SWTOR was a huge MMORPG being led by EA and Bioware, the creators of the Knights of the Old Republic franchise (though, rather a sub-team of Bioware, it’s just the name that matters, right?). Released on December 20th, 2011 SWTOR was one of the most developmentally expensive games ever made, with estimates putting it at $200 million. The amount of hype for this game was incredible as not only was it Star Wars (Need I say more?) but Bioware had a huge reputation in the gaming RPG market with some of the best story-telling gamers had experienced to date (Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, Dragon Age). The game launched with a $60 price tag, a $150 collector’s edition, and a $15 monthly subscription fee.
With Bioware came some highly sought after innovation in the MMORPG market. Bioware RPGs were known for storylines that allowed players to make choices throughout the story and alter the course of conversations, and ultimately the ending. They often were morally based, boiling down to good and evil. This made it a perfect for the Light Side and Dark Side choices that Star Wars was well known for. So, as a Jedi, you could chose to save people or let them die, and the choices would earn you light side or dark side points. The more a player favored the dark side, the more their appearance would become more “sith-like”, or however you want to phrase the darker, vienier look of evil Star Wars characters.
The game featured the Republic versus the Empire, so a two faction system many MMOs use. Despite the Republic often being associated with Good, and the Empire with Evil, either side could make the choice for light side or dark side affiliation. Each side featured 4 class archetypes, which each had 2 classes of their own. Naturally you could pick a Jedi and the Sith equivalent. Force users made up 2 selections for both factions, featuring 1 archetype that focused on melee, and the other on using the force (so fighters and mages). On the public side we then have Troopers (the good ones, like the Clone Troopers, ya know, before they killed all the Jedi) and Smuggler(Han Solo). To complete the Empire’s roster we have Imperial Agents and Bounty Hunters. These are all pretty self-explanatory. Their roles of course fall into categories of DPS, Tank, and Healer. Each class is capable of all 3 roles before making their specialization decision.
Off on a slight tangent here, being able to have a moral choices alter your characters appearance and thus give your avatars a new dynamic. This was one of the main reasons I chose to use SWTOR for my undergraduate research project on looking at how we craft our avatars and how we see them. That can be viewed under my works section on this site.
Each class has its own distinct story line that unfolds, resulting in 8 different stories if you were to do all 8 classes. I only ever completed the Jedi Knight story line, which involved taking on the Emperor himself. The stories are actually a great part of the game, keeping you invested in your character. The main story had you running from planet to planet, chasing some enemy, doing planet specific quests along the way. It also featured dungeons called “flash points”.
SWTOR also had another Bioware mainstay, and that was companions. Your avatar would collect several companions throughout his journeys, and you were always able to have one summoned with you to aid you in combat. You could also form relationships with these companions, and they had an affection rating towards you based on your interactions with them, but also your choices through the game. To go with this, you also receive your own ship which you can use to quick travel through the galaxy.
As I mentioned, I started my journey into SWTOR as a Jedi Knight. I knew from the get go that I would want to make my main in this game a tank. So I sacrificed the cool look of being a Jedi Sentinel with duel lightsabers, and chose the Guardian specialization. I was happy to have choices like this, reminded me of Lineage 2’s class system. I completed my Padawan missions on Tython and eventual earned the right to craft my very own lightsaber, and intense moment indeed. And then my friends all got the game and started on another server and I had to restart.
After completing our intro missions we finally united (classes start on different planets). We formed a unit and took on the world. It was actually a great time really. The game most certainly had a Star Wars feel to it. I was enthusiastically enjoying traveling the universe as a Jedi. We were able to quest together, and during all of the cut scenes any player involved in the conversation could make a selection for a response, and the game would randomly select whose avatar spoke and we’d all have to deal with those results. In dungeons this was particularly important because if you were light side and your friends were dark side, the course of the dungeon could be altered randomly based on who the game chose, making it intriguing (you weren’t penalized for your party member’s choices, but you still had to deal with what happened as a result). One of the first examples you come across is a bunch of men stuck on the other side of a locked down chamber. You need to open the air lock for some reason, and doing so will result in their death. Or you can take the longer route and manually discharge some vents or something. Dark side you open it and kill them in the process, light side you go the roundabout way. Regardless of the choices made, it was always enjoyable and even tense at times.
The leveling felt a decent pace, and honestly as I write this I’m having trouble remembering what my issues with the game. In fact, as I write this on 1/8/2016, I’m currently playing the this MMO going through the Revan content before experiencing the new expansion they just launched, but more on those later.
My friends dropped off one by one, but I continued playing. Upon reaching max level (50 at the time) I joined another guild to continue my research and gameplay. I became a main/secondary tank and we completed the majority of the end game content. SWTOR set a record for quickest growing MMO reaching 1 million subscribers in just a few days. Sadly, it failed to maintain this and the numbers fell nearly as quickly, following in the footsteps of Age of Conan. With their numbers dropping and EA having fears of losing money, they announced that they would be transitioning to a free-to-play model a mere 10 months later, though I had quit playing prior to this.
One last thing I must mention is the PvP. It would randomly put you into various PvP match types. You had your standard hold the position type, the assault type which involved completing objectives in a better time than your opponents, and then my favorite, HUTT BALL! My friends dreaded Hutt Ball, but it was by far one of the most fun PvP match types I’ve played, though this might be due to my class. You would spawn in an Arena, hosted by the Hutts of course. The objective was to run to the center of the arena, grab the ball, and bring it to the opponent’s side. To go alongside with having to do this while preventing the other team from trying to do the same, there were ramps and traps to avoid in the arena. To stop the ball movement, you had to kill the player, and then you would pick up the ball. Being a Tank, I was naturally well built to carry out this task. I also had the force leap ability, which I could use to jump to players at a distance, so those ranged players trying to pick me off from afar only ended up aiding me in getting closer to their goal.
After doing the end game raiding, there just wasn’t much to do. There were promises of lots of intriguing features in the future, but at most the content in place only lasted you 3-6 months. They also introduced game play updates that simplified how you did things. They took a page from World of Warcraft’s book and made it so you could use “group finder” to do dungeons. This made it so 5 random people could be placed in a dungeon and complete it together, removing the need for players to really interact. You could join a group and not have to say another word to another player as it was made that easy. This is a problem I have with many MMOs on the market, I believe it degrades the community and cripples the player interactions. By July, the subscription fell under one million. This can also be blamed on Guild Wars 2 that launched in August. My guild jumped ship, and I followed them and continued my research project within Guild Wars 2 as it also featured unique Avatar options.
As I noted though, I have returned to this MMORPG as of late, and will be making a part two to this that goes over some of the changes.