Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Fifty And Rising : SW:TOR

This morning I dinged 50 on my first (only) character in Star Wars: The Old Republic. I installed TOR on April 18th, just under two weeks ago. I've played at least one session every day since then. More than one, most days. My played time shows I've been logged in for just over thirty-four hours.

That's a reasonably accurate count. I made a concerted effort not to leave the game running in the background while I did other things. I also tried to keep looking stuff up to a minimum while I was playing. The total may include a non-trivial amount of fiddling, wool-gathering or dithering but that's just how I roll. Or don't.

I think it's fair to say I have been surprised by how much I've enjoyed myself. I always thought I'd find something in TOR to interest me but I wasn't expecting everything to feel so familiar, so comfortable. Cozy, even.

Even though there were plenty of jibes back at launch about TOR being nothing more than "WoW in Space", I still hadn't realized just what a traditional MMORPG BioWare had made. I'm fairly sure they wanted to keep it quiet, for reasons already well-discussed.

Contrary to most MMOs, gear seems to get better-looking as you level.
TOR, as has been pointed out, is not what you'd call a challenging game these days. Certainly not down in the shallow end, where the Free to Play crowd paddles, although Shintar's recent detailed, amusing and illuminating post on end-game pugging suggests the slacker's paradise doesn't last forever. In that sense, the similarities with World of Warcraft probably go even deeper than I'd realized.

The journey to the original level cap of 50, still the glass ceiling for F2P, turned out to be both a tad slower and a frisson less trivial than I originally imagined. Leveling for freeloaders hits a noticeable speed bump at 20 and by the mid-30s I began to feel that, where leveling was concerned, the choices I was making weren't quite as meaningless as they seemed.

I'd decided in typical bloody-minded fashion to play TOR as if it was a Diku-MUD circa 2004, which in many ways it is. In that attempt to be as awkward as possible, I'd been trying to clear every Mission and open every discoverable map-hex on each planet before moving on.

Which is ironic, since I've never played an MMORPG like that in my life. Usually, I can barely manage to stay in the starter zone long enough to learn the UI before haring off into the great unknown. It was only because the game itself was constantly telling me I'd finished the planet I was on and I ought to get moving that I wanted to dig my heels in and stay.

Leveling strictly on available solo Missions and mob kills would have been fine but had I stuck with that plan I'd probably be writing my Ding 50! post some time next week. Especially if I hadn't subscribed until 50, as I also intended.

By the early 30s I'd realized the big xp was coming from Heroic (2+) Missions, not just because of the reward xp or because the mobs in heroic areas give vastly more xp per kill, but because you get instant transport to the Mission site from anywhere you happen to be.

That means you can go to a Heroic Mission Terminal, jam up on every Mission you can fit in your journal, then chain-run them until your eyes bleed. With TOR's level-scaling, which isn't any more accurate than any other level-scaling I've ever used, if you pick Heroic Missions from earlier planets they become close to trivial to complete, yet they give much the same xp as ones your own level. Actually, although I need to test it to be sure, it seemed to me the lower level mobs sometimes gave better xp than the higher ones.

It's not a sprint, it's a marathon

Even better, there's no running back to do hand-ins. Your rewards are delivered to you insta-magically on completion of the Mission. You don't even need to stop to clear your bags - your Companion can run to a vendor and sell your junk items for you. I only found that out from a tip on the log-in screen when I was already in the 40s. I wish they'd mentioned it in the tutorial. Would have saved me a few hours.

All in all, Heroic Missions make for first-class solo content, with the cherry-topping on the Heroic XP cake being the item rewards. They're hugely better than almost everything you get from regular Missions or as drops. I was upgrading something after nearly every run.

You also have to pay at least a modicum of attention. I did die a handful of times, carelessly pulling a bunch of elites and having to watch as my companion took the fall for my carelessness. And as we all know, if you let the healer die, it's your turn next.

My first fifty levels have been a mix of exploration (I spent over an hour last night just running through Alderaan's unfeasibly vast snowfields, taking screenshots and gawping), questing and running instances. It's been a very good mix, entertaining and satisfying. I'm looking forward to doing the same again on my next character, whoever that turns out to be.

Whatever misgivings I had about the graphics are long-forgotten. Even Ord Mantell looks good now.

