SWTOR: Missing Features Through 2.0
Star Wars The Old Republic (SWTOR), the Star Wars based MMO from Bioware, is nearing a launch date for the new expansion, Rise of the Hutt Cartel. This moves The Old Republic into the next major version of the game, 2.0. While the new expansion brings new content, class balancing, and an achievement system, some feel as though SWTOR is lacking on features expected of a AAA MMO.
I am one of those people. As an early access subscriber who continues to play the game today, I thought it would be interesting to look at this game from the standpoint of missing features. These are features that by now, about a year and a quarter past its release date, would be expected in the game.
To keep the list as focused as possible, I’m going to use Rift from Trion Worlds as the game to compare it to. I believe it is a fair comparison because Rift launched in the same year that The Old Republic did, 2011, so from a general development timeline standpoint you would expect an overlap in features. Each game differs in its primary focus. Rift appears focused around dynamic events while The Old Republic around story-telling and the presentation that goes along with it.
With that said, while each game’s primary focus was different they are still traditional MMO games and as such there are features players would expect out of them. Overall, I believe Rift did a great job of launching with many of these or implementing them in their first year. The Old Republic didn’t launch with many quality-of-life features but has slowly implemented them over time. The game still has a long way to go though.
Without further ado, here are the list of features missing from The Old Republic in no particular order.
Small Dynamic Events
This is actually one of the cooler features of Rift that keeps the game interesting both while you’re leveling up as well as when you’re at the level cap. In Rift, these “rifts” will appear, sometimes in bundles of one or a few more across a region. Out of th
em spawn creatures and the goal is to close them up. Sometimes these rift events are region-spanning, where a huge invasion force is trying to take the region and your goal is to both eradicate them and prevent them from taking down some foothold or another.
SWTOR could definitely use a system exactly like that one. In the game the Republic and Sith Empire are at war, but it doesn’t feel like it very much, especially at end-game. What is SWTOR had a system like Rift’s? Picture this: You’re a Republic character leveling on Alderaan and all of a sudden you receive notification that House Organa is under attack. Suddenly many ships are dropping Sith Empire soldiers on the ground and you have to stop them from taking key checkpoints around House Organa! Now imagine that Sith Empire players are also notified about this event and they’re asked to help their comrades take control of House Organa. Epic battles ensue.
In one fell swoop you’ve done two things utilizing the same feature Rift has. First, you’ve created dynamic PvE content that can spawn any time, any planet, while rewarding players for helping. Second, on PvP servers (and some planets on PvE servers perhaps) you’ve created dynamic open-world PvP content as well with goals! This will help keep the game dynamic for new players and fresh for veteran players.
Multiple Advanced Class Specialization Profiles
(AKA “Dual-Spec” or “Multi-Spec”)
SWTOR provides players the ability to change their skill point distribution at any time by visiting a particular vendor on your faction’s fleet. In the field though, you must pay for a Legacy ability called “Field Respec” which costs you 200k credits. This will allow you to redistribute your skill points any time, any where. However, that is the only thing it does. It does not contain an ability to save a toolbar layout so you may find yourself constantly shuffling your toolbar abilities around when you change specs.
Let us visit how Rift handles this. In Rift you can save multiple (up to 5 if I recall) “specs” and switch among them on the fly so long you’re not in combat. Switching between them takes about 10 seconds or less. At first you’re just granted the one, but for a fee you can unlock as many as you’d like. Just need two? Buy a second one and you’re done. To make matters even better, Rift saves your toolbar ability layout as well. So if you play a class that is capable of playing multiple roles, each spec that you save (usually a role) can have its own toolbar layout and you won’t have to remember how to reorganize it when you switch to a different spec.
In the modern era of MMO games it is not unusual for classes to contain multiple roles within them. Having capabilities to swap between them on the fly and save how your toolbar is laid out is a huge time saver. Not to mention just a simple quality-of-life feature that allows players to focus on playing the game, not fighting it.
