Monday, October 26, 2015

SWTOR: The 4.0 Patch (at low levels)

The release of Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) version 4.0 last Tuesday was a major game update. (Just look at the patch notes...that's a big list.) The headline item was the Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion, which adds content for high level characters. Since I've only played for a few weeks, that doesn't really affect me. I've noticed some changes that do affect us lower-level folks, though.

The update to major story missions is the most significant change. Your character's story missions and the storyline for each planet are now highlighted in the mission tracker, so it's easy to pick out what you need to do to progress. The rewards have been rebalanced so that you can level all the way to 60 by following those missions. I've gone through the planets of Nar Shadda, Alderaan, and Tatooine on my bounty hunter since the patch, and I can certainly confirm that the story mission rewards are enough to keep you moving along. In fact, I actually skipped the Tatooine planet story arc, because I'd already outleveled it from everything else I'd been doing.

Another change that I've noticed is Level Sync. This artificially locks your level to be appropriate for the planet that you're on. So when my level 30+ bounty hunter had to go back to Nar Shadda, she's treated as a level 26. That lets players group with lower-level friends, go back and complete missions they may have skipped, etc. I'm a little surprised every time that I run into an MMO that doesn't already have some kind of feature like this, because it just seems like such an obvious thing to include. (My City of Heroes bias showing, I suppose; the sidekick/exemplar system in that game spoiled me.) Glad SWTOR is getting with the program.

I was pleased to find that the level required to obtain a speeder license, which allows you to use a fast-travel mount, was lowered to 20 (from 25) for non-subscribers. As I've mentioned previously, there's a lot of open space in the game, so faster travel is very helpful. You still can't use your mount in some of the story areas where it would be helpful, but where it's allowed, it helps. I really like the variety of mounts available, too. You can get various kinds of animals and vehicles by going to different planets to shop around. A nice touch that adds to the immersion experience. (And of course you can spend real money to expand your collection.)
Eltaix on her Ubrikkian Hoverbike
Something that hasn't changed is the combat, which remains the least appealing part of the game. (Other than all the advertising for subscriptions, anyway.) Enemies that you kill sometimes remain standing, making it difficult to see what's left to fight. The camera will swing toward an enemy after landing a killing blow, which can be annoying or even dangerous if I've already moved on to another target. Most battles are laughably easy (at least in the areas I've been to), which is not great design and doesn't encourage learning a variety of tactics. The combat feels like it's based on a 15-year-old design with a cosmetic Star Wars layer applied on top.

Fortunately, the various story-lines continue to be excellent. Sure, some of it is pretty cheesy, as I mentioned previously, but if you don't like that, why are you playing a game based on a space opera? Every planet has a story arc to explore, as well as the larger adventure that your character is following.  With my own ship (which I stole, of course, like any bounty hunter would) I'm able to hop between planets and visit the Imperial Fleet for training. There are space combat options as well, though I haven't tried any yet. Too busy winning the Great Hunt!

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