Your first impressions are usually the ones that stick with you, as MMO after MMO has taught us. Many players have a permanent memory of their experiences in a game. If the first time they play through it isn’t golden, then odds are they will rarely return. For many, SWTOR wasn’t the game of choice the first time through. After reaching max level, the lack of content, a dungeon finder, and the large number of servers that were mostly empty created a harsh and unrelenting problem that had them ride their speeders off into the sunset.
So here we are, almost a year later, and SWTOR is now free-to-play. Anyone can now log in and play through the entire game without having to spend a single dollar. Of course, there is a catch. It’s a rather big catch that we’re going to be taking an extensive look at: the stifling restrictions.
After patching on the 15th and finding my way into SWTOR, I instantly found my account had been flagged a preferred member, a reminder of the three tiers that that game utilizes. That's one of the decisions I immediately agree with and wish more F2P games would adopt. If you haven’t spent at least $4.99 in the shop (or purchased the box version of the game), then you will have chat and trade restrictions, which prevents many of the bots from spamming the channels and massive credit farming operations from popping up. So that, right off the bat, gets a big thumbs up from me.
After I logged in, I found myself where I last was, the fleet station. It was here that I noticed something rather shocking; the fleet station was inundated with players. I had four speeders sitting carelessly on top of my displeased Sith Assassin, a look of death and displeasure artistically painted across her face. It brings up a question that isn’t relevant to this discussion, but should be asked anyway, do speeders have exhaust and why are they allowed in space stations?
I digress, as I naturally do, from our important discussion about my impressions of the F2P conversion of SWTOR. The lack of activity for many was the biggest issue that they had with the game. Massively multiplayer is the appeal to “MMO” and even though SWTOR has had a healthy subscription base, the players were all shattered across multiple servers. With the F2P switch and server mergers, players will now find people wandering everywhere to play with. So another big thumbs up.
Of course, things aren’t always so cheery. I moved out into the world and started questing and a knife was immediately stabbed in my side – my action bars were limited. Woe is me, you say, some gaming elite who needs every skill in front of them. Well, that’s the thing, every skill does need to be in front of me and even with all of the action bars, I barely had any free room. This of course, was the very first thing I noticed that was crippling to playing the game.
Prioritizing my most important abilities, I found the actual combat still the same. General improvements and bug fixes abound, I didn’t really notice anything out of the ordinary. It was fun, just like it always has been, and exciting. For the prospective F2P player, there isn’t much more you can ask for. It’s miles above the competition in the F2P market (well, I do think some other games can give SWTOR a run for its money there, but generally speaking).
The limitations though keep coming back to haunt me. I played through my five free warzones, then I ran out and couldn’t play anymore. When I PvP, I usually chain them back to back for hours on end, listening to my music and grinding away. However, the five is really limiting. Not if you are say, leveling up and just want to do a quest or do something really quick for a little xp, nay. It’s limiting if you want to grind warzones or, even, leveling up through warzones. That kind of got me a bit, you need to pay money (or subscribe) to snag more. On the other hand, queues were fast (thanks to the abundance of players), so that’s a huge plus.
In general, I did find the F2P limitations crippling and stifles enjoyment of the gameplay considerably for the endgame, but that’s not rare for any F2P game. Leveling up, I could definitely see how five flashpoints is enough or five warzones a week, since that’s about how many I’d naturally run anyway trying to get enough levels to hit that next story mission or planet. Some other limitations, like races and the such, are all vanity, and really didn’t affect me one way or another.
Outside of the limitations, the game has improved substantially since launch. There is a population on all of the servers and there is plenty to do that isn’t limited, although again, that’s going to be a hassle. From what impressions I had, it’s definitely worth trying out.
A big issue I keep seeing, and I feel the same way as many other players, is that this conversion is more of a “trial or pay.” You get most of the features, but the key quality of life components are denied behind a pay barrier. More action bars, faster leveling, and warzones/flashpoints/space battles. I’m not sure this was the right direction to go, keeping the quality of life features but snapping parts of the game off and making them purchasable may have been a bit more ideal.
However, true to trying the game, I did start fresh with a new character and played it until around level 15 so far, under the simple preferred status (I would try free-to-play, but I don’t want to multi-account nor should I feel that anyone should skip out on the simple $4.99 purchase to unlock a large swath of features, including in-game messaging). I found that the game itself is fine; it’s fun, and enjoyable. If you want to just level by yourself or with friends, then you don’t really need to pay a single dime. The pay gate issues really only start burning at you at higher levels, when more XP is needed and things like space battles and warzones become desirable.
So I feel that the majority of players out there will start the game and lock into one or two camps, those who enjoy the game and want to experience all of the content and those who just enjoy the leveling experience. If leveling, seeing quests and doing story missions is your only prerogative, then the F2P model is perfect. If you’re wanting to do operations, warzones, and have quality of life features like action bars, then the subscription route is definitely still the way to go.
The big contender in the F2P market is Guild Wars 2, a game where all microtransactions are limited to small quality of life stuff (bag slots) or vanity items. The system works flawlessly and quite honestly, I found myself buying gems, not because I had to, but because I wanted to. Forcing a player's hand to spend money is a dated way of doing things (but not wrong nor a bad thing, developers have to have an income to pay for resources, nothing is truly free and SWTOR isn't like the hardcore model where you HAVE to buy XP potions in order to level at all or spend an eternity, nay, the XP penalty isn't that terrible, or so I found so far). GW2 definitely takes the cake when it comes to encouraging, but not demanding, you to use microtransactions. I don't want to make this a GW2 F2P model vs. everything else, nay, this is about my first thoughts with SWTOR going F2P and I will say that, the microtransactions are a bit much and I'd almost wish there was a bundle with all of the nice upgrades at around a retail box cost, kind of like GW2 where you buy the box but then get everything with it. Another thing is maybe pull an All Points Bulletin with warzones and give full rewards for the first five and then half the rewards for any more in a week, for players who just want to play for fun. Kind of like for flashpoints.
Overall, as I said, I have a favorable, although slightly reserved, opinion about the F2P launch. I think there is a bit too much monetization and the prices should be tuned to be a bit more fair, but overall it’s definitely one of the better F2P games on the market right now, limitations included. I will say that it definitely more a try before you buy thing, if you want to really get into the game, you’ll need to pay up to the Cartel for the privilege of enjoying everything.