Tobold's Blog
Thursday, January 05, 2012
SWTOR as a multiplayer game

Earlier this week I discussed Star Wars: The Old Republic as a single-player game. So in this post I'm taking an early look at the multi-player aspects of SWTOR. Obviously I haven't raided yet, so I'll be looking mostly at "heroic" group quests and flashpoints.

In its multi-player aspects, Star Wars: The Old Republic is less different from previous MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. Group size is smaller than elsewhere, only 4 people, but you'll still want a tank, a healer, and the rest doing damage. Flashpoints play very much like WoW dungeons, with the occasional dialogue being the only difference in a classic sequence of trash mobs and bosses. The bosses have special abilities, forcing players into a certain degree of "dance" to step out of the fire or avoid some whirlwind ability. The whole group gameplay is very recognizable.

Heroic quests are slightly different, being usually a lot shorter and having no or just one boss mob. Furthermore those heroic quests are located on the planets and integrate somewhat into adventuring on those planets. Flashpoints on the other hand start from a central location, the Republic or Imperial fleet. Some heroic quests can be done with just 2 players and their companions. And heroic quests appear all to be daily quests, while flashpoints can be run as often as you want.

One major difference between SWTOR and WoW for group content is the way groups are formed, and how they travel to the instance. In SWTOR you can flag yourself as looking for group, but there is no automated dungeon finder to assemble a group. Thus much of group finding happens in chat. There has been a lot of discussion about the dungeon finder removing the sense of place from World of Warcraft, but the other side of the coin is that getting into a group instance is a lot more difficult in SWTOR. If you are doing quests on a planet, you won't hear the chat in fleet where the flashpoint groups are formed. And if a group form via guild chat, getting from where you are to the instance entrance isn't all that obvious. Your emergency fleet pass only works once every 18 hours, so most of the time you need to "hearthstone" to the spaceport of the planet you are on, and then do a lot of running and waiting for loading screens to get from the spaceport via your hangar and your ship to the fleet and then the level where the instances start. And then you have to take the same way back in reverse to continue with your questing after the instance. Not very convenient, and thus there is a lot less group action in SWTOR than it could be.

The point where Star Wars: The Old Republic is much better than World of Warcraft with regard to multi-player PvE content is that there is less of a gap between single-player and multi-player content. In WoW some abilities are only ever useful in multi-player, for example a warrior's taunt. In SWTOR every player has a companion, and so can use "group" abilities and tactics even while soloing. If you play a tank, you *can* (and should) taunt mobs of your healer companion, and thus are better prepared for that situation if it happens in a group. Furthermore solo content in SWTOR is not totally trivial, as in WoW. Thus single-player in SWTOR prepares you better for group play, because you already learned how to play better, how to use things like interrupts, crowd control, or line-of-sight pulls from soloing. Of course that isn't 100%, but the gap is definitively narrower than it is in WoW.

While I haven't raided yet, I made a first experience with the raiding interface. In a regular group as a healer you see your health at a different location than the health of your party, which increases the likelihood of forgetting to heal yourself. You can fix that by turning on an option which uses the operations ("raid") frames for small groups. But it turns out that at the resolution I am using the raid frames are tiny, and while they can be moved (after unlocking), there appears to be no way to change their size. [EDIT: Found the hidden option in the preferences] And of course people used to raid-healing in World of Warcraft pretty much all use some addon which allows for healing by just clicking on a raid frame. In SWTOR there are no addons, thus clicking on the raid frame only selects your target, and you still need another keypress or click to actually heal. Don't expect miracles from your group or raid healer in Star Wars: The Old Republic, there are limits to what they can do with the user interface provided.

That is if you can actually find a healer, or tank, for your group. Fleet chat is full of people looking for those for their groups. SWTOR does not have dual-spec, and thus the old problem arises that many players of classes which supposedly are tanks or healers rather use a damage dealing talent build during leveling, because that is more efficient.

As you can see a lot of the issues World of Warcraft had with grouping over the years are still there in Star Wars: The Old Republic. For me personally the biggest issue is that SWTOR hasn't moved beyond the idea of using dance-based raid content as major part of the endgame. For people who weren't into raiding in WoW, the SWTOR endgame doesn't appear to offer a solution. And for those who did raid in WoW, it isn't obvious why exactly they would prefer SWTOR raiding to WoW raiding once the "oh, new, shiny!" effect has worn off.
The biggest issue for me is the archaic way of looking for groups in the game. Zero improvements and back to how we did it in EQ2 or WoW, 8 years ago? Thanks Bioware! *epic facepalm*

There is so much they could improve, before even going near questions like cross server, auto matching and teleportation. And I don't even ask why the PvP warzone system has most of that, maybe SWTOR is secretly a PvP focused game?

