So we’re all talking about Star Wars The Old Republic lately, and hey, that’s understandable. We have not come to the end of the road, but we are at a transition point, and so we’ve all had some nice things to say about it and thoughts to share – none of which I disagree with or want to countermand. I am happy the game is getting another lease on life, even if it means some things are going to change in terms of development.
But if we’re at a transition point, we can talk about the parts of this game that just were hella non-functional. No, I don’t mean things like the lack of official RP servers; I don’t like that, but that’s a personal bugbear that is based more upon the game’s population than anything. No, I want to talk about stuff that’s just problematic or badly implemented within the game’s design, sometimes even from the word go.
1. The capital cities being space stations is dumb
I knew at one point why the developers decided to make the capital planets of the Republic and the Empire not the actual player hubs, but I forget it now. It doesn’t actually matter, though; it was a bad choice then, and it’s a bad choice now. The biggest reason it’s a bad choice is that it means that the visual difference between factions is removed. Instead of Coruscant and Dromund Kaas being visual signposts, they’re just… places you visit once or twice. The experience of the main player hub is identical no matter your faction.
This is, frankly, boring and uninteresting. Yes, if you play a game long enough you start to feel like one capital city is better than another, but that’s part of the experience. It’s a shared association. Dying in the Undercity elevator sucks, but it’s a shared sucking. Here, it’s just “run around a circle with a social space in the middle.” It’s lackluster.
2. Light side/Dark side was pointless
When I first started playing Dragon Age: Origins, it took me a minute to believe that BioWare had made a game without a morality scale of some kind. I mean, you still had one; just do whatever makes Morrigan mad and you’re a good guy. But still. This is a studio that loves its morality scale, and you have many moments in every story that allow you to either be an inveterate bastard or a paragon of goodness.
And the effect is… nothing.
Seriously, while there are technically slight changes in some minor gear and you can get all ugly darkside-ish if you’re bad enough, in a macro sense the larger morality system doesn’t actually matter one whit. That’s not inherently bad, but it does make the whole experience just feel kind of silly, when it’s not being cumbersome. (That’s foreshadowing, by the way.)
3. There was a lack of substantial ongoing content
It has never stopped feeling very weird to me how much of SWTOR was based around story and then… nothing else. Like, I remember when Makeb was first introduced, and I played through the (mostly all right) story, and then I… had a few daily quests to do, which were copies of quests I had to do. That was it. I’ve always at least moderately enjoyed SWTOR’s stories, but once I’m done with them what else is there to do? Not much crafting, for example.
I suppose that we could move into raiding, but, well…
4. The game has a poorly copied endgame
So I do, in fact, tend to like SWTOR’s combat on a whole. But it has always seemed as if the game as a whole was jammed into another game’s content structure, and it never really fit. Wherever you went on any given world, you were knee-deep in a war and never had time to craft. If you get my meaning.
The problem here is that, well… when you have a game loop exactly the same as another game, you need to make sure you are wildly better. SWTOR didn’t have that going for it. It didn’t have great dungeons or great raids; it had all right versions of both, and it felt really thin otherwise. There was very little reason to ever explore or look around.
That’s foreshadowing, by the way.
5. Advanced classes were arbitrary
All right. Basic idea behind having each class split into two advanced classes… fine. Not great, not bad, it works. It was even kind of neat in ways when, like, both advanced classes had two unique trees and one shared tree. So, say, your Consular could be a melee-focused character with spellcasting bonuses, or a spellcaster with melee bonuses, and both felt slightly different. Cool idea!
But the problem was that they were simultaneously really narrow and weirdly gated. You had to make the choice once, and you could never change that option. Even weirder is that the basic idea never got further iterations. Yes, fine, this way you get four class stories but eight actual classes. But why can’t we get more advanced classes? Why can’t we ever change? I don’t really believe combat styles were ever planned to fix this under BioWare. (Under Broadsword? Maybe. I hope.)
6. Class stories were not planned beyond the level cap
This one just seems obvious. There never seems to have been a cohesive picture of what would happen once the class stories were over, as if everyone could just get funneled into one story without a problem. You get a sense like the developers knew eventually you would need one story and you couldn’t perpetually have eight bespoke experiences, but they just ignored it until it was a reality, and had no plan to cope with it.
7. There are way too many filler companions
What BioWare was known for – for a long time – wasn’t really moral choices or plot coupons. (But that too.) It was known for giving you a collection of party members that were rich in character and fun to hang out with. But herein SWTOR stumbled because instead of offering six or even a dozen companions, the game had more than 40 at launch.
The reason was, of course, that at launch every single class had its own tank, its own healer, melee DPS, and so forth. But the problem is that this removes the idea of designing the best possible character to serve as a healer and leaves you winding up with… Doc. Because you need someone to heal. And then the game gives you more companions, and next thing you know you’re wondering how you can handle all these limes, except the limes are human beings. Unless they’re Qyzen Fess.
8. Features are too segmented
This is kind of a two-part problem. Problem part the first: Every single system in the game relates to that part of the game and no other part of the game. You don’t do the rail shooter space missions to acquire items to trade with a merchant that gives you combat gear. You don’t use crafting to improve your spaceship. Everything is its own walled garden that affects nothing else.
Part the second: Every single map is just a linear sequence of Quest Objectives until you finish the next one. Instead of exploring Tatooine, you’re going to Tatooine Segment 3, which has your next class story objective. And you won’t see any players of the other faction there, for some reason.
Foreshadowing, that is!
9. Putting choices and cutscenes in dungeons was inconsistent and silly
Look. I get it. I get what you wanted to do. But this ties in with that “shoehorned endgame” problem. You want these dungeons to be interesting experiences where you make a choice about how to progress, and that is really fun… once. But you have a structure where players are expecting to run these dungeons dozens of times. You’re trying to port over the structure of big setpiece dungeons like BioWare had in other games when you expect to be back to do the same dungeon tomorrow. It’s not like after Virmire you just got to come back and pick a different companion to save over and over until you got bored.
10. There’s too much factional separation
The weird thing about this game is that while there’s a big stretch of the time when you are supposedly on neutral planets… your corridor-with-quest-objectives is entirely separate from that of the other faction. There are Imperial players, and you’re invading an Imperial camp, but the former will never interact. They won’t hang around there. They never even go there in the first place.
Yeah, it would kind of suck if the quests had you attacking NPCs in a questing area, but the end result was that every single planet felt like a segmented collection of mini-hallways that only connected via flight points. It’s a fun ride… the first time. But then you look at the end and there’s no reason to ever go back to the ride.
Sure, this is hardly a list of all the game’s missteps in terms of the game’s content. I’m not even touching upon Legacy of the Sith‘s many issues, like taking about five minutes to play through start to finish. But that’s just an issue of disappointing content being released. The big issues – ones that arguable led to stuff like that expansion – are fixable problems, but they’re not automatically fixed with a new studio.