SWTOR’s $300 Million Virtual Bridge to Nowhere

Although I’m not a very big sci-fi or Star Wars fan I figured I’d take a gamble on purchasing and subscribing to EA’s and Bioware’s Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO. After focusing on WoW for all these years, I felt it was time to take a break and try a new AAA+ MMO.

I have played about 20 levels of SWTOR and this review is by no means complete or comprehensive. It is just my thoughts based on my limited experiences. However, I’ve spent enough time playing MMOs to know if I’m going to like a MMO within short order.

Naturally there has been a lot of buzz and hype about this MMO over the past few years due to Bioware’s stellar reputation along with a massive budget of an estimated $300 million. With that hype and budget come grand expectations. So after 7 years of waiting, the good news is that I’m pleased to report there is a AAA+ MMO to rival WoW.

The Honeymoon

The best part of any new MMO is the sensation of newness mainly derived from exploring the unknown — the heady feeling of anticipation of being a new pioneer in an undiscovered country is very powerful. It’s hard to dispel that euphoric feeling of expectation and potential when you plunge yourself in a brand new MMO like SWTOR.

SWTOR opens up with a cinematic bang and sense of purpose, story and place that is worthy of the Star Wars movies.

After you view the first cinematic, you get to create your character. Most of the character choices are limited to humanoid species — this was done to save art development costs. I’m not very familiar with the totality of the Star Wars universe so I wasn’t bothered by the lack of racial choices that Blizzard’s World of Warcraft currently offers. I did appreciate the facial customization choices that were available.

Is SWTOR a WoW Clone?

So let’s deal with the inevitable WoW comparisons. As expected, SWTOR is fundamentally a variant of WoW with a sci-fi themed skin circa the Burning Crusade era with standard WoW mechanics, itemization and crafting. Even the talent trees are copied from WoW of those days. Bioware has also opted to use the familiar two faction system employed by WoW with the Empire and the Republic.

Questing is pretty much the same as WoW which is basically a treasure hunt. Players get a quest, complete tasks by killing mobs and fetching items and then return for a reward. Player interaction with other players is almost non-existent as everyone was madly running from one quest-giver to another.

A big part of  Blizzard’s success with WoW was the attention to detail otherwise known as polish. While there is a lot of polish in SWTOR, WoW still has the upper hand. For example, when you click on a friendly NPC in WoW you get a scripted audio greeting; when you do the same in SWTOR you get nothing.

I found more polish in the three Republic starting areas than the first planet that you must travel to. It makes sense that a MMO developer would focus on polishing a starter area — this is a lesson they learned from Blizzard.

Precious Little Grouping and Socialization

Grouping is rare and even when it does happen in the flashpoints, nobody wants to talk as they’ve been conditioned by WoW’s dungeon finder to complete the experience as fast as possible. The legacy of Blizzard’s dungeon finder technology is that challenging content such as dungeons has become routine and business-like experience for most players. Adventuring has become an exercise in speed and efficiency. This is a tragedy for grouping and socialization.

SWTOR’s Lack of Challenge is a Constant Theme

One of the biggest problems in MMOs today is the lack of challenge. In an effort to broaden their subscriber base, most MMOs have chosen to follow the lead of WoW and offer a solo to the level cap seemingly endless tutorial that is devoid of any real challenge. Bioware’s solo-friendly SWTOR is no different. Grouping is really not necessary and that’s a shame.

I found little challenge with the exception of an impossible solo quest before I got my companion. Every class gets a companion from level 8-10. While the concept of a sidekick makes sense for Star Wars and adds a lot of flavor, the problem is that they are so overpowered that they trivialize the MMO after they join you. I had more fun before I was awarded my companion because the battles were at least challenging.

Player Abilities

Regarding player abilities, I found I got too many in too short a time. Combine that with the new abilities you get when you specialize at level 10 — the result is that I had 2 full hotbars of assorted abilities cluttering my user interface. I think this is far too much to have to worry about and it detracts from the enjoyment of combat. Actually this observation blends in well with a previous point of not experiencing much challenge — the mobs are so easy you only really need to worry about 4 basic combat moves and you’ll be fine. I wish they would realize that less is more.

Regarding itemization, Bioware has again copied WoW with stats, rarity designations and overly generous drop rates.

There’s just too much loot and too many items. My bags were constantly filing up with junk and it gets even worse if you choose a couple of gathering skills.

Enemy Mobs

Mob placement and A.I. is primitive — at least in the solo-friendly areas which is most of this MMO. Pulling single mobs is impossible as mobs are all linked; agro one and you agro them all. This is because with the exception of the occasional tougher mob, most mobs are very easy to defeat.

Since the mobs are no challenge to kill, splitting them, single pulling them or using crowd control is pointless.

