Sunday, January 22, 2012

On the difficulty of grouping in SWTOR

My main character in Star Wars: The Old Republic is a trooper / commando, with a healing spec. That is deliberate, so I can get into groups, because small group instances are my favorite content in any MMORPG. Only in SWTOR I barely ever manage to get a group going, which I consider a serious flaw of the game.

I tried getting a group all weekend long, and managed a measly 3 flashpoints, only 1 of which was level-appropriate for my trooper. Another I was 12 levels too high for, and just did it because I still had the quest and nothing else was available. And one flashpoint I did with an alt, duo with a guild-mate. What I wanted to do was the two flashpoints of the jedi prisoner series, but I only managed 1 of them.

There are usually 10 to 20 people of my guild online, but as they stretch over the whole level range, there are never 4 of the same level bracket available. So I tried the SWTOR LFG functionality, where you can flag yourself as looking for group and put up a comment for which flashpoint you are looking. I soloed for hours with that LFG flag up, and never got a single invite. Searching for people with the LFG flag myself revealed a grand total of 3 players using that tool, and of course not of my level.

So in the end I spent several hours standing around stupidly at the Republic Fleet and spamming a LFG in general chat every 5 minutes. Finally Sunday at prime time we got 4 people together for the Taral V flashpoint. No tank, but two healers and two dps, and up to 4 levels over the level of the flashpoint quest, which turned out to be sufficient.

Now I'm on a relatively full server, but I'm playing Republic side. As Empire is a lot more popular, it is probably somewhat easier to find a group there. But people playing on less populated servers, or outside prime time, are probably not going to see any flashpoints after the first one until they hit the level cap.

I reject the common notion that all strangers in an MMORPG are idiots to be avoided. All my online friends at some point in time were strangers to me. Grouping with strangers is how you make friends online. And a good MMORPG which hopes to offer any social cohesion must enable people to easily group with strangers. SWTOR fails very much in this, and lives completely of the social structures that its players formed in previous games, mostly WoW. If there were no WoW guilds in SWTOR, I don't know how any group activity would take place in this game.

If a game like EVE Online can live with all its players on one server, then I don't see how having cross-server dungeons with a dungeon finder tool is any worse. Minor modifications to a dungeon finder tool, with an optional preference for people from the same server, could help. But ultimately a group with strangers you are never going to see again is still better than no group at all. For grouping, SWTOR is a failure, and I'm considering to respec my commando to DPS. And if Bioware isn't adding a better LFG tool soon, I might not resubscribe after my current 60-day time card runs out. Why the heck would I want to play a massively single-player online role-playing game?

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