[SWTOR] In which Bioware finally nail single player gameplay

A funny thing happened to me this week while playing Star Wars: the Old Republic. My Sith Warrior chick (partner says accusingly, “She looks evil!” but I think he’s just influenced by being in the same room as me while I’m playing) is in the final stages of her class quest now, and I’ve noticed a couple of difficulty ramps in the single player game as I go. But the funny thing is that this week I realised that I was enjoying the single player difficulty, in fact I’m enjoying it far more than WoW.

I may have noted previously that Bioware have done a good job in making the set piece, end of plot arc, boss fights harder than the comparable missions while not being minmaxingly hard (ie. you can beat them if you play carefully even with a randomish build and your choice of companion). But looking back, they have also been teaching you as a player to figure out how to work out a decent rotation (ie. which of your abilities do most damage so you should use them as soon as they come off cooldown, etc), how to use interrupts, using the scenery to help, figuring out how best to handle groups of linked mobs, using your companion to help out, and so on.

For example, I struggle to take on two strong mobs of my level … unless I let my companion pull one while I kill the other and then taunt the spare one back. Even the wimpiest of companions, assuming they’re geared at their level, can tank a mob for awhile on their own. Where there is a strong mob with one or more normal ones, the normals usually do more damage and die faster so it’s best to kill them first. Corner pulls can be used to drag ranged mob out of a room. As an MMO dino, I’m familiar with a lot of these tactics, but I get a kick out of how much more manageable the game becomes when I start using them rather than just piling straight into a fight.

And what’s more, I’m finding that the difficulty supports the storytelling. Not in every case for sure, but the way the single player class quests balance increasing difficulty with increasing story importance has worked really well to draw me in. And in a way that DAO/ DA2 never quite managed (much as I enjoyed them as story games).

I like that as an MMO, players can also choose to level up or bring friends to make the quests easier if they prefer that route. Choices are good. But I think Bioware have hit on some very solid  gameplay in the single player quests, still in the MMO mould for sure, but a subtle improvement nonetheless.

Now the interesting thing about single player difficulty is that part of the difficulty is because you’re still learning the game and the class. I’m sure if I played it through again on a new Sith Warrior, I’d find the quests far easier. Partly because I know what’s going to happen in the fights, and partly because I’ve learned how the class handles. So I want to record that NOW on my first ever playthrough, without looking up builds, gear, or rotations and learning as I go I found that the difficulty level was fun and appropriate. I like only having to worry about one companion, as opposed to the party based DAO, it keeps things fluid and dynamic while not having too many NPCs to gear up and worry about at the same time.

I hope that this is something Bioware can build on in future content. I don’t expect single player endgame to be their main focus, but in SWTOR, they may actually have built one of the more solid gameplay engines of any of their games that I have played. So I found it interesting that Tobold wondered today whether the game will be appealing once the stories have run out — it’s a valid thought, and I enjoy the stories, but I think the gameplay has a lot of merit too.

18 thoughts on “[SWTOR] In which Bioware finally nail single player gameplay

    • It is clever but I wasn’t expecting to also find it so fun. I’ve probably been too nervous of difficulty in the past, seeing it as aimed at more hardcore players.

  1. I came to realize running WoW dungeons with buddies this year, that the weaker mobs need to go down first, because the mob DPS goes way down when they do. Since just about every fight in SWTOR is a group fight, I was gratified that the tactic continues to hold true. And you’re right, I have found that when I am questing at my level, it is actually a challenge. Doing all that questing I have a tendency to out-level the areas before I’m quite done with them, though. Cheers! 🙂

  2. I like what Trion did with the Ember Isles in Rift, it’s a daily quest zone, but the difficulty is set as being a hard slog for a new level 50, but doable for duos/trios or uber geared players, since I’ve no interest in raiding, grouping is the only way for me to tackle it comfortably besides staying inside highly defended sourcewells. Chronicles have the same difficulty level, some can be soloed, but it’s a little on the tedious side. I think Bioware might do well to create some story-based ‘adventures’ that require 1-3 players, instead of adding more class specific story content.

  3. This is the kind of difficulty we took for granted six or seven years ago. As you suggest, careful pulling, prioritizing order of kills, using the environment to your benefit and so on are nothing new to MMO “dinos”.

    I haven’t played SW:toR so I can’t say how enjoyable it might be to return to this style of gameplay, but on the face of it I’m quite pleased not to have to bother with all that any more. I do like the tactical element, but I’m not sure it beats the fun factor of running into a camp or room, spinning in circles firing every AE in the toolbox and watching them all fall over. I’ve yet to find that gets old whereas I did get quite tired of “playing properly” after a few years.

    I suppose it would be nice to have the option of doing it either way.

  4. “I like only having to worry about one companion, as opposed to the party based DAO, it keeps things fluid and dynamic while not having too many NPCs to gear up and worry about at the same time.”

