Sunday, May 26, 2019

Instructions Not Included : SW:TOR

A month into playing Star Wars: The Old Republic, I feel I know almost as little about the game as when I began. It's been a while since I started a new-to-me, Western-made MMORPG so I may be misremembering, but I'm pretty sure it didn't used to take me this long to get the basics down.

It's true that I haven't been playing the heck of out it the way I did Guild Wars 2 or even The Secret World, which were quite possibly the last similar properties I tried. That's a terrifying thought, isn't it? Has it really been seven years since the last major Western themepark MMORPG? I suppose there was WildStar...

Even so, I've put in around a hundred hours so far, taking one character to Level 57 and another to 35. You'd think I'd be up to speed with the leveling part of the game, at least, by now. Well, I'm not, or at least not so you'd notice.

Some of that could be down to the very easy gameplay. As PKDude99 observed on his return to both TOR and blogging, "...there’s no challenge in the leveling game.  If anything it’s even easier now than it was before".

Don't hassle me, Corso, I know what I'm doing.
Like him, I also "play to relax not really to have a challenge" although unlike him I don't find TOR's basic gameplay boring. There is indeed one holy heck of a lot of running to and fro but I like it. I find it puts me into something of a zen trance.

It's possible the overall ease of play may mitigate against the need, even the desire to learn, something that would normally force itself upon a new player in fairly short order. In most Western MMORPGs, once you climb about a third of the rungs on the leveling ladder, you tend to find that winging it no longer works. That was true of even GW2 and TSW when they were new, although not so much these days.

While I'm not strugggling in the slightest when it comes to notching up levels, I think I may have the least idea of what's going on around me I've ever had in any game. It was only yesterday, for example, that I found the Auction House for the first time.

I can't recall anything that ever suggested there was such a thing. I only found out about it because I was having a major clean-out of my Stronghold and Ship storage, which was full to bursting with gear I thought I might want to use for appearances some day.

Damn! It came up empty again! If you say a word you can walk home.
TOR has possibly the worst appearance system I've come across. No, actually, World of Warcraft's is worse, at least in that, so far, I've never been able to understand how it works at all. TOR's system is reasonably easy to follow. It just fails completely on one of the most basic requirements of an Appearance system: you cannot lock in the look of items individually, only as part of a set.

That, however, is a topic for a post of its own. The reason I mentioned it is that while I was cleaning house I googled to see if there was any way to salvage/deconstruct/dismantle old gear and in the course of my investigations I discovered the existence of the Galactic Trade Network, the game's Auction House.

It took me a while to find out where to go to access the GTN. After I'd found a terminal and spent ten or fifteen minutes familiarizing myself with the search functions, I posted a couple of pieces to test the demand and they duly popped back into my mail box a day later, unsold, making me very glad I hadn't laboriously added the lot.

In the meantime I sorted the many dozens of gloves and boots and belts and bracers into piles to Keep or Throw. That meant looking at every blasted one in the Dressing Room, leading me to the opinion that almost all the gear in TOR is hideous.

At least that meant I didn't have to worry about keeping it to use later. I sold about three-quarters of it and stashed the pieces I could just about bear to look at, then I started on the crafting mats.

Crafting is another major plank of basic gameplay I know sod all about yet. In almost every other MMORPG since the turn of the century, a month in I would have several crafters beavering away in a doomed bid for self-sufficiency. In TOR, not only have I yet to craft a single item, I have yet to learn the names of the crafting professions.

It's not even as if I'm catching up. After this weekend, when I played quite a bit, I feel I've fallen further behind. I went back to several planets I thought I was done with - Ord Mantell, Coruscant, Taris, intending to knock out a bunch of Heroic Missions to make some credits and instead I found myself taking new Side Missions I could swear weren't there before.

Here, you think?
What's more, whole new species of Missions kept popping up, making new categories for themselves in my Journal. Whether their appearance is tied to my Smuggler's level or some trigger in the story I have no idea. They just appeared, handed out by droids on street corners or at vending machines.

My ever-lengthening To Do list now includes not just the expected Class and Planetary Missions but sections headed Galactic Solutions Industries, Macrobinoculars and Seeker Droid.  The last two involve actual in-game gizmos I have to employ to search for hidden items, something that involves learning a whole new set of mechanics.

I would say that nothing in the game explains what these mechanics might be, but that's not entirely true. As well as a few cryptic hints in the Mission Journal I was astonished to receive a very lengthy transmission by mail from GSI on the correct use of the Seeker Droid.

TOR's use of in-game mail to communicate salient facts seems to go well beyond anything I've seen elsewhere in the genre. EverQuest II and GW2 both make use of the post on occasion but this is taking it to another level altogether.

Not that it helped much. I'd already managed to work out how to use the both the binoculars and the droid by trial and error - mostly error - but even with the manual I still haven't succeeded in digging anything out of the Tatooine sand.

Which is fine. I like feeling there's more going on than I can follow. I very much enjoy having new mechanics and gimmicks thrown at me in the expectation that I'll cope, somehow. Unlike, say, GW2, where this sort of thing only tends to happen at the same time someone is trying to rip my head off, in TOR I feel I have all the time I need to study the instructions, such as they are, and experiment.

Meanwhile, the storylines I was supposed to be following are receding into the distance. I've all but lost track of the plot on both characters, so when I do push on and speak to someone new I barely know whether it's part of the Class story, a Planetary Arc or just some random sequence I picked up somewhere out in the boondocks.