Mobs are so easy to defeat that you really don’t have to worry about upgrading either via crafting or purchasing them in their version of the auction house.

There were rarely any patrolling mobs once my character made it to Coruscant; this removed any sense of modest danger I had experience in the starting zones.

Where a Sci-Fi/Technology MMO Falls Flat

One of the areas I am concerned about in a primarily sci-fi and technology based universe such as Star Wars is that everything looks similar after a while.

Every crafting vendor and location looks the same, as opposed to a blacksmith forge compared to a tailor’s shop in a fantasy based MMO. The bank is the same as the auction house — every location seems to look the same after a while. This contributes to a sense of blandness that can make finding locations problematic as the brain has few visual cues to remember them by.

Zones like Coruscant have a particular problem in that they contribute to zone fatigue as you are stuck in a claustrophobic city environment that ends up looking and feeling tired. At this point in my character’s progression I yearned for the earlier outdoor environments. Bioware wisely ensured that level 1-10 zones are all outdoor to make the typical MMO player who is used to traditional fantasy MMOs more at home.

SWTOR is the Pinnacle of the Story MMO

Where SWTOR shines is that it takes the story/narrative MMO to its ultimate destination with fully scripted, well animated and voice acted cut-scenes where the player often has three dialog choices. Finally we have a MMO that gives players actual dialog choices. Additionally you can actually flirt with NPCs which is something very new for MMOs who have been playing it very safe for many years.

Without a doubt, the quest cinematics are the saving grace of this MMO if you like that sort of thing. SWTOR’s compelling quest and story system is top notch.

The voice acting is superb. It hooks the player into the Star Wars universe and never lets go. I found myself eagerly waiting to complete my NPC quests to unlock what would happen next.

There are two serious problems with the story based MMO approach:

  1. Lack of Ownership: Even though my character had some pivotal choices to make during quest interaction, it still felt scripted nonetheless. I was playing somebody else’s story and destiny — not my own.
  2. Episodic TV Feel: SWTOR feels more like interactive episodic TV than a virtual world making me wonder how far we have come from sandbox MMORGPs like EverQuest

Moral and Immoral Choices

Good and evil have been blurred in MMOs of late. Players really haven’t had serious MMOs that offer this but Bioware has created special dialogue decision points where the player is forced to choose a moral path. These decisions come with actual consequences in the form of “dark” or “light” points. This is a truly brilliant and refreshing mechanic that blows the mundane WoW right out of the water.

My only concern is that players can start to grind either the light or the dark paths because when you make these choices a light or dark side graphic comes up and certain gear is only available if you have sufficient enough points in either morality.

I wonder if the light or dark graphics should have been hidden from the player so as to prevent the player from clicking through the dialogue and gaming the system. I suspect most players behave differently when they know they will accrue either light or dark side points. Still there is a quite a satisfying glow to the screen when you make your decision.

Some Gripes

No day or night cycle. It’s hard to believe they omitted this crucial bit of immersion.

Sadly Bioware are in good company as one of the elder statesman of virtual worlds and creator of a parallel Star Wars universe also doesn’t think much of immersion these days. The rats have been leaving the sinking ship of virtual worlds for a while. I fully expect that one say soon we will find out that Raph Koster has been hired by Zynga.

Various parts of the interface cannot be moved. This is extremely frustrating. I also encountered this on a recent trip back to Norrath for EverQuest2. For those of with poor eyesight and big monitors, this is quite annoying not being able to see important user interface elements.

EA’s authenticator is frustrating to enter when you first log into SWTOR as it has 8 characters instead of 6 which is the number that the Blizzard WoW authenticator uses. It’s hard to remember those numbers and enter them.

Lots of Concluding Thoughts

A few weeks after the newness and novelty of SWTOR faded, I started to see the real SWTOR emerge and realized all that was left was a MMO built on the foundation of WoW from 2006. Remove the great voice acting, well scripted cut-scenes and the light and dark side choices and you have a fancier WoW clone with a sci-fi skin. On the surface, SWTOR has many great things going for it but the Bioware devs failed to address the shallowness that has besieged this genre in the past few years.

While the inclusion of moral choices and cut-scene quality quest dialogue is refreshing, it’s still lipstick applied to a pig. It’s sad to see Bioware — one of the most respected video game companies today — almost completely abdicate their position of creative dominance in this industry and produce a MMO with such an unoriginal and calculating design philosophy that reeks of the banality of Rob Pardo and Blizzard.

Bioware have blindly copied many of the assumptions, conventions and mechanics  that Blizzard has stealthily impregnated into the MMO zeitgeist over the years. These include: reward desired behavior mentality, heavily scripted narrative and quest-centric game play, the devaluation of challenge, solo friendliness, lack of any consequences for failure or death, an orgy of loot, and a lack of a need to cooperate and socialize with fellow players. This is the kind of MMO that $300 million buys you.

