How Star Wars: The Old Republic won me over with its endgame

I walked away from last week’s Star Wars: The Old Republic livestream pretty happy. Considering that I repeatedly say how much I absolutely loathe information presented as a video rather than just a nice solid block of text, that says something.

When I returned to SWTOR, it was after a two-year break from the game that followed reasonably close on the heels of Rise of the Hutt Cartel. I enjoyed that expansion, but what kind of dragged me to a halt with the game was my general disinterest about Star Wars combined with the fact that the endgame was the same unpleasant mire that wasn’t doing World of Warcraft any favors then or now. It’s important to note that when I left, the game had been my main go-to game for quite some time.

Now, of course, The Force Awakens managed to kindle a heretofore unprecedented affection for the franchise in me (a discussion of that would be outside of this particular article’s wheelhouse) and my wife and I couldn’t help but go back. And that brings me around to now, in the wake of a livestream where the prospect of new operations is basically met with a shrug and a guess. That earned some points.

I am not entirely talking from a position of ignorance.Let’s start by taking a step back to the old SWTOR endgame, or as I like to call it, an Endgame Heartbreaker. Because that’s really what it was, and that requires a bit of further elaboration.

In tabletop roleplaying, there’s a type of game known as a Fantasy Heartbreaker. It is, in short, a game that is trying very hard to be Dungeons & Dragons, usually with class/level systems and all of the generic fantasy tropes firmly in place. These games almost always have something cool tacked on, something to make them distinct and different… but they’re going to break your heart because they’re about as viable in the marketplace as a one-legged chihuahua in a dog race. No one is ever going to see the cool parts because if you want to play D&D, you play D&D.

We’ve had far too many Endgame Heartbreakers: MMOs whose unique and charming systems get buried underneath the eat-sleep-raid-repeat cadence that World of Warcraft has been steering straight into the ground. SWTOR definitely fell into that category. It had some marvelously story-heavy instances that, unfortunately, were best experienced by hammering the space bar as fast as possible so you could get back to the killing as a group. The individual stories were fun and diverse, but once they ended, you basically fell right back into the old habit of raiding to flesh things out.

I don’t need to tell you why that doesn’t work, do I? It’s the equivalent of competing with McDonald’s by opening a competing restaurant called MacDrummond’s with a purple-and-white color scheme, the same menu, slower service, higher prices, and only two stores open on alternating hours. You are competing against the market leader not by being smarter and faster but by doing the exact same thing that the market leader does with a different skin.

The game subsequently did flesh things out, and I thought (and still think) its handling of reputations is pretty good. But on a fundamental level, all of that remained a matter of killing time before the main events. The endgame content – the point of the game – was always to get into those Operations and get those bosses down, just as it was in dozens of other games.

Yet here we are in Knights of the Fallen Empire, and I find myself happy with the idiosyncratic way of handling the endgame. It’s not perfect – very few things are – but it really seems as if that core restructuring of the game goes beyond simply adding story chapters and calling it a day. There is an emphasis on the idea that people may not necessarily want to play in huge groups, and that’s a remarkable shift.

At the start of the piece, I mentioned that my wife and I returned to the game together. Stuff like the Star Fortress is basically made for us – semi-randomized content that’s more concerned with having people there working within their abilities than with having a specific setup of group members. The whole idea of a solo challenge mode getting added in the patch after the next one makes me very happy, especially when dealing with a game that’s historically been pretty good about providing an interesting solo experience.

For the people who really dig on big-group stuff, though… well, it’s all still there. Everything in the game is still in place and made newly relevant for higher-level players. So that’s not even a going concern, you can definitely get in there and get just as much out of the experience. More, even! And if you had already cleared every operation at the highest difficulty possible and want something new to do… hey, most of us have been there.

It's always a team of a few in the main stories, so this makes sense.

More to the point, I’m interested to see how this shift in philosophies works out in the longer term. What we have here is a game that’s really trying to refocus and redevelop itself, providing a different context for the game as a whole and a different set of design principles for players to enjoy. It’s a major shift in philosophy, and it’s something we haven’t seen much in other titles that followed the stock MMO plan for large-group endgame content.

If the game’s fortunes take a wild downturn, that’s going to make it pretty clear that this experiment didn’t work. But that’s how I see it: It’s an experiment, a turning away of the old model and a move to something that can be enjoyed by a larger percent of the population. And based on most of the response to the expansion, I’m hopeful about its prospects in the future.

