Tales From the Backlog: Five Ways I’d Improve The Old Republic (Amended)

Five levels from the maximum cap, my time with The Old Republic is finally drawing to a close.  It’s coming up against a barrier that all games strike sooner or later: no matter how interesting your story, how tight your mechanics, or how addicting the multiplayer, eventually you just get tired of doing the same stuff.  Time for a change.

I’ve written a whole bunch about the things I’ve enjoyed about the game, and not one of them has lost its shine.  There’s a strong possibility I’ll return sometime in the next year to run through one of the other class stories.  Heck, maybe I’ll even try my hand at being a jedi.

The Old Republic has done a remarkable job of appealing to non-multiplayer focused gamers like myself.  It’s certainly the best MMO I’ve played.  Still, even a neophyte like me picks up a few quibbles over 60+ hours of dedicated exploration, so before I go, here’s a list of the five changes I think would have made an even better experience.


Edit: Shortly after posting this list yesterday, I discovered that my Unsolicited Advice Point #2 is actually already in the game.  Equipping companions while aboard your ship is done in exactly the same way as when you’re planetside.  It’s a system so obvious, I’m going to claim it was quietly patched in at some point without my noticing.

Anyway, I’ve crossed off #2 and amended the list with a different with that narrowly missed making the top five.  Enjoy.


1)     Let me pick my own team members.

Bioware’s party system has been well enough established that if I describe the partnering system in The Old Republic as having a lot in common with Jade Empire, even people who haven’t played that game will have a good idea of what it entails.  A cadre of potential party members that expands over the course of the story, each with their own personal preferences and ability traits, who can go questing with you one at a time – you get the idea.

It’s also very Jade Empire-esque in that you have precious little say in who joins your crew.  No matter how I role play my Commando, his squad is going to be comprised of exactly the same NPCs as every other Commando and Vanguard in the game.  It’s understandable in a single player RPG because of the amount of effort it takes to design, animate, voice, and balance a full-fledged companion character.  I get it.

But in The Old Republic, it feels needlessly constrictive because so many other potential party members already exist.  You can see them on the hip of every Jedi Consular, Guardian, and Smuggler on the server: a score of NPC partners my character can never recruit.  Why not?  None of those battle-ready characters would be interested in the adventure, honor, or profit of signing up with an elite special forces team?

Allow me the freedom to recruit my own team.  Turn the Mass Effect 2 plot into full-blown gameplay: give me a dossier with twenty potentials and turn me loose into the galaxy to choose which five I want to pursue.


2)     Let me equip my companions while aboard my ship.

I just picked up a great set of boots.  Like lots of footwear, they improve the Aiming ability of whoever wears them.  It’s an MMO thing; just go with it.

There are six NPCs in my squad.  One beats things with an electrified sword that requires relatively little aiming.  Another exists primarily as a plot device to justify the well-kempt condition of the spaceship we live on, and a third has no feet.  That leaves three people, who might benefit from a set of high-precision boots.

Might.  The trouble is in figuring out which one needs them the most because, despite the fact that we’re all aboard ship together, I can’t find any way to review their current gear.  It’s Dragon Age: Origins all over again, where the only way to sort reequip my companions is to leave my “base camp” and summon the NPCs I want to check.  One.  At.  A Time.

When riding the s-l-o-w elevator into the bowels of the Normandy to rifle through personnel lockers comes off as the more convenient alternative, you’re doing something wrong.  Or I am.  Seriously, if anyone knows how to gear up companions aboard ship, let me know in the comments below.


3)     Scale the story content to the player’s level.

I wrote previously about how Bioware used a sweet suit of commando armor to trick me into realizing how much fun their competitive multiplayer modes are.  The part I failed to realize, however, was that all the experience my character earned shooting enemy players would leave him terribly overpowered for all his solo adventures.  A good week’s worth of Huttball has pushed him so far over the threshold for his point in the story, I had to practically skip three whole planets to get back on track.

Single player RPGs solve problems like this by scaling content to the player’s level – a luxury that an MMO shepherding hundreds of players doesn’t have.  Usually.  The Old Republic’s a bit different in that it treats its class story content very much like a single player game.  Every plot-related area is instanced, partitioned off into a privately owned dimension.

Give me the option to scale the story sections up to my character’s current level, with all the risks and rewards that would entail.  Set the cap at Level 45 if you’re worried about balance.  It wouldn’t make up for all the side stories I decided to skip, but at least it would inject some fresh excitement into the hours I’ve spent annihilating enemies ten levels my junior.


4)     Offer the option to switch specialty classes.

Shortly after hitting Level 10, The Old Republic urges you to pick between two specialty versions of your base class.  I chose to become a hard hitting, hard healing Commando and forsook the path of the Vanguard.  Permanently.  The only way to experience the alternate path – its unique skill tree, abilities, and gear – is to roll up a new character and replay those starting hours from scratch.

The game does try to help you make an informed decision.  It has colorful descriptions, explicit role recommendations like “Healer” and “Tank,” and it even lets you peruse the entire skill tree for each class.  To an MMO newbie like me, though, that big info dump is a poor means to make such a game-altering decision.

There’s no way I’m ever going to replay the whole game from scratch as a Vanguard, but respeccing my current character at this point would revitalize the entire experience.  The Old Republic already allows me to reset my skill points.  Why not let me reset my specialty class too?


5)     Allow free trade between factions.

As I near the end of my Commando’s adventure, the single biggest bummer about the prospect of restarting as an Imperial character is that all the progress I’ve made – all the credits, crafting experience, and miscellaneous gear – is locked on the Republic side.  Playing a jedi or smuggler would be so much more beneficial, except I don’t want to do all the same planetary missions again.

I’m on a PvE server.  The only player-vs-player battling going on outside of the Warzone matches is purely consensual.  There are no Dark Age of Camelot faction raids to plan, no devious strategic plans to thwart.

Give me the freedom to pass the benefits of my high level Republic character on to my Imperial whelp.  He could craft her the finest vibroblades in the galaxy, just as he would for an upstart padawan, and leave her free to focus her crafting on new armors or bionic implants.


6)     Treat Flashpoints like Warzones

Warzones are the team-based competitive mode that hooked me in last week.  Like so many things in The Old Republic, they prioritize accessibility over verisimilitude by plucking you off of whatever planet you happen to be on, boosting your base stats up to Level 49 for the duration of the match. and then dropping you right back where you were standing once it’s over.

At the opposite end of the convenience spectrum, Flashpoints are cooperative missions designed for a group of four to run through and pick up some potent items along the way.  The rub is that Flashpoints are otherwise treated like any other mission, requiring all players to assemble at a specific point in their faction’s fleet before they can begin.  Carrick Station is a fair distance away from the ice canyons of Hoth, so even under the best of circumstances where you can use your Fleet Pass to instantly return to the fleet, you’d still be forced to spend fifteen minutes navigating your way across multiple load screens and maps to get back after the mission was done.

Why not apply the Warzone queuing system to the Flashpoints?  Let players group up, fill in open slots with an automatic matching system, and teleport them off to the mission start all at once.  Personally, I know I’d have run a lot more than just two or three of those quests if I weren’t required to choose between pursuing my quest log or hanging around the space station looking for a Flashpoint team.

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