Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Old Republic from a Certain Point of View: A CoH old-timer reviews SWTOR

City of Heroes was my first and only MMORPG prior to playing Star Wars: The Old Republic and it's still my gold standard for the genre. (Here's My CoH memorial post)

My friends Greg and Dave have been playing SWTOR for a while and I decided to give it a whirl when someone sent me an install disc in the mail as an early Christmas present.

I had to relearn a fair bit. Back when I played CoH, I had a bunch of bonuses because I'd been a paid subscriber forever. So I had travel powers early and enough bonus powers for a full attack chain at level one. Plus I knew the game inside and out. I could start a new character and have him at max level inside of a week. I was soloing Archvillains before it was cool. (Though it was never that hard with an ill/rad. It just took forever. Fucking Nightstar.) I was, in all modesty, really pretty good.

And my friends leveled slower than I did. I'd be closing in on 50 and they'd still be slogging through the teens. I'd shake my head sadly and would offer a silent prayer that they would someday just learn how to play the game.

Anyway, I was remembering this when I saw Dave's toons on SWTOR rocketing through the levels and I was thinking how much it sucks to be on the other end of the equation.

So, how does the Old Republic compare for a CoH grognard?

Grouping with your friends could be a little easier. CoH excelled in that area. I play mostly with Greg and Dave, and we have to go through a lot of contortions to find content that we can all play. By contrast, in City of Heroes, you could disable earning exp, you could artificially lower your level to the level of the mission, or raise your level to that of the mission owner. It was really well-designed in that respect.

The thing that struck me first at the Old Republic is how many time sinks it has. Little ones here and there, but the cumulative effect is enormous.

Four seconds to break down an item for components. Respawn timers when you die. Large Empty areas. (Fucking Tattooine) Waiting for the lift to rise. Traveling from your ship to an orbital platform and then finally to the spaceport on Balmorra, as if being on Balmorra weren't punishment enough. Running Alllllll the way back to the offices in the Senate when you complete a mission in order to get the next in the series.

Seriously, it's really annoying.

In City of Heroes, we used to bitch if it took more than three missions for a contact to give you his phone number so you could call him from the field. Also, our superspeed didn't shut down if we walked into a restaurant.

A trooper flies into a bar...

...and his speeder shuts off.

On top of that, it was trivially easy to teleport your teammates to your location, requiring only the selection of a single power available to every character at level 6, so only one person needed to go to the mission door and could just port the lot in.

Which brings me to my next point. Instances. City of Heroes used them ALL THE TIME. You would walk to the mission door, click on it, and enter your own little world. I recall the dev team lamenting at one point that they might have overdone it with instancing, but I never appreciated how much I liked instances until I started with SWTOR.

Coruscant is usually pretty crowded, because it's the second world for every Republic character. I was on a mission with Greg and Dave to kill 30 gangsters in a particular area, or some such thing. I forget the exact details, but it was something along those lines.

The problem was that there were two other groups on the exact same mission (either that or they were just a bunch of douches and they were killing our mobs just to be annoying. I wouldn't put anything past people on the Internets) The mobs respawned pretty quickly, and the thing that I remember about the whole thing is that they'd just pop into being, performing their milling-around idle animation. I imagined that they were talking about the game last night, or a recent date or their plans for the weekend or whatever. They just looked like they were standing around, shooting the shit, when, as they're turning to tap the ash off their cigarette, a Jedi would suddenly EXPLODE into their group from all the way across the room and FUCK THEIR SHIT UP!! with his laser death swords. The juxtaposition was just surreal.

Anyway, the moral of the story is that I would prefer more instanced areas and not have to compete with other players constantly for mobs and glowies. Why no, random guy, I don't mind if you loot that treasure chest while I'm killing the Elite that's guarding it. Just walk right up to the chest and open it while the robot is spraying me with rockets. You fuck.

From a graphical perspective, despite the Ultra Mode overhaul, City of Heroes was showing its age when it folded (having debuted in 2004) and SWTOR looks really slick next to it. However, the sheer variety of the CoH Costume Creator has never been matched. I made a dude with a pillar of fire for a head. Beat that, SWTOR!