Both games contain high amounts of bad-looking armor or clothing. To remedy this somewhat, both games have their own versions of a wardrobe system. In SWTOR every piece of gear has modifications that contain the actual core stats for that gear piece. In that sense you can consider a piece of gear as a simple shell, an appearance, that houses a few modifications that give that shell its overall statistical attributes. It is an interesting system for sure but also comes at a great cost to the user — if you want to change your appearance you must extract all of those modifications from the shell and each extraction costs credits, the in-game currency for SWTOR.
In contrast, Rift has a very basic yet elegant and flexible wardrobe system. The user is given one basic wardrobe profile to start with. The user can pick to use that profile or not. If they do want to use that profile, they select it. Within that profile they can put pieces or gear to overwrite what they are actually wearing for appearance purposes. They can also activate or deactivate a specific piece of gear for that profile. To top it all off, the user can buy (using in-game currency) more profiles. This is great for people who want to have multiple appearances depending on what they’re doing, especially if they’re role-players.
Overall, I love the gear modification system of SWTOR but only as it applies to being able to really tweak your attributes for a single piece of gear. It doesn’t work as a wardrobe system very well. Rift did a very good job with this feature implementation and it is something the Bioware team should look at in the near future. After all, how many MMO games have multiple role-playing servers a year after launch?
Just like wardrobes this is another important character customization feature missing from SWTOR. Rift has a solid, though not necessarily great dye system. At least the option is there though. You can buy basic dyes from an in-game dye vendor or from players who can craft dyes that are not sold on those vendors. Learn more about Rift’s dye system, the options available, and how you apply them.
In SWTOR there is no option at all to dye your gear and I have concerns this feature will never come to fruition. Unfortunately, many of the same pieces of gear or sets of gear in alternate color combinations are given as quest rewards, end-game rewards, or sold on the Cartel Market. For SWTOR to introduce this feature properly, they would need to complete a re-itemization so that you can’t receive the same looking gear piece, or set, in an alternate color. Every piece of gear in the game would come in one base color.
I suppose they could keep the current system as-is and introduce dyes, but it would diminish the value of seeking out or buying alternate color combination gear pieces because you could simply dye the one you have. This would drop the desire to buy many Cartel Market items. Of course, Bioware could introduce dyes with the way things are now and simply not make certain colors available that you might find on gear in the Cartel Market. That would not be a good customer experience, but for some reason I wouldn’t put it past them to do it.
Cross-Server Instanced Content Queuing
Flashpoints, Operations, and Warzones
Rift did not launch with this feature but implemented it fairly early on. If my memory serves me right (and it usually does not) they implemented it for dungeons first and then PvP battlegrounds later. Regardless, with the nature of player populations in modern MMO launches it still amazes me when games don’t have this feature on day one or soon after. For those unfamiliar with how MMO populations tend to flow, World of Warcraft excluded, let me break it down in a simple way:
- Game launches and a huge number of players flock to the game.
- Game company receives complaints of wait times to log into the game and promptly releases more servers to handle the load.
- Adding servers to the game results in player-base dilution.
- Game loses many subscribers after the first three months.
- Some servers (the game world) start to feel empty and more people end up leaving due to population issues.
In ways the above is a slight exaggeration, but it is a fairly common theme in every major MMO release since World of Warcraft.
Having a cross-server queuing system for all the game’s instanced content is critical in keeping your player base content. After all, players are happy when they have something to do. Waiting in a queue for an hour or more before you can explore content causes frustration and that leads to discontent and a potential loss of that player. This is a feature that has been wanted by SWTOR players for some time.
There are those against it however. They will use the argument that it can destroy a server’s community or it gives the game no sense of server community. This was also my point-of-view until I experienced this feature first-hand in a few games. I do not believe they destroy a community at all or prevent one from fostering. I’ve played on many servers on games that didn’t have cross-server queuing and the communities were either bad or non-existent. People will build and foster a community if they really want to and not everyone is good at leading that type of effort. If you don’t have those kind of leaders on your server then it just isn’t going to happen. Most people are just followers, not leaders.
