Hyperspace Beacon: How BioWare could get SWTOR back on track

    
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If you have yet to experience the conclusion to the traitor storyline from the latest story update to Star Wars: The Old Republic and you wish to remain unsullied by the twists and turns, then you will want to turn back now because we are going to be diving into spoiler territory here. Here we go… three… two… one… Darth Vader is Luke’s father! OK, seriously, you’ll want to read this later if you’ve not played through Update 5.9.

The traitor story left us with a lot more questions as to where the story was going, but it was oddly satisfying at the same time. I wanted more, but I felt that the end answered enough immediate questions without answering all of them. There were so many questions at the end of the storyline that it might even be considered a cliffhanger.

Today, I’m going to do one of my favorite things to do with SWTOR: I’m going to speculate. I’m going to take what I’ve seen from the past of the game and attempt to predict its future. I have three unanswered questions that will shape the future of SWTOR. And we will start with the big one.

Which faction will we join?

At the end of the traitor story, the Outlander is asked which faction he (I’ll say “he” because that’s what my character is; apply your own gender or lack thereof as you like) would like to side with. Unfortunately, Hutts were not one of those factions, but I will make do with Imperial or Republic because those are the primary factions that have been in the game since launch. To add another faction at this point would just make things more complicated than necessary.

I am hoping that this choice is an important choice. I hope this choice actually places my character in that faction. That means, if my character is Imperial and chooses to side with the Republic, then he would be able to visit Republic-only territory. For instance, it would be great if I could now visit Coruscant unrestricted. Or maybe I could visit Republic territory on Nar Shaddaa without being attacked by the guard droids. But that would also mean that I am a Sith Warrior who is now attacked by Imperial NPCs because I am seen as a traitor.

As an added bonus, I would like to hear some dialogue changes that reflect the change in faction. I don’t just mean during the cutscenes, which is obvious. I would like to hear people around Carrick Station whisper, “Didn’t he used to be an Imperial? I don’t know if I can trust him.”

Can SWTOR go back to its roots?

I would have to dig up the article on the old Massively website to properly express how excited I was about the Forged Alliances storyline that was the precursor to the Shadow of Revan expansion. But to sum up: I thought that SWTOR was finally getting back on the right track by focusing on the conflict that made the game interesting in the first place: the Republic-v-Empire war.

As a group, the fans of SWTOR weren’t too excited about Rise of the Hutt Cartel, but one of the features that I believe everyone enjoyed was the idea that the Republic story was completely independent of the Imperial storyline. Although one story fed off the other, the storyline itself was different based on whether I was a Republic character or Imperial.

Given the disparity in storylines now — Is Acina alive? Am I romancing Koth? Is Arcann on our side? —  the potential for diverse and interesting stories even within each faction will add enough flavor to make a good story a great story. For instance, I loved the way that Nathema was handled. Depending on your class and depending on your choices within that class, a different character talked to you before sending out the Temple Guardian boss.

Can my character remain mine?

When SWTOR first launched, my Sith Warrior felt just like every other Sith Warrior because the armor, ship, and companion that I had was the same as everyone else because it was either the one that was given to us by default or it was the best one to have because of game mechanics.

Since launch, SWTOR has added a plethora of things to help make my character feel unique. I can now dress the way that I like regardless of what my armor stats are thanks to the outfit designer. The variety of different weapons has also increased dramatically, despite that I have to stick with dual sabers as a Marauder or a long rifle as a Sniper. Strongholds have also played a major role in keeping characters unique. But for all of these changes, there is one downfall: You have to spend real-life money to keep up with the Joneses.

I never liked the idea of loot boxes, and unfortunately, that was the only way to get the best looking armor in the game. I am very thankful that early SWTOR designer Damion Shubert helped institute the idea that everything sold on the Market could be sold on the Galactic Trade Network (auction house). But I believe that it should really go beyond that: There needs to be exciting armor, weapons, and other cosmetic items that are available just by playing the game.

The Traitor Among the Chiss and the Nathema Conspiracy updates gave us some excellent additions in both categories. I really thought the two different Chiss outfits added to the replayability of that flashpoint, and although I didn’t replay Nathema a whole lot, I can see why some people did because the decorations in that flashpoint were really good.

As an aside: I understand that a game cannot live on just a subscription or box-price any longer because of the sheer size of the team needed to create an excellent-looking game. So I’m not opposed to the Cartel Market (cash shop) itself. In fact, the way that SWTOR is handling many of the items in the market now is great. BioWare is doing limited-time sales, which I know will frustrate some people, but understand the necessity of them. BioWare needs to create a sense of limited quantity. But most of the items now are not lootboxes or lockboxes. What you see is what you get, and I am very happy about that. I’ve even started buying more things off the market now that I know what I’m getting.

