They’re digging in the wrong place

Earlier today, I posted to Massively an article titled Ten things to do in Star Wars Galaxies before it’s gone. Truthfully, I had a lot more than ten, but space is an issue in this new tl;dr age. Instead, I held back a few of the more niche suggestions for this very post. I promise the title makes sense later. Onward!

Do the legacy questline

Added to the game after the NGE, the legacy questline starts out as a tutorial and ultimately becomes the primary questline in the game, capable of pushing a character to level 50 or 60 quite easily. It is the very definition of linear: It’s one quest after another, complete with easy-mode waypoints to most destinations, and it drags noobies all over the lower-level planets in the galaxy, introducing them to most of the important NPCs. While many longtime players loathe the legacy line, I’ve always liked it — it’s a bit mindless but a quick way to level while touring the big cities in the game. Combined with missions and various themeparks, the legacy quests ensure that leveling to 90 — even as a combat character — takes a very short amount of time compared to leveling tracks in other MMOs.

Go shopping

Star Wars Galaxies is like its sandbox cousin Ultima Online in that it was designed by Raph Koster, who in the late nineties and early aughts was obsessed with player-driven economies. Both of his games revolve around crafting and trade, and both games have something few others do: player-owned vendors. Unlike Asian imports like Zentia in which player-controlled vendors are really just stalls in a common marketplace, SWG allows players to set up NPC vendors inside their own homes, from which they can sell their crafted or found items to other players. The current implementation of the system in SWG also allows players to use an auction-hall-style Bazaar to scope out what’s being sold in player shops on different planets. If you’re a shopping junkie, you’ll have no end of entertainment traveling the galaxy in search of a good deal. And if you’ve a knack for arbitrage, you can often travel to buy cheap goods and bring them to a more convenient location (like Mos Eisley or Rori) for an easy profit.

Be Uncle Owen

I mentioned this in an earlier article, but I’ll mention it again: It’s perfectly possible to live a non-combat lifestyle in SWG. In fact, it’s perfectly possible to avoid even crafting and entertaining (the two non-combat roles) and set yourself up as an industrialist. Back in 2003, a guildie of mine played the game strictly to sponsor a mining conglomerate than rented lots for resources. He didn’t need a single skill box, combat or otherwise, to become one of the richest players on the server! My Droid Engineer on Bria has played as a moisture farmer for a long time, partly in rebellion against the idea that players don’t want to be Uncle Owen. I set up water harvesters in permanent positions around her house, collect the water every few days, and sell it on a vendor. Not only is it possible to play this way, but you can even be extremely successful while doing it — you just can’t say that about modern themepark MMOs like World of Warcraft.

Become a storyteller

While my Massively article touched on storyteller items in cities, players can make just as much use of storyteller items without any need to live in a metropolis. I use storyteller objects to decorate my own little collection of houses — flowers, vehicles, a dock on the lake… all of these things make relatively static and identical exterior buildings look more natural and unique. Though I think the last one has come and gone, Starsider’s Nomad Market was a remarkable example of how to use the storyteller system. The organizers set up an open-air market at a random location, complete with parked vehicles and starships and tents and entertainment, all decorated beautifully. To accomplish something like this in any other game would require the intervention of a GM. In SWG, anyone can do it.

Do something extinct

The NGE killed a bunch of things that were subsequently (and slowly) added back to the game. Were you a Creature Handler? Try out Beastmastery. Were you a Teras Kasi Master? Pick a profession with a melee specialization, grab some claws, and get your TKA on. Go around and buy up spice from vendors. Eat it. Be contrary. I’ve saved up a huge stash of spice for the last day myself. My characters won’t want to be sober for that.

Listen to the music

Logging into the game and listening to the opening chords of John Williams’ score still gives me chills. Star Wars: The Old Republic has great music, but it won’t trigger those same associations. Fly to Lok or land in Theed and you’ll see what I mean. Remember that feeling. You can’t get it back.

