Hyperspace Beacon: A six-year retrospective of Star Wars The Old Republic

    
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Happy birthday, Star Wars: The Old Republic. I don’t think your birthday has actually ever fallen on the same day that my article released, so this is a great treat. And it’s also an interesting time for SWTOR because things have changed so much since launch, and it continues to evolve as does its audience to some extent. (Except me; I have not evolved.)

I started writing professionally about SWTOR a year and a half before it launched, so I have been there since the beginning. And although I’ve had my ups and downs with the actual amount of time I spent with the game, I have remained a subscriber and participant in all the activities that the game has to offer. Admittedly, my time in the game as made me a little bit jaded, which is why I have taken some breaks when the content cycle was low. Regardless, I have always stepped back into the game because, at the end of the day, I still believe that it is a good game with an even better community.

Today, in celebration of SWTOR‘s birthday, I would like take a look back to the game’s launch and each of the major stages of the game’s life cycle. I also invite you to talk about your favorite SWTOR moment in the comments.

Early access and launch

As I mentioned above, I have been playing the game since launch, but I also spent quite a bit of time in beta. And my first fond memory of the game itself (not the hype that surrounded it) that I can talk about was playing for one of my very first livestreams. At the time, EA would only allow about 20 minutes of gameplay to be broadcast at a time, and I couldn’t really give away any spoilers about the game story. I did something that no one else was doing: I played the beginning of all eight starting class stories and talked about my experience so far with the game. Livestreaming was rather new in 2011, but I still had hundreds of people watching me play the game. It was both intimidating and exciting.

Officially, I joined the game on the first day of early access. However, I was never one of those people who sped through content. I wanted to enjoy the leveling process, but at the same time, I also wanted to join people in operations (which at the time was just Eternity Vault) and Ilum PvP. So I picked a class story that I wasn’t exactly interested in prior to launch: The Sith Warrior. I figured that I could zoom through that story without paying much attention and hit max level quickly. I was wrong. The Sith Warrior story is one of my favorites, second only to the Imperial Agent, and it took me more than two weeks to actually hit max level.

The launch of the game was very exciting. Everything was fresh, new, and interesting. The storytelling reminded many people of Knights of the Old Republic and other BioWare games. In fact, some classes were accused of being direct rips from existing BioWare games, like Mass Effect. BioWare writers swear that there was no collusion between the BioWare Austin and BioWare Edmonton teams as far as that was concerned.

Free-to-play and expansions

The first year for SWTOR was rough. Players burned through content far faster than BioWare believed they would. And they were very vocal about the issues they were having on the forum and social media. This caused BioWare to quickly look at its business model and change the game to free-to-play very quickly: less than a year after launch. The evidence that it was rushed still lingers today. I’m looking at you, purchasable quickbars. That is still one of the weirdest moves in F2P history. But despite its missteps, SWTOR F2P ushered in a rather prosperous time for the game. I like to call this the Expansion Period.

After F2P, we started to see a rather large influx of content. About every six months for the next couple of years, BioWare introduced us to an expansion of some kind. Although players would question whether additions like Galactic Starfighter and Galactic Strongholds were really worthy of being called expansions, the price point (the cost of a single month of subscription) quieted opponents’ roar to a whimper. Plus, Rise of the Hutt Cartel and Shadow of Revan gave us story, small-group, and large-group activities. There really wasn’t a lot to argue about besides semantics.

Shadow of Revan was also the last expansion that really hit all the marks with fans. We didn’t get a new PvP map with new game rules, but we did get new arenas. Two new flashpoints were introduced for those who like to play in small groups. Raiders received two of the most challenging operations to date. And those who liked the individual class stories received new missions that were focused on class-specific content. Shadow of Revan was the pinnacle of the game post-launch.

A strange turn

In 2015, the developers announced that they “wanted to return to [their] BioWare roots and bring to the forefront what has always made Star Wars: The Old Republic great, which is story.” Of course, this meant wiping the slate clean and creating a story where you practically had to rebuild your character from scratch.

Although many were rightfully skeptical of this whole change, I supported the transition. I believed it would at very least be interesting, if not wildly successful. I am going to guess that it was not wildly successful given that we are now on our third senior producer since the launch of Knights of the Fallen Empire.

The first “Knights of” expansion seemed to really focus on our character gaining new allies while characters like Lana Beniko and Theron Shan researched ways to take down Emperor Arcann from the throne of Zakuul, the Eternal Empire. We didn’t find out until the end of the second “Knights of” expansion that we were actually a pawn in everyone’s game, which turned an interesting story about your character into a drawn-out narrative about Emperor Valkorion’s family.

SWTOR right now

With Valkorion gone from the galaxy, it appears that the everyone is set on taking down the next greatest power: you. Some have chosen to try to side with you while secretly waiting for a moment to stab you in the back, while others have openly turned against you.