I want to see what the next story chapter holds and how my choices impact the longer term gameplay once we’re over the initial hurdle. I want to see what new sorts of content come along. I want to see how well it handles the new setup with a very different endgame structure. I’m hopeful.

Do I think that solo players with a possible partner are a solid foundation for future content? I don’t know, but I’m interested in seeing how it shakes out. There are still incentives for being in larger groups rather than penalties, and you can enjoy quite a bit as a team with another player along for the ride, and it opens up the potential for interesting fights and content requiring the coordination of two people. I’ve greatly enjoyed running flashpoints with two people already, since there’s much less sense of “perform your role” and far more emphasis on working together as a team to do what needs to be done. And I think that further chapters, more content, and more content aimed at that size can indeed flesh out the game in the long run.

It’s something new, and I’m curious to see where it goes. But the team behind the game set the course, and they’re sticking with it. That’s why I was happy with the livestream – because it would have been so easy for the ultimate course to be “all right, here’s when we’re bringing out the big raid.” That’s not what we got. So I was pretty darn happy.

Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively OP writers as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews (and not necessarily shared across the staff). Think we’re spot on — or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!
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127 Comments on "How Star Wars: The Old Republic won me over with its endgame"

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Bladeknightz
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Bladeknightz

I find there is a lack of things to enjoy doing in this expansion only 1 Flashpoint came in this expansion no operations and the 1 flashpoint you can’t use group finder for. I took a leave from Swtor hoping for some new content not just chapters that you can have done in less than 1 hour. I would have preferred to have paid for  the expansion if the added more flashpoints and 1 or 2 operations with it

mysecretid
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mysecretid

dragonwhimsy 
Just talking with you here, not criticising, just so ya know …

Things being ‘too easy” may actually have more to do with the inescapable differences between classes in every online game. 
As I’m sure you already know, both flavors of Trooper in SWTOR can often steamroll difficult encounters fairly easily, while other classes — even geared well and played cleverly — will struggle with the battles and encounters because their class ability sets play out differently, and prove weak to certain situations.

For example, my main is a Gunslinger Smuggler, and most of the Gunslinger’s truly useful, and most effective, abilities are only available when the Gunslinger is crouched behind cover (i.e. stationary).
Problem is, many of the tougher boss enemies in the game use abilities which regularly knock the Gunslinger from cover, or else target him with brutal area-of-effect attacks — so the Gunslinger ends up spending much of those battles on the move, trying to find opportunities to actually use his best abilities for more than 5 seconds at a time..
Contrast this with my Vanguard Trooper, slt, who pretty much stands up to everything, and survives without much effort. Not only that, but the Vanguard Trooper tends to chew through enemies and situations much faster than the Gunslinger Smuggler.
As Miley Cyrus says, he’s a wrecking ball. :-)

The same content  that’s easy for the Trooper can be a lot harder for the Gunslinger — that sort of class difference may be the reason for some of what you’re seeing.
Cheers,

dragonwhimsy
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dragonwhimsy

I totally agree with everything you posted Eliot. KotFE has gotten me to return to SWTOR as my secondary MMO, at least for now. My only real problem with it has been that the downscaling is too generous and companions feel too powerful, and so the game just feels too easy. Mostly I just think the story missions need to be a little tougher.

Woetoo
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Woetoo

vicariousfan Karl_Hungus 
From what I remember, the peak was 2 million retail sales at launch, which turned into 1.7 million subscribers.
There was an EA earnings report that if I recall correctly pointed out that subscriptions had dropped below 500k, but that profits were higher than that would indicate due to cartel market sales. That was pre-KotFE, at a reasonably low point, iirc.
My guess (based on rough server population indicators) would be a number higher than 500k, but not significantly so. Certainly not as low as 250k, unless a LOT of players are playing preferred status. An increase primarily due to the release of the film bringing in new players (who’ve got a LOT of good content to experience) and the expansion bringing in old players who (like the article author) haven’t played in a couple of years (who also have a lot of good content to experience). However those same rough server population indicators also point to a drop off of players since the most recent of two peaks (25th Oct and 29th Dec), where player numbers are heading back to pre-KotFE levels. Maybe the episodic content will keep things ticking along at current numbers – my guess is “not” though.

