Star Wars: The Old Republic is heading into its fifth year on the market. With the Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion came a renewed commitment to storytelling, accessible gameplay, and streamlined systems. As a “founding” subscriber — I pre-ordered the game in 2011 and participated in a number of closed-betas throughout — I’ve picked up and shelved the game a handful of times since launch.
Breathing new life into an established MMO ain’t easy.
The new Star Wars movie renewed my interest in the game, much as I’m sure it did in a number of SW:TOR’s lapsed subscriber base. I roped a friend of mine into trying it out, after a rather lacklustre experience with DC Universe Online, to demonstrate how a proper MMO is structured. Since the game had captured my attention for well over a year during launch, I knew that it would be easy to melt back into its mechanics. After fifteen years of MMOs, the mechanics and controls are second nature, so I figured coming back to SW:TOR would be like riding a bike.
The 4.0 patch kinda threw me into the deep end.
Sure, it was the same system to go from Level 1 to Level 10 (as I’d re-rolled a Trooper with my friend on a different server than my Legacy character). I’d decided to check in on my Level 55 Jedi Guardian, Firac’sin, shortly after re-subscribing to the game. Though I was passingly aware that my tanking build was going to require a lot of tweaks, I was entirely unprepared for the changes the 4.0 patch had wrought on both the UI and the character/companion systems.
Returning players will have a hell of a time reorienting themselves to an elegant restructuring of internal systems and UI. (And that’s okay.)
The changes are positive, of course. SW:TOR’s renewed efforts to recapture the solo gaming experience required a number of things to evolve, including character skills, respeccing, and companions. Relearning to play my Jedi Guardian after almost two years away proved to be far more difficult than I would have anticipated. Companions had to be re-equipped, since a number of the equipment slots had been disabled in the new patch. My tank spec had long since fallen into obsolescence, so off I went to research and re-work it.
Hours later, I was finally able to discern what had changed and how I would need to adapt my play-style to allow my companions to complement my new spec. In the past, companions were a hindrance during solo play — they’d often get themselves into trouble, die, and require a rez multiple times during a fight. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Doc kept a safe distance away when I was tanking and that Kira didn’t take on more than she could handle while I was tanking an Elite.
There has never been a better time for new players to dive in and start playing.
The hybrid free-to-play (F2P) subscription model that SW:TOR has successfully implemented means that players can get their hands on the game without putting money on the table, so to speak. Create an account, download the game, create a character, and go. Though a F2P account has limited options for character customization, PvP warzones, and PvE flashpoints, new players will be given full access to the story, minus the digital expansions.
The story just keeps on giving. And giving. And giving.
Bioware is renowned for its storytelling — it’s what keeps me going back to Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and now, SW:TOR. Those of us that had gone through the entirety of the game in 2011 only to find the end-game flashpoints unappealing will be delighted to find new chapters waiting for them within three story-driven expansions: Rise of the Hutt Cartel, Shadow of Revan, and Knights of the Fallen Empire.
With new content to explore on familiar planets, new planets to discover, and additional story-driven flashpoints to master,SW:TOR’s story is engaging long after the main story missions conclude. I’ve always found the stereotypical “end game grind” to be exhausting. In SW:TOR, I can’t wait to blast through the main story with my friend so that we can get to the shiny new goodies waiting for us in the expansions.
Go on and solo it. All of it.
Outside of PvP warzones and PvE flashpoints, the game has been restructured to allow the solo experience to take centre stage. Keeping your companions happy and well-equipped will provide much needed support as solo players work their way through the story. Though I firmly stand by the benefits of gaming with friends, I also recognize it’s not always possible or feasible.
Instead of penalizing players for not being in a group or a guild, SW:TOR supports them with decent gear drops for high-level companions, improved companion AI, and greater control over a companion’s role.
With the added benefit of SW:TOR’s Hybrid F2P Subscribe model, players control how they will experience the game right from the first level. The story is compelling right from the starting planet, no matter which allegiance or class you choose. Most importantly: the game’s mechanics are elegant, accessible, and fun.
(Original Post: The Daily Crate)