Saturday, April 27, 2019

Experience Preferred : SW:TOR

It's by no means the only MMORPG I'm playing right now, but the lion's share of my considerable free time continues to go to Star Wars: The Old Republic. I've played every day since I downloaded it last week, usually for several hours. It seems more than likely I'll carry on for the foreseeable future, which brings up the question of whether or not to I ought to subscribe.

I had been planning on waiting until my first character hit Level 50 but that seemed to be taking a little longer than anticipated. I wanted to wait so I could assess the F2P model in detail but I'm not sure there's all that much in the way of fresh insight to be had from another ten levels anyway.

As I'm not scheduled to return to work for another couple of weeks it seemed to me I'd be better off subbing sooner rather than later. After some considerable chin-stroking, this morning I paid up. But only for a month.

The general advice for people looking to play TOR relatively casually seems to be sub for a month then cancel. I seriously considered taking the 60 day fixed period option instead of the recurring monthly sub, just to avoid having to do the cancellation dance, but in the end fiduciary prudence won out. I paid my £8.99 and then promptly cancelled my subscription.

A "why are you leaving us?" form popped up: good marketing practice, although it's anyone's guess whether anyone reads them. Regardless, I always like to fill them in. I usually have plenty to say.

I gave the unfortunate intern three or four good paragraphs on how the benefits for subscribing for a single month are so generous they negate any need to go on paying once you have them. I do think giving away all the content for next-to-nothing, then charging relatively large fees for basic utilities, is a back-assward way of doing things but if they insist, then I might as well take advantage.

The two main reasons I chose to subscribe for a month were a) to get access to all the expansions and associated higher level caps and b) to upgrade my account to "Preferred" from "F2P". Getting several years of previously payment-required expansion content for £8.99 is an obvious bargain. Throw in the significant, permanent advantages of Preferred status and you have a very good deal indeed.

I note that I will still need to buy some account or character unlocks to retain use of things like additional storage, but the month's sub comes with 500 Cartel Coins which will cover some of that, while other Unlocks for which a F2P player would have to pay real money are purchaseable with in-game Credits so long as you're subbed. I already spent a bunch of Credits on expanding my Inventory and I plan on spending a lot more before the timer runs out at the end of May.

Another advantage, if that's what you call it, for subscribers is accelerated leveling speed. There's a permanent-while-subbed bonus of 20% to XP and you also get Rested XP provided you log out in a safe place, like your Ship, your Stronghold or a Cantina. You can store up to a full level of Rested XP but it only doubles the xp you get from kills, not from missions, exploring or any other source.

That's more significant than you might imagine because killing mobs in TOR gives a lot of xp. In the 40s, levelled down to 18 by level-scaling, fights with small groups of regular mobs take a few seconds and give something like 500-1000 xp. Elites take maybe 10-15 seconds to kill and give around 2.5k xp.

By comparison, the reward for completing a whole Mission runs 20-35k xp. It takes anything from five to fifteen minutes to finish most Missions and to get from Level 40 to Level 41 takes just over 300k xp.

If you do the expected and fight your way through all the mobs between you and your target, most likely more than half of your experience will come from kills. I have not been doing the expected.

I finally worked out that the main reason I seemed to be leveling so much slower than Pete or Shintar wasn't that I was F2P and they were subbed: it was that I've hardly been killing anything and I imagine they have. I have Stealth on all the time. I skip the "trash" in every mission. I always try to go straight to the target without a single fight. 

When I get to the map marker, if it's at all possible I manouever myself into a position where I can click on whatever switch or panel I need without aggroing anything. Then I re-stealth and carry on.
I have, in fact, been making a game out of doing as little fighting as I can possibly manage. In many MMORPGs this would be highly efficient. In TOR, not so much.

By playing this way I would estimate I may have avoided as much as 75% of the fighting a player without stealth would have had to do. In some MMORPGs that wouldn't make a significant difference to xp. Here, it really does.

Indeed, given the extraordinary amount of transit time, the endless running through corridors to get to your Mission destination then back to your hand-in, the inordinate amount of time spent sitting in taxis watching skyscrapers flash by, the relentless checking and rechecking of maps, I am starting to wonder if grinding mobs might not be faster xp than running missions at all. TOR, once again, proves itself  to be far more old school under the hood than its reputation suggests.

If there was ever any doubt the designers expected everyone to lay waste to everything that crossed  their path, when you arrive at the Mission boss you're often scolded for the way you indiscriminately slaughtered "innocent" defenders to get there. I hear this even though I have generally managed to get to the Boss without even being seen by a grunt, far less having had to kill one.

TOR is quirky like that, which is a good part of the reason I like it. I was going to do a bullet point post today about some odds and ends I'd noticed on the way to Level 40. Then I got sidetracked into talking about how kill xp works. Oddly like my experience of playing the game itself, where often I seem to end up doing anything other than what I thought I was going to do.