As to developer recruitment. There have been posts made that highlight a couple of both high and low level positions. But there have also been posts highlighting people who’ve clearly left the team too. Though if you’re closer to the company, you’ll know better than I (who just notice the occasional forum post on the subject).
My impression though remains a small team, getting smaller.
Hopefully now that the part of the team that spent their time reworking so much of the existing game content, mechanics and infrastructure to be relevant again at level 65 (and yes, whilst much maligned – I recognise it was a huge amount of work) – their efforts will mean more genuinely new stuff.

mysecretid
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mysecretid

SallyBowls1 Wild_Phil tobascodagama melissaheather 
Absolutely this. There has never been an authoritative source concerning this issue, much less an authoritative definition

vicariousfan
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vicariousfan

Karl_Hungus vicariousfan that’s fine if you don’t believe me however I live in Austin and i’m making documentary movies about video games.  I have contacts. 

Even with out that there is nothing indicating that they aren’t making bank.  The earnings reports sure as hell haven’t said anything. 

Yeah I was gonna say if they had 2.5 million subs they would be doing much better.  What report said 250k though?  I don’t doubt you I was just wondering for my own reference.   Last one I remember was at 500k.  Is that the April 2015 one?    

Yeah no group content?  and?   Its clear they are shifting all their efforts into producing more single players story stuff like KOTFE.   That’s the point its been such a huge success for them.   Like HUGE success.   

Is it really that far of a stretch to see them shift to a primarly single player MMO?  I mean its not like SWTOR was ever a hard core raiding game or anything. 
haha i’m not trying to get the last word i’m just having a discussion.

Karl_Hungus
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Karl_Hungus

vicariousfan Karl_Hungus 
Yeah, no. I won’t fall for that “I know someone at this or that studio so I’ve got inside scoop.” Sounds like bullshit that people say on the internet to reinforce their argument. But I did go back to the old reports from a year or so ago and they said around 250k, so I was right about 2.5, but obviously overshot the amount of zeros lol… EA did say the game was steadily growing from there though. This was back in April 2015. But that’s all besides the point.
Show me the “now hiring” signs (not the “we’re always taking applications” signs) and I might believe they’re actually bringing in new people. Considering they’ve said they have no plans on the table for new group content in 2016, if they are hiring new people, they’ll only be put to use in continuing this schism.

tutenkhamen
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tutenkhamen

Deuter 
I made a mistake, most had a single cutscene, usually before final boss, sometimes earlier (tfb kephess and cartel warlords). Even so. I’m all for considering why other people enjoy this game besides raiding. It’s just that most of these articles seem to be, “Oh I’m coming back from a huge break from before when I quit because I bored/hated it and now it’s awesome because raids are going away and solo content is the new thing”

If solo stuff is for him, great. Nothing against it really (except of course, stopping raids b/c of it). But he should have left out most of it where he states fairly matter of factly that Swtor sucked because it was too similar to wow raiding.

tutenkhamen
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tutenkhamen

Deuter 
Star Fortress is a Flashpoint, plain and simple. It may have random layouts, but it is essentially the same thing, ie you’re not experience something new when you do a different flashpoint. This is not endgame, in anyone’s definition. He only brings it up because it’s the one thing that can allow him and his wife to play together.
He was HAPPY about there not being new ops. You raid, you know what ops are like. Compared to his version of endgame (Star Fortress), why would he be happy about that? Why would he be happy with LESS content? Can’t there be Couple’s Flashpoints AND raids? 
And I never said anything close to “He should like what you like, or GTFO!”. But it seems like he’s remarking on the entirety of the game without actually having played a good portion of it. Look at his quote, “It had some marvelously story-heavy instances that, unfortunately, were
best experienced by hammering the space bar as fast as possible so you
could get back to the killing as a group.” That describes a flashpoint, not a raid. Only what.. TFB, EC, and Revan had cutscenes in it? It’s an opinion sure, but it’s much less meaningful when he talks about content he hasn’t experienced.

vicariousfan
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vicariousfan

Karl_Hungus vicariousfan that is true however again if they weren’t making money they sure as shit wouldn’t be developing new content of any kind.  Look how fast Warhammer Online went into maintenance mode. 

No there isn’t anything going on unusual at Bioware Austin I can verify that.   I have several contacts there and all signs point to hiring more developers after the success of KOTFE.

” If SWTOR had half as many subscribers, which is what they’ve indicated before, then logically they should still be able to field a decent sized team capable of developing multiple areas of the game at the same time. ”

wait what?  When did SWTOR say they had 2.5 milion subscribers.