By far the worst Blizzard design philosophy that Bioware has copied is the notion that players should be rewarded for just showing up. The sense of achievement and its progeny: status — both critical motivational factors that keep players playing have been completely eroded. Recklessly pandering to the lowest common denominator leads to the creation a sense of entitlement among players that every ounce of content is theirs by right to experience regardless of skill level or commitment. Instead of being viewed as citizens of a virtual world, players are now seen as amusement park customers and treated as such.

Another troubling thing about SWTOR is that just doesn’t feel like a MMO or virtual world. Instead, the heavily scripted story makes SWTOR feels like a single-player game that players are simultaneously experiencing. Given Bioware’s history of making single-player video games it’s easy to see why they went with this safe approach.

Many years ago, pioneering video game developers (such as the original cast of Electronic Arts) were far more ambitious than today’s practitioners of the art: they dared to think they could make players *feel* things. Back then they realized that great art has the capacity to affect and impact the beholder. The EA of today would have none of this nonsense. This kind of vision and potential was why I fell in love with virtual worlds many years ago during my time with EverQuest.

Today, I realize that I am in the minority. I still want to really feel something other than boredom when I embark into the landscapes of a virtual world. I desperately want to feel a sense of pulse pounding excitement instead of contrived and safe fun. I want a sense of ownership in a world more than just the clothes on my back. I want to feel like I can change that world and that my decisions truly matter. I want to have some impact even if minor.  Achievements should be hard won and status should mean something.  I miss the days where you risked everything each time you ventured into the wilderness laced with dangerous consequences. I miss the bonds we forged based out of necessity that blossomed into friendships.

My utopian MMO would not be a not utopia where everything is given to players and all irritants have been removed and players frollick around the world like omnipotent gods.

To me, SWTOR feels like another predictable and soulless experience. It’s akin to a slick Hollywood blockbuster movie with cardboard good guys and bad guys with copious amounts of explosions and special effects thrown in for good measure.

No longer are MMOs are created with the expectation that anything can happen. Those days are long past. If players were left to forge their own destinies it would result in chaos and conflict which would be unacceptable to the story obsessed new breed of video game designer who insists that every aspect of what a player does should be tightly controlled and scripted. You see, you as a player can’t be trusted.

Instead MMOs have become virtual sausage factories where the spectator-like player sits back and enjoys the ride. Game design has been reduced to process of crafting every moment of the player experience — nothing is left to chance — a philosophy that would make amusement park tycoon Walt Disney proud.

If anything, Bioware’s SWTOR has made me pause to reflect about the current state of virtual MMOs and the unfortunate suicidal direction they are heading in — a virtual bridge to nowhere.

Those of us looking for a serious fantasy virtual world experience have few options. It’s like we are trapped a dark age where ancient knowledge has been lost and barbarism holds sway and I’m not the only one that believe this. I get letters from readers every week that lament the loss of what once was. Perhaps, while we still remember them, it’s time to draft a MMORPG manifesto and codify the noble principles and unswerving constants that many of us believe were hallmarks of the first golden age of this genre.



55 thoughts on “SWTOR’s $300 Million Virtual Bridge to Nowhere

  1. Caveat: I do not own SWTOR, but have read my fill and experienced it vicariously through friends.

    The thing that *baffled* me was why only 2 factions were used. Ask any SW buff and you could ramble off twenty ‘factions’ without pausing to think or take a breath: Hutts, smugglers, … there were plenty of demographics outside of the Empire or Republic at any given point in that IP’s timeline.

    Furthermore, if there was ever an IP that *begged* for openness and exploration, SW would be it. SWTOR has unparalleled stories, that’s for sure, making it a stunning RPG. But an MMO it is not.

    • It was even more disappointing when I watched a PvP interview where one of the SWTOR devs who basically shrugged about the faction imbalance and said that such a system is inherently problematic when it comes to balance, but his attitude was ‘Well, what can ya do? Just gotta live with it’

      I was like… “Really? Your decision was to suck it up and just knowingly copy WoW’s mistakes rather than design a better faction system?”

      Seriously, that’s just inexcusably lazy on their part.

      • They have an enormous amount of very smart and talented people on their team.

        I don’t understand how the obvious need for 3 factions (minimum) eluded them.

        WoW, Warhammer, etc. have made it painfully clear that 2 factions doesn’t work for PvP.

  2. On the note of the authenticator:

    There is (as of the last time I checked) NO way to remove an authenticator from your account short of calling bioware. As a non-US ex-player, this is completely unacceptable.

    Additionally, the mobile authenticator cannot be backed up/moved to another phone. This is absolutely crucial on for android phones that can be flashed with new versions often, requiring wipes of the phone.

    I only discovered this when I got a new phone. Now I can’t sell my old one unless I never want to play SW:TOR again.