Choosing a Specific Warzone
This is a feature that Bioware does not want to carry out before cross-server queuing. The problem is they haven’t spoken of cross-server queuing since March of 2012.
I can understand why they wouldn’t want people to select a specific warzone to take part in before the cross-server implementation. You could have a server full of people who just like to play Huttball while others are trying to get Ancient Hypergates and don’t have enough people to start a match. With that said, if cross-server queuing would have been in by now this feature would have likely been there too or at least would have been realistic to just slide in at some point.
Rift has had this feature for some time now and it obviously works within their cross-server queuing framework. Because it is cross-server, it doesn’t matter if you choose a random warfront or a specific one — you get a prompt to enter a warfront within seconds or a few minutes.
This one falls in under that group of “Character Customization” options, such as the wardrobe and dyes mentioned above. A player should expect to customize their character’s appearance when they want, especially when one considers the time investment involved with these type of games.
In SWTOR you see your character up close, especially hundreds of times while leveling, during the cinematic conversation system. Therefore if there is something you do not like about your character’s appearance it will stick out and potentially drive you crazy! Unfortunately there is no way to change your character’s physical appearance in SWTOR. There is no “barber shop” or even a simple “edit character” option at the character selection screen (that would have been the easy solution).
While Rift did not launch with this feature it came a year and four months after release. With SWTOR, we are past a year and two months and Rise of the Hutt Cartel has established what’s going in it. A barber shop didn’t seem to make the cut.
Rift has a very solid artifact feature in place for those who love collecting “shinies”. They are random shiny objects in the game world that you must interact with to know you’re getting as a prize. Once you’ve collected it the shiny object vanishes from the game world.
The artifacts you collect in this matter belong to sets. There are 638 artifact sets in the game and each one requires two or more artifacts to complete. Completing a set will give you a prize. Sometimes that prize is a new pet, weapon, or armor. Either way you also get a Lucky Coin, which is currency that allows you to buy items such as pets or wardrobe attire. You can only get Lucky Coins by completing artifact sets.
SWTOR has no such system in place. The only true collectibles are Datacrons that give your character a statistical attribute boost. In 2.0, collecting them will also count against the achievement system (similar to Rift) but there is no extra incentive to collecting all of them. This is a feature that at times can keep players logging in because they can do on their own. It also gives a sense of completion or achievement.
The Rest…In Quick Hit Fashion
There are several other features listed below that I will not go into detail about. I did want to capture them though because the list felt incomplete without them.
- Game-Recommend Advanced Spec Templates – Rift provides players with templates to use for specs based on what role they might want to play within their class. This would help tremendously in SWTOR as I continually see people ask “What spec should I use for my class?” See this image for an example.
- Mini-Games — While Rift doesn’t truly give a mini-game in the form of gambling, it does offer fishing. One could argue that fishing is really just another gathering class. However, the way Rift introduced fishing with challenging levels or modes as well as achievements, it feels more like a mini-game to me. SWTOR has Bioware’s own history in the Knights of the Old Republic series to pull from and they have yet to do it. Where is the Pazaak, swoop racing, or Sabacc?
- Instant Adventure — Rift has quests where players can partake in an “Instant Adventure“. Basically, these are quests where you jump from point-to-point with more-and-more players to complete simple goals. At first glance this may seem like a dumb gimmick, but in practice it does a good job of providing alternative content while leveling through the game.
While the list above may seem exhaustive I still consider SWTOR an above-average MMO that, depending on your focus as a gamer, merits a subscription. I have recommended the game to many and continue to do so over a year later. However, there is little doubt that SWTOR could evolve into a good, highly polished MMO with the features above. I’m not sure if it would bring subscribers back but at the very least it would help keep the current subscribers busy with things to do.
I’d love to read your thoughts on what you feel I missed!