It’s safe to say that Star Wars: The Old Republic hasn’t had a banner year. After a delay from December 2021, the Legacy of the Sith expansion landed with a hollow thud during a ridiculously overstuffed February. The game’s year-long 10th-anniversary celebrations seemingly didn’t really happen at all, and the departure of Creative Director Charles Boyd left a gap not just in the game’s development team, but in its link to both the community and the wider Star Wars fandom.
Everywhere you turned, from the game’s playerbase to the press, it seemed that nobody had much of a good word to say about the game in 2022. Even its most ardent supporters had to concede that things haven’t been great for most of the year.
And they’ve all got a good point to make. For a game built around its storytelling, these past few years have offered only a meagre helping of new quest content and progression, with Legacy of the Sith‘s undeniably pitiful 3-4 hours of story seeming extra stingy coming hot on the tail of meaty, climactic expansions for Guild Wars 2 and Final Fantasy XIV. Two further ‘big patches’ this year have failed to appease those hungry to know what’s the next chapter in their character’s story.
While the story has most certainly taken a back seat, looking again over the year’s patch notes it’s plain to see that there’s been a different major focus on the game’s development these past 12 months. Combat Styles allowed players to mix classes. UI upgrades – though rough when first implemented – have given the game a contemporary sheen. Accessibility options have made the game more welcoming to visually impaired players. The Weapons Outfitter system means that players can now make their characters look however they want right down to the gun (or lightsaber) in their hand.
Now to cap the year off, Game Director Keith Kanneg has announced that SWTOR is getting both a 64-bit client and an upgrade to cloud-based servers in the near future. That’s big news. Not “prepare for a flood of new and returning players news”, but very reassuring news nevertheless.
The Old Republic was already an MMO with a heck of a lot of polish to it. Oh sure the HeroEngine has always been a bit of a constraint on the game, but beyond that everything from the timeless stylized visuals to its lush orchestral soundtrack, its brilliantly voice-acted scripts and even its secondary systems like housing and crafting all feel honed to a fine point. This goes too for the game’s client, which has always run pretty solidly for me.
But after a decade of live-service, some things are always going to need a little bit of a re-examination, whether that’s to ensure things run smoothly on modern systems or to meet present industry standards on things like accessibility.
Yesterday’s dev blog obviously feels like a commitment to the future of the game, but even if plans are on the table for SWTOR‘s development to wind down in the next few years (and I’m speaking entirely hypothetically here), it’s good to know that at least there’s some desire to keep the game out there in the world and that the product would still feel like a quality presentation even if it’s one which is in maintenance mode.
It’s also possible of course that this focus on QoL over story may have been one of necessity. Kanneg’s dev blog mentions that “Eric [Musco] and the design leads have been working together to build upon and in some areas rebuild internal processes and plans that impact the cadence of content”.
Earlier in the year, BioWare posted job listings for gameplay design roles. Could it be that a simple talent drought was the reason behind this past two years’ thin round of quest content? Perhaps the new hires needed time to get a handle on the game’s story and dev tools. Or perhaps there was a collective decision to take the time now to build new ones that would make future development simpler both for themselves and future hires down the line.
Alternatively, perhaps the game’s story bible had simply run dry? It’s probably wise to assume that there exists some outline of what the main narrative beats for the game will be in the next year, five years, decade etc. While there were multiple threads left hanging after 2020’s Game Update 6.2, the ultimate defeat of the Emperor felt like the culmination of the game’s major narrative through line which had been building since launch. Has the story team secretly been busy planning the next 10 years’ worth of content this entire year?
It’s oft-stated that one of the game’s major problems in getting story content out regularly is that just about everything is voice-acted. Working around each voice actor’s schedule is an extra hurdle that many other MMOs don’t have to deal with, so maybe the plan is to build up a big pile of scripts and get the next several year’s worth of content knocked out in one fell swoop.
One, all, or none of these things may have been the reason why SWTOR‘s updates have been focused so much outside of quest content this year.
If that is the case then I think it’s something that SWTOR players past and present could get seriously excited about. The problem is that we just aren’t being told anything.
Is there another AAA MMO on the market which has such dire communication as SWTOR? I can’t think of any.
And it’s a shame because they have some great advocates for the game on the team. Obviously, Boyd’s departure is a big loss, but the Twitch live streams which the team has been doing over the past couple of years have been great. There’s just never really a lot of news in them. Anything that’s looking further ahead than the very next patch is vague to the point of making even speculation pointless (yet here I am).
Look, I get it. You have to manage player expectations. But you just released the Legacy of the Sith and called it an expansion. Expectations have not been managed.
So yes, 2022 was not a vintage year for Star Wars: The Old Republic. But it wasn’t a total write-off either. Great stuff has been added to the game which will do a lot of work in carrying the game into the future. The general community sentiment at this time is not a positive one, but nothing so terrible has happened that this past year of ill will couldn’t be forgotten easily enough when we see what all the waiting has been for. Just maybe a little extra transparency might not go amiss in the meantime.