No I'm not dead! My apologies for being gone longer than I had planned, but that seems to be par for the course for me these days. I think I need to buy some thicker pants to absorb the ass-kicking that real life has been administering to me lately. But at the same time, sometimes some time "away" can be a good thing and help you gain some perspective on things as you are able to observe them from a distance. When I got back this past weekend I saw a slew of posts from other bloggers I respect talking about their feelings on Star Wars: The Old Republic now that the game has been out a while longer and many of them are reaching the level cap. This commentary from Wolfshead in particular caught my attention. Yes I know, I'm way behind the curve on this one. Spinks and Tobold among many others have already commented on this post. So I'm not going to respond to his post directly so much as simply write what he "inspired" me to think about SW:TOR myself. While some of my thoughts do mirror Wolfshead's to a degree, my reasoning is a little less technical.
MMO's are Games Too
I'm not sure why this problem is unique to this genre, and maybe it really isn't, but it sure feels that way. When it comes to MMO's, it seems like many people forget that they are games too and that ultimately a game is supposed to be FUN. This is entertainment. This is leisure. This is relaxation. Maybe it is the fact that we pay for it over time, via subscription or micro-transaction the result is the same. I don't know. But a lot of MMO players (at least among The Informed) seem to lose sight of the fact that this is all supposed to be about having a good time. We get "bogged down" in the minutia. We nitpick quest mechanics or loot distribution. We claim that this class or that class is too powerful. We argue about this ability or that ability not being useful. You name it. We analyze these games to death, and I am just as guilty as anyone else of this. But after reading Wolfhead's post and his critique of SW:TOR, I stopped and asked myself how I really felt about the game, and the answer was both very simple, and very non-analytical. SW:TOR is simply not fun.
I cannot even really put my "finger" on why. I cannot give you a single, coherent, logical reason why. I really wish that I could. It would be easier to explain that way. But the simple fact of the matter is that the game is not fun. And when you are talking about a GAME, that should be reason enough. There should be no need for a quantitative breakdown of how "Gameplay Mechanic Y" is poorly implemented and "Zone X" is badly designed or "Class Z" is underperforming. All of that analysis is all well and good, and it serves its own purpose in terms of describing a game. But really, why are we all here? Why do we play any game, MMO or otherwise? Because it is fun. And when it ceases to be fun, it is time to move along. There shouldn't be a need for any more elaboration than that.
And so while it sounds terribly un-scientific and perhaps even unfair, that is where I am with SW:TOR right now. On my trip this weekend I had my laptop with me, and it is capable of playing SW:TOR (barely.) I had my authenticator so I could have logged on. I didn't. I didn't want to. I didn't miss it. There was no part of me that was saying, "Oh boy I need to log on and do my space dailies/Belsavis quests/crafting/instancing/etc." With my past MMO's, I "missed" them to a degree. I wanted to log on and do random things. I wanted to be involved in things, especially pre-Cataclysm in WoW and later in RIFT. But for SW:TOR, that feeling doesn't exist. I don't log on for a day or two and it just doesn't affect me at all.
Perhaps the best comparison is actually to another Bioware game, Dragon Age: Origins. I did not find that game FUN at all. The combat mechanics drove me absolutely crazy. Every dungeon crawl was a bore. But I played it, and I finished it, because I wanted to see how the story ended. The story was engaging, the game itself was not. I feel much the same about SW:TOR right now. I find the stories enjoyable (really liking the Jedi Consular right now) but the game itself is a chore. The questing is not fun, the combat is not fun, playing the game is simply an excuse to advance the story from one episode to the next.
Now when you are talking about a single-player game, you can "get away" with this. I've paid my box price. The publisher has my money. If I don't finish the game, it's MY loss. An MMO is different. I'm paying over time. There needs to be an incentive to stick around. That incentive can take many forms, and we know the traditional ones; raiding, PvP, etc. But if the system underlying those incentives is simply not fun, there is no reason to stay. So again, it comes back to the game itself needing to be FUN. SW:TOR is not fun. I am not going to stay subscribed to a game just to see what the next chapter of the story is, whenever they do decide to come out with them.
I love MMO's. I love the genre. That's why I have a blog dedicated to covering them. I really wish I could find one that I could "sink my teeth into." I spent nearly two years in Guild Wars. I spent nearly five years in WoW. As I have mentioned before in this blog, I am the kind of player that would love to be able to dedicate themselves to a single game and really get into it. I had very high hopes that SW:TOR would be that game. Right now I just don't see it. I am trying to keep as open a mind about it as I can, but with each passing week I am left with more of a sense of inevitability that I will not be renewing my subscription after it runs out in April. There is still time between now and then. Maybe I'll change my mind. Hell... a part of me wants to change my mind. But I am not in a position in my life where I can "throw money away." If SW:TOR isn't engaging, it is time to move along.
One thing my time in SW:TOR has given me is an appreciation for a well crafted MMO that plays like an MMO. Say what you want about WoW (and I'm still never going back) it is the most finely tuned, lovingly crafted MMO on the market. And RIFT plays like a Ferrari compared to SW:TOR's Chevy Nova. Those games act, look, and feel like MMO's. SW:TOR feels like a single-player game that some multiplayer elements were "tacked on" to without much thought. If my significant other wouldn't string me up by my toenails, I'd buy a RIFT time card to pass the time until The Secret World is released. But absent that, I'll soldier on with SW:TOR and finish as many class stories as I can before my time expires.
Ok, talk about a "brain dump." That's what you get for not blogging for a week. Hopefully I can get back to a semi-regular routine so I don't kill you guys with "Wall-O-Text" crits like this anymore. :)