The Update on Star Wars: The Old Republic
09 May, 2012
It’s been nearly five months since EA, BioWare and LucasArts released a game that was one of (if not) the largest financial investments they’ve ever taken part in. Star Wars: The Old Republic was supposed to be the answer to WoW for people who were tired of that mythos. Behind the behemoth license that is Star Wars, it was supposed to carry in the million plus subscribers after launch it needed to get things rolling and then drift upwards from there. Many things have come to pass since launch, but is the news good?
I’ll begin by making it clear that no MMO can be reviewed properly a week or two after launch. It’s just not possible to do. You have to: level up, check out alternate classes and factions, PvP, PvE, craft, check customer service, bugs, explore the landscape, take notes on story elements, and the list goes on. There’s also the simple fact that time dictates how the MMO’s operator handles issues ranging from exploits and glitches, to imbalance and content difficulty. This is where “The Update” comes in. It’s an…well, an update with sprinkles of review candy all over the place.
So what is SW:ToR? What did the designers sit down to create when they said, “we’re making a Star Wars MMO based on the timeline of our 2003 hit.” It’s quite simple really. “How can we make a Star Wars version of World of Warcraft?” Cut it any way you want. Pretend that World of Warcraft is just some other game that must not be named, but the product on display IS World of Warcraft plus Star Wars at the core. It’s what was intended because lots of people like to copy winners. How can you blame them? It’s no different than the NFL. Every offseason teams look at the top offenses and defenses to steal their plays. It’s a smart tactic.
Let’s at least separate the differences to be fair. The game isn’t a complete duplicate with skin changes. The concept of auto attack for physical DPS classes has been removed in favor of a replacement that you weave in between resource consuming abilities. Everyone has a “pet” in the form of a companion that you will converse with through your travels. Class specific, instanced areas, for your story to allow for a cinematic presentation. There’s voice acting for everything…I’m starting to run out of differences. In the end what you’ll find is that beneath a few disparities in combat and types of crafting, it’s the same thing. Don’t get me wrong. This game has THE BEST leveling experience of any MMO I have ever played. I want to stress that point. Leveling in this game is straightforward and personally far more fun that doing the same in its counterpart (see: WoW). At least for the first few times…
Ok, happy part over. Let’s turn to the dark side. See what I did there? Every single person I know who has purchased SW:ToR has quit the game already. That’s over twenty people. I’m the only one left who has a subscription because I paid for six months out of the gate. I must stress this. I literally do not know a living soul who’s still a paying subscriber. If I went to Austin right now and asked one of the top SW:ToR designers there why this is so, what do you think the answer would be?
There’s a clear reason for this. It’s something that would make me cringe if I read this as a developer. It’s also something the bulk of people working on this game had absolutely no control over, so here we go.
The game wasn’t finished when it launched.
HOLD ON A MINUTE!!! An MMO is never really finished is it?
That’s true. I get the confusion there. That said, there’s a different between an MMO that’s finished and ready for launch and an MMO that needs another year in development. Yes…another year, but for whatever reason (money) from the powers that be, it was forced out far too early.
Patch 1.2 was basically a giant sign in bold letters that said, “this should have been in the game in launch, please come back to us and try the new and improved SW:ToR!”
It’s hard to articulate just how monumental an extra year of development would have allowed for in terms of both features and polish.
In the rush to push this game out the door, the cardinal sin of releasing an MMO was broken.
Launch is your biggest and single most important moment to leave a lasting impression on your consumers. You only get one chance at it. Sorry, but the beta doesn’t really do it justice. Practically everyone I know who purchased it and then quit had played the beta.
This isn’t 2004 anymore. Most people have no idea just how bad World of Warcraft was when it launched compared to what it is today. There were no battlegrounds, bugs were all over the place, zero true endgame content. Thing is though, the competition couldn’t really offer anything greater either. EverQuest? Dark Age of Camelot could fill that PvP void, but that was about it. When you release an MMO these days, there’s no justification for excluding some of the core features that make WoW the juggernaut it is today, especially when your MMO is nearly a carbon copy of said game. People expect these things. The excuse of, “we just launched so go easy on us,” doesn’t cut it. If your game is missing a ton of features, then don’t release it! There’s always another MMO to look forward to after your game. If you think everyone is just going to sit around and wait for your game to actually obtain features that should have been in at launch, you have another thing coming.
It’s truly a travesty. On a personal level, I feel horrible for the people who worked on this game and what they must be going through right now. Come to think of it, this seems like a trend for me lately.
Here’s the state of the game
- Majority of servers have no active population (keyword: active), leaving people isolated and bored
- Playing hours of remaining subscribers have plummeted
- The endgame PvE at launch was easy and quickly cleared with nothing left to do
- The endgame PvP that was Illum ended up a complete disaster and was removed
- With the absence of things to do and the addition of legacy, your endgame is essentially leveling more characters
- A free month for a substantial amount of the paying player base a mere four months into release shows weakness and desperation
- The promise of ranked Warzones in 1.2 was broken. Just or not, that’s how it’s viewed.
- Still no character transfers
- Pathetic customer support in-game
- Tera has nabbed people
- Diablo 3 is going to nab people
- Guild Wars 2 is going to nab people
- 400,000 subscribers have canceled. Essentially one out of every four players.
- Surviving on brand loyalty and hope
To give you an idea of just how dead everything feels in this game, head on over to this site.
At the time of writing this article, my server currently has a population of 1.35. That’s page two out of seven, making it one of the higher populated servers on the whole. Thing is, the server is actually in horrible shape.
At primetime tonight there were 41 people online on the Republic Fleet and 47 on the Imperial Fleet. That’s not counting max levels. Simply that number total. That’s horrid. To put this in comparison Stormwind on my WoW server (which is a small one) had 49+ max level characters. You can’t search higher than 49, but there was easily 100+ max level characters with 22 of them alone being max level hunters. That’s also not counting the 49+ max level characters raiding Dragon Soul.
Most everyone now plays on four servers. The Fatman, The Harbringer, The Swiftsure and Jedi Covenant. I remember the same thing happening to Star Wars: Galaxies when it went downhill. Everyone was on Bria because the only way people could have the population do things and get the feeling of a real MMO was to congregate at one spot.
From the tone of this update, it probably sounds like I’m telling you all that this game is pretty much trash and should be discarded as such. The answer to this is both yes and no. The reality is that you shouldn’t buy or subscribe to this game right now. However, by December this game may actually be something special worth paying $15 a month to experience. Therein lies the problem. How many of you really want to wait until the end of this year to play it?
Again, it all comes back to the launch. While it was pretty solid in terms of stability, it simply wasn’t a ready product. You get one shot and EA/LucasArts/BioWare completely and utterly blew it. I guarantee if this game didn’t’ have Star Wars in the title it would have flopped rather quickly. The license is the safety net. Now they have to play catch-up and essentially live the role The Lord of the Rings Online endured until it went free-to-play. The role known as being, “that other game that isn’t WoW,” or “the game that isn’t the new MMO that just launched.”
It’s a damn shame. Take note Bethesda.