Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, December 07, 2011
SWTOR difficulty level

One of the more remarkable things about the SWTOR open beta weekend was that I died. Several times. Both in group and in solo situations. And I liked it. Of course I was trying all sorts of crazy stuff, for example I had a "Hogger" moment with my Sith Inquisitor when at level 5 I came across a level 6 elite mob and absolutely had to try to kill it. No luck, got killed 3 times, then went back to base, leveled up by handing in some quests, trained up, and then went back are killed that elite mob. Even got a piece of blue loot, although it was heavy armor and completely useless to my character. Actually I have the impression that heavy armor loot drops from a level 6 elite mob are completely useless to everybody, as far as I could tell nobody gets heavy armor skill before level 10.

My character also died when trying to run through a cave full of mobs instead of carefully fighting them one by one. I died in a group at a boss which had a special attack that sucked everybody close to him and then hit us all with a point blank AoE. Thus we learned to move away as quickly as possible when the boss does that, and killed him on the next try. In fact, in pretty much all cases where I died it was clearly a case of me having done something in a sub-optimal fashion, and the death taught me how to do it better. And that is how it should be.

It is extremely difficult to unlearn skills in real life. Nils claims that the early game in WoW is actually quite hard, and only gets trivial past level 10 or so. But when I recently tried a new undead warlock in the free version of WoW (unlimited free play of WoW until level 20), I never felt in any danger, and quickly got bored. Unless you use the looking for group functionality to earn blue gear you don't need in low-level dungeons, it is rather likely that you play up to level 85 without a single death in World of Warcraft. Which not only is boring, but also fails to teach you how to play better.

I wouldn't want to play a game in which I need a dozen wipes before killing each simple quest mob. But the premise of these games is that you play a hero through his adventures, and if those adventures are completely safe, you don't feel much like a hero. Thus I do think that a game in which you can die if you risk too much is more attractive than a game which prevents you from taking risks. I find it stupid that in World of Warcraft you can't accept quests that are too high in level for you, and the xp rewards for killing higher level mobs are deliberately designed to give you less xp per hour than if you farm easy green mobs. If you give players a wider range of levels of quests and opponents to tackle, with rewards for trying the riskier stuff, you get a game in which everybody can play at exactly the difficulty level he wants. You don't need an "easy - normal - heroic" difficulty setting like for endgame raids now, you simply present the player with the option of doing quests below his level, at his level, or above his level, with rewards that are in line with the higher risk and time effort necessary to tackle the higher levels of difficulty.

I will have to see in how far this is possible in Star Wars: The Old Republic. But my first impression is that leveling is less trivial than in World of Warcraft, and that is a good thing.

It sounds approximately as difficult as WoW was when it launched.
Thus we learned to move away as quickly as possible when the boss does that, and killed him on the next try. In fact, in pretty much all cases where I died it was clearly a case of me having done something in a sub-optimal fashion, and the death taught me how to do it better. And that is how it should be.

I must be misunderstanding this, but are you implying that raid-like dance fights (wipe, learn strat, retry) should already start during the leveling phase?
are you implying that raid-like dance fights (wipe, learn strat, retry) should already start during the leveling phase?

If your endgame requires certain skills, you damn well better train people to perform these skills during the leveling phase. The problem of WoW is that moving into a strategically good position is NOT part of the gameplay for the first 85 levels, and then suddenly is required to an impossible degree.

I would hope that during leveling in SWTOR I see more boss abilities I need to react to correctly. And that this never degenerates into a WoW-like "we need 400 wipes before we can do this boss" absurd requirement.

That bosses do something other than tank and spank is good. That WoW raid bosses have 17 special abilities in a fight with 5 phases, and people are supposed to study the fight on YouTube and then practice it for several months before beating the boss is silly.
A group of us at Level 12-15 tried to take on a L18 elite world mob... and failed miserably. But it was server progression because we got his health down to 97% :-p
I must be misunderstanding this, but are you implying that raid-like dance fights (wipe, learn strat, retry) should already start during the leveling phase?

There's a difference between "Omg one mistake and we wipe", and "blue circle on the ground is where he's going to explode a bomb". SWTOR isn't the Dance that WoW is now, but it does help to know what fire looks like.
Sorry Tobold, but the boss that sucked you in and did the aoe is a "she" - a female Jedi Padawan to be exact.
Hasn't the difficulty of WOW's levelling game been nerfed down many times? I certainly remember plenty of deaths back in the day.

In fact it seems to be almost a given that every game launches with a highish level of difficulty and that it gradually gets nerfed down.

