Ok so today I thought I'd get back to Star Wars: The Old Republic and give a bit of an update on where I'm at with the game, my feelings about it right now, and some thoughts about its long term potential.
I completed Chapter 1 of my Smuggler's class story and she sits just a sliver shy of level 37 right now. By all accounts I took a bit longer than most to complete Chapter 1 as many are doing it in their early 30's. I mostly attribute this to several days of only doing space dailies and the rested XP that accumulated over the week I wasn't able to play significantly. Without giving away any spoilers, I'll just say that the end of the chapter was a bit... anti-climatic. The "shocking" reveal is pretty boring. I saw it coming a mile off. And the next major storyline... well, I just feel like it is awfully contrived. Again, I don't want to spoil it by giving details, but overall I am rather disappointed with the Smuggler story.
This has led me to "shelf" my Smuggler for the past few days. I haven't really played her much aside from doing a few space dailies and some crafting missions for my companions. I also find my choice of spec rather disappointing as well. I never expected a healer to dish out tons of damage, but the problem is that I don't feel like a particularly good healer either. My "tank" companion is a walking sheet of tissue paper and dies regularly on champs and elites, even with my attention. I feel like I must be doing something wrong, but I'm not entirely sure what that could be. I try to manage my energy, manage my cooldowns, but something just feels off. Practice might make perfect, but unfortunately instance groups are also becoming hard to come by as the population spreads out across the level bands. Topic for another day.
So I've been working on other characters lately, and that has been more fun. I now have a lvl 19 Bounty Hunter, lvl 19 Jedi Counselor, and lvl 18 Sith Warrior. The Counselor and Warrior are both tank spec'd. I just completed the Hammer Station Flashpoint on my Counselor tonight, and I have to say that tanking is a bit of an adjustment. I somewhat blame the UI here. Yes, I'm going to bash SW:TOR's UI again. The thing is just pathetic. No "target-of-target" function sucks when you're trying to manage aggro on a half-dozen mobs and can't see who they are all shooting at. That said, most non-elites don't need to be "tanked" in the traditional sense. The DPS shreds them in seconds, and individually their damage is not significant for the most part. That said, I have a lot to learn about tanking in this game.
Right now I feel like SW:TOR is a bit of a mixed bag. It has some definite strengths that cannot be denied. My apathy towards the main Smuggler story aside, the storytelling itself is done very well. The common "kill ten rats" quests are "disguised" by cut scenes and voice over so effectively that you really don't mind that you are just "killing ten rats." The combat and gameplay are familiar and comfortable, and to me that is a positive. I wasn't looking for anything revolutionary in this sense. In terms of gameplay, "WoW with lightsabers" makes me a happy Jedi, and that's basically what this is.
But SW:TOR has some definite problems as well. The UI is just... plain... terrible. I'm sorry to keep harping on this but it is really inexcusable. It lacks functions that just have to be considered "standard" for a modern MMO in 2012. This UI would have been just fine in 2006... but this isn't 2006. Bioware needs to fix this and fix it fast, or people who are otherwise happy with the game are going to start to look elsewhere. The other major problem has to do with group content. Let me preface this by saying I am NOT in favor of a WoW-style "Looking for Dungeon" tool. That thing killed WoW for me and I don't want to see it again. But... SW:TOR needs something. Flagging yourself in the Social window is useless (no one checks it) and spamming chat is inconvenient as you have to go to a single location (Fleet Hub) and sit on your thumbs until you find a group. I don't know what the solution is. Maybe something like Dungeons and Dragons: Online's grouping tool would work. But there has to be some option between "LFD" and "hours of chat spam."
It is the time of year for predictions, right? I know we're just a few short weeks into this game's life, but it's never too early for silly predictions that will look foolish later! Let's start with a bit of a no-brainer. Regardless of HOW big SW:TOR ends up, I think I can say without much fear of contradiction that six months from now, this game will be the #2 MMO in the US/EU market. EVE and RIFT are both on the decline, as much as their developers may claim otherwise, and there are no major challengers on the horizon. I can see SW:TOR posting somewhere between one and two million subscriptions in this time. Will it unseat WoW? I don't think so. As discussed before, much of WoW's touted "subscriber" base is from Asia, where people paying by the hour in internet cafes "count." So long as this is true, WoW will never be topped unless it just shuts down in Asia. Even if you only count WoW's US/EU numbers against SW:TOR (which is more fair) that still leaves four to five million subscribers. Can SW:TOR hit that number inside a year? Maybe, but unlikely. I think if they hit half that they should be happy.
So as I asked in a previous post, what is considered "successful?" If SW:TOR pulls two million subs and slides comfortably into that #2 slot, is it a successful game? Or just another pretender to WoW's throne? In my opinion, I would consider it a success. WoW's numbers are likely to never be duplicated, by anyone, even Blizzard themselves. WoW is the statistical outlier... the exception not the rule. Of course everyone else wants to be that successful, but there are other levels of success that have to be considered acceptable, even considering the significant investment EA and Bioware made in this product. Two million subs would more than pay SW:TOR's bills. People need to stop judging everything about MMO's by the size of WoW. They need to accept WoW for the anomaly that it is. A successful and profitable anomaly to be sure, but like the goose who laid the golden egg, chasing it will lead to your doom.