Players should be encouraged and guided by the game to form PvE groups too, with all the group content in game. Heroics even start on the starter worlds, and that's awesome! But the lack of serious LFG support is paradox and makes me angry.

And my Sage healer just dinged 50 on Voss, with the only heroics I could not find people for so far being 2 on the Alderaan bonus quest line, Republic side. But I have lots of patience and are determined when trying to find a group, with 8 years of MMO experience under the hood. I wonder how less hardcore players who want to group are feeling about it.

There should be a system which lets players flag themselves for roles and any number of heroics, flashpoints and operations. This information should then be presented in an ergonomic manner. In regards to player guidance, there should be an option (so you may turn it off) to automatically flag players when they accept a heroic, flashpoint or operation quest. It does really not take much more for a start in my opinion.

Even with such a system there still would be a lot of players who shy away from actually starting a group. But the pool of potentional group leaders would increase by a large margin, if the game would make an effort to actually support the process of looking for groups.
I wonder if I should just repost my monster comment on the SWTOR forums. But when looking at all the other topics there about LFG, why feed the trolls?
I think it is a delicate balance between ease of use and community.

If I can just put my name on a list and get a group the initial group forming chat is lost. I am just tank x doing a job.

If I need to chat to people and form a group at a central point it may take longer but I enjoy that. It re-enforces I am playing with people not just roles (tank/healer)...
After a long time playing WoW I'm tainted regarding PUGs so only group with guildies.

Having hit 50 recently and starting the process of exploring the end-game I find it reminiscent of Vanilla WoW in terms of difficulty and also accessibility.

The lack of tools like LFG add to that but I find charm in having to actually travel to a place to do content there - even if it's just zipping across the fleet to a capital ship to take a shuttle.

The Belsavis daily HC4 missions actually have a decent level of challenge and I'm liking the fact that there are distinct nuances to the combat that require understanding to make it a success. It's less about lie-dancing so far and more about interrupts and avoiding the line of fire.
So far I haven't had any real problem finding groups to do the group content. But there are some issues here:

Right now I'm on a busy server and many of the slightly slower players playing from launch are still relatively low level, but how is SWTOR going to avoid Warhammer's empty problem, when the levelling wave passes the early content? The can hardly expect the slow burning build up of populations that happened in early WoW.

Really I'd like to group with guildies rather than random asshats (to use Eric Flannum's expression), but even though I'm in a large guild (around 200) we already span the levels and it's only occasionally possible to get guild groups together for content - and only then by trying hard.

It's no accident that group size is reduced to four - but, although that helps marginally, really a modern MMO should have much better ways to allow people who want to play with each other to play together.

This has got to be central problem with WoW type MMOs and currently only GW2 seems to have any kind of solution.

LFG isn't the answer, it helps you get groups, yes, but at the massive cost that you are forced to play with random asshats in anonymous groups, where the members are only interested in doing the content as fast as possible to get some sparkly or points towards an achievement. Personally I'd rather solo than be part of those groups.
I thought long and hard about the LFG system and since I really don't like the "auto-form group" sytems like in WOW now, here's what I could come up with:

1) You should be able to flag the quests you want to group with. You go into your journal, click a little checkbox next to the quests you want to group with, and that's it.

2) You should be able to link your quest journal to a /who list. For example, you select a quest on your journal in the left pane, click on a "search" button and in the right pane, a list of people also looking for group on that quest show up. A simple click on the name should give you the same option as in the chat (invite, whisper, etc).

3) You should be able to indicate that you are a group leader looking for more, or a single player looking for group. These are two totally different things. A selection of the role you need if you are a group leader should also be possible. It also should be possible to flag yourself as a group leader EVEN if you are alone.

One thing I realized is that EVERYONE want to group for hard stuff but a LOT of people HATE actually dealing with it. That's why you often end up with 10 people LFG for the same thing, but since nobody wants to take responsibility, nobody invites.
That's also why the WoW LFG system satisfies a lot of people, it's NOBODY's responsibility, all they did was "click a button and wait".

Some people however are willing to take charge, and therefore they should be able to identify themselves properly.

4) At the top of your journal, there should be a "role check", allowing you to flag yourself depending on what roles you can assume, Tank, Healer or DPS, and you should be able to flag more than one of course.

This way, the entire LFG system is totally incorporated in the Journal system (which is great already) and not linked to the /who at all.