One thing that's very striking compared to other MMORPGs where I've hit max level (ok, not current max level but still...) is how many core features of the game I have yet to engage with at all. I jotted down the most obvious ones:

  • Legacies : the xp comes in but I've done nothing about naming my Legacy, so as far as I can tell it's entirely notional.
  • Disciplines: I've looked, but I felt I didn't have enough information to choose so I left it at that. I would guess, had I picked one at Level 10 as I was supposed to, leveling might have gone noticeably faster.
  • Operations: I looked at the Mission Terminal once. Then I walked away.
  • Warzones: Not sure why I haven't tried these yet. In most MMORPGs that have battleground PvP I'm in there as soon as the gates open.
  • Quick Travel: I've been clicking on the Quick Travel Point machines since I first saw one, which was most likely back on Ord Mantell. They never seemed to do anything and for a long time I thought they must be a legacy system that wasn't in use any more, probably related to opening the Taxi stations. When I finally did work out what they were for, I was in my 40s and I was so used to running everywhere I just carried on. I guess I'll use Quick Travel eventually but honestly, although it sometimes sounds as though I'm complaining about all the running, I'm actually enjoying it too much to want to take short cuts.
  • Speeders: I got the license. Haven't bought a speeder. See Quick Travel.
  • Extra Hotbars:  They came with the subscription but I haven't used them. I need to sort out all my skills and work out what they do first. And decide on a Discipline because that will be a whole load more icons to fit somewhere. Up to now, though, two hotbars have been more than adequate.
  • Collections: Apparently this is a thing. I have a tab for it. That's all I know.
  • Crew Skills: I took some. That's as far as I've got. Ok, I've done some gathering and clogged up some bank slots with stuff I don't know what to do with. Does that count?
  • The Codex: I keep getting pop-ups that tell me something has been added to my Codex. I haven't tried to find it.
  • Achievements: See Codex.

In the wise words of Donald Rumsfeld, these are my known unknowns. I'm sure there are plenty of unknown unknowns lying in wait for me further down the line.

I ran through scenery like this for much of yesterday evening. Didn't do a lot other than take screenshots. Didn't need to.

And then there are the things I have played around with but don't fully (or even slightly) understand, like the Outfit Designer, or Space Missions or my Starship. Also I have no idea how far along in my Class Story I am: the Chapter tab only goes to expansion content as far as I can see.

When I hit 50 in Rift or 80 in Guild Wars 2 for the first time, neither of which took an awful lot longer than this has, I felt I had a much better grasp of what I was doing than I do in TOR. Whether that's the accelerated leveling speed (two weeks is still fast, even if I thought it would be faster) or the compexity of a mature MMORPG as compared to one that's just launched I'm not sure. Both, probably.

Not really knowing what I'm doing isn't hurting my enjoyment, though. If anything it's adding to it. I'm keen to carry on and dig deeper. I haven't quite decided whether to crack on with my Smuggler, finish her Class story and explore the rest of the core planets or to roll someone new and start over.

Probably both, I'd guess. Fun times ahead!


  1. I continue to be positively surprised by how much fun you're having. :) Honestly, a couple of years ago I would have bet real money on you not liking the game very much once you tried it! I guess time may have helped though - when you treat it like a new game in 2019, discovering that it plays like an old-school MMORPG can seem like a (pleasant) surprise, but it probably wouldn't have felt the same back in 2011.

    I find it interesting that you seem to be enjoying heroics so much. A lot of people like them, but I'm pretty down on them because they used to be group content, and I'm forever reminded of how much I used to enjoy them in their original state and it makes me grumpy.

    Also, it tickles me that you haven't even chosen a discipline yet - they are what other MMOs commonly call specialisations or talent trees (though in SWTOR there are no trees anymore, they are just one winding line). If you're thinking about trying out PvP or any group content, I do recommend picking one before you go. ;)

    1. I think you've hit the nail on the head. What was the last new-to-me old-school, AAA Western-designed MMORPG I played? It was probably WildStar, which launched in 2014 but I didn't play until it went F2P a year later. And I never really got on with WildStar, which I found too abrasive. Also it had dodging, which true old-school MMORPGs don't, not that I mind dodging.

