If you’ve been reading this site (or listening to the podcast) for a while you’ll probably remember that both Jason and myself once worked on Star Wars Galaxies, but we were also very hardcore players of it as well. We were hardcore PVPers who would spread the Empire across Tatooine and other planets in the sandbox MMO. That’s why when Star Wars: The Old Republic entered Alpha and Beta we hammered that game to see how it compared to what was the best Star Wars MMO at the time. The sad truth is that it couldn’t hold a candle to Star Wars Galaxies and at the time of Beta and Launch was nothing more than a clone of World of Warcraft circa 2004 with a BioWare style single-player story tacked on to it.
We told people that the game couldn’t last long in its current state, and you wouldn’t believe the hate we got for it. Rabid BioWare fanboys came out of the woodwork to tell us how the game would remain as-is and would completely destroy World of Warcraft with its single-player elements that no one could resist. Unfortunately the exact opposite happened. Most people breezed through the single-player story stuff and then felt that there wasn’t enough “MMO” to warrant a $15 a month subscription. So subs plummeted and less than a year after launch BioWare implemented the most restrictive “Free to Play” model any MMO has ever been given. Basically if you want to make any sort of real progress in the game, you’re going to need to spend money.
The game has now been out for three years and with 2015 putting me into such a Star Wars mood, and with Star Wars Galaxies now gone, I wanted to play a Star Wars MMO. So I decided to give The Old Republic another chance and see if BioWare had managed to improve on the MMO side of things in the years of increased revenue from the restrictive F2P system. And you know what? They have.
I setup a sub (because in order to access everything you really need to, and even then stuff is locked behind the cash shop) and bought the Shadow of Revan expansion and dug back into my Sith Juggernaut where I left off not long after launch. It took a little while to get used to everything again, but after a weekend of playing almost non-stop due to being sick with a flu, I’ve gotten back into the SWTOR groove. And I can say I’m really enjoying it a lot more now that it’s more than just a co-op BioWare story.
SWG fans longing for their home on Tatooine will recognize the Galactic Strongholds. While the game is still a themepark and you can’t place a house wherever you want like in SWG, you can buy a house based on various planetary themes and then decorate and expand it. The decoration isn’t as free-form as in SWG, as there are “hooks” where you can place objects, but it’s a welcome addition. Even cooler are the guild halls as in SWTOR they are actually capital ships.
Speaking of ships, the Galactic Starfighter stuff is still a joke compared to Jump to Lightspeed. It’s basically another type of PVP Warzone, only in ships. SWTOR still needs to copy Jump to Lightspeed and allow free-form space combat in the systems around the main planets. If they put that in, it’ll be one step closer to taking the crown from SWG.
Something Galaxies never really nailed down was the idea of planetary control. If I remember correctly, they had a rudimentary system in place with PVP…but as with many systems in SWG it was hard to decipher and sometimes didn’t even work as intended. There are epic stories about how much of a jumbled mess the SWG code was, so you can’t really fault the multiple dev teams without any code notes for not being able to fix everything. But SWTOR has implemented a Conquest system that is very easy to follow, and participate in, that fuels competition between guilds to gain control of planetary areas. This sort of “massively multiplayer” competition is something the game was sorely missing at launch.
Of course there are new planets with the two expansions, new Flashpoints, and other instances and new stories that expand the game first to level 55 and now level 60, so if you stopped at 50 there’s a reason to come back. But the biggest improvement to the game is that it does now really feel like a MMO you’re playing with a bunch of other people, as opposed to KOTOR 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 that you’re in a co-op mode in. That’s why I’ll be sticking with SWTOR for the foreseeable future, and why the game is worth a second look following its third anniversary.