    I definitely had this complaint about DAO. My experience has generally been that one NPC can add to the gameplay, but more than one NPC just requires watered down controls to allow the player to drive more than one character. Diablo II (one henchman) and DDO (one hireling) are both games I’ve enjoyed. DAO and Guild Wars are both games I did not.

    That said, don’t you end up procuring gear for the other dudes “just in case”? I often fall for that one and end up burning time managing gear etc for the guy I don’t even use.

  5. Tobold’s feeling (and yours) rings true for me as well. I’ve been sitting at 42 for several days now sort of holding off because I feel like it’s going to come to an end and I’m not going to want to keep playing that character in the ‘endgame’.

    Tactics? Yeah somewhat.Fights definitely get trickier as the levels go up, but certain companions make that a lot easier.

  6. Endgame…

    I cannot defeat the final boss from the last class quest at level 50. My friend from guild that is same class too not. I will wait until I have a better gear. I too am sure I am making something wrong, that I need change the tatics. We tryed make a group for try taht last quest, but we found the instance just get more hard mobs and it was impossible to run it.

    And Esseles hard mode we too found a boss that was impossible to defeat. The problem was that we had an unbalanced group (two jedi knights, one jedi sage and one gunslinger, when we need at least one dps with aoe), but again gear was problably a problem.

    Life is hard at level 50….

  7. I’ve really been enjoying the difficulty too. The fact that mobs come in groups of different strengths adds a lot to the experience, because you handle an elite differently than two strong ones, a group of weak ones, or any mix of them together, so it never comes down to just learning your one true rotation and spamming that on every pull.

    I do think it makes for smarter players too. I’ve been pugging some heroic quests in the last couple of days and everyone already seems to know how to crowd control, focus fire, when to off-heal etc. without needing much prompting, which is very nice.

    • What server are you on? My PUG experiences have still been pretty crappy. Seems likes there’s always at least 1 person who can’t adapt. Sadly, the last PUG I was in, it was actually a guildie of mine that as the moron. When he ragequit after several wipes (and a couple of fights where he died almost immediately and the other 3 of us pulled it off — yes, he was dps who thought he could also tank and pull and that we didn’t need CC. and yeah, he might be a guildie, but he’s now on my “Do Not Group” list) the other 3 of us literally said “Good riddance!” in group chat, then recruited someone to replace him and. . . were just fine after that.

      Next group after that was successful, but still tons of mistakes. I’d mark a CC target and then the dps would attack it 1st, in spite of it being marked. It got better over time, but once we’d completed the quest no one wanted to keep killing mobs to finish the bonus part of the quest. Too stressful with all the mistakes.

      As far as the solo difficulty goes, it seems like if you prioritize your companion’s gear over your own and get as much presence as you can (including a presence stim) that it’s a lot easier than if you gear yourself up and give the companion your old leftovers. I’m also a healer and using a tank companion, so I can solo champion level mobs, even though my tank is supposedly a crappy companion. Proof here if you care to see. Screenie’s about halfway down the post.

  8. When Bioware said that this game would be just as much about the journey (leveling) as the destination (endgame) they weren’t kidding. I have a mid 40’s Imperial and a mid 30’s Republic character and I have been enjoying the process immensely on both counts. I agree with some of the sentiments stated above in that some aspects of SW:TOR’s single-player experience would have been accepted as common place several years ago. However it is difficult to “dial back” people’s expectations of these sort of things. As Blizzard just found out with Cataclysm, trying to “put the genie back in the bottle” and raise difficulty again can have the opposite affect that you anticipate.

    I haven’t seen the endgame personally yet so I can’t directly comment, but I have confidence Bioware can produce an engaging experience at that point as well. What will be interesting to see from my perspective is, will the “traditional” sort of player who is focused on endgame care about the stories that BIoware is trying to tell? Or will they simply get frustrated with having to mash the spacebar to raid?

  9. After levelling an operative to 20 I found that many of my friends were on a different server.

    I rerolled on that server and have enjoyed the process a lot the second time, even though I was repeating many of the same quests. The class-based dialogue options make a huge difference, as does the dark/light alignment choices.
    Taking things slowly, hunting datacrons, reading codex lore and doing a little crafting is all fun. I’m also looking forward to putting together a custom orange set.

    At this stage, I can see myself playing all 8 basic classes to 50 before I quit. Probably with a break in the middle for Diablo3.

  10. The only complaint I have (and it’s not much of one) is how heavy BW’s writers go building “heel heat” for the people some classes are gunning for. Skavak for Smugglers (Tarro Blood for BHs too), for example, becomes such a hemorrhoid that you really just want to kill him and get it over with already. Dunno if you get to do it or not though I hope so (just like I hope my Inquisitor gets to kill the Overseer from that class’s starting missions). Then again, maybe it’s me. I also despise Aric Jorgan and the moment Elara joins the squad, I make him my permanent craftmonkey.

    But I think the stories, and following them, takes some of the heat off of the actual gameplay mechanics (though as you said, those aren’t too shabby either).

  11. Pingback: Killed in a Smiling Accident. » Blog Archive » We make choices but are constantly foiled by happenstance

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