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05 July 2015

SWTOR goes free to play with the same old problems and some new ones too

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Star Wars: The Old Republic has rolled out its long awaited 1.5 patch and free to play model.

Unfortunately, there are issues with it that are becoming increasingly familiar, and unsurprisingly the player community is less than impressed. So, I thought I'd take a stroll through the forums, which currently remind me a little of the streets of Manhattan in Escape from New York. One thing is for certain - the people are not happy. There is currently a large, angry side of the community with some very valid complaints.

HK-51 - not all people hoped it would be.  Source: Massively.com

Bugs, bugs and more bugs

Frankly, who can blame people for being cross about this. You would have thought that with the kind of time frame EA have had to implement 1.5 and F2P they might have been able to release with fewer than eighty one known issues (at last count). Eighty one.

Firstly, the insanity of gutting the BioWare team so close to a game changing update is one of the direct causes of the mess we find ourselves in here. This patch is clearly far from ready - there are holes in the floor for Pete's sake! Free to Play was a huge opportunity to bring back players who left because of buggy operations content early on, but unfortunately plenty of things in operations are still borked. Different things, but still irritating enough for old players to log back on, go 'well, that's as bad as I remember' and log off again, never to return.

Characters locked

Another fun little bit of news - if you ended up with 12 characters because of server merges you're going to have to pay to access them. This was confirmed by Damion Schubert in an interview this week:

For subscribers with more than 12 characters due to the server consolidation, will they have to purchase character slots to unlock them once the character slot restrictions are put in place?

That is the current plan, yes. We don’t think it’s fair to everyone else who wasn’t lucky enough to get this accidental side benefit from server merges. However, those additional characters aren’t lost, and players will easily be able to unlock those characters. The timeline for this is TBD.

This is likely to go down very well with people who stayed in the game and kept playing by rolling new alts on busier servers prior to merges. Player responses to this have been as expected:

WOW, I have a male and female of each class set in both sides of the advanced classes. That's 16 characters I had on 2 servers. They (EA) came in and merged them into the same legacy and same server. I didn't ask for it but didn't complain either. Now they are going go lock me out of 4 of my characters because they say it isn't fair to people that didn't have a foresight to at least create 2 of each class? That's not my fault nor is it anyone's I say. If they want to do what is right then they should increase the limit to 16, I don't know how they came up with 12 anyway.


HK-51 woes

One of the most hotly anticipated features of 1.5 was new companion HK-51. Unfortunately even this has gone wrong, with players frustrated with many aspects of implementation; the grindiness of the quest, bugs that mean it arrives buck naked and the fact that it it costs a million credits or 350 cartel coins. Per alt. 

I can understand the aggravatingly dull but time-consuming stuff required to get the HK parts to get HK-51 - that's pretty common in MMOs. I completely understand how BW wants getting the companion to actually be somewhat of an achievement - something which takes a whole lot of work to acquire. What I don't get is this:

It costs 1,000,000 credits or 350 Cartel Coins to unlock HK-51 for your alts.


Oh and on top of that, once you do unlock it for your alts it comes with gear that lower level characters can't even use...

It gets worse.. you pay the money to get the unlock on your new level 1.. and HK comes packing with level 50 gear he cant use. Even if you take the mods out he still cant use the gear.. so now your stuck trying to use him with no gear for awhile unless your a class that gets a droid companion.


Noobs galore

I'm the kind of person that really doesn't mind explaining things, so this aspect of free to play doesn't usually bother me, but for those with slightly shorter tempers, teaching new players the ropes can be a little like herding leopards. Unfortunately, many players find it pretty frustrating to have to stop and explain every aspect of the game to newbies who haven't bothered to sit down and take a quick look at one of the many useful guides available online before charging into a hardmode flashpoint. This is probably one of the most frustrating things about Free to Play - your chances of ending up with someone in your PUG group who hasn't got a clue what they are doing goes through the roof:

Is it just me, or has the quality of groups went straight down the hole since F2P hit? I've been running a lot of FPs for the last several weeks and since F2P hit, I've been getting tons of groups that don't listen when I explain boss mechanics, don't know how to play their class and won't even acknowledge advice, and I'm running into a lot of people needing for companions now as well. Not to mention people that actually start the fight by attacking the CCed mobs first.

I had a Vanguard tank that started every fight by wasting every bit of his ammo on explosive round. All of the mobs would then swarm me (commando healer) and I'd have to heal like a mad man to keep the group alive. He'd even do this on bosses that had no adds. I tried to tell the guy that Ion pulse, stock strike, HIB were his main single target abilities and that he should weave in hammer shot to keep up his ammo, but he wouldn't even acknowledge that I was speaking... And that's just one example. I don't think I've gotten one group that didn't wipe at least 3 times in FPs that I used to breeze through before F2P.


Free to Play also attracts very young players whose parents wouldn't allow them to subscribe to a game, and it also attracts a lot of non English speaking players from places like Eastern Europe and Russia. While this does settle down after a while - the kids usually end up in large, rambunctious guilds where no one minds them being kids and the player groups that speak no English tend to form language based guilds and go their own way - the few weeks before this all gets sorted out can be very exhausting for players who have been there for a while. I'm guessing that the Vanguard tank that Galbatorrix found so frustrating didn't speak a word of English and hadn't played for long enough to know what they were doing. Unfortunately, while this problem will eventually solve itself to some extent, it will take a while to build up friends lists and work out who you want to play with. This is par for the course with F2P, and one of the few things that EA can't really do anything about.

Is this the end?

No, but it might just be the beginning of it. You can only alienate your customer base so far before you lose it completely, and to me this seems like a huge shame. SWTOR is a gorgeous game, full of rich storylines, fun flashpoints and beautiful planets - I still play it despite the bugs because it is so wonderfully enticing, so beautifully made. It's a huge shame that it has been dogged by failure at every turn and I genuinely hope it is still around and thriving in a year's time.

Much of the blame can, of course be attributed to EA's horrific mismanagement of what could have been an almost perfect MMO, and I can't help but feel for BioWare employees who must have spent the last few months under a cloud of uncertainty, seeing colleagues dismissed left, right and centre. Frankly you can't blame people for producing sub-par work in tense working conditions and under extreme pressure.

Are you still playing SWTOR? How are you finding the new content - perfectly acceptable or buggy as hell? Let us know below!

Last modified on Wednesday, 21 November 2012 14:44

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