Well, I eventually managed to sort out my authenticator problems with SWTOR, while GW2 has definitely moved into a fallow phase for a while – the last couple of Living World updates didn’t really grab me, so I’ve spent more time working through Moria with my Burglar and getting stuck back into The Old Republic.
When I parked my SWTOR characters I had a Sith Assassin at what was then the level cap, who was mostly doing PvP matches in a darkness (tank) spec and PvP gear. I also had one each of the other three Empire archetypes at levels ranging from 20 to 26 along with sundry lower level alts, so all getting their class stories properly underway. At the point I left there was still no instance finder, the server merges were yet to get underway, the F2P conversion hadn’t happened and PvP matches were still restricted to three types… or rather, for Empire on Kellian Jarro, a steady diet of Huttball with the occasional sighting of the other game types due to population imbalance.
Now that I’m back – well, the servers have been merged down a much smaller number of bustling servers rather than a wide array of ghost towns. The unfortunate side effect of this is that almost all of my characters got renames forced upon them, so my Assassin is no longer Darth Seethe and if you see someone called Tremayne on The Red Eclipse server, it ain’t me. Instance finder can take a while to pop for a DPS, but I find I can count on at least one flashpoint run in an evening if I want it, and to be honest that’s usually my limit. I’ve overcome my fear of queuing as a healer after accidentally doing so with my Sith Sorcerer and making it through the experience unscathed – fortunately, when you’re level 16 and doing Hammer Station it really doesn’t matter how you’ve spent your handful of skill points. My Imperial Agent now has a hybrid healing/concealment spec that lets me get an instant group as a healer whenever I want it, whilst also performing OK in the melee damage role. PvP has added three new types of match (including arena) and allows Empire vs Empire fights in all of them as ‘war games’ so there’s more variety in what I get to play.
Free To Play has probably contributed to the number of asinine idiots trolling in fleet/capital world chat, but that’s what ignore is for. The F2P model seems fine to me, but then I’m coming from the perspective of someone who has an active subscription. The Cartel market unlocks can be traded in-game anyway, so if you’re bound and determined to play without giving EA any money then you can get out there, grind credits and trade them for what you want whilst those of us with subs can spend our complimentary Cartel coins on the stuff to trade to you – in other words, trading money for time in the same manner as GW2’s gold to gems conversion (except you sell the cash shop items instead of the cash shop currency).
Story wise, my Assassin is part-way through the Hutt Cartel content on Makeb, and up to the new level cap in an all new Madness spec (think bastard child of enhancement shaman and warlock in WoW terms), while my Agent has hit level 42 and is getting started on Act 3 of his story, and the Bounty Hunter is coming to the end of Act 2 on Hoth. I’m enjoying playing through all three stories. The one on Makeb is cool because the way your character is treated very much reflects your progress in your personal story to date. Unlike WoW, where my character went from being a hero who helped kill Ragnaros and Nefarian to being expected to dig through boar shit in Outland, there’s no doubt that my Sith Assassin is a major Dark Lord of the Empire with the rank and authority she’s earned, and NPCs crapping their pants in fear at her presence. Meanwhile I’m enjoying the twists and turns of the Imperial agent storyline, and if the Bounty Hunter story doesn’t match it for plot it excels in quality dialogue.
The thing which does strike me on my return, though, is that SWTOR feels like the product of two separate design directives. On the one hand, it is undeniably the result of someone saying “We want some of what WoW’s got. Take our licence and make a game like WoW”. On the other hand, though, there are elements that hark back to more old-school MMOs. The classes have a pleasingly complex array of abilities which means that they can do a lot more in the right hands than just ‘the optimal DPS rotation’. Flashpoints are designed with trash encounters that are much more easily handled by people who understand crowd control and kill order. I don’t think the lack of dungeon finder (at launch) and the absence of support for player-made add-ons is purely a result of laziness on the devs’ part either. While we may never see what this game would have been without a “WoW directive” there are enough pieces of it to keep me entertained for a while.
That last point may be the most important one. For all the debates we get into about PvP versus PvE, or sandboxes versus theme parks, or grinds and whatever the hell dynamic content really means – at the end of the day, MMOs may not be purely just games but they are a form of entertainment and so the acid test is “Am I not entertained?” At least for now, SWTOR is entertaining me. I’m not sure how long that will last, but while it does, the Dark Side calls to me…