What about here?

I keep meaning to knuckle down and follow the Smuggler and Agent stories so I can at least get to the end of the first chapter in one of them. That's how I finally made it as far as Tatooine today.

Which would have been fine if only I hadn't picked up five GSI quests (four Dailies and a Weekly) plus a message from my Seeker Droid saying it had found something. The upshot of all that was an awful lot of triangulating and digging and no progress on Story at all.

Eventually, I'm sure, I'll understand, mostly, what I'm doing. Might take another month. Maybe more. That may well be the point when I start to agree with PKDude99 that "I just want to be done."

For now, though, I'm enjoying the confusion. Here's to more of it.


  1. Hoo boy, lol. I've long had a hunch that a good chunk of the game must be pretty confusing for new players to get into, but you're adding all kinds of obstacles that I'd never even thought about.

    Since you mentioned losing track of your quests, I don't know if this has come up before, but the ones marked purple are story missions (as opposed to side quests). That should narrow it down at least a little.

    Macrobinoculars and Seeker Droids were originally an endgame addition to the first expansion, which had a level cap of 55. Since you're past that now, you were able to pick them up. Basically they each have a (side) storyline attached to them, and owning them is a requirement to do the GSI dailies, which is why those started popping up for you now.

    Out in the world you can also use the macrobinoculars to find certain areas where you can dig for "treasure" with your seeker droid, but most of what you'll find there is junk. It's never been a popular system, though I know a couple of people that like the dailies at least for being fairly peaceful and often not requiring any combat.

    1. I thought the binoculars were a regular mission I'd missed when I got them but then when they tied in with the Seeker Droid (which I also thought was a regular mission) and with the GSI stuff I started to think they were either level-linked or part of some later addition. I wouldn't have guessed 55 for the level though. This is indeed what happens in all MMORPGs that hang around getting updates for years.

      So far I haven't managed to dig anything up. Now that you explain it, it reminds me a lot of the Scrying Stones that were added to EQ2 way back in about 2005 or 2006. I used to enjoy playing with those at the time although I haven't bothered for years.

  2. I'm very surprised to say you think SWTOR's appearance system to be one of the worst, since I'm hard-pressed to think of one I like better. It's cheap, has virtually no limits on what you can wear, is easy to use, and you can store multiple outfits and easily swap between them.

    I'm particularly confused by:

    "It just fails completely on one of the most basic requirements of an Appearance system: you cannot lock in the look of items individually, only as part of a set."

    I'm not sure what you mean. You can alter the appearance of items individually within an outfit, and if you leave a slot blank in the outfit window, I'm fairly sure it will just display your equipped gear in that slot. I'm not aware of anything that must be done as a set. What is you want to do that you can't?

    The one downside is that, as you say, most of the gear in that game is pretty hideous. Poor graphics and questionable art design combine in unholy fashion.

    It does get better at higher levels, and the number of gear appearances in SWTOR is so staggeringly huge you're bound to find something you like sooner or later, but there is a lot of crap to wade through first.

    I've actually never done the droid or binoculars missions, due to my disinterest in side missions. They just sound like chores to me.

    1. I hope to get around to a full post on the appearance system but the glaring issue for me is that the system doesn't allow for the very thing I want it to do, namely locking the look of every - or even many - specific items to my account or a character within it.

      Unless I'm misunderstanding how the system works (which is very possible) in order to retain the look of a particular piece you have to retain it either in one of the paper doll slots on one of the sixteen appearance sets or as an actual object in storage. That a) puts a fairly low limit on the number of pieces you can retain and b) does absolutely nothing to alleviate the primary problem, which is storage.

      In most other systems I've seen, once you place an item in Appearance Storage, howver that works, it stays there forever. You don't have to keep the original and you don't have to delete an item from your Appearance storage just to change a look. As far as I can tell, if you remove an item from your Appearance Paper Doll it vanishes for good. You can replace it with the same item from storage, if you have it, but otherwise it's gone.

      Add to that the fact that you have just 16 sets and you are limited to 16 looks that can't be modified on the fly unless you have kept all the originals. In other systems I've used, once the item is in the Appearance system you can swap it in and out and mix and match as often as you like.

      If I'm misunderstanding how the system works, please explain! I haven't read it up on the wiki yet so it's entirely possible I have it completely back to front. From several hours of fiddling with it in game, though, that's what I have come to believe.

    2. Hmm, okay, yeah, that is accurate. I just never really saw the storage issues as much of a problem. Oddly for a F2P game, SWTOR is very generous with its bank space, and much of the game's gear is bind on equip or legacy bound, so it's pretty easy to share between characters, especially when you take stronghold storage into account.

  3. Are colours still consumed upon use?

    That combined with the fact that you had to either use the colours of your chest piece for everything or needed to dye every single piece seperaterly (again, with one-time-use dye) was what I disliked most about the system.
    Oh, and the cool colours were expensive as hell of course.

    That being said, towards the end of my active time with the game I had the look of my Guardian tank down to the littlest detail and was really happy with it.

    1. I haven't tried using dyes yet so I'm not sure about that. It would seem likely though. I have used the "Unify Colors" option, which is moderately useful. I wonder if that also overwrites colors?

    2. Fortunately unify colors doesn't overwrite stuff, it's temporary. I bought one color for over a million credits once and then used that for the chest and unified the rest. Still don't like one-time dyes though.
      I want to have my UO dye tubs back!


Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide