Ever wanting to keep up with the times and trends, it seemed a good time to put pen to paper on a Star Wars article, given the recent release of Star Wars Jedi: Survivor (sequel to the flawed but exciting Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order). Fallen Order force-healed the wounded community’s optimism for Star Wars games, but finally created a modern game that really let players run wild and ‘feel’ like a jedi with excellent lightsaber combat and beautiful planets to explore. It also proved EA could allow a studio to create a game without filling it with live service nonsense and microtransactions.
However, fans who don’t mind going back in time and putting up with clunky controls and less than stellar graphics (by modern standards) will happily tell you about Knights of the Old Republic, a set of RPG games created by kings of the genre BioWare in the early 2000s. These games provided a Star Wars experience like no other, with meaningful choices about whether to follow a dark or light path, alongside character and lightsaber customisation before Fallen Order made it cool years later. My personal preference in this franchise however is the rather slept-on third game, an MMO created by BioWare simply called The Old Republic (SWTOR). This game recently reached its 10 year anniversary, making it one of the few MMO games that has rivalled the eternal king of such games, World of Warcraft, in terms of lifespan. In the spirit of the current SW mania, I’ve been diving back into SWTOR to see how it is holding up after so long in a highly competitive field. The answer is a mixed picture.
SWTOR recently released its sixth expansion: Legacy of the Sith with the promise of revamping a lot of the game’s core systems for the 10th anniversary. They redid a lot of the UI and systems, and introduced some new ones such as the ability to experience any of the game’s eight class stories with any character class. This meant that you could play your favourite class or try a new one and still experience all the content the game had to offer. These promises seemed very exciting, and it was fun to experiment at launch with trying out a new class on my max level Jedi Knight, taking a break from throwing around two lightsabers (which I obviously coloured hot pink) and instead trying out a tanking role. However all this reinvention came at the cost of very little content. I was able to finish the story of the new expansion from start to finish in around two to three hours – that includes the new dungeon. This is miniscule in comparison to the level of content MMO expansions normally launch with. Even WoW’s smallest expansion had more than double what this was offering. Speaking of WoW, it reminds me a bit of Cataclysm, an expansion that revamped all of the game’s old content and made the game entirely new and exciting for fresh players, but leaving basically none of the development time left for the existing max level characters.
I find myself quite impressed by how they manage to encourage players to go back to old content, and give out new rewards to make that content feel meaningful
Upon finishing the expansion I felt rather let down, especially because the story that is there was actually very good, but it feels as if it’s being drip fed to players because they don’t have the development power to deliver a full expansion at once. What keeps me coming back to SWTOR, however, is not the new content it releases but the way it knows how to utilise its old content. Over the course of their expansion cycles, all MMOs deliver a rich and ever-expanding world, but many forget that this old world exists in favour of the new stuff. This was for a long time my biggest issue with Warcraft, a game I play entirely because the world of Azeroth is one of fantasy’s best. SWTOR, being based in the world of Star Wars, has some of the most iconic worlds in sci-fi at its disposal, and if it wasted them I think I would never forgive it. Luckily it doesn’t, thanks to the Galactic Seasons system, currently in its fourth iteration.
This is intrinsically a Battlepass system, giving players weekly objectives in exchange for progress on a tree which then gives free cosmetic rewards not available anywhere else. This has been done to death by soulless live-service shooters for years, but SWTOR does it really well. They provide a range of objectives every week, and you don’t have to complete them all to achieve all the points you can get in one week. So if there are some objectives you can’t stand (PVP comes to mind), you can completely avoid them and spend your time trotting around Tatooine killing Sand People for your Season Points. Every week encourages you to do new content you wouldn’t otherwise do but is actually very fun. Revisit old planets, do old dungeons with friends, play another class that you haven’t tried before, engage in some space combat, all of the game’s systems are included. I find it really quite fun logging in to my Jedi on a Tuesday, planning out what to do to get my points for the week, and then flying off to the first planet to deliver Jedi Justice to the galaxy one daily quest at a time. This then gains me a healthy number of rewards – all cosmetic so no pay-to-win in sight. It also really helps that these rewards are often cool new lightsabers. Say what you like about the game, but getting new lightsabers is always cool.
So, while I am disappointed with the current state SWTOR is in, and think it really deserves more love and attention both from the fans and developers (the eight class stories alone are worth giving it a go, it’s free after all), I find myself quite impressed by how they manage to encourage players to go back to old content and give out new rewards to make that content feel meaningful. This is something I think other MMOs could learn from, and that they clearly are, given that Warcraft recently introduced a quite similar Trading Post system. Oh, and I’m very excited for Jedi: Survivor, forgot to mention that, looks ace.