I'll go make a list and see if I can't get that post done tomorrow. Maybe if I have notes I'll stick to the plan. Always a first time.


  1. I actually really like that mob kill XP is quite significant in SWTOR, but I haven't found it unusual compared to most other MMOs I've tried. Only recently when I first started ESO it drove me nuts that in the early levels there killing mobs did basically nothing to my XP bar. Yes, I know that I'm supposed to do the quests, and I do want to do them, but let me have some balance! (It did get a bit better once I levelled up.)

    I don't think I've ever heard of people trying to level purely by mob grinding in SWTOR, but it has had its moments. For example you can level from 10-70 purely through group content (flashpoints) and then most of your XP will actually come from the mob kills in there too, so that's kind of similar to grinding as a group.

    Also, when the current endgame gearing system, Galactic Command, was first introduced, they set a weekly cap for how much Command XP you could gain, while assuring us that you would never be able to hit this cap through normal play. Someone on a German server put together a 24-person raid group, started grinding gold mobs as a group on Tatooine and hit the cap within three days. That was pretty funny.

    1. It would be interesting to do a comparison of efficiency between killing mobs and questing as a source of leveling xp in a range of MMOs. One of the biggest changes WoW introduced to the genre was the idea that the bulk of xp should come from completing quests and over the years since then popular belief seems to be that grinding mobs to level is a) archaic and b) inefficient.

      The real story is a lot more nuanced, I think. Not long after Heart of Thorns, the first GW2 expansion, I wrote a post about how I'd found it much faster to grind mobs there to level my Masteries (which takes regular xp) than to chase down events. The thing in GW2 is that they have something called "diminishing returns", which means the longer you stay in one place, the less xp you get. If you roam and grind, though, especially in areas where no-one goes, you get an absolutely huge bonus for killing things that haven't been killed for a long time.

      In EQ and EQ2 there are "Hot Zones", which give enhanced xp for anything you do there, but EQ also has Xone Experience Modifiers (ZEMs), which mean that the base xp for individual zones varies wildly. That means it can be very efficient to grind in some zones and a waste of time in others.

      I played TOR after I wrote this post and I noticed that the xp I was getting from mobs varied a lot there, too. For example, the figures I quoted above come from mobs on Coruscant, where I was downlevelled from 42 to 18. There, the xp per kill was also about double in Heroic 2+ instances, although the difficulty was much the same. When I moved to Alderaan, however, where I was downlevelled from 42 to 35, the xp per mob was significantly lower, the opposite of what you'd expect.

      In all MMOs I think xp is a complicated tapestry and many players never get to see the whole picture clearly enough to make rational choices on efficiency. Probably best just to stick to doing what you enjoy and letting the xp come as it will. Unless, like me, you find it fascinating unpicking the threads.

  2. For the Cartel Coins, the first thing you should buy is the Rocket Boots unlock. It basically allows you to move at mount speed indoors about half the time. If I remember correctly, it's fairly expensive in terms of credits, but cheap in terms of Cartel Coins. And you end up using it a lot.

    1. I'm somewhat lukewarm on that. Firstly, although there's an incredible amount of running, I have yet to find that annoying. I could have a speeder - I've trained the skill - but I like jogging along at normal speed. Bear in mind I've been moving at stealthed speed most of the time and I never found that particularly slow.

      I'm also very bad at using intermittent speed buffs on cooldowns. I tend to find having to use them more annoying than going consistently slower but not having to micromanage. The exception is GW2, where speed buffs last 10-30 seconds and have cooldowns that almost but not quite match. There I am so habituated to refreshing them constantly I barely realize I'm doing it. I guess Rocket Boots might feel like that.

      I think I'll wait until I'm actually starting to find the running annoying, though. Could be a while yet.

  3. I definitely slaughter my way in and out of missions, though I have to admit I was doing it more for the credits than the experience. I mean, I never stopped to think about whether it was worth killing things for the $$ I just enjoy that "Sell Junk" button whenever I run into a medical droid. :)

    1. TOR is extremely generous with both straight cash drops (credits) and junk drops that you sell for cash. As a F2P player, that's the opposite of an incentive to kill them, though. I hit the 200k Credits F2P cap in just a few sessions, even avoiding killing most of the time.

      That wasn't a major problem because I found plenty to spend credits on to keep under the cap (opening rooms in my Stronghold for one thing) but now I'm both subbed and not using stealth much my bank account is soaring!

  4. I had a similar experience with my new main - a stealth 'tank' Jedi (the shadow advanced class). I foundmyself stealthing everywhere! It's very satisfying to avoid all the goons, but rather xp-gain inefficient.

    One of the worst aspects of the F2P is the constant cash limit reminders, I normally play subbed but on the latest return for some trio levelling I didn't and I find it so annoying I am less likely to resub, not more.

    1. The credit limit is insanely low given the huge cash Mission rewards and drops. I would have thought a F2P cap of 1m wouldn't have been out of order.


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