That doesn't mean I don't appreciate a difficult single player levelling game. I do but some invisible marketing force seems to make all games easier as time progresses.
I was partially shocked when I died during a class quest that I out-levelled slightly. It was the end of the whole planet's class chain and supposed to be epic but WoW had taught me that you only die in HC instances (when the expansion was first released) and raids.

It's a really nice change to have some difficulty/challenge that will prevent players short-cutting zones and actually have us developing at least a few skills.
I definitely think bosses while you are leveling up should have raid-like abilities, that is a great idea. I mean, don't actually make them raid boss difficulty when it comes to how perfect execution needs to be, lots of different things to know, etc. But I would be very happy if every single boss in instances past the very first one in each had 1 or 2 raid style abilities so players can learn what they need to do in a safe way.

When new players hop into raiding for the first time, they should very quickly realize everything they have to do they have already been taught to do in the past.
My Bounty Hunter started out with Heavy Armor.
This was one of my favorite SWTOR features :) Unlike WoW which has evolved from a theme park game into a theme park. SWTOR leaves the game in there.
@Tobold: good point, it's sure that in WoW the leveling and the instances/raids are two completely different games. I don't know if this is good or bad, the bad side is that upon reaching level cap you're faced with a "new" game, the good side is that if you don't care about "challenge" and just want to follow the story, you're not forced into any particular gameplay.

Ah, BTW you're exaggerating a bit:

That WoW raid bosses have 17 special abilities in a fight with 5 phases, and people are supposed to study the fight on YouTube and then practice it for several months before beating the boss is silly.

This was ONE (the final) boss, and in hard mode, which is pretty much designed to be near-impossible.
This is the exact reason I dropped WoW, when I realized three things:

1)you earn less xp while in a group, therefore discouraging group questing.

2)I was able to, with a green geared frost dk, pull everything I see with little risk of dying and almost never having to bandage.

3)I was expected to know every boss fight by heart in LFG and was required to GOGOGOGOGOGO right as soon as the dungeon started.

Sucked the joy out of things, lemmie tell you. So I bought Dragon Age and Borderlands, figuring I'd go single player for awhile until SWTOR came out.
I couldn't agree more. This is one of the huge reasons WoW failed in Cataclysm. The leveling portion of the game is ENTIRELY different from the endgame. They require different skills, they emphasis different concepts. It's like you all the sudden stop playing one game and start playing another completely unrelated game, which should then come as no surprise that the vast majority of people are unprepared for it at first. Then add the fact that many of the "dance" mechanics are just downright silly, and you have a situation that is just plain not fun.
I agree with most of your points, but I do have to take issue with the comparison you made saying that it's possible to make it to level-85 without dying in WoW if you don't do dungeons, and yet, from what you stated, it seems quite possible to do the same in SWTOR.

All the deaths you mentioned were either: 1) In a dungeon, or 2) doing things that are a clear danger such as taking on elite mobs above your level or too many mobs at a time.

And it's likely that your ability to play in WoW without feeling in any danger is largely due to your past experience with the game, and not due to any particular aspect of WoW. In SWTOR, you're still getting a feel for how the game is balanced, so you're trying things to see if you're capable of them, but in WoW, you already know how it's balanced, so you know what tasks to avoid or to take on (especially being the "levelling-phile" that you are, you've played through the levelling phase several times). A new WoW player wouldn't likely have that experience (at least not without reading some sort of leveling guide, which don't really exist yet, but will soon enough, for SWTOR), and would likely die several times doing similar things you are in SWTOR right now.

I still remember my first time taking on Hogger, my first time through deadmines, etc. I died on all those attempts, multiple times, as I was still getting a feel for what I was capable of. And with hogger at least, it wasn't even that my abilities were too low, it was actually learning about the ranges at which I will aggro the extra mobs around his camp and which ones I needed to clear beforehand, so I actually was learning new skills through the dying process. Or as you said:

" was clearly a case of me having done something in a sub-optimal fashion, and the death taught me how to do it better."

Like I said, I completely agree with you in that artificial barriers shouldn't be in place that prevent you from taking risks if you so desire, and that the risk:reward ratio should be balanced, but to argue that the relative levels of danger and adventure between the two games, at least based on your examples, I think is somewhat disingenuous.
By the way, Cataclysm introduced a paricular low-level quest line in Azshara, which involved not standing in stuff and kiting and running around and avoding certain things.

It looked to me like an attempt to teach some heroic/raid skills to players
This was why I liked Rift's levelling game. It was more difficult, like old wow. You had to plan every pull, conserve your health, cc at the right moment, ...but then a rift opens...!

