you leave, you’ll adjust to the actual level. Or, say you’re level 10, learning the game, but all of your friends are level 65 and want to do stuff with you. It adjusts your stats, armor, weapon damage, but it doesn’t get rid of your abilities. So enjoy basking in the awe of your lowbie friends without ruining their challenge. That’s great for me because every time I come back to this game, I’m farther and farther behind my friends.
Stats, let’s talk stats real quick. Back in the day, you had to juggle two or three ridiculous and ancient stats like Aim. To hell with that! Now there’s “Mastery,” which I don’t really need to go into. Rest assured, you have to do less micromanage when you’re looking at gear. That was one of the biggest things for me. I’d go over guild chat or have to google just what exactly I needed to even make the minimal amount of damage for Flashpoints, PVP, or even just cruising the planets. You can also start at level 60, and jump right into the new content, which leads me to my next thought: Tutorial. For someone who played the game already and perhaps needs a refresher? Go for it. It starts you off slow in Chapter 1 of the expansion, feeding you skills nice and slow, so you can learn them at a comfortable pace. But that leads me along to the things that certainly could use some work:
Are you a new player, subbing and jumping into new content, or perhaps it’s been too many years since you’ve been back? You might not find that tutorial all that bloody helpful. It may give you buttons at a nice slow pace, but they don’t offer any suggestions on where to use them, when to use them, or why you should use <Blank Ability> that does <X> damage when you can use the next one they give, which does more damage on a lesser or more manageable cooldown. It’s similar to the WoW Tutorial, but that one is a bit more forgiving and is a bit more forthright in what you can and cannot do. But that leads to another thing that has “kind of” gotten better. BUTTONS. Jesus F. Lord this game has far too many buttons. On my Sith Marauder, I need to hit at least 7-10 buttons for an optimal DPS rotation. Why? Why so many damn buttons? I think I have something like six or so bars of abilities, when so many of them feel redundant? That bothers me a great deal. Some classes can get by with three or four, some require a piano attached to your PC to get anywhere.
Companions changed too, though for the better. Gone are unique abilities that make them special. Now you can use whichever companion you fancy. If you want to romance a particular one, but need a healer, you can do that now! You can swap their spec whenever it is necessary, and the rep items you can turn in to them increases their level/affinity with them. The “presence” stat offers a percentage bonus, which means it will scale nicely with a higher presence. And the higher that level, the better they’ll take care of you in battle. But it’s really a double edged sword. This makes the game, in my opinion, far too easy. The expansion is very focused on single-player content, so you can enjoy the game at your own rate, with a healer, tank or DPS, whatever you need for the moment.
But I’ve only had two or three moments at all where I died, usually because I got greedy, or did something idiotic (aka awesome!). Even standing in red circles of death, my healer kept me alive with the greatest of ease. Definitely easy, but it does allow you to focus on the story, so, again it’s really about give and take. The graphics might still be a bit old, but I will say that the expansion for the Eternal Empire looks a LOT better than ever. The cutscenes are fantastic, and the UIs have been mostly updated for clarity and ease of use. Though on the topic of the graphics, the conversation UI has changed, and definitely for the better. You can still use the “classic” method, but I like having a list of things to pick from, instead of brief choices like I would in Fallout, Mass Effect, et cetera.
Another important thing to talk about, is TOR has space combat! Sure, it’s not X-Wing vs. TIE fighter where you sit behind the cockpit – it feels more action-packed. You don’t swirl and loop all over the screen, but when you move your mouse, it moves you in front of it, and you can still barrel roll and things of that nature. The missions are pretty “simple” from the outset, you have to destroy things usually! I have not done too much flying truth be told, but it doesn’t make my motion sickness go off and for that, I’m grateful. It’s not realistic, sure, but I look at it as a welcome distraction from running around and shooting a blast or swinging a lightsaber.
Instead I can fire torpedoes at capital ships and fire my blasters [with that oh-so-lovely TIE-fighter pew! Pew! Oh I love that sound] . The flight combat looks and feels like a lot of fun. I didn’t really mess with Vanilla flight, but it was tedious and awful from everything I gathered. Flying missions, to me at least, are very difficult, but swooping and soaring over a planet’s atmosphere was very physically satisfying. And the explosions were pretty cool too. I’m sure there’s dedicated PvPers who fell in love with this mode, though it just isn’t my style.
Do you need to play this?
I said it before and I’ll say it again: You owe it to yourself to at least sub for a month, give it a try, see if you think it’s changed for the better. The story coming in monthly chunks is delightful, and it’s more than just story missions. More content comes with it, and the story is fantastic. I’ve always been fond of stories that revolve around moral ambiguity. The story revolves around a prologue in the franchise, and a deadly faction, the Eternal Empire. They’re force users too, and force the Republic and Sith to stand together in one faction, an Alliance dedicated to stopping this galaxy crushing force. Will your character be the one to unite all peoples, at least for a temporary time? There are so many incredible, and terrifying choices you have to make, which I love. My personal character did a variety of monstrous things, while balancing a face of propriety in his Alliance. You don’t have to grind away to get to it; like I said earlier, you can just leap into a level 60 character. But to get multiple level 60s outside of leveling, you use Cartel Coins to buy another level 60 slot.
Subbing gives you Cartel Coins; the Security App also does. I’m torn on how I feel about the Cartel. Are there good items you can get there to make the game easier? Sure! Is a lot of it cosmetic? Also yes. You can unlock character races, vehicles, weapons, cosmetics, lots of stuff. But some of this feels like it should be earned, not bought. I guess it’s in your own hands how you want to play. There are lots of little changes to the game that make it more enjoyable. Global Datacrons, rewarded from exploration, but the bonuses aren’t huge. A few stat points here and there, but definitely offers you a reason to wander these savage planets. I love episodic content for an MMO. One of the big problems in WoW is that people do the content right away, and then they spend almost a year sitting on their hands. I don’t know much about PVP in The Old Republic but I do know it’s never been fun for me. Flashpoints are better, improved for ease of access, and Weekly Heroic rewards are often very much worth it. All in all, the game is in a much better state than it was; it’s not perfect yet, but it’s come a long way from where it was. The game is fun again, and that matters a lot.
When we first reviewed SWTOR, it was a solid 3/5 that we were kind to offer a 4/5. Now in its current state, it’s grown into a solid 4/5, with hopes of possibly reaching a perfect score if improvements continue in the direction they’re going.
Want to see more SWTOR in action? I discuss the Knights of the Fallen Empire initiative with the second half of Team Bottom Tier at MMOHuts!