    Luckily for me, after playing it for myself for not even the full free month, I don’t want to.

      • The entire MMO industry is reaping the whirlwind that was Dungeon Finder.

        Not only did it murder community in WoW, but now players stupidly expect it to exist in every other game. They are blissfully ignorant of how damaging it is and think only of the easy phat lewts.

  3. Personally, I feel that wherever SWTOR copies WoW everything is tweaked to be just a *little* bit better. The crafting is better, the storyline is better, the worlds feel better (If not as distinct as WoW’s zones they certainly feel more expansive. Indeed, Hoth just feels like a snowy Tatooine, Voss a Sunnier Drommund Kaas and Nar Shadaa a scummier Coruscant), the potential for expansion feels better (the fact that they can swap you out of the game at any point and into a completely separate mini-game with separate mechanics is something WoW will *never* achieve)
    As you’ve pointed out though, it’s failings are obvious, as are it’s omissions from the formula, and more of the same but better is still more of the same.
    It’s like eating cheese sandwiches for 6 years and someone came along and swapped the bread for something better, the cheese for something more mature and the margarine for farm-fresh butter. It’s still a cheese sandwich at the end of the day and while you might enjoy it in the short term, it’ll be the same old thing in the long term.

  4. I agree with the basic tenor of your post, but you’re wrong on the grouping point. You need to level up a bit further and see the full world design. What you’ll learn is that each planet has a set of Heroic quests (for 2-4 players) which encourage grouping during the leveling process. They’re much quicker than the flashpoints but still present interesting and significant challenges (typically 1-2 “boss” mobs and combination packs of elites) with scripted story elements.

    These Heroic quests become available as you work your way through the quest chains on each planet, so everyone has access to them and they’re frequently done. My experience, and that of my friends also playing, is that a majority of the “group” experience in SWTOR is during these Heroic quests. That’s in part because of the lack of a LFD mechanism, but also simply because it’s an option presented to you more frequently than flashpoints.

    Furthermore, because each planet has Heroics as part of the leveling process, you’ll find yourself doing them with people that you’ve done them with in the past, counter to your socialization point.

    As nearly as I can tell, the Flashpoints (aside from the first one to leave the starter planet) are really designed to provided end-game content in hard-mode settings because the lack of the LFD tool requires you to sit and do nothing on the Fleet while you spam chat looking for more/group. It really feels to me like that content is aimed at people in guilds and a readily established roster of known-players.

    It sure isn’t perfect, but there’s plenty of opportunity and encouragement to group and socialize. More so than other games in the genre by a wide margin. You need to scratch deeper to see it though. My prediction is that, assuming you play through two more planets, what you’ll come to realize that the Heroic2/4 quest mechanism is a good one, but requires substantial player population during the leveling process and the sharded world design of SWTOR combined with lower population (as more players level through and get stuck on a “main” at level 50) will result in good content not being used. IMO, the thing to do would be to sidestep the “shard” boundaries with a LFD-like tool so at least the players get used to playing with other people and the content gets used.

    Oh, and raise the population caps on the servers and merge in the low population servers. But that leads to a whole other set of criticism… :)

    • I did a lot of heroics with my wife, as it was the ONLY content in the PvE experience that made sense to do in a group.

      They were so-so at best, and still dramatically inferior to true group worthy content from games as old as DAoC.

      Also, having to slam your space bar through the dialogue over and over just to get the quest when doing a heroic for the 2nd or 3rd time was just brutally painful.

  5. Finally, a review of swtor that is as true as the light of day. So well written, as always.

    I am one of those long time mmo players that remembers the amazing experiences of games like UO, EQ, and DAOC. Those games really created virtual worlds of exploration, conflict, excitement, and consequence.

    It’s been a long time simce I felt ripped off for buying a video game. I am just surprised it was Bioware that did it.

  6. Everquest is a “sandbox MMO”? Are you completely clueless?

    Ultima Online, now there was a sandbox MMO. SWG. Eve.

    Not Everquest, which was the ORIGINAL dull, themepark, DIKU MMO. Just with lots of added grindy garbage. EQ was NEVER a “virtual world”. It didn’t even remotely make sense as one in the way that something like Eve does, even today.

      • It all depends on what your definition of a sandbox MMO is. Certainly with the passage of time, EQ does now appear to be more of a sandbox MMO in retrospect.

        But I do believe EQ was initially a sandbox MMORPG. When EverQuest first came out there was no plot and no story arc. All you got was some basic history of the races and the continents and that was it. The world of Norrath was your oyster to explore and to experience as you saw fit.

        Players didn’t go around chasing yellow exclamation marks with an “on rails” theme park experience that is tightly controlled by a game designer. EverQuest had none of that initially and in the first expansion. Only in the 3rd expansion Velious did they start to create serious quests such as the shawl and Coldain ring quests. Stil that was very far from a full-blown themepark MMO like WoW.