      TOR does feel like stepping back in time and with the exceptionally easy combat it also feels like an MMORPG I'm already up to speed with, even though I am patently not. Makes for very relaxing gameplay, which suits me fine.

      As for Disciplines, after I wrote the post I went and read some guides for an hour. Mostly I learned that a) for the content I'm doing it makes no difference what Discipline I take and b) I should probably have taken Gunslinger not Scoundrel in the first place, since what I really like are AoE classes. In the end I took Ruffian and it's working fine for me so far.

  2. I picked a discipline after someone assured me you can apparently change it. I chose Sawbones. It hasn't added a ton of new skills. There's a lot of passives in that skill tree. I have 2 hotbars of "in-combat" skills then a couple with stuff like Fast Travel, Jump on Speeder, Recuperate... y'know, the 'no stress' stuff.

    1. Yes, as far as I can see you can change Discipline at will if you're a subscriber and for a cost if you're not. Which might be how Rift works these days, now I come to think of it. I liked the look of Sawbones but I thought it would probably not be ideal for soloing so I went with Ruffian because of the AoEs.

      I opened a third hotbar, moved all my skills around, read up on a rotation for AEing stuff then went and did about 6 Heroics in a row, ones I knew so I could asses how it played. It was like playing a different class altogether (duh!). The main difference was that when I pulled, say, an Elite, two Strong mobs and regular mob, by the time the Elite was at half health the rest would already have died. With two or three elites, by the time I got one down the other two would be half health. Also they all aggroed me and left Corso alone so he could heal. Suits my playstyle much better so I'm happy!

  3. I thought picking a discipline was almost necessary. A lot of useful skills in them. And I can not imagine not using a speeder. I thought driving them around or getting new ones were a lot of fun.

    I was either just over 50 or around 55 when I stopped playing. Whatever new expansion or planet that came out around that time was not much fun for me. I do not remember any specifics other than you I felt like you had to fight every few feet. The spacing of mobs were ridiculous.

    I keep meaning to go back and finish up a few alts class stories and see if I can get a character to the new cap.

    1. Sounds like you last played around the launch of the first expansion, Rise of the Hutt Cartel. The main planet contained in it, Makeb, was originally crawling with mobs to a ridiculous degree. Good news though: they drastically reduced the number of enemies since then, plus at this point Makeb is effectively just another side story you can take or leave.

    2. Now I have the Discipline and have used it I would estimate it would have shaved a good few hours off my trip to 50. Everything dies faster and big pulls bring lots of xp. Of course, I would have added the skills incrementally, not all in one go, so maybe the effect wouldn't have been that dramatic.

      I think the game must have changed a lot since you played. Mob density is on the low side compared to almost any modern MMORPG I can think of. Outdoors you can travel almost unimpeded even without stealth. Aggro ranges are small, most sentient mobs are at posts or on guard duty and don't wander much and more than half the animals are non-aggro.

      If you just want to see the stories you definitely should give it another go - I imagine it will be a total cakewalk compared to how you remember it.

  4. The game sounds like it has changed a lot since I played. I heard complaints that the mobs are too easy now and the game is designed to allow people to just follow the story. Is that true? I enjoyed the Imperial Agent storyline. It might be worth going back to run through the other class stories.

    1. Without a shadow of a doubt, if all you want to do is follow the Class stories, you won't encounter anything in the way of obstacles to stop you doing that. Combat is not challenging, at all. You will, without making any extra effort, soon find your level is well above what the story expects and although there is level-scaling it's no better in TOR than any other MMO. A level 35 scaled to 22 is much more powerful than a straight 22, so, given that mobs aren't challenging at level, you can imagine how easy it gets.

      That said, if you want to step outside the box and play TOR like a non-story-obsessed WoW-style MMORPG, you can recover at least some of the challenge that's been removed. There are plenty of open world "Heroic" areas, which were presumably originally designed for groups but which now make a reasonable match for old-school solo difficulty. You can and wil die there on a bad pull or if you get adds.

      I think TOR is in a pretty good place for an MMORPG, provided you approach it with some imagination and don't just let the game railroad you, which it defintiely tries to do.

  5. The quick travel machines are a legacy system—now, when you explore a region, the quick travel nodes automatically unlock themselves.


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