Welcome again to Random Waypoint, home of cobbled-together overused stereotypical expressions.
In case you’re living under a rock, or in the Outback of Australia, where I will go to for a week soon, driving 2000km through nothingness, all Easy Rider and such – I bet that will be awesome… Where was I? Oh, right. If you’re living far away from all civilization, and by some freak accident, your only tether to The World(tm) (not The Secret One) is this blog, let me tell you: SW:TOR will be going free-to-play at some point in the near future.
What? How I feel about it? Hm. Hmmm. I guess a bit smug? But only a bit, because I never cared much about the game. The smugness comes from the perceived attitude by Bioware and EA to do the best thing since sliced bread, Azeroth style. Here was the savior, riding on the white horse (or at the very least an AT-AT) of the bestest intellectual property (a term that I dislike to start with) ever conceived. I mean, their IP has princesses, and robots, and magic, and swashbuckling smugglers who might or might not shoot first. Though it always felt a bit silly to me. (As opposed to Star Trek, which I always found to be very silly with all the techno-babble and planet of the week, but at least they had Patrick Fucking Stewart. Can’t argue with an actor that actually knows Shakespeare. Not personally, though. Or maybe? Who knows? I don’t.) Problem is: EA is known for producing terrible games out of IPs. The whole EA Sports lineup is basically the same boring heap of crap released every single year, just with new names on the rosters. At least it was during the time I actually tried them out, before I swore in disgust never ever to touch one of these again.
That is not to say SW:TOR is a horrible, horrible game. I guess it’s Bioware’s work that saves it from that fate. It actually had a nice idea, combining Bioware’s story-driven solo RPGs with an MMO setting. It seems that didn’t work out so well, though. At least for me, it didn’t. And neither for another 75% of their player base. I’ll assume that many of them did not reach end game and got bored there, although there are no numbers on that. It is much more likely, though, that many of them stopped playing while they were still supposed to be engrossed in their story. I’ve been trying to figure out why exactly that happened to me, too.
It came at a bad time for me
This is probably the most flattering reason I can give: It was just not to be. In late November, I picked up Oblivion on a Steam sale. During the Beta weekends, I was in the land of my dreams. And after Christmas, I was busy playing Mass Effect 1 and 2. So I was quite distracted, and actually playing other Bioware games during the first month after release. Later on I picked up the game on sale, but by that time I had been accepted into EVE University, and that was that. (You might have noticed I never wrote about the game again after my “I bought it” post.)
That reason is a bit of a cop-out, though. Of course, it was some rough sailing, but a really good game would have prevailed and come out the winner. It turned out to be Batman in the ultimate showdown of ultimate destiny: hanging on for some time, but in the end crushed by Chuck Norris. OK, maybe in this case it wasn’t Chuck Norris but rather EVE Online, but hey, Chuck Norris sounds more flattering, right?
The graphics engine sucked
That’s a technical irk I had with the game. The graphics really weren’t much to phone home about, and the game still made my graphics card sounds as if my computer was going to lift off any minute, especially during the conversation scenes. Maybe it was an optimization problem and has gotten better now, who knows. I’m not sure whether the game uses the same engine as RIFT, but it had the same weird “aura” effects around targeted enemies and flora in some areas. I’m not a big fan of that.
The storytelling is actually not that good
That might be a controversial opinion, but I realized that the main selling point of the game, the class-specific story lines, didn’t grab me the way they were intended to. One of the reasons for that might be that I never was a big Star Wars fan. When I was 13, and our always-behind-the-technical-curve family finally got a VCR, I watched the movies a couple of times and liked them, sure. But they never grabbed me the way movies like Dune did around that time (and let me tell you, a LOT of people hate Dune for being a David Lynch style movie). So the “OMG but it’s Star Wars” selling point just never was one for me.
The story is also spread quite thin in some areas. (And early on to boot, because that’s the only part of the game I’ve seen.) A lot of the “kill 10 rats” and “collect 20 rat droppings” quests were uninspiring, and the full voice-overs helped surprisingly little with that. I expected that it would help form a bond to the quest givers, but at least the way it’s set up, I still don’t care about that pixel guy or gal I will interact with exactly twice in my character’s life. The class story line seemed ok, but I rarely felt really captivated. At times, it just dawdled along.
Finally, the game made me realize that I don’t even like the Bioware implementation of “meaningful choices” all that much. I do like the choice; but the choice is limited much more than I would have expected by the conversation options that you are given. I lost count of how often I chose an option, only to realize that my character would say it in a completely different tone than I intended, or even completely different words, which undermined my choices. I never encountered a surprise BSOCK, but I’m sure I would’ve stumbled into one had I played for long enough. There was choice, but frighteningly often, it was not meaningful: all I could do was choose between several options without any real knowledge about what each option was.
In that respect, the strange implementation of voice-overs in The Secret World feels more satisfying. You are talked to, but never say a word yourself. That way, at least your character cannot say anything unintended, and you have full freedom to project your own thoughts into the knowing silence of your character.
Fake “languages” are horrible
I just have to say this again, because it annoys me so much. Wilhelm talked about how point-blank blaster shootouts were a deal breaker for him. For me, it was the alien languages that just consisted of some canned sound bites repeated ad nauseam. Come to think of it, that was already one of my gripes with the movies. In a game that focuses so much on storytelling via audio, I could not ignore it enough to not be annoyed.
Will I play for free?
Good question. I think I’ll have to find out whether the couple of friends who went to play SW:TOR are still playing. That might lure me back. Then again, it’s not like I didn’t play with them until now because I was too stingy to pay 15 Euros a month. I didn’t play with them because I didn’t enjoy the game enough. So, I might not delete SW:TOR from my disk yet, and might check out the game from time to time; maybe depending on the specifics of the F2P implementation even eventually finish a story line. But I wouldn’t bet on it. I’m more motivated to return to LotRO at the moment. At least that’s a setting I care about. And it has real fictional languages to boot.