        Also there was lots of emergent player behavior and plenty of freedom in EverQuest that would never be allowed today due to restrictive mechanics and control freak developers.

        I actually interviewed Brad McQuaid about this very question and he believed that the world of Norrath (EQ) was an environment that gave players a chance to create their drama and conflicts. Eventually I came to agree with him.

  7. WH,

    I hope you revisit this game at a later time when you’ve had an opportunity to play through to 50. I’m saying this not because I think your attitude or opinions will change, but because I think some of the most glaring flaws with the product are not evident until later on. I think this release is an excellent case-study for the future of MMORPGs and I would hate to see the potential “learning moments” go to waste. If anything, the real or perceived “failure” of SWTOR could be a catalyst for a sea-change within the genre.

    I’ve seen many players claim that the “enchantment” of the story-driven experience usually begins to fade around the mid 30’s. And of course, a quick visit to the forums, reveals a large segment of the end-game community in the throes of unquenchable boredom.

    Please consider a more in-depth series in the future. I’m sure you are busy, but this game was supposed to be “the one” for many players and the development community must see why it has failed to live up to those expectations.

    Thanks for the article!

  8. Im still disheartened about the state of Swtor. I dropped my sub after 20 days. I had such high hopes, but it fell flat on its face right outta the gate. I dont see how they could fix what needs to be fixed, remove what needs to be taken out and add what needs to be added without a redesign of the whole game.

  9. You’re not in the minority. Excitement and novelty is what we want in games. We also want challenge.

    I didn’t play WoW until after I quit SWTOR. People kept saying this was a ‘WoW clone.’ It’s not a WoW clone, it’s a pale shadow of WoW. And I can see that from eyes that are fresh to WoW as well as were fresh to the massive disappointment of SWTOR.

    Also, while a lot of people say ‘it’s a new game…’ It’s better than WoW 2004… You know what, I played LOTRO until LOTRO burn-out finally got me… LOTRO was better as an MMO on intial release in 2007 than SWTOR.

    I’m not saying it didn’t have bugs. But it had a much more developed MMO experience. Far more raiding. Far more grouping. Far better tools. Far better crafting. Better guilds. Better and more differentiated classes…

    So, yeah, they can say ‘oh you’re being unfair because it’s a new game…’ No, I’m not being unfair. Turbine had to make LOTRO and shake off the financial disaster of DDO and still did a better over-all job.

    There is no excuse, whatsoever, with this game. It’s as primitive today as the 2009 proof-of-concept alpha build. I ask myself, what did they do from 2009 to 2011 with this game? Booze and hookers? Because it wasn’t making a good game…

  10. You can’t complain about the lack of challange after only leveling to 20, let alone call it ‘constant’. Also, the $300 million number was proven false years ago. It’s things like this that remove credance from your (and other’s) entire article(s).

    I’m not going to say TOR is a perfect game. I enjoy it, but it has numerous flaws. But please, for the love of god, before you write an essay about its problems, at least get your facts straight.

    • Frankly, I’ve heard $400 million.

      Keep in mind we are talking about 7+ years of hundreds of staff and thousands of hours of voice acting. That gets pricey.

      If you average 500 staff, for 7 years, at an average salary of $60k, that’s $210 million right there alone.

  11. I have taken solace in a game called “Dark Souls”. It was revitalizing to play a game that was challenging and rewarding. I recommend you re-energize your batteries playing this game.

  12. Why am I not surprised the mmo player above me used a food analogy. Also swtor would be like taking the cheese sandwich and giving you 2 pieces of stale bread instead.

  13. It is only the fault of the Basement dwelling , socially deformed numb-nuts who have nothing better to do then to grind to level 50 in two weeks skipping over half of the quests that have game burnout , not Bioware. I am sure that new content is on its way. Go out side , the big yellow ball in the sky is called the sun.

  14. This is exactly the kind of post I expected from you. It’s about as boring as SWTOR itself. You are right on everything *yawn*. Have I written this comment before on your blog? Probably.

    I guess the industry is still on track fulfilling what we foretold would happen years ago and now not only their games are boring but writing about their games is boring, too.

  15. If people do want to play EQ, it’s going F2P soon. I suspect the golden days of yore were down to the era in which we were playing, as much as the games though.

    I feel sad that you can’t appreciate the ways in which SWTOR knocks the ball out of the court, though. It’s not a great step forwards in game design, but they got a lot of things right and it’s a fun game in itself. It was always going to be a cross between a Bioware RPG and an WoW-type MMO, and that’s what they turned out. I also think you’re wrong about the challenge and you’d notice that more if you played to 50, because challenge steps up a couple of times in the levelling game. I was satisfied with it in a way I never was with WoW.