I am suspicious of BioWare Austin’s storytelling prowess at this point, but I remain hopeful. I don’t think anyone at BioWare Austin is individually a bad storyteller, but it appears that after six years, resources are beginning to run thin.

I really do hope that SWTOR finds a third wind and continues for many years to come. The current configuration of developers are the most community-minded, and I believe they have the talent to produce some interesting and exciting content.

Good luck, happy birthday, and may the Force be with you, SWTOR, for many more years.

Every other week, Larry Everett jumps into his T-16 back home, rides through the hypergates of BioWare‘s Star Wars: The Old Republic, and posts his adventures in the Hyperspace Beacon. Drop him a holocom on Twitter @Shaddoe or send him a transmission at larry@massivelyop.com. Now strap yourself in, kid — we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!
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connor_jones

My two cents on a couple of the expansions:

Rise of the Hutt Cartel gets my vote as one of the more underrated expansions. The stories were excellent especially on the Empire side, Makeb was visually breathtaking, and there was a lot of content. Also, the Hutt majordomo was a piece of work. This was no laughing stock Jabba, but a much more sinister and warlike Hutt. When I first met him it was definitely a wtf moment for me! ;)

Starfighters – I know many people didn’t care for it, but for me it was the most fun I’ve ever had in PvP. Sure, it has a steep learning curve and you have to suffer through more than a few mismatches, but for me personally I’ve never felt the excitement and adrenaline run so strong as in a close Starfighter match. I miss my Legion bomber.

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connor_jones

I do miss SWTOR. It was my goto mmo for the better part of a year until the KOTFE expansion totally ruined the experience for me, game play wise as well as story. Sighs.

That said, your retrospective here brings back some of my best mmo story memories……..Stepping out onto the beautiful Jedi homeworld of Tython for the first time….. ‘Up the (Sith) Academy’ ;) on the tomb raider-esque Korriban…..the sad and poignant tale of the rogue Jedi of Taris…..the mysticism of the Voss……the ominous Czerka finding on Tatooine……the borderline kinky female scientist with the Eastern European accent on Dromund Kaas…..being ridiculed and second-guessed by your CO General Garza….the Great Hunt….the Blade Runner vibe of Nar Shaddaa…..the misfits and oddballs of the Inquisitor crew…..but I could go on and on. The original class stories were that good.

I would love EA/Bioware to give me an excuse to go back to SWTOR, though I’m not optimistic about this happening. Definitely a ‘hope I’m wrong’ situation.

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rafael12104

Yup. There were tons of moments like that. I’m going to add just a few because I’m feeling nostalgic.

Watching in shock as T7 leaps into combat and realizing the little guy is a tank.

Running Eseless first thing when I got to the fleet with a group of newbies and marveling at everything and most especially the story in group content.

Baras losing his mind. LOL!

Working with guildies to figure out how to get Fleet datacrons.

Taking down SOA for the first time.

The Agent story.

Fighting the Terror from Beyond and realizing I’m afraid of heights.

I could go on and on and on….

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connor_jones

Had to mention…….It took my two run-throughs of the Agent story to fully appreciate it. For some odd reason it left me a bit cold the first time, but I loved it the second time around.

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rafael12104

It took me a couple as well. I had a nagging feeling I missed a few key points. And, yup. I did. Also, it was striking how different it was between dark and light.

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draugris

I was so hyped about SWTOR, i followed the game through the development cycle until the first closed betas. When i watching some leaked footage my worst fears became true. SWTOR was more of a single player RPG with a chat than a real MMO. Open World PvP was absolute crap performance wise, i remember the Illum dia show too good. The only thing i liked about SWTOR was the story telling. I looked into the game a few months before and found that performance is still bad, the combat is clunky and it is even more a single player than it was back then. But story telling imo is still strong.

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sizer99

I am suspicious of BioWare Austin’s storytelling prowess at this point, but I remain hopeful. I don’t think anyone at BioWare Austin is individually a bad storyteller, but it appears that after six years, resources are beginning to run thin.

It’s the old ‘we never planned this far’ writing problem endemic to comic books and other episodic things. Eventually you just can’t do anything overall coherent and can only hope for some satisfaction in the smaller plotlines (or you reboot). It certainly doesn’t kill the game – WoW noticeably was plot vomit from at least as far back as Lich King, and it’s only gotten worse because they baked in the stupid two faction thing and it hamstrings them everywhere, but most people just learn to ignore the dumb overall plot in favor of some very good quest lines.

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Devin B

As at early adopter of MMOs and a fanatic of the genre for years, SWTOR represents to me the last time I’ve ever been super hyped for a new MMO. While in the long run it didn’t live up to the hype, it still consumed me for a good 6 months. I’ve come back from time to time, never more for a month or 2 though.

