Friday, March 16, 2012

Post - Mortem For The Old Republic (hint: it isn't pretty)

It seems the right time, after playing it for a good 2-3 months, to give my verdict on the latest and most expensive MMO in recent memory, namely Star Wars: The Old Republic.

I'll preface this by saying I have a (maximum) level 50 Marauder in full Tier 3 (Rakata) raid gear, so I am somewhat familiar with the game and how everything works.

TOR is a good game, but it isn't a great game.  The ironic thing is that BioWare have gotten a lot of the difficult things just right, and then made some rookie mistakes that severely detract from the whole experience.

For story, TOR is the best MMO on the market to date, hands down.  BioWare took all of their craft and storytelling from making the Dragon Age and Mass Effect games, sprinkled Star Wars secret sauce on top and came up with close to perfection.  Every class has its own distinct storyline that you will progress through, and they are by far some of the most interesting and varied quests in the game.  At points you will think you are playing an offline single-player RPG, because the voice acting and writing is of such a high standard not usually found in MMOs, where story is often a passing afterthought, placated with a few paragraphs of quest text.

I can only speak for the Sith Warrior storyline, which was outstanding, but I am assured by my friends who are playing other classes that their personal stories were of an equal quality.  Unfortunately for reasons I will explain, this is both a blessing and a curse.

MMOs to date have usually concentrated on endgame content, with the old joke being that "the game begins once you reach max level".  In WoW all of the best content was reserved for the highest-level players, who had their own battlegrounds and raids and had begun to make their characters extremely powerful.  In TOR, you get to level 50 and find that...that's about it really.  Yes there are endgame raids for level 50 characters, but they are both a) quite easy, and b) quite buggy.  It also used to be the case that level 50s did not have their own warzone brackets in PvP, so fresh-faced level 10 characters (the lowest level at which you can queue for PvP) would sometimes go up against some level 50s in the same warzones.  Their stats were boosted to level 50 equivalent, but they still lacked most of the super abilities of awesomeness that were available to the 50s, and so got their asses handed to them as a result.  Thankfully BioWare have already fixed this, and now level 50s only queue against other level 50s, but you are still rolling the dice since the only other bracket available is 10-49.

This brings me to PvP.

TOR has a very clunky PvP system.  There are three instanced warzones that you can queue for, however you cannot queue for specific ones you like, only a single queue which is randomly any of the three.  Some of the PvP warzones are interesting in their own way, but are really nothing to write home about.  There is also an open-world PvP area on the planet Ilum, which is extremely underwhelming.  The first few times I went there the Republic and Empire forces would simply trade the control points back and forth, since that was all that was required to finish the daily and weekly PvP quests which is how you obtained tokens to buy the best PvP gear.  BioWare then changed it to where you had to instead gain a certain number of kills to complete the quests, which sounds good in practice until you realise that the Empire has a substantial population superiority on many servers, including my own.  This means that Republic players spent most of the time sitting in their base - where they cannot be killed - except for the rare occasions where they temporarily have more people and so venture forth looking for Empire people to kill.  The upshot of this is that the PvP quests become extremely difficult for either side to complete, and accordingly the number of people going to Ilum has dropped dramatically in the past six weeks.

And as for obtaining PvP gear itself, you complete the aforementioned PvP quests and obtain PvP bags that in turn contain tokens which you can use to purchase PvP gear.  The bags have a small chance to contain a piece of PvP gear directly, but there is no guarantee it will be a piece you need even if you do happen to get lucky enough to find one in a bag, so duplicates are commonplace.  As I said, it's a very clunky and poorly thought-out system that is a clear placeholder and is being completely overhauled when patch 1.2 comes in a month or so.

Moving on to the UI, which is one of TOR's biggest problems.  In short the UI looks like it was designed by my children, with blocky elements, action bars which cannot be moved or resized, and a UI for the Galactic Trading Network (TOR's auction house) which is so bad it has to be seen to be believed.  BioWare have acknowledged these issues and have promised a revamped UI in the forthcoming 1.2 patch, but to have let the game be released with something that looks so bad is astonishing to me.  This brings me to probably one of the biggest gripes that I (and a lot of other people) have with the game: there is no combat log.  That a game could be released in late 2011 with no combat log is nothing short of mind-boggling.  What just hit me?   How did I die in PvP?  What enemy ability just crit me for 6000?  How much DPS does one spec of mine do over another?  Fortunately all of these questions are moot, because they cannot be answered without a functional combat log.

You might be thinking, Gaff, you have hammered TOR to death, so why are you still playing it?  Well, for all its faults (and there's a lot), it's still fun in short bursts, and a lot of my friends are still playing it.  But with games such as The Secret World, PlanetSide 2, TERA and Guild Wars 2 all scheduled for release in the next few months, I'm not sure how much longer I'll be playing TOR.  I was hoping that it would be "A Clash Of Kings", but it has unfortunately turned out to be more like "A Dance With Dragons".

BioWare got so many of the difficult things right in TOR but then failed so spectacularly with the easier things, you really do think that six more months of development could have fixed these annoyances and would have set the game up to take over WoW's mantle as King of MMOs; it would have been a slam-dunk.  But no combat log in a 2011 game?  Really?

The good news is that most and perhaps all of these issues can be fixed by BioWare in patches.  Their problem is, as I stated above, that there are several big MMOs scheduled for release in the next few months, meaning that time is not on their side.  I hope they succeed, I truly do, but some of these missteps are so egregious that sooner rather than later I will probably be moving to greener pastures in another game...where hopefully they have a goddamn combat log.

6 comments:

  1. Rushed release for Christmas. If the game came out out in April with 1.2 included. I think everyone be singing a different tune. I think the combat and gameplay is the best I've played in a MMO. Playing a tank there is no set mindless rotation. For most classes you use abilities based on priority.

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    1. Agreed.

      1.2 likely represents the game they would have shipped had they had more time, or at least more time than EA were willing to give them. The Holiday period is a massive market, and I suspect EA may have leaned on BioWare (hell, they own them) to ensure an early release.

      With all these other MMOs set to launch in the next few months, I think TOR needs to step up its game or something like Guild Wars 2 will chew it up and spit it out whole.

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  2. First GW was boring, not expecting much from the 2nd one.

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    1. The first game was a glorified tech demo; the sequel is completely different in almost every way other than the setting.

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  3. Do you think a fully polished SW:TOR being released amid a see of potential solid MMOs would have made it stronger or do you think the trade off of a early release with limited competition was a better business decision?

    The 1.2 patch if it has big enough changes and tweaks could provide a counter point and some additional spot light to counter some of the new MMOs. Do you think that was maybe the plan all along?

    Once again Gaff thank you for your review and take. I always enjoy reading how you feel about a game.

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    1. That's an interesting question, I've thought about the same thing myself over the past few weeks.

      Honestly, I'm not sure there is a guaranteed winning formula with either decision (a normal release or an early one). With either you are taking a risk, and at some point you need to get some revenue coming in for the literally tens of millions of dollars that TOR cost to develop.

      With the betas for Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World well underway, and their official releases so close, I think TOR has a lot to be worried about over the next six months. How many subscribers they lose (or pick up) over the next two-to-three months is going to be crucial for the future of the game.

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