I think it’s working, and we will definitely need to see more great items come out of updates and more direct sales on the Cartel Market.

What do you think? Do you think these additions will add more of what’s needed for the game? And bonus question: Do you think you can come at SWTOR with fresh eyes? Do you think if you could that your opinion of the game would be different now? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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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IronSalamander8 .

Honestly I know I’m very negative these days about the game but I would love for them to fix it but I can’t see them doing so. There’s so much they need to fix to make it truly worth playing again but I don’t think they even want to, much less put in the effort needed:

-Fix the tanking nerf and balance the tanks. (I mained my Chiss Jugg as one of my guild’s raid tanks back in the day, other balancing may well be needed).

-Drop galactic command in its current form. The idea of RNG for gearing to this extent is ludicrous but the core idea of get rewarded for any content you enjoy is a solid one. Less RNG and more rewarding experiences would be great for this.

-The conquest system is a mess. Either drop it or retool it instead of making it worse with each iteration.

-I don’t PvP but apparently it’s a hot mess right now. Get it fixed, balanced, and punish win traders and other exploiters.

-The CM is where they make their money but you can have a cash shop that is less predatory and still make money. Constantly retooling the same gear over and over and charging for it gets old. On a side note my main was STILL wearing the Black Hole Jugg gear when I last played as it looks awesome and the blue/black color combo is perfect for a Chiss Sith!

-Fix the bugs like getting stuck in the floor when Force Charging that have plagued this game since its inception!

-Strongholds are a good idea but hooks? Really? EQ2 does this far better and its engine is also not so hot. RPers love SHs but they’re too expensive to fully unlock and the decoration system is garbage.

-Better story content like launch but don’t ignore the MM part of MMORPG, and this is from someone that loves to solo.

-Higher quality expansions. I wasn’t a huge fan of RotHC or SoR but they were far better than the Zakuul stuff.

-RPers are likely the only reason the lights are still on. People want to RP in the Old Republic so they should have more focus than they get. The few people I know that still play either entirely RP or spend the vast majority of their time in RP so it would help the game to be responsive to their (reasonable) requests.

I’m sure there’s more but that’s what I can think of off the top of my head.

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ghostlight

I recently re-subscribed to swtor after a long absence and am enjoying it very much, despite the fact that not much meaningful has changed in the interim. It is definitely scratching the nostalgia itch I’ve been having lately for the game though. I’ve said it before and it is worth repeating that swtor has far and away my favorite mmo storytelling, and given today’s climate we will most likely never see an mmo like it again. The swtor original class stories knock it out of the park, and make me feel special and the ‘chosen one’ even when I know I am not. ;)

That said, I agree completely with what Massively and more than a few of the MOP community have noted now and many times in the past about how there was absolutely nothing wrong with Republic versus Empire. It was definitely a case of if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, at least as far as the swtor storytelling is concerned. And regarding the KOTFE episodes I’ve played, they had their moments, but overall I don’t think the writing is nearly as good as the original class stories.

BTW, as an aside, Xanthe Elbrick gets my vote as one of the most underrated voice actors. She totally nails the Sith Inquisitor.

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Weilan

The game was is and will always be a disaster, there is no fixing it. They killed SWG for it and that doesn’t make it any better.

Regarding SWG, I don’t understand why didn’t they release NGE on a seperate server and whoever liked it could play it, but those who liked the other version can play it too and later on based on population and interest in both versions, decide which one to focus on… stupid arrogant people.

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George

So, you are suggesting to split the 20 persons that were playing the game in two…

Just kidding ;)

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Slaasher

Wait. SWG and SWTOR were 2 different game houses weren’t they?

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Weilan

@Slasher

That may be so, but from how I understand things, SWG was shut down in order to make way for SWTOR. The NGE patch was implemented hoping to make the sandbox MMO more like WoW and many didn’t like it, and during its last years, SWG was not very played, so when SWTOR was about to launch, they shut down SWG so that all the people who want to play a SW MMO on PC had to play SWTOR or suck it.

forztr
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forztr

Larry, you are the reason the game is failing, #blamelarry, well not really but your article is 50% content and 50% cartel market and fashion, and you seem to be happy with that? Maybe that’s not the balance the former players were looking for.

You can’t sell stuff if you have no customers. In the recent interview on the Badfeeling podcast, Musco said something like old players leave and new players sign up, that’s just the way it is with an MMO. I don’t dispute this but the way it was said was as if there’s nothing you can do about that so we just accept it.

If SWTOR really wants to get back on track they should be trying to retain existing players and encouraging past players to return. As a former sub, I still get regular cartel market update emails but never get a returning player discounted sub offer. Why would I buy the latest cool armour for a game I’m not playing?