    • I have to agree that the challenge is sometimes there in SWTOR. Depending on your class(!) it’s quite possible to die, really.

      As for EQ: we already played EQ. We would like a virtual world with modern graphics and not EQ. I mean, sometimes I buy a new car and then I find that I liked my old car better. But that was when it was new! I wouldn’t dream of switching back to my old car which is – surprise – OLD by then.

      • I’d like a virtual world full of players who respected the virtual world and wouldn’t break immersion. But I don’t actually think I ever have played a game like that (except maybe single player) :)

        • Lotro has a virtual world and people playing in there does not break the immersion but the opposite..the community is awesome there..but the combat is terrible and I tried many times to ignore that part and I can’t.

          Last time I entered into Lotro, I was alt/tab on the internet to see for a quest that troubled me. When I am back I see my character dead but a resurrection button and Dwarf are there to wait for me very patiently..I accept the resurrection and thank him and he say to me “Beware traveler these are dangerous lands”

          And thats is only an example from many things happened to me either whenever I play..the world is huge and beautiful. People in every corner in the towns play music..I haven’t played EQ to compare it, but if I compare it with all MMO out there it seems that it has a virtual world

      • “Excitement and novelty is what we want in games.”

        “We would like a virtual world with modern graphics and not EQ.”

        Who’s ‘we’?

        The MMO community seems quite divided on what they want in a game and the range of different popular titles available today reflects that.

    • You’re bang-on here Spinks – the improvements over WoW are significant even though the game has a number of shortcomings in implementation.

      There is certainly challenge as well that is somewhat negated if you complete all quests in a zone as you end up over-levelling content very quickly.

      WH – the game really does come alive if you’re in an active guild as there’s plenty to do even at end-game. The flashpoints lead you into their Hard-mode versions nicely and the Operations are easy but with a decent difficulty curve.

  16. Perhaps calling swtor an mmo is overly generous. Seems like it’s been designed to appeal to the single player gamer who doesn’t know any better. From what i’ve read. I haven’t played it. I’m still playing ffxi. Although I did rage-quit for a few years to play wow & lotro. Eventually I went back because nothing stands up to the satisfaction of overcoming the challenges of ffxi. There’s a reason why after 8 years they can still charge monthly for the game. It’s mainly because social and grouping features are VERY sticky. Facebook games prove that too. It’s a total mystery to me why newer games are developing in the opposite direction.

  17. Very well written (and interesting) article. I came here from Tobold’s blog… and I’m glad I did so. I feel more or less the same way: mmo’s don’t attract me anymore and I don’t think I will ever “feel” something similar to the first steps in Ultima Online or Asheron’s Call. Those times are gone and I guess I’m getting too old for fancy pixels and lack of innovation.

    Did you try Skyrim? It’s not a MMO but “it could be”. I really like it, it’s awesome. Not perfect, but it’s a rare case of “immersive world”.

    • Perhaps pointedly, the Elder Scrolls guys are on record as noting that while they could technically make their games MMOs, they choose very specifically not to because such a conversion would wreck the sense of world and some of the other game mechanics.

      I still think the best “sandbox” play will be in small groups, perhaps on private servers. Self-select players who share your goals and shut out the rest. That’s more or less the legacy of D&D, anyway.

  18. While your blog focuses on MMO’s I feel like what you see as wrong with the current generation of MMO’s is more of a symptom of the larger issue with the Video Gaming industry; the takeover of most production by large, risk-adverse publishers and the shift towards “Make what sells” mentality. Both Blizzard and Bioware originally became popular for their strengths, but once they became taken over by the “marketing” guys as it were, the games they made began to plateau.

    Both companies know their customer bases and they stick to what sells and constantly rehash that. The problem as I see it is not with the MMO developers as much as it is the publishers restricting their ability to innovate.

  19. I guess a lot of oldtime players (including me) feel the same. After trying the beta, i didn’t buy SWTOR. They added dialogs/story to the basic MMO, but that’s not what i’m looking for in an MMO. I’m beta testing TERA atm, and i like the dynamic combat system, but i’m not sure if there is anything else that will make me want to play after the first month (maybe the political system, i’ve got to look into this).

    I think there’s hope though. I’m pretty sure we’re going to see more and more interesting new MMOs, maybe more niche-oriented.
    Pathfinder Online seems to be on the road to greatness if what we can read on the dev blog comes to life. World of Darkness might still happen and be good, with some CCP madness. Guild Wars 2 will certainly be easy mode and themeparkish, but immersion/lore seems great. ArcheAge will probably be a good sandbox with nice castle sieges and ship battles. Even The Secret World is bringing some new stuff : it’s not sci-fi or fantasy, there are no levels/classes, there are enigmas…

    Oh, and by the way… EVE online is still here ;-)

  20. Great article. Fully echoes my thoughts and sentiments regarding SWTOR and the state of MMORPGs today. I loved Everquest. Enjoyed UO. Enjoyed EQ2 a bit less. Enjoyed the bug-ridden SWG for its openness, player cities, and crafting/economy up until NGE. But other than that, can’t say I’ve enjoyed many other MMOs other than DAOC, especially any of the recent ones. WOW bored me to tears and I lasted all of two weeks in it. SWTOR I’ve lasted about a month because I love Star Wars, but even that has worn thin.

