Why the Force Wasn't with SWTOR
I've been a lifelong fan of Star Wars and can still remember seeing the original movie way back in 1977. (My dad took us a grand total of two times in the year that the movie ran while everyone I knew saw it almost weekly!) To this day, I still get goose bumps when the Rebels begin their assault on the Death Star and poor Porkins still gets blasted into space chum. So you can imagine the fever pitch of excitement I reached when I heard that one of my favorite companies, BioWare, was making a Star Wars MMO. Every detail I heard about SWTOR made me salivate in anticipation of the game's eventual release. I suppose that's why, when I began to hear some rumblings about SWTOR before its launch, but I paid the naysayers no mind.
As soon as SWTOR launched, I began to play in earnest. Sadly, very early on, I came to realize that the Force was not with SWTOR. In fact, it had turned to the Dark Side of fun and enjoyment for a variety of reasons. While I might wish I could blame its problems on Jar-Jar, or Lucas' mad decision to have Han shoot second (Han shot first!), the sad truth is that the Force wasn't with SWTOR due to some ill-fated gameplay decisions by BioWare.
When I think Star Wars, the first thing that comes to mind is awesome space combat. As mentioned above, the assault upon the Death Star is my single favorite movie scene ever, and I still sit down to watch it if I come across it channel-surfing. I couldn't wait until I got to try my hand at space combat in SWTOR, and when I did....
To put it bluntly, the space combat in SWTOR is a joke. Instead of facing off against interesting computer AI or against other players, we get saddled with a prettier version of Star Fox. Mindlessly repetitive space combat on rails is not fun, it's tedious. To make matters worse, there are only three to four scenarios with differing variations. While I wasn't expecting the glory days of X-Wing versus Tie-Fighter, I did expect something more substantial than a timid mini-game.
What boggles my mind further with space combat in SWTOR is that, when I complained in various forums, I heard SWTOR apologists say that the space combat component was added late to satisfy certain fans and not considered a central component of the game. WTF? I suppose I could understand this attitude if the only Star Wars movies we'd experienced were the crappy prequels with their incredibly lame segments of space combat, but how can any Star Wars lover write off space combat given the incredible space battles of the original trilogy, not to mention the rich legacy of space combat sims by LucasArts such as X-Wing, Tie-Fighter, and X-Wing versus Tie-Fighter? There really is no excuse for the shameful space combat currently in SWTOR.
I'm not a big PvP player because I have the reflexes of a three-toed sloth, but I don't mind getting dirty from time to time. However, the way PvP is structured in SWTOR really leeches the fun out of the experience for me for two principal reasons.
First, you have no choices; when you queue up for battle, you have to play a random scenario chosen for you. Normally, this means that you're stuck in Huttball hell. I got Huttball at least 90% of the time I queued up for PvP when I originally played. I can honestly say that I hate Huttball with the simmering rage of a million suns. I've gone back since SWTOR went F2P and, while I didn't get popped with Huttball, I still had no choice as to which map I was going to play. Why can't SWTOR allow players to choose their own scenario? Other MMOs, such as Warhammer Online, allow you to do so. By being able to choose what map I'm going to play, I can play scenarios that I enjoy and not waste time playing the ones I find tedious. Having a choice equals having more fun, in my opinion. Not being given a choice destroys my enjoyment and increases my frustration.
The second reason that the Force isn't with SWTOR in the PvP sense is how abilities function. I played a Bounty Hunter because I didn't want to play any kind of Jedi and I wanted to dish out lots of damage. Imagine my surprise when the vast amount of my attacks do not work on the move. Why in the name of God can't I pull a trigger while I'm moving? They do it in the movies, so why can't I do it in the game? In addition, the range of all my "long range" attacks, such as blaster fire or missiles, had the same range of a Jedi's force jump. There's nothing like the joy of running up to get in range of shooting a Jedi to see him force jump at me just as I'm pressing my attack key. A few lightsaber strikes and then he force pushes me back out of firing range. I had foolishly thought I might have an advantage in open ground, being armed with a blaster and missiles versus a sword, but no. Just let me pull the trigger as I'm moving is all I ask. If BioWare wants to confirm that moving while firing a blaster is perfectly reasonable, I'd be glad to take them down to the local paintball range to see the action.
No Consequences to Choices
BioWare made a big deal out of the various story lines and the choices that players would make while playing SWTOR. However, there are no real ramifications to those choices. While certain choices will affect the affection of your companions or your Light Side/Dark Side points, you can always change that by running flashpoints or daily missions. There are no real ramifications for making choices during or at the end of a mission.
For example, you cross a Hutt crime lord by taking missions that harm his business. Does he put a price on your head so that assassins randomly attack you for the bounty? Are certain vendors or areas closed off to you due to your reputation? Nope. While you have the illusion of making choices in a mission, there are no real-world consequences for your character in SWTOR. Nothing really good or bad happens to your character outside of accumulating Dark Side/Light Side points and companion affection.
Here's an example of consequences in another game, Witcher 2. I met a group of elves who asked me to supply them with weapons so they could hunt local game for food. However, elves and humans have had a lot of friction. My choice was to deny them weapons and have them starve or to give them weapons and hope they would use them only for hunting. To make matters more chaotic, I only had a limited time to make my decision. I decided to give them the weapons and felt I had done a good deed. Later on, I wandered into the next human village only to find out that the elves had attacked it and there were dead humans littering the streets. It felt like someone had punched me in the gut, but it showed that my decisions had consequences.
It would be nice if SWTOR had some sort of mechanism in place to have some ramifications for your character's actions. Right now there isn't, and I spend my decision making time on figuring out how to maximize the points I want from the conversations.
How to Turn to the Light Side
While I've given a number of reasons why the Force isn't with SWTOR, there is still hope. (You're my only hope, Obi-Wan!) BioWare could make some changes to turn SWTOR to the Light Side. First, they really need to introduce free-form space combat. Heck, they could even market it as an expansion and I would pick it up if the price wasn't too steep. It would be even better if there were more than fighters in the new space combat. I would happily just man a turret on a star destroyer or smuggler's freighter for the sheer joy of it.
BioWare should introduce some consequences for your actions to make SWTOR more exciting. Even having certain merchants charge the players more or refuse to deal with them would be a start. Personally, I love the idea of having various factions putting contracts out on players, which would result in hit squads randomly attacking the player while they were traveling across a planet or in an instance. Playing a Bounty Hunter, I think it would be fascinating to have small groups of Jedi hunting me down for my crimes.
SWTOR should also implement choice into their PvP. Players should be able to choose what maps they wish to play on and not be stuck with what the game decides for them. Players should also be able to start their own PvP session by choosing to run a specific scenario or even to rotate between scenarios. Lastly, I would also like more content in SWTOR that was scalable or to have a random mission generator. I don't want to be stuck doing dailies or the same dungeon runs over and over again.
When SWTOR was announced and then launched, I had high hopes. Alas, I realized all too quickly that the Force wasn't with SWTOR for multiple reasons. My personal differences with the game center around the woeful space combat, the frustrating PvP, and the fact that the decisions I make don't really have an impact. In order to turn SWTOR to the Light Side, BioWare will have to make some significant changes. I fervently hope that this disturbance in the Force will eventually be addressed.