It can also be totally passive if you want to(check the quests you need a group for and leave it at that while you do something else), active if you are, and also very detailed (each quests can be flag and searched separately, roles can be identified).
Your emergency fleet pass only works once every 18 hours, so most of the time you need to "hearthstone" to the spaceport of the planet you are on, and then do a lot of running and waiting for loading screens to get from the spaceport via your hangar and your ship to the fleet and then the level where the instances start. And then you have to take the same way back in reverse to continue with your questing after the instance. Not very convenient, and thus there is a lot less group action in SWTOR than it could be.

The other day, I was invited in a flashpoint group from a friend, while I was in the middle of nowhere, questing. Told them that the Fleet Pass is on CD and that it'll take a while to reach them.

It took me less than 5 minutes to get to the entrance of the Flashpoint.

Are we at a point that anything Not-Instant is an inconvenience?

Furthermore solo content in SWTOR is not totally trivial

Post level 40, solo questing is not trivial at all. You can expect to be facing mobs that will be cutting you and your companion down quite a lot.

I was on Belsavis and the objective of a SOLO quest was guarded by an elite mob that I barely took down after the 5th time, while trying all combimations with my companions.

On the early levels solo content is mostly on WoW's level of difficulty, later on you can expect to die a lot. If you're writing this from an early-mid 30s perspective, prepare to be surprised later on.
And if a group form via guild chat, getting from where you are to the instance entrance isn't all that obvious. Your emergency fleet pass only works once every 18 hours, so most of the time you need to "hearthstone" to the spaceport of the planet you are on, and then do a lot of running and waiting for loading screens to get from the spaceport via your hangar and your ship to the fleet and then the level where the instances start.

Unless you use the flashpoint shuttles that bring you straight to the fleet? Or did you not find these yet?
I don't think all planets have fleet shuttles. I've used the Taris and Tatooine ones, but don't remember seeing one on Nar Shadaa for example.
So instances are still designed as trash-trash-boss, trash-trash-boss?

I guess I am not missing much, sigh.
"Zero improvements and back to how we did it in EQ2 or WoW, 8 years ago?"

Pardon me, but that is not how we did it in EQ2 8 years ago. EQ2 has always had an LFG system though it was seldom used and even more importantly it had GLOBAL channels for each 10 levels (ie, 1-10, 11-20, etc.) where you could find groups.

The biggest problems with finding groups via chat could be solved with a global LFG channel and a faster fleet pass or summon ability. You don't need an anonymous dungeon finder.
Nar Shadaa has 2 fleet shuttles on the Lower Promenade out in the NE section. One goes to Imperial Fleet, 1 to Republic. I almost took the wrong one once. . . .

I know with my Shadow I've noticed a definite ramp up in difficulty as I've leveled. On the one hand it's kinda kewl how it's being done (in that as you get more powerful you are now doing things that are more challenging), but on the other hand, since *everything* is at the higher challenge level and not merely some of the boss fights, it actually means that I feel less powerful on my higher level toons than on my lower level ones. My Shadow is already starting to run into some things that really give her fits, then I'll swap over and do something 12 levels lower on my Guardian and feel like I'm just tearing things up. Shouldn't progression make you feel MORE powerful and more capable, not less?
There is a flashpoint shuttle on NarShadaa. At least on Empire side that is. Also there are one-time use fleet passes that you can buy for 1,000 credits that do not have a cooldown. I keep a few of these on me at all times. You must add a security key added to your account to access this vendor. This is likely bioware's way of giving people an incentive to secure their account.

While cross-server pvp and LFD tools make the game a lot easier to use, they also remove all the community and social aspects from a server. It basically turns the game into one big city. I'd rather spend 20 mins or more looking for a group than get a group in minutes filled with people I will never see or talk to ever again most likely.
Here's a few tips for you:
1. If you bought a security key or have the app, you have access to the security vendor on the republic fleet. He sells a fleet pass consumable for 1k credits that teleports you back to the republic fleet. These have a 1 hour cooldown before you can use the next.

2. There IS a way to change the size of the raid frames buried in the options (user interface?) somewhere, I think its called health bar height and there may be a width setting there too.

3. If you are running without a full group while using the raid frames and you need to heal your friend's companion (especially when using it to tank), you can set it as your focus target using alt+f (which is the default unless you rebound something else to it) to be able to easily target rather than attempting to click on the melee pile and hoping you get it.