    I feel like I’m just along for a ride on a very boring rollercoaster that is taking me along a pre-defined path already carved out for me.

    Please, please bring out a game that challenges us again like EQ1. That isn’t predicated on being shuffled from one quest hub to another. That isn’t so mind-numbingly boring. That isn’t solo-oriented. That has a deep crafting system and player-supported economy. That makes loot really special and rare again like it was in EQ1.

  21. I was wondering if you would give this game a try!

    Absolutely nothing you wrote in here suprised me, other than the implicit expression that you were surprised by what you encountered. I’ve said it elsewhere, but going into the majority of new MMOs and expecting a virtual world is a complete missapropriation of expectations.

    If you’re expecting a graphical virtual world, you have only a few options currently. As others have repeatedly said on here, EVE is probably the best current choice. Perhaps not for you though, not being a sci-fi fan.

    I’m keeping my ear tuned to Pathfinder Online for my fantasy VW fix in the future.

    • I agree with you. I should have known better but I seem to have eternal optimism that somehow the MMO genre will offer virtual world elements.

      I believe that EVE has it 100% right. Someone gave me this link to the EVE “Butterfly Effect” promo video. This is exactly what MMOs need to be.


      I am hopeful that Pathfinder will move the genre forward.

  22. Great post, man. You now have a new regular reader. I would add something as I usually do, but you pretty much covered it.

  23. NICE summary and it’s all true. I had a lot of hopes for SWTOR but whatever Bioware did with it is beyond fail. They should stick to single player games from now on and honestly just sell SWTOR to some other development team. Maybe then they could so something with it? Hell, give it to TRION!

    Echoing some comments from others above I’d have to say that after the disillusioned feeling I got after SWTOR I was left in a black hole of “I have no mmo to play”. I went back to Rift, great game, but then picked up a beta key to TERA Online as well. I have to say that TERA, of all of the games I’ve played since DAOC is the ONLY one (I guess besides EVE) that truly innovates in so many ways. You gotta check it out. Really “is” a virtual world in many ways with its political system and just the perfection in the zone creation and art style. I got so damn into it after the 1st beta weekend I bought the Korean version and playing it there until NA release! haha

    • Isn’t TERA the game where people literally line up 100+ people in a row waiting for a mob to spawn for a quest completion?

      Sorry, but painful quest grinds like that are the hallmarks of the themepark, quest grinding WoW generation.

      • If you’re so easily convinced about games from screenshots on the Internet, remind me to send you a photo of a pile of money as an advertisement to you when I open my hedge fund out of my garage.

        Maybe this is your first rodeo, and if so, I’ll make it easy on you and just tell you that when you have thousands of players flood a server at once there is no easy way to design around that. The screenshot showed players being considerate of each other by respecting a line. If it were wow, you’d see all those same people standing in 1 spot spamming AOE abilities to tag the mob first. Hell, I saw this same spawn camping style in games dating back to DAOC and EQ. No different here.

        • So you’re saying TERA Online doesn’t have lines of people camping mobs? Oh wait, you are? If you’re admitting that, why bother with the stupid pointless insults? Since you are confirming what I said, just hang your head and move along.

          The fact that they were considerate makes it ok? They were early adopter mega fanboys.

          It is still utterly absurd in this day and age to have crap like that from EQ1. And it certainly speaks to TERA being another gear grind/themepark MMO ala WoW/SWTOR.

          • From what I’ve heard, aside from the action combat, TERA’s systems are all the same-old WoW-copied stuff.

            “I’ll make it easy on you and just tell you that when you have thousands of players flood a server at once there is no easy way to design around that.”

            Guild Wars 2 has done just that, apparently. It’s impossible to kill-steal in that game because quest credit and loot is delivered individually to all players who participate in fighting a mob. I wonder how hard it was for them to do that?

    • Samwise pass over the pipe you’re smoking. I’ve been playing TERA for a year now in the Korean client and I am in the Euro Beta also. TERA is just another WoW but with “active combat” which is – to me – an annoyance rather than a feature.

      There’s no “Virtual World” in TERA it’s just another Quest Hub after a Quest Hub fest with FORCED Questing (Quest Driven) an anime-like shiny world where you’re told what to do the whole 50 levels.

      The active-combat is fun the first 100 hour but since this is an MMORPG and you get to “Grind” quests or monsters it becomes an annoyance to be honest.