The current restrictions on non-subs and in particular the level 70 gearing being behind the sub paywall makes it pointless for me to even log on to the game unless I want to level my 38th toon. So basically when I take a break from the game it’s a legit I don’t log on for months kind of break because I have no reason to stay connected to the game at all.

If it wasn’t for various content creators producing some excellent podcasts, youtube videos and twitch streams then I could easily have given up on the game completely. The optimist inside me still has a little hope left that 2019 will see a comeback of sorts for SWTOR, fingers and toes crossed.

To finish I’d like to mention my current game ESO. Similar to SWTOR it’s an MMO based off a well known existing IP that had a rough launch and had to make changes to both business model and content to survive. Unlike SWTOR ESO has bounced back and gone on to thrive with an ever increasing player base. I’ve unsubbed from ESO several times for various reasons but never fully left the game since it went buy to play because even as a non-sub I could still play my main and do meaningful stuff. The game was always on my radar of something I could play.

A couple of months ago ESO added daily rewards for both subs and non-subs and at E3 announced that later this year they would be increasing the rewards you get for subbing. If a successful game is actively pushing to keep players connected to their game and to further incentivise paying a monthly fee then you’d think a struggling game would be trying harder to do the same.

oldandgrumpy
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oldandgrumpy

It doesn’t matter what they do to SWTOR I won’t be returning. I gave the game 3 goes and they are not getting a 4th. Besides there are way to many good and fun games to play instead.
Personally I am over the whole IP, guess I finally grew up :(

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Nate Woodard

I haven’t the slightest clue what SWTOR needs to do to turn it around for themselves. Personally, I’d love to see SWTOR have action combat. Even if it is just the illusion of action combat and it’s still really tab target, that would greatly improve the gameplay for my tastes. Next would be maybe some quality of life improvements. There are tons of bugs. I mean you could literally put in a whole expansion’s worth of work on just fixing bugs in the game. Maybe a little bit of world revamp wouldn’t hurt too much. We’ve been staring at the same stuff for what? Eight years now? Let’s breathe some life into those leveling zones! A glimpse of a promise of graphical improvements would definitely get people’s attention if nothing else.

I can tell you what formula not to use if that helps. Don’t keep going with a story that no one really likes. No one really likes “hold hands” faction warfare, so don’t do that either. If it’s Jedi vs Sith, Light Side vs Dark Side and Republic vs Empire, than you need to go back to that and give the people what they want. In the early days of SWTOR I remember it being a predominant thing. Yeah, there were some definite Mara Jade characters, but they felt like Mara Jade characters and you laughed them off and moved on with the story. Don’t work more on cosmetic items than actual content.

Think about what people really liked about the game and then build on those strengths. Unfortunately, SWTOR isn’t really good at anything else in the MMOverse other than story telling. It was, by far, one of the best story telling mmo’s out there. But now that the story telling has become lack luster at best, people are starting to wonder why they are even playing and leaving.

I don’t know. Seems like SWTOR has a lot of work to do in the next few months to figure out whether or not it’s going to be around for a few more years or not.

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Schmidt.Capela

BioWare is doing limited-time sales, which I know will frustrate some people, but understand the necessity of them. BioWare needs to create a sense of limited quantity.

Well, I at least behave very differently: if I see something having limited availability as a ploy to create artificial scarcity, not only it completely prevents me from purchasing that thing (as I consider artificial scarcity a kind of scam I don’t want to support), it also makes me less likely to purchase anything else from the same manufacturer/publisher/whatever.

What gets me to purchase things isn’t any kind of “buy now or you won’t be able to” threat, but instead good prices and sales. For example, if you price account-wide cosmetic items in the $3 or less range I might purchase a couple hundred dollars out of assorted cosmetics (I’ve actually done it in the past), but if you try to sell me a cosmetic item for $10 or more I will never even bother checking if I want it or not (in part because at that price I will never purchase it anyway, so if in the end I truly wanted that item it might frustrate me enough to leave the game instead).

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spencer quinn

great article but I don’t agree on it on some parts. your idea on empire NPCs attacking you if you were a traitor, it would not work in an MMO IMO. Because, if your in a guild and your group who choose the empire in the story or have not played the story yet side says “hey we are going to taris on the empire side to fight X boss wanna come”you can’t come because you choose the wrong side and you just be murder when you arrived on empire’s taris by imps, I like the idea, but it just would not work. Also it’s gonna take more then story changes IMO to get SWTOR popular again what it needs is new content, I’m talking about new modes, while its great there putting out PVP maps and OP content, I think it needs new modes such as Walker PVP, taking command post like in the original star wars battlefront, ect….. That’s just my opinion.

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Bruno Brito

Simple: Scratch the game right now, and work on a better, more accessible SWG, with new engine and a less clunky combat and UI. Use what you’ve learned from SWTOR to build upon it.

I don’t trust EA to do this, and i don’t think i ever will.