4. For healing, know who you want to heal next and target them while casting your current heal, speeds the process up immensely

Hope these help you!
We also found out that doing a [Heroic 2] quest with four Sith Warrior Juggernauts (tanks) was impossible, the boss-mob cut us down a couple of times. We had more success with 2 Juggernauts, a Sith Inquisitor Sorcerer (healer, not sure I got the class right) and my DPS companion Vette. Though getting help from a friendly second group certainly helped.

We first watched them do the encounter (2 Sith Inquisitors, 2 Companion tank-creatures), and they seemed to have markedly less trouble than we had.

This was early levels, 12-13 or so.
"While cross-server pvp and LFD tools make the game a lot easier to use, they also remove all the community and social aspects from a server."

Not really, in my opinion. I'm playing on a lower population server, currently level 34 tank, and I couldn't get a 4 man quest or flashpoint group since about level 20. Often even getting another person for a 2 man quest is hard. Yet despite this, I've never met anyone I grouped with ever again. I added each person I grouped with to my friend list, never to see them again. And if anything went wrong during a quest - we wiped for example - it would fall apart with people leaving after insulting and blaming the tank. As for chatting during group forming phase - I've only encountered 2 people who chatted before and during a quest, but have no idea what they were talking about since they were doing so in a language I do not know.

So overall - how is this different from dungeon finder in WoW, apart from the fact that a person leaving after a wipe can mean 30 minute wait or even complete lack of chance to do that quest? I played quite a lot, but don't have infinite time. If I'm not able to get a group for a flashpoint - and I mean any flashpoint from level 15 to 34, I was even willing to tank things that wouldn't give me anything worthwhile in an hour of standing and shouting with 0 responses, I just give up on the group content and move on.

The 18 hour cooldown can be easily solved by buying the 1k one time passes from the vendor you get from installing a security key.
A lot of the issues are entirely in the players' heads. The spec thing is a prime example. Most of the low level talents in the tank specs are DPS talents, and it's extremely easy to do the PvE content as a tank spec as tank specs in SWTOR do comparatively more damage than tank specs in other games. Let's not even mention that if you level as tank spec with a healer companion you can do content solo that a dps player would need to team up for.

The whole "dps spec for leveling" phenomenon is an artifact of WoW and the sooner people get over it the easier it will be to form groups.

Also, so far at least, all the content seems to be entirely doable with 3 players and a companion. If you're having trouble finding a 4th, don't wait, just go for it.

That said, they really need a better LFG tool. I don't want to see a dungeon finder, I'd like to maintain some small semblance of world in this game, but a LFG tool like what WoW had before the dungeon finder would be fine.
Apparently if you buy the authenticator or download it and add it to your account you can buy the 1k credit fleet pass that only has a 1 hour cooldown.
Indeed...there is LFG by default, however it is simply corrected by player's initiative - simply establish an appropriate channel and advertise a bit while questing - on my server all it took was /cjoin flashpoint and its done...all the people interested in teaming up can now share their advers freely throughtout the galaxy..there are literally hundreds of people joining in.
all it takes to establish a LFG channel is make one Yourself and advertise - my server got one for some time now - simply type /cjoin flashpoint and done...there are literally hunderds of people joining in..with majority laughing at how easy it is once You got the idea..its really epic :)
Coming from WoW the feature I miss most is the LFG feature. I just don't feel like hanging around in the big cities trying to find a group for half an hour in general anymore. I'm glad to leave that behind eight years ago.

And really, there must be a better middleground. Why not give us a simple interface where we can pick the instances we like to do and as DPS/HEALER/TANK. Then also give us an overview of everyone who wants to do which instance and we can try to get a group together.
Agreed with warsyde. Leveling as a healer or tank is just as easy as leveling as dps, and in my experience as Marauder and Powertech dps is less efficient.

Honestly i see a convenience of LFG tools, but in my experience on WoW and DCUO they kill any sense of community. the randoms almost hever respond to party chat or speak at all and just rush in. In SWTOR i eadily find people for any heroic or flashpoint, theres talk, i see yhem around other worlds and ask for help every so often.

it is anectodal but my experience supports me against LFG even thougj there is some convenirnce with getting to the onstance.
To Herman:

I played a BH Powertech to 50 fully tank spec all the way and a Jedi Sage fully heal spec all the way as well (42 now).

As a Powertech tank (fully tank spec, fully tank gear, very decent for my level since I was also armortech), I HAD to use the healing companion even on trash mobs. Without a healer companion (mako), I would finish each fight with at least a strong around 40% hp, and elites were almost impossible. Of course, since content being as it is now, I was over the level for most of the mobs. Against a same level mob, they'd just destroy me.
With a healer however, I never, ever had to rest and could take down elite without a problem. HC2 however were still a huge nono, since that would overcap Mako's healing output.

