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I didn't see this coming - especially after losing interest very quickly after trying the game again with the 7 day trial. But, for whatever inexplicable reason - I just really missed the Star Wars setting and wanted to give it an extra shot again. Probably mostly because I've decided GW2 is definitely not the next thing - and TSW will not have much replayability.
So, I created a free account and decided to check out the first 10 levels of the Sith Inquisitor storyline - and I was hooked
So - I re-subscribed.
Why? Because the game has clearly improved enough to warrant my coming back. Originally, I was devastated by the state of Ilum - and I was particularly dissatisfied with the performance of the Hero engine. It made PvP all but unplayable and totally unresponsive. Beyond that, I got to 50 with my Jedi Sentinel - and I was smacked in the face with the "endgame" grind of PvP valor progression and stuff I was already sick of playing WoW.
The game performs MUCH better now, and I can play PvP with literally no slowdowns. There's a group finder that works well - and that's great for a mostly solo-player like myself, because I rarely have the patience to get a group together for flashpoints. They also eliminated the valor grind and made the acquisition of Battlemaster bearable for a new player. They've introduced the Legacy system - and I guess I'm in the minority, but I think it's a great addition. It gives you a lot of convenience for doing alts - and the reason this isn't a terribly hollow way to keep you playing is that the game is THE strongest alt game in the themepark segment. The stories ARE great - and with the Legacy system you have more ways to skip the tiresome sidequests after having done them multiple times -and allow you to focus on the main story or levelling faster through the other activities. One might argue that they could just boost XP gain for all those parts of the game - but that would mean outlevelling content for new players - and there has to be a balance somewhere.
Many issues with the game, and the Hero engine in particularly. I think, at this point, the game is pretty functional and it has most of the necessary modern features to get people together and having fun while levelling and enjoying what endgame content there is. It should have launched exactly like it is now - and I'm sure it would have been a bigger player on the field. I'm hoping they're not quite as low on subscribers as many fear - because that would mean an almost impossible climb to the "really profitable" stage of subscribers.
I have absolutely nothing solid to base this on, but my "instincts" tell me they have between 250-500K subscribers. It would be lower if they didn't have such a great alt/levelling experience - and it would be higher if they weren't being so terribly quiet about the state of the game, and all the lay-offs.
Now, for how to improve the game and what to do with updates?
Lots of people are clamoring for more endgame content.
Personally, I don't find the prospect of more flashpoints or operations particularly exciting - especially not if it's just to push out more gear tiers. I LOATHE the concept of having to "catch up" everytime a new tier is released. I'd much rather have my character develop in other ways than just hunting new gear.
The gear progression IS necessary however - and I absolutely detest a fully flat progression curve - like in GW2. I WANT something to look forward to while levelling - and I love to see the game and my options expand. It's just that I also want to reach a point where I've been through most of the progression - and I can "enjoy my stuff".
This is exactly what the game DOESN'T have - and that's what I think it needs.
Two features, if implemented correctly, could add tremendously to the longevity of this game:
1. Freeform space segment with trading/PvP. Basically, add Freelancer/Privateer/Elite and combine it with X-Wing vs Tie Fighter. Then, expand upon the whole ship upgrade system and introduce a SEPARATE progression curve that's largely about your economy - making trading/cargo tranportation a vital aspect. You can imagine how that would introduce a brilliant stage for PvP with blockades and pirates, and so on. Yes, it would take a lot of work - but if they're smart, they'd develop this as a separate online game on the side - so as to justify the budget - and I promise you the current market would go wild for such a game.
2. Expanded PvP - especially Ilum and open world PvP. Make Ilum a desirable place to be - and make conflict desirable in itself. Give people a reason to kill each other - and give people a reason to stay in the area. It really shouldn't be that hard. Also, make sure you log major accomplishments for all participating players - because a simple feature like having your name established through your deeds can go a VERY long way for longevity and a competitive environment. Also, make the open world PvP on planets (for PvP servers, obviously) have more meaning - and encourage fair play over ganking. For instance, you could let people mark themselves as criminals/blackmarket people who would get extra rewards for doing quests or interacting with merchants - but by doing so, they'd be fair game for BOUNTY HUNTERS - where other players could gain a reward for hunting them down and defeating them. Do it in a smart way and ensure that only 1 vs. 1 scenarios could happen - or similarly fair setups. As in, once a bounty hunter marked his target - all other people would be prevented from engaging until a cooldown had passed or the target was dead. Something like that.
The stories are great and the cinematic appeal in TOR is fantastic for the genre. The engine, while really bad - has been tuned and polished to the point where you CAN have PvP with 16 people on screen and have it run smoothly. I'm sure something could be done to Ilum to create separate instances of 20v20 or 40v40 - without the game being run into the ground. At least, I hope so.
In any case, those two features are exactly what other strong themepark games don't have - and will likely never have. This is why SWtOR has the opportunity to claim this powerful gameplay segment and draw a lot of people to the game, that wouldn't otherwise touch it.