The inability to add a player as a friend account wide is such a shocking omission that I have to conclude it's a deliberate decision and not something they merely overlooked.

If you'll excuse the digression for a moment, a character named Positron was one of the Signature Heroes in City of Heroes, a high level ally who would sometimes show up in missions, and who also served a trainer in one of the zones. He was the character of one of the devs, who had played him in a tabletop game and who occasionally took on the identity for in-game events and posted under that name in the forums.

One day a player wrote a tongue in cheek post titled "DO SOMETHING POSITRON!" where he complained that he had died to an ambush, literally at the feet of Positron the trainer, who didn't lift a finger to help.

Positron the Dev wrote back with the quip "All that crap is grey to me, no XP", which became famous on the boards.

I was thinking of that when I was walking through Coruscant. Mobs aggro on me long after they stopped being worth experience points. City of Heroes did this better. You only had to be three levels higher than a mob for it to ignore you. It's annoying being swarmed by a bunch of goons that don't give you any rewards, but which will slow you down and occasionally knock you off your speeder.

I'd probably never have given SWTOR a chance had CoH not gone under, and I think I do prefer it still. That's not to say I find it superior in every way.

The legacy system in particular is really neat. It's been my experience that a lot of gamers give their characters extensive backstories in video games, and it's pretty nifty to have mechanical support for that.

The spoken dialogue in SWTOR really adds an extra element, and is always solid and occasionally spectacular. They did get some of the best talents in the field, and it shows.

Plots are engaging, if occasionally nonsensical. I may have missed something or it may be revealed later, but one of the missions features a scientist who is secretly a Sith. He developed one of the super weapons that litter the Star Wars universe for the Republic, and he goes through all these machinations like faking his kidnapping to get the plans to the bad guys. That just seems needlessly complicated. Couldn't he just cut out the middleman and deal directly with the bad guys and say "Hey, let me build you a super weapon", rather than fucking around with the Republic in the first place?

Still, that's a picayune complaint. They're fun to play and a fair number of CoH's missions fell apart when viewed critically too.

I like that every class has some mez protection, as blasters were insanely squishy in CoH right up until the very end, and for a long time, mezzes dropped all your toggles and you were as good as dead. At the other end of the spectrum, tankers were almost unmezzable. I would have liked to perhaps have seen some greater differentiation between the classes in SWTOR, and maybe some extra oomph for the front line fighters/tanks, but I think this is probably preferable to CoH.

PvP was added to City of Heroes well after launch. It gained a small, but devoted following, but underwent heavy revision in the interest of game balance with one update and was abandoned by the hardcore PvPers. There was occasional talk of tweaking it again, but mostly it just languished on the back burner. I played a little, but mostly when I went into PvP zones it was for badges or the really solid temp powers that were available there. If I'd see one guy on the /whoall, I'd grumble "What does this asshole want?" before taking off for the nearest exit.

I LOVE PvP in the Old Republic. It's like playing a game of Battlefront! Sometimes you get a shitty team, but hey, then the match is over quickly and you get a new team for the next match.

Though, while we're on the subject of shitty teams, I do seem to be drawing more than my share lately. I'd be on a team with three or four other teammates in the center room on the Ancient Gate map. The other team would focus fire on me, four or five of them, and I'm pretty decent at staying alive on the sage, between breaking LoS, using heals and Force Armor, etc, and I'd last a good twenty or thirty seconds before they overwhelmed me. Thing is, nobody came to help in that time.

It's the slow ganking that gets me. Yeah, if a bunch of dudes jump me and I die before you can intervene, well, sucks to be me. If a bunch of dudes jump me and ping away at me for a half a minute and you're just standing there like Kitty Genovese's neighbors, well, then, dear, I fear, we're facing a problem.

On the other hand, I kept the other team tied up for a couple man-minutes when they could have been working towards objectives, so go me!

And it's fun being on the other side of this dynamic, if you're on a halfway functional team and the other guys are coming at five of you in your entrenched position one at a time, like goons in a kung fu movie.

Overall, I like it a lot. Slowly working my way up with my sage. Having friends to play with makes a lot of difference and I hope to be at level 50 by the time they raise the level cap so we can all do the new stuff together.

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