You’d think a self-confessed Bioware and Star Wars fanboy like myself would have unwavering support for SWTOR right? Well if you’ve listened to Godisageek.com’s Ding Podcast over the last few months you’ll have noticed that support slip slightly. OK more than slightly. I thought it was effectively dead.
When patch 1.2 was released and the legacy system rolled out my hiatus from the game had only totalled a few weeks. To be fair, it wasn’t entirely because of boredom but a house move meant I had no time for it. Before my break I’d heard a significant amount of chatter about people quitting once their next subscription payment was due. If I’m honest, I didn’t pay any attention to it. We’re gamers, we grief and moan all the time but a significant portion of the SWTOR population was made up of people like me; passionate gamers who waited for what seemed like an eternity for the release. So i figured, why give up so soon?
When I returned both my servers were ghost towns. I’m talking less than a dozen people In the fleet and no-one on mid level planets at all. I was stunned. It wasn’t idle talk, people had left in droves. So I thought, maybe It’s just my server? Wrong. Looking at the total list population was listed as light for 90% on EU locations with one or two flagged as medium. I asked myself, what happened? Some said things felt samey, others that the high end content wasn’t engaging enough. PvP was a complaint but a major issue for me personally was that generally getting a group together was a long and arduous process. Spamming general chat with LFG Mandalorian Raiders was the only way to find people, even hanging around a quest hub or an entrance to a flashpoint still usually led to you being ignored.
Then the server merges came, cleverly disguised as “character transfers”. Just for the record, it’s not a character transfer if you’re being funnelled to one server. That’s a slow rollout merge. Rationale for that? well as more people leave the servers, there are fewer people there to play with. No other players means you either quit, or move. Either way, empty server left behind then boom, closed. Not the worst thing in the world really, when I moved the day after I found myself in a queue. Never before have I been so happy to be told I have to wait for access. It meant I’d be playing WITH people again. Only annoying thing is, I’d worked hard to finish Act 1 quickly enough to pick up the Skirata legacy surname. As well as reserving several of the popular first names associated with Kal Skirata, unfortunately when I moved I lost that title and some of the names. not because legacy doesn’t travel with you, it’s just that the name was taken. I understand that as an interloper on the new server, priority went to the original owner , but it still hurt.
Picture courtesy of unitlost.com
And there were so many people there, It was a party atmosphere; refugees from a multitude of other servers, all coming together and being happy to see other players again. It was, and still is, glorious. A major argument against SWTOR was that is was a single player MMO. It turned into that not necessarily by design but due to the lack of fellow players. For those of us arriving from sparsely populated servers I noticed we approached grouping or group requests differently. More often than not, when in an area I’d get a whisper from someone also questing if asking whether i wanted to group up. Not because they needed help or because quest objectives were scarce, but instead they did it because they, like me have seen what this game is like without the social element. And I don’t want to go back to that. Ever.
Combat felt, more refined too. I’ll be honest, I only skim patch notes, Ok more often than not I completely ignore them. So I wasn’t expecting any difference in the way my characters felt. But there was a marked difference to me. I returned to my Jedi character, a guy I absolutely loathed. But now the Jedi Guardian actually rocks; I’m enjoying every minute with him, when I swing my lightsaber it feels like I’m about to carve something off my opponent rather than just waving a shiny stick in their face. But I can’t explain what’s different it just feels… smooth. Well it does until the server lag kicks in.
Bioware haven’t spoken at length about this but server lag is the bane of my existence right now. In combat and outside I find myself stuttering, occasionally it’s totally unplayable. On one occasion I even ended up falling off a cliff, no big deal you say? Well it was a really open area, I started off a fair distance away from it. That shit needs to be sorted. Raised a ticket and 4/5 days later I’ve still heard nothing from support. Oh well, at least 75% of the time the lag is bearable. But with a high spec PC and a decent connection, I thought these problems were behind me.
I’ve been playing around with group finder too. Now I don’t think it’s being utilised enough by players, general chat is still full of LFG messages and if I’m TOTALLY honest, I’ve thrown a few of those out myself. But average wait time for me, with mid level flashpoints was around 10-15 mins. Not great, but not bad either. Having group finder also plop you into in progress groups (an option you can toggle) is also positive. We had a situation where a player went AFK, after 20 mins we voted to kick (again, another nice feature) but we all knew there was a good chance a new player could join. Fortunately we were almost complete so we did it 3 man but if we needed help there was no need to send someone back to the fleet to get it.
Overall, I always felt the large number of servers was a bad idea. If anyone has the technology (or resources to buy it) to run a single server with multiple instances without lag it’s be EA/Bioware. Having separate servers for PvP, PvE and RP is a good idea but even then, 3 per region would make more sense to me. By doing this, if 10k players quit on renewal day, the effect on the player experience wouldn’t be so extreme; you also avoid the problem with servers dominated by one faction or another. This looks like the route Bioware is taking but remains to be seen.
You’ll notice I’ve not talked about SWTOR going F2P, well I’m only going to touch on that; running Star Wars: The Old Republic like Guild Wars would have been my preference. We Star Wars fans will pay through the nose for stupid shit, I know I have. But on the whole, if something doesn’t nurture the fantasy properly or keep us engaged, there’s no way we’ll stick with it. Not only will we leave, we’ll make sure everyone hears about it. SWTOR hasn’t reached that point in my opinion, many of the problems can be traced to failures that would plague any MMO, that is, low server population, difficulty forming groups and weak / weakening communities. Group finder is a good start, but what I’d love to see is a guild board like in Star Trek Online. Being able to post details of your guild and recruit people easily would make it much easier to form and maintain communities. The mantra for all games companies should be “let the gamers do the work” because it’s their world. Give them the tools to shape it and that’s half the battle won.
What’s the conclusion to this? Well, nothing really. I’m enjoying the game again and I find myself wanting to play for hour after hour. There’s still a lot to do and now, I have people to do it with.
What a cheesy way to end. At least I didn’t say May the Force be with you… Shit.