Fear of character death can be very immersive.
The WoW comparison is silly.

If you played Super Mario Bros today, how many times would you die on Stage 1-1? I'm guessing zero. Conversely, if Super Mario Bros was your very first videogame, no doubt you ran into the first Goomba and died immediately.

You already have WoW skills, so of course its easier. Blizzard did make leveling easier as well, but let's not pretend some brand new person to the game would never die.

I played the SWTOR beta and died several times as well, attacking elites 1 level higher than myself. After a few deaths, I realized that a combination of health potions, stim buffs, and changing my normal rotation would lead to victory. It did. And when I was leveling a completely different character and ran across an elite, I used the same knowledge to one-shot it. Those elites will never cause any problems with me ever again.

It's good to have difficult content, I'm not arguing against that. My point is that comparing a brand new game of which you have no understanding of the internal mechanics thereof, with an established game you have spent 1000s of hours playing is ridiculous.

Some of the story quest content is definitely challenging on-level - both my Sith Warrior and Sith Sorcerer had fights before level 10 that left me on a sliver of health. I like to think I'm an experienced enough MMO player to be using my class abilities at least semi-intelligently even if I am yet to master them. A complete drooling faceroller (i.e what Syncaine thinks TOR is designed for) would end up on the losing side of those encounters. One of my Bounty Hunter's fights on Dromund Kaas, at about level 13 or 14, was even nastier and did require a quick rez and a rethink of my tactics. And this is 'core content' for TOR. Now, you have the option of gaining a level or two and coming back so the difficulty won't be a hard block on progress, but if you do choose to concentrate on story progression then you should expect to find your self challenged from time to time in the Old Republic.
I think I died once in beta, while doing something stupid like attacking a group of elites... but then what happened? I pressed a button and I was back on my feet, in the same spot, just 10 seconds later...

So I really don't care how hard or easy it is to die in SW:TOR, as long as the penalty is exactly zedo.

And from what I've noticed, they've done their best to follow the WoW questing model, with hubs, multiple missions in the same zone, same type of quests etc... so I wouldn't hold my breath in expecting a different experience.
I am guessing SWTOR doesn't have a whole lot of endgame content yet. They need to slow down leveling speeds, so players take longer to get to endgame. That gives the developers more time to add more endgame content.

I think fast leveling in WoW is because Blizzard wants all players to be at endgame. The game is more addictive at that point. During leveling you mostly play solo and don't have a lot of player connections yet. It's easier to get bored and quit.

There's also all the veteran players that want their alts at the level cap faster, or they have friends that they want at the level cap so they can do runs together.

I think for an older MMO with an established playerbase it makes sense for leveling to be fast. For a new MMO, people do want to spend more time in the leveling experience meeting the characters and exploring the world. In 5+ years when SWTOR is considered old, I'm sure they will have already sped up leveling.
Late to the party, but I thought it worth mentioning:

Initially, in TOR, my biggest complaint was that they might as well have called it, "Endurance Wars: Jogging in the Old Republic."
Travelling EVERYWHERE, even between quest-givers, took you several minutes.

Then I hit level 14 and get Sprint... a passive 35% out-of-combat run-speed boost.

I've been told that there are times in life that cannot be replicated. Such as the first time you stare into someone's eyes and know True Love, or the first time you hold your own newborn child... Times when you know your purpose in life, when you feel complete, whole.

Gaining the Sprint ability was one such time. I realized: This. This is what I was meant to do... Sprint.

(One friend complained that it was nothing like parenting, because he promptly found himself sprinting into walls. I observed that some parents also perform a metaphorical equivalent of sprinting into walls. That's how we get strippers.)

If I had been given a mount at level 5, I don't think I'd feel the same desperate, co-dependent affection/obsession with the sprint skill.
@Thander: It absolutely BAFFLES me that WoW has not created some sort of system where veteran players cannot simply create a new max-level character fresh out of the gates if they've already hit that level cap once with that class.

End-game characters for end-gamers.
Indeed, they could even allow players with a max-level character to create another max-level character of any class, IMO.

As other people have said, the difficulty of SWTOR sounds more like old WoW (Vanilla or BC) rather than something different in nature. Back when there were elite ogres interfering with your quests, for example - it was group or die for some same-kevel quests, even if you could solo most of them. (Of course no quest was ever essential until max level, so if you wanted to solo all the way you still could.)
Sadly here we are a year later, game is easier than WoW with a fraction of the content. I had such high hopes.
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