Labels: Bioware , EA , MMO , Review , Star Wars , SWTOR , The Old Republic
Let’s be clear: I’m shy and I’m self-conscious about being a noob. I won’t go around asking people to be in a group because, great heavens, what if they say no?! But I want to see all the juicy Star Wars universe BioWare has created and that means working within their multi-player system.
Thus I rely on what are called, in MMO-speak, pick-up groups or PUGs. I’ve done half a dozen and my experiences have been universally positive. For all the bemoaning on the SWTOR forums about people spamming the chat window with LFG (or looking-for-group) requests all I’ve ever had to do was be near the start of one of the instances and I’ve been invited to join a group.
When You Say Group, What Do You Mean?
In the case of SWTOR, a “group” can be as small as two players. Even for areas that specify they’re for four people, two players and their companions can be enough to do the job. This means you only have to bump into one person who happens to be in the same place for the same reason.
In part I’m writing this as an apology to the three people with whom I did Trouble in Deed on Coruscant the other day. For all my concern about being distracted from actually playing by trying to figure out how to chat with others while still killing things, it turns out people don’t really do that in the midst of a battle. However, if your chat window stops scrolling and they’re typing things to you it’s nice to know it at the time.
It turns out that I volunteered to heal and felt terribly inadequate. People insisted on dying on my watch. I presumed the expectation was that you go in, triumph, and leave without dying. But we kept plugging away and never “wiped” as one person stayed alive inside the area at all times.
Long story short, I felt like I’d done a terrible job. None of the others were writing anything in the party chat window and eventually we finished the mission. Everyone wandered off without saying anything, I thought, so I just took my XP and went to turn in the mission.
It was only after another fight that I realized my chat window had stuck. I scrolled through the half an hour that had transpired where I couldn’t see it and found that the folks in the group had been very complimentary. Apparently people expect to die and run in from the medical station. I hadn’t failed after all!
As I mentioned, this post is meant as much as an apology to them as it is a review of grouping in SWTOR. They helped me to understand that the solo RPG mentality of never dying equals victory doesn’t really apply in the MMO group situation. My frustration with “losing a patient” was met with praise for how long I kept my group members alive! And they gave me the nerve to ask a total stranger with whom I had been wiped if he was up for another go, which ended up being quite successful.
I’ve done several other group quests and, in one case, the other members invited me to go straight from the first to a second. At some point I’ll write about need and greed for you other MMO noobs but suffice it to say that I have never encountered a loot hog or a rude player that treated me like an idiot if I made a mistake.
I’ve also discovered one of the most fun things to do: randomly throw your particular class’s bonus ability on a passerby. It had never crossed my mind to give some wandering Jedi the benefit of my increased defense or give a passing trooper higher critical chance but once it started happening to me I started passing it on to others.
It’s a silly, unnecessary thing but it’s a bit like being a fairy godmother, poofing random people with a stat buff for an hour. It’s also handy in groups, of course. If you team up with a tank you can gift him or her (and assorted companions) with the ability to do more damage and he can boost your defense so you both live longer.
What’s with All These Servers?
The theory of having an MMO splinter its million players, give or take, into groups based around the planet on which you’re questing and the server on which your character lives makes these fun additions a part of the role you play. Over time your character builds a reputation, at least in theory, and finding people with whom to do heroic missions will be even easier.
As you progress through levels you see the same people who have similar schedules and playing habits (as in they spend about the same amount of time playing so they increase their level at about the same rate). You end up in PUGs with them, wait for goals to re-spawn with them, trade items, and pass the time with them.
As I understand it that’s the goal with the “shards”, having a character locked to a particular server and capping the population so that people are forced to enter the newer or less-popular servers or wait in line to play with you. Reaching “legacy” level with one PC confers benefits to your other toons, as they’re called, on the same server which in turn encourages you to stay with that same group.
The story progresses the same no matter what. But your experience of the game can, theoretically, differ depending on the people with whom you end up playing, even if you run mostly solo RPG-style like I do. In these early days the little buffs you throw on people as you zoom past and the PUGs you find are just about all the interaction you need to have, though you can throw yourself into chat if you find typing and running about without getting stuck in corners possible. I don’t.
Over time, however, the ability to make friends even without joining a guild (Felicia Day and company have terrified me of that possibility) and enjoy social aspects informally has changed my perception of MMOs in general and SWTOR in particular. The sorts of obsessive behavior that stereotype ascribes to MMO players either hasn’t had a chance to develop or simply doesn’t manifest on the servers I inhabit.
BioWare runs three different kinds of servers and I assume the feel of each varies. In my case I chose Player versus Environment or PvE servers based, in part, on the warnings that people who select Role-Playing servers (RPs) tend to be sticklers for staying in character at all times. I may like Star Wars but I’m not a big enough fan to know the lore that well. You can also select PvP or Player versus Player servers where you can be attacked at any time by another player as opposed to specifically having to acquiesce to a fight request.
So Just How Social Is SWTOR?
Only a week past the official launch date I find myself looking for familiar names when I’m running around a new area. At some point I suspect I’ll actually use those cute chat features that let me wave at someone, the nadir of nerd-dom…or the apex, I suppose, depending on your perspective.
A fair percentage of the people I bump into on the PvE servers (I have characters on two of them) seem to play at about the same level I do: other people are great but there’s a story going on, darn it! You group with people, you say hi, you do your thing, you say nice job, and you go on about your business. Guilds actively recruit and you can see their names over people’s heads but they aren’t a requirement. Whew!
The lure of MMOs seems to be imaginary people making imaginary friends whose imaginary world revolves around a common interest. SWTOR is the internet in microcosm: the geekiest comfortably celebrating a long-standing obsession. Hey, it’s still Star Wars, you know. Where else can you be a girl Han Solo/Boba Fett or use a light saber and the Force, for good or evil?
As a solo RPG fan, the social aspects of Star Wars: The Old Republic have turned out to be far less intimidating, more enjoyable, and more ignorable than I’d thought. I’m looking forward to joining more PUGs. Maybe one day I’ll nerve up enough to try a flashpoint. But it’s also nice to know that I don’t have to do either to enjoy the story. That’s why I play BioWare games, after all.