Hyperspace Beacon: What does the future hold for SWTOR?

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Hyperspace Beacon: What does the future hold for SWTOR?
Hyperspace Beacon What does the future hold for SWTOR
I really want Star Wars: The Old Republic to succeed in 2013. On the whole, I believe it's carved out its own niche in the MMO genre. Granted, it's not the niche EA or the developers had hoped for, but I believe it to be solid and stable at this point. Without offering a lot of new content, the current servers have had consistently high populations since the game converted to its free-to-play model. We are also witnessing a new group of fans come to the game, fans who appear to be a little less jaded about the years of pre-launch hype.

This week, I want to spend a bit of time discussing the different aspects of SWTOR and give my predictions for the future. The developers of the game like to say that combat, exploration, progression, and story are the four MMO pillars. But as the game has grown over the last year, I have found that the true four pillars are story, PvE, PvP, and social interaction. With each update to the game, these seem to be the biggest focal points of development as well as the four areas the community seems the most divided over.

Hyperspace Beacon What does the future hold for SWTOR
Since SWTOR's very first trailer, the developers have claimed that story is the greatest thing missing from the MMORPG genre. And since that time, they have said that BioWare intended to put that aspect into the game so that players will be more attached to their characters and feel more enthralled by the meaningful choices they would have to make as the story progressed. The players agreed, for the most part. Sure, after a year, players have started to pull the story apart into its separate components and complain about the minute aspects they don't like. But I think most of those people would agree that BioWare has done a better job of presenting a compelling personal story than any other MMO developer before it.

But there are a few things missing from the story that we will see this year.

No matter how much players are looking forward to the Rise of the Hutt Cartel "expansion," it will not have the personal story arc that I think most people are looking forward to. That's not to say that I think Makeb won't be interesting and fun; instead, I believe many people will see it as just another planetary arc. Personally, I like the idea of fighting Hutts and the inter-political and military struggle that will take place on Makeb. We will certainly be introduced to the inner workings of the Hutt Cartel, and I suspect we'll find out the reason the Chevin held the scavenger hunt a few months back. It's all interconnected.

Since the announcement that SWTOR would continue the BioWare tradition of romantic story arcs in TOR, players have been curious (no pun intended) about whether same-gender options would be available and how they might play out within the existing character storylines. I certainly believe that Rise of the Hutt Cartel will bring us the SGRAs we're looking for.

I'll even speculate that the arcs will be similar to those in Mass Effect 3. I don't believe that suddenly every romance arc will be available to you regardless of gender. I believe that certain characters, possibly existing companions (Kaliyo, I'm looking at you), will have a change of heart, as it were, and make themselves available for players to romance now. However, I think the biggest area for SGRAs will be in brand-new characters introduced on Makeb. These characters will be orientated one specific way, and if your character is the same gender, then you will be able to romance them.

Additionally, I believe we will receive a new companion -- maybe two. This companion will be gained much as we acquired HK-51: There will be a shared story arc for every class to gain this companion, and I believe this companion will be completely romanceable.

Hyperspace Beacon What does the future hold for SWTOR
I've had many discussions with Justin Lowe from Darth Hater about the PvE aspect of this game and the direction that TOR is headed. I have come to the conclusion that there is absolutely no way that SWTOR will ever live up to players' dreams. To be perfectly honest, is there any PvE game that lives up to all players' dreams? I don't think so. If you play an MMO for only one aspect of the game -- like raiding -- then you are going to have to accept that you will be hopping from game to game.

That being said, I don't think that SWTOR is on the wrong track with its PvE game. Nightmare modes take a little bit too long to produce, but if the current trend of one new raid every three to four months continues, then I don't think there's much more for us to ask for. I believe we will continue to see this trend. I wouldn't even be surprised if we saw another raid with the RotHC expansion; in fact, given that we are paying extra for this "expansion," I very much hope we see one. At very least, we need to see a raid shortly after launch, one designed specifically for that expansion.

Hyperspace Beacon What does the future hold for SWTOR
After a year of PvP, and players are used to every nook and cranny of the existing instanced PvP maps. We definitely need something new in this department. I believe 2013 PvP will show what the SWTOR development team can really do. Last year, the PvP team seemed to be rushed. This caused it to make a lot of mistakes, especially in open-world PvP. This year, I expect that to turn around.

We've already heard the announcement that Ilum open-world PvP will receive a complete revamp, but what will it look like? I don't have any clues, but I believe that open-world PvP has issues when there are only two factions. There will always be an imbalance. That said, I will take a shot in the dark and say that resource control will be the driving force behind this new open-world zone. Most likely, it will be time-based. There will be a vendor or a series of nodes that will give better and better materials and items based on how long your faction holds on to the contested area or areas.

Instanced PvP will most likely be more of the same. If something is right, why change it? Well, the thing that's not exactly "right" about the current instanced PvP is the maps and ranked PvP. We are so used to the existing maps that new people are stomped on and veterans are bored. I am looking forward to another Huttball map. I'll go out on a short limb and say that the next Huttball map will be based on Makeb. And ranked PvP will finally go cross-server this year.

Hyperspace Beacon What does the future hold for SWTOR
I am most concerned about the social aspects of SWTOR. It took far too long for the team to create a group-finder tool. Crafting still has some major issues. And don't even get me started on the lack of roleplayer support.

I do believe that developers will continue to support guilds. I expect to see greater functionality and a wider array of communication tools for guild leaders. Since the majority of TOR's endgame content works best in groups, guilds will take an even more substantial role in the game's success. Although SWTOR hasn't been known for its forward thinking in this aspect, I think this new year will give the team new invigoration and direction. Although I think items like guild capital ships will probably not make it in until 2014, I do think we will see items like a guild calendar, leaderboards, and guild mail this year.

Perhaps this is just wishful thinking, but I foresee the community team taking on new life. In the days since Stephen Reid and David Bass left BioWare, the community team has been generally quiet -- or at least, more low-key. This year, I think we will see a change in direction. Most likely, the team will see the power that social media had pre-launch, and we will see more one-on-one communication with individuals in the community.

Overall, I'm cautiously optimistic about the future. But difficult to see -- always in motion is the future.

Last bit: This column has been wearing the same header art for some time. Since this is the first Hyperspace Beacon of 2013, I figured it's a good time to change things up a bit. I created this image as an homage to the official Star Wars: The Old Republic logo. Let me know what you think about it!

The Hyperspace Beacon by Larry Everett is your weekly guide to the vast galaxy of Star Wars: The Old Republic, currently in production by BioWare. If you have comments or suggestions for the column, send a transmission to larry@massively.com. Now strap yourself in, kid -- we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!
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