Wednesday, December 16, 2015

SWTOR: Groups and Guilds

I finally decided it was time to make an actual effort to play group content in Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR). I know, I said before that I'd given up on the idea. There's one more significant step I wanted to try, though: joining a guild.

It's not hard to find a guild to join - there's announcements in all the public chat channels in-game on a regular basis. Most of those are either for heavy role-playing groups, or guilds just starting out. Neither is exactly what I was looking for, so I did a little more research on the game's forums. That led me to The New Outriders (NOR).
NOR is an established group that has been active across multiple MMOs, has a screening process, and runs scheduled events on occasion...pretty much exactly what I was looking for. Actually joining was a pretty simple process. I filled out their application form, and got a message in-game from them just a few hours later. Technically I'm a "recruit" for the first month before becoming a full member, but that doesn't make much difference. I found everyone to be very nice when answering my dumb questions about guild membership and teaming in the guild chat.

Shortly after I joined the guild, my subscription time ran out. This put me at "preferred" status, which is a step above the free-to-play status I had before subscribing. There's a whole list of what you can and can't do. Right away, I noticed:
  • I'm now limited to 8 active characters - no problem, I only have 2.
  • 2 crafting/crew skills instead of 3 - no big deal, wasn't using Treasure Hunting much anyway.
  • A credit cap at 350k credits - limiting for high-end items, but not a problem in standard gameplay.
  • Three quickbars for ability shortcuts - I was using 4, but it's easy enough to go down to 3.
  • A minor XP penalty - not significant at all, considering I hit the level 65 cap shortly after this.
  • No access to the guild stash - I hadn't used it anyway.
What I didn't realize immediately is that being a preferred player means no Operations, which are large-scale (8 or 16 player) group content. When I joined my first one with a NOR group, I had to get a special "weekly pass" in order to participate. The guild provided it, which was extremely kind of them, but I don't want to rely on that in the future. I'll need to re-subscribe if I want to do that kind of content regularly (or buy the passes myself, but it's more cost-efficient to just subscribe).

Doing the Operation itself was fun. Group play with people who know what they're doing and are willing to explain makes all the difference. Unlike my experiences with random groups, this one had little trouble progressing through the entire scenario. The Operation had no interactive conversations, which eliminated one thing that I didn't like about previous grouping attempts. We used Teamspeak for communication - not my favorite thing, but pretty important for this kind of cooperative play. I didn't play a key role, of course, basically just hanging near the back of the group and throwing ranged attacks at whatever everyone else was targeting. That's what the new guy ought to do, though, so it was fine.

I even found some decent new equipment from the boss drops in the Operation. Unfortunately, I can't use any of it, due to another preferred status restriction - no artifact-quality items. Again, subscribing would solve this, or I could buy authorization for the items separately. It's pretty clear that you can survive easily enough as a solo player in preferred status, but if you want to do group content regularly, it makes more sense to subscribe.

However...despite this being a good experience, I still don't think I'm going to continue with the end-game group content in SWTOR. Once you've seen an Operation or Flashpoint, there's no surprise left, so running it again is just part of the MMO grind for better loot. If I want to do that, there are other games where I can do it without paying a monthly subscription. (Star Trek Online, where I'm a lifetime member, Guild Wars 2, and the free-to-play Path of Exile and Marvel Heroes come to mind.) I like the NOR folks, but I can still play with them by jumping back into SWTOR occasionally without doing the entire endgame raid grind.

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