Star Wars: The Old Republic Will Go "Free to Play"

For those of you who are curious about SWTOR and its vaunted class stories (and excellent voice acting) but reluctant to pay for the privilege of experiencing it, good news has arrived! In the near future—sometime this fall, which could be anytime from next month through the end of the year, depending how you define fall—you’ll be able to pick up the game and play up to level 50 without paying a subscription.

Fifty is the current level cap, so that number may change. If they increase the maximum level for characters the free-to-play (F2P, as they say) limit may be raised as well or it may be extra incentive for non-subscribers to buy access or pony up that fifteen dollars a month to see the end of their story.

The point is that you can leap into the Star Wars universe, run through the main story line in at least one of the classes, and get a good sense of what SWTOR is all about without committing to the monthly subscription. In fact, I’ve seen the possibility of two free character slots thrown around the forum so you may be able to unlock your legacy and establish a relationship between a pair of them without paying a dime.

The trick, here, is that F2P will have limited access to the MMO portions of the game as well as over-50 story content. You’ll be able to play a limited number of flashpoints (repeatable group content outside of the story) and, one presumes, will be able to buy access to operations (for bigger groups) and maybe even war zones (for player-versus-player fun).

If you decide SWTOR is for you, whether it’s to create alts to run through the story lines for the rest of the classes or to get your grubby little digital hands on content limited to subscribers, you can pay $15 a month instead of picking things up with “cartel coins” you’ll have to buy with cold, hard cash. Heck, you get a monthly allowance of those coins with your subscription as well as full-game access.

This “freemium” model seems to be all the rage in the MMO set, as far as I can tell. If you’ve read much here at Just a BioWare fan you know that I can’t tell very far, as my only MMO exposure it SWTOR and its semi-hysterical community board posts.

The plan, however, makes a great deal of sense to me. You can play the basic game for free and have a lot of fun doing so. If you want more, you can pay for just what you choose or you can pay the monthly subscription at get all the side missions and group content you could ever desire.

While many people on the SWTOR boards rabidly insist that F2P spells the death of a healthy main game, I’m looking forward to seeing how it comes together. Of course, many people on the boards insist on calling the game TORtanic and making dire predictions so I take whatever I read there with at least a grain of salt. I’m keeping my subscription for the foreseeable future because I have several characters and intend to make a few more. I want the level cap to increase because I’ve hit 50 with two of them, and have a third nearly there, and have yet to finish their respective stories.

But if F2P can lure more people to play, including folks I know who don’t play now because they don’t want to invest money in a game they’re not sure will be for them, then why not? BioWare and EA will make money from those sampling the extra content and people who already love SWTOR will keep paying to keep the characters and extras they already enjoy.

As a side note, the recently concluded Grand Acquisition Race made the game worth its subscription fee for me, this month, though I only played the game three days of the full week. It was enormously fun and people were cooperating and chatting like mad. I spent some time healing people through bounty hunter and mini-boss fights and received assistance when my own turn came. Even without grouping it was the most social thing I’ve seen in SWTOR to date and it was a lot of fun.

So will a lot of trolls and jerks flood the game when it goes free to play? Probably, at least in the short term. That holds true for just about any on-line game, however. Let’s be honest: discussion boards are a troll’s bread and butter and MMOs seem to be their meat and potatoes.

With the massive servers now running you’ll find a hefty share of them as is, all of whom are paying for the privilege. (Note: I never had anyone on my ignore list until the server merges. The first day I played in a world with a hundred others I added six people. Thankfully I haven’t done so since.) I’m sure that percentage will only increase.

The real question is whether you’ll allow the punks to decide what you do. Personally, I intend to see how it goes. I’m a patient person and I’ve very much enjoyed my Star-Wars-flavored adventures. The ignore feature works just fine and EA and BioWare have never been known for being reluctant to use the ban hammer. If it gets too bad, I’ll bid SWTOR a fond farewell and move on to other things. What I won’t do is make assumptions and let doom-criers drive me away from a game I’m very much enjoying.

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