      TERA is nothing different than any other game released in the last 8 years. Even Rift is nothing different than SWTOR or WoW besides the “Rifting” which is an artificial public quest… BORING. I don’t see how you bash SWTOR and think TERA and Rift to be good MMORPGs because all of them are shallow and stupid in equal amount.

  24. With SOE claiming they are planning EverQuest Next to be the things people fondly remember from EQ with what they’ve learned in EQ 2, part of me dreams and hopes that they are going to return to the Sandbox style and dangerous world of Norrath. Eventually someone is going to learn that to stand out, they can’t simply imitate what’s become the status quo.

    But the current generation of gamers grew up on save points every level and unlimited lives or continues and the MMO market has embraced them. Consequences for foolishness and expectations of living in a virtual world rather than playing the MMOArcade are no longer on the board.

    Fortunately, everything goes in cycles and I can only hope MMOs are one thing were the old becomes new again.

    • To add to my own post, and refer back to your earlier entry on getting rid of quests in MMOs; I think EverQuest did well in having quests spread out, but they were a bit difficult to identify and take part in.

      I’d like to see an MMO focus on quests being menial tasks around the city, tied to crafting or the usual “fetch and return” quests. Think of them more as jobs or tasks you do for local people without setting foot outside the walls of town. Rewarding players with small bits of coin and crafting related rewards would make sense here.

      Then the adventurous types, braving the wilderness, are the ones who go out and gather materials to sell to crafters (pelts from animals, wood from trees, ore from mining) and have the chance of finding treasures in dungeons or weapons on monsters.

      And speaking of, remember in EQ if a mob had a sword, you would loot that sword? And animals dropped animal parts, not mysteriously wearing a breastplate.

      Bring some of the things that make MMOs feel like a world, not an Arcade or amusement park as you call them.

      • I didn’t actually call EQ a sandbox game, or at least it wasn’t how I meant to be understood.

        I didn’t mean the game itself as a sandbox MMO so much as that the original EverQuest had the more open world with options of where to go, who to group with, etc. while EQ2 and WoW restrict what races you can group with, the path you take in leveling due to various reasons, more compartmentalization of the game, etc.

      • Yes, EverQuest was not a “Sandbox” MMORPG but it was not a “Themepark” MMORPG either. For me EverQuest is the perfect balance of what I want in a game.

        In EverQuest the content is everywhere for you to experience but it’s not spoon-fed to you like in Themeparks. You’re free to experience the world as you please. The faction system alone and the fact that you can attack anything is enough to make it a unique experience.

        But what made EverQuest a unique experience is Social Interaction due to the inconvenience of the world (Teleporting, SoW, Grouping..etc) and the freedom it gave us to be in Norrath and create our own adventures instead of all the hand-holding going on in all the MMORPGs released in the past 7 years.

        I think what we need is a Fresh experience of an MMORPG. Something COMPLETELY new. I want everything we know to be scratched completely and start from nothing. Specially the Quest-Driven approach, The Itemization of WoW/Diablo 2 system, The Auction Houses, The Forced-Soloing process I have to go through every time I play an MMORPG and end up playing solo is just disappointing because I jump in an Massive Multiplayer game to be able to tackle challenges with other people…

  25. SWTOR isn’t really an MMO. It’s Knights of the Old Republic X16 with multiplayer features.

    I agree with about 98% of what you posted, Wolf. You’re spot on. Play it for the story -as a single-player game you can enjoy with friends.

    But fear not… the sandbox will return. Take a look at Goblinworks and their dev blogs on the Pathfinder MMO… if they pull it off – it will be pretty cool.

    Not to mention WoD Online, and EQ Next… sure sure vaporware and all that. But the pendulum will swing back. I think SWTOR is the last of the big-box WoW-clones. I can’t imagine that the model will remain profitable as people get to “end-game” and realize it’s more of the same WoW (if they’ve been blind for the last 50 levels of play. SWTOR’s smoke and mirrors are pretty good!)

  26. Very well said, good sir!

    SWTOR goes Wow very fast once you finish the very cool storylines.
    I never ever want to play a geardriven MMO….

  27. Well, having played the game long enough, I’d have to say I’m not impressed. The game does have the full voice overs and character story that is characteristic of Bioware. However, for all other intents and purposes it is a WoW clone with a Sci-fi setting. Bioware claims that SWTOR is a “Story Driven Game,” yet the story has absolutely no impact on the gameplay barring some itemization differences. Even when dialogue after a flash point tells you that the empire will be sending assassins after your character as a result of your actions, do any assassins ever attack your character? Nope, its just meaningless quest dialogue that goes nowhere, and that pretty much sums up all the dialogue in the game: Dialogue that leads to nothing except possibly more dialogue.

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