Monday, April 22, 2013

Suddenly, Long, Long Ago, In A Galaxy Far, Far Away...

Yeah ok, so I did it. I broke one of my own rules for playing MMOs...again.

I tend to make it a policy (and I'm not really sure if it's by design or just unconscious personal preference) to avoid the big-name MMOs like Everquest, WoW, and SWTOR in favor of stuff more off the beaten path. That's not to say I won't go for a game that boasts a big-name brand like Star Trek Online or Age of Conan, but the more it seems like any game happens to be "what everyone's playing these days", the less likely it is that I'm going to consider giving it a shot.

Maybe it's because I've been burned before. I invested in a lifetime sub for STO a few years ago, just in time to see the game enter a two-year content drought. I'm still liking Age of Conan, but I'm also just beginning to bump up against the limitations of a free player in that game. Maybe it's got something to do with the fact that I'm starting to hit my wall with much of what I've been playing recently, TSW, AOC, TERA, STO, Aion, and I haven't really comfortably settled into any particular MMO in the last several months.

The signs that it's time for a change, at least for a while, are all there. I get easily frustrated with challenging missions, much more easily that when I'm focused and willing to put in the time and effort to beat them. I find myself bored with the storylines and looking for an excuse to go play something else for a while. I'll dig up an old single-player game and replay it, just to give myself a break from MMOs.

So, I decided it was finally time to try SWTOR now that it's free-to-play. Maybe that'll prove to be a mistake, maybe not, but here's the semi-scary part: I like it...what's more, I'm having a shitload of fun with it right now.

Yeah seriously...even as a severely-deprived free player. Hard to believe, I know, but it's true.

One thing's for sure, I've never seen a game as intentionally crippled for free players as SWTOR. In addition, I've never been much of a Star Wars fan. In fact, I've never seen the last three movies. I've just never been all that interested.

Yet, SWTOR has held my attention for almost an entire weekend. The story is good, the graphics are great, and the game has a high level of quality of presentation I've come to expect in single player games but that never seems to be duplicated in MMOs, not even by the ones that come close to that ideal like TSW.

And yet, I must hesitate. Playing SWTOR is like buying a first-class seat on an airline: You know that by paying extra you're going to get a top-rate experience, but you also know that in the end you'll end up at the same destination as if you travel economy class. The question you have to answer is how much is it worth to you to travel first class and is it worth as much to you as much as the asking price of the ticket.

It seems that for a lot of people, that answer is no. The early areas of the game seem fairly deserted and everything seems geared toward getting you to spend more money. On the one hand, I resent the focus on money constantly intruding on my game in ways both large and small, and yet on the other hand, I find myself seriously considering if I'm enjoying myself in SWTOR enough to justify plunking down enough cash for some paid game time.

The truth is that I haven't yet made that determination yet. It's a moot point right now because I can't afford to start a subscription at the moment, but that will change in time.

I must admit it's an interesting albeit annoying way of marketing. It's also interesting how if you buy anything from their store you get certain benefits as well. While I do think the limitations on non-subscribers are a bit draconian and wider-ranging than in most games I've seen, they're also not quite as ridiculously unfair and arbitrary as AOC or Fallen Earth.

I've seen the complaints about SWTOR and I can understand why players abandoned this game en masse a while back because of the intense focus on maximizing profits that makes the concession counter at your local movie theater look like a discount snack store, but I can also see why this game can be a lot of fun to play if you're willing to invest a little money in it. What I haven't yet determined is if that kind of investment would be worthwhile for me personally.

In SWTOR I see a lot of MMO elements I enjoy in other games, deep sci-fi storyline, quality voice acting, interesting combat, fast travel, great graphics, and much more, but I also see a greater need to keep pumping money into the game if I'm going to get serious about it as a player. I wonder how much of a future this game has, and I wonder if that future is worth investing in.

I just hit level 10 today. I suspect I'll give it at least another few levels before I make any decisions. After that, I suppose we'll see.

It's nice to fly first class if you can afford it. The question is whether the journey is important as the destination. I'll let ya know.