As a Sage healer, I play with a tank companion all the time. The huge difference is that I can solo heroic 2 in my sleep and even did a couple HC4 alone.
Why I can solo? It's simple: Crowd control. If there is one elite and some strongs, I CC the elite for 1 min, kill the others. If there are 2 elites, I CC one. Heck, now, my healing output is getting to the point where I can actually keep 2 elites on the companion and still get some time to DPS (that's why I can do some HC4).

So overall, my point is that the BEST solo class out there are healers.
Likewise, from having tried to do HC2 with 4 tanks as well (3 powertech and 1 jugg) without much success, it's clear that the best group class is also a healer because you can't do anything without one.

By healer I mean someone with the proper advanced class to have the 1min CC ability, not someone actually going into the healing tree, though that helps in HC4 and flashpoints.
A minor point, but I love group dialogue situations in SWTOR. For example, I play a smuggler while my girlfriend plays a Jedi knight. It's endlessly entertaining to watch her try to agree to help people while I demand payment for our services. This is a prime example of SWTOR's strengths, and one that obviously distinguishes it from other MMO's.
I think it'd still be worthwhile to see the shinies at the end but as far as I've seen they are definitely not as... shiny as in WoW.
Sounds exactly like WoW before the dungeon finder tool.
I'm surprised Bioware was smart enough not to include Wow's failed LFG and teleporting to dungeons. That feature literally killed WoW's community and the sense of being in a virtual world. It destroyed all the epic feeling of dungeons and all the friend making that occured in them. Then dungeons became a boring grind that usually included dealing with real pricks or slackers.

Perhaps there is hope for SWTOR, guess I have to go buy a copy afterall.
You do realize there is no need to run through your hangar when you do it the quick travel/"hearthstone" way, right? Pretty much every planet (or every, not entirely sure) has a Flashpoint Shuttle near a bind point, which is a one-way transport that takes you directly to the appropiate location on the fleet (either the dropship landing bay or the telos for Jedi Prisoner/Teral V/Maelstrom Prison).

More people should know this really, would make pugs so much simpler for everyone:/
What turned me off was that SWTOR felt like a forced hybrid. Not solo, but not fully fluid multiplayer:, That it was made into a MMO just to bring in more revenue, not to make it a better game. I say that without ever playing any other KotOR titles.

Single player – is fine story, is good game is fun, you feel strong and powerful, the issue is you are paying to play online, and you have to be online, an none of those positives are enhanced by being online with others in my view. I think if they wanted SWTOR could have been an off-line single player game that allowed for users to purchase bonus online missions. Really the online multiplayer experience could consist of simply the fleet and the flights to the flashpoints. So, my only complaint is that it subscription MMO, but the MMO part only seems to be a frustrating tack on.

Mutliplayer – I was turned off. Main reason? Casual grouping isn't really encouraged. That is in some games if you were in the same area as another person your level you could group up but just run around and do your own thing (aka casual). In SWTOR if you do that you have to constantly close the group member is not eligible for this pop ups. I played with my wife, but not 100% of the time. So often we were 1-2 levels apart. There was zero reason to stay grouped except when doing heroic quests. In fact it was annoying, to be grouped and constantly have to close the ineligible pop up.

Also you have to wait for your group members to finish group conversations. In other, multiplayer games you can just click through your quest and move on, if the rest of the group wants to read or if they take 2mins to load it, you’re not affected. In SWTOR you are stuck. It would be nice if you could access things like your companion window or inventory while stuck in voice over waiting. This is what really turned me off. My wife actually kept her kindle on her desk so she could read while waiting. Not for a group to form, but for everyone to load and make their choices. If someone goes afk or link dead, you may find yourself waiting for a long while.

SWTOR is the only game I ever felt annoyed being grouped. Nothing to do with the people, the ones I played with have be fun; everything to do with the interface.

The last thing was the auction house. What a mess. I feel like I’m trying to order food from a gas station pump… No text search breaks my mind. That fact it seems buggy when sorting I doesn’t even faze me, that fact that I can’t search for an item by name is bewildering. Searching it may increase server stress and botting, but once again, what am I paying for? If I find an item and want to price check, or need a rare material for crafting I should be able to search. Having to sort through categories just wastes player’s time.

My issues could be fixed pretty simply. Put an option in to allow me to turn off the prompt, so that the game knows I want to do all conversations solo, even if I am grouped. In flashpoints allow me to make my choices and then free me. If other players want to watch I am fine with that, just let me interact with my character instead of being stuck. Add text search to the auction house.
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