I still enjoy the early development videos they put out, I guess because of how much promise it had.

The game had a pretty rough treatment on this site and the former version of it. In the first year of the game, any given month’s most commented articles always involved negative news of this game. An article about a writer or producer of the game leaving would have commenters jumping for joy and celebrating in the flaming wake of the “TorTanic”. It was such an odd thing to witness such gleeful schadenfreude from players who all visit a site that’s about loving MMOs.

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rafael12104

I love this game. I truly do. I am a founder. Started playing at launch and didn’t look back for 5 1/2 years. It was a roller coaster. LOL. But, to be honest, up until this last year I didn’t care much because the game was fun and I was playing with good friends.

But alas, I won’t go into the debacle that is Cxp again, I left the game for good. The game delivered so much but sadly for me and many others, it lost it’s way and hasn’t returned.

I’ve written on this subject before and will expound more if you would like. But that is not the intent of this post.

This post is to wish the game and those that play it well. Because, seriously, if you compare the game now to what was offered at launch, it is night and day. The wealth of content you have to choose from, if you are starting out today, is staggering. And it covers all the facets you would want from for a theme park.

And btw, I loved that it was a theme park. I was on that ride the entirety of my 5 years plus there.

So congrats to SWTOR and kudos to Bioware for keeping the fires burning in the KoTOR universe. Thank you to all who played and are still playing. I wish the game well. And, I’m still hoping the tide will turn and there will be a third wind, as Larry says.

Afterall, so many predicted this game wouldn’t last a year. So many rooted for it to fail for all sorts of reasons. Every year for 5 years I heard the same “nail in the coffin” refrain. And yet, here we are 6 years and counting! Go to love popping that coffin open and scaring the crap out of the naysayers! Lol.

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connor_jones

Well-said man, especially this:

The wealth of content you have to choose from, if you are starting out today, is staggering. And it covers all the facets you would want from for a theme park.

You’ve just about convinced me to go back. My reasoning being that with the wealth of content now available I can do the stuff I like (original class story, Starfighters, Hutt Cartel, Revan), and ignore the stuff I don’t (namely KOTFE). In any case I am pretty much burned out on GW2 and STO and in need of another mmo.

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rafael12104

Yup. Definitely a good time. And while I have left, I will also come back to do just as you describe, play the fun stuff.

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connor_jones

Much to my surprise, I just bought two months of time and am downloading now. :D

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Witches

1-50 was fantastic, i did every single quest in the game,back then bonus quest were very common, these were also extremely fun and gave a lot of background story and were great to create a SW ambience.

Corelia and End Game were very disappointing and i made the mistake of rolling the other spec of the same class as my second char so i was doing much of the same thing, but on a playstyle i enjoyed less.

But the golden age of SWTOR for me was the prelude to KOTFE, 12xp was the best, i got to experience all the stories as if i was playing an RPG, and since they are all linked that made me enjoy the game much more, this was also a time when there were many players so the economy was in a great place, even lootboxes were good in that period, they were getting ready to reset everything so grind was set to a minimum, rewards were much higher, and it was easier to get good gear so you could venture into things you wouldn’t otherwise.

More story meant more characters, and more characters meant more gear needed, and since the best gear is in the CM i was actually spending more.

April-Rain
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April-Rain

I was so hyped for this game and had high hopes for a more modern and improved SWG along with some amazing bioware story telling, I started a guild on the announcement and we were pretty strong going into launch but with in a month I began to see I had put a lot of time and effort, money into websites and building our community in to a game that was pretty poor once you got deeper into it.

Not only that I had put down on the collector’s edition which now collects dust in my loft, I always mention this as I’m bitter lol.

Stories were good, graphics were mediocre but i understand the cartoon approach for longevity and not to look pretty dated pretty quick like swg, but the area’s and lack of real scale were real immersion killers.

Space combat was a joke along with the PvP and after 5 months I quit and walked away from around 2 years of work and the community I built which had already began to implode with the state of the end game.

I have since been back to carry on alone and play the stories and xpacs, but I can no longer play it due to the nickel and diming and the shitty cash shop.

So much potential and a totally missed opportunity, and the worse thing to come out of all this is they killed the better Star Wars MMO to boost it.

RIP SWG

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Sorenthaz

Tbh SWG was already pretty much dead by the time SWTOR was around the corner though. Unless people actually would prefer the NGE/CU SWG over SWTOR.

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johnwillo

I loved this game, when it was still about Star Wars, but I think that I’m gone for good. Zarkuul wasn’t cool.

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Sashaa

Same feeling. Knights of the Fallen Empire killed the game for me.

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Mark

I still enjoy it, and even now have much to play through. I just wish the leveling content wasn’t so damn easy. I still remember dealing with a certain D. J. as my Sniper Agent in a story mission battle that made me sweat.