Bree, you promised the title would make sense

I did! You’ll notice that all but one of my suggestions was focused on content other than combat, and that one (the legacy questline) is as much about leveling quickly and checking out a speedy take on quest-grinding as combat itself. The game’s story and economy can revolve around combat, but most of the things players can do — and indeed, the most time-consuming and engrossing things — are non-combat in their nature. That’s just how sandboxes work, and that’s why we need more of them.

See, gamers are always complaining that modern MMOs just aren’t doing anything new in terms of combat. Combat sucks, they say; combat hasn’t advanced past what World of Warcraft had to offer, which in turn is really no different from combat in EverQuest or even Ultima Online. Gamers don’t really seem to want twitchy, reactive combat either, else those MMOs with such systems would be a whole lot more popular than they are. I think that we’re never going to see anything new and innovative in MMO combat, not until we’re at the true virtual reality stage. This is it. There’s nothing left to innovate. We’re tapped out.

And that’s OK because combat really shouldn’t be the primary focus of design or gameplay that it is. In a lot of ways, implementing combat is just taking the easy way out. It’s a cheap collection of systems that travel in a straight line: make the players level, group them up, set them to a cooperative (or competitive, in the case of PvP) task, give them loot, rinse, repeat. It’s staggering that the zillion other non-combat activities possible in games are simply being overlooked in this wrong-headed and ridiculous quest to re-innovate combat. The arena for MMO innovation they seek is in the other direction. They’re digging in the wrong place.

We’ve been playing combat MMOs for 14 years. Combat nowadays just makes me feel numb and bored, and it’s not because I’m burned out or time-crunched; it’s because I’ve seen behind the curtain, and the idea that only violent content matters has lost its charm. I play games to feel something, and SWG made me feel something. I didn’t play SWG; I lived there. And I’ll truly miss it.

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3 Comments

  1. ArcherAvatar says:

    I really enjoyed this article and the one on massively because of the poignant nostalgia in each but I do dispute your conclusion in this article regarding combat.
    Obviously tastes vary, and I freely admit to enjoying the combat and adventure / exploration aspects of MMOGs more than the crafting ones but that’s not really the point.

    Over a decade of MMO gaming burned me out on the combat as well… the trinity based classes combat. I’m still holding out hope that combat systems in a MMO can be evolved past the tired, old trinity based mechanics.

    The game hasn’t been released yet, so we can’t know for certain, but fast paced, mobility oriented combat that does not rely on contrived trinity mechanics, combined with an open, persistent, exploration based world without the “on rails” feeling of a quest system… and at this point I basically sound like a broken record or a zealot or both I suppose. *sigh* I just feel like GW2 fixes so much of what is wrong in the genre today. (or, at least is making an honest attempt to.)

    I do agree with you that Lucas Arts is making a mistake in insisting that SWG be shutdown before SWTOR is launched. The two games couldn’t be more different from each other, and should appeal to very different audiences.

    Then again, he’s called “commercial George” for a reason.

    • Bree says:

      See, so many other games have gone without a trinity that I don’t really think doing so again is really enough to reinvent combat in a novel way. I’m not sure that fast-paced or mobility-oriented will do it either — these things already exist in FPS games, MOBAs, etc. On some level, I guess I wasn’t so much complaining about how I hit things but about the fact that hitting things is so much of the focus of many MMOs.

      I do think it’s really interesting how the genre is coming full circle… people moaned and groaned from 1997 to 2004 about how tedious character development and progression in “open, persistent, exploration based world[s]” was, and we all let out a huge cheer with WoW brought along on-rails questing. Now we’re all sick of that again (I am anyway, and it sounds like you are). It would certainly take an amazing game to provide fulfilling character advancement with neither questing nor sandbox-style skill/exp grind.

      You have no idea how angry I was when I realized that SWTOR launches exactly 5 days after SWG shuts down. I know that was no coincidence. :(

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