On Gaming Priorities (and the SWTOR Beta)

Skyrim The Old RepublicI told my wife tonight, “I can’t believe how much fun I’m having in Skyrim.  I mean, I can’t remember the last time I played a video game and actually had fun.”

Her reaction was exactly what you would expect.  She looked at me and then told me to think about what I just said.  She said, “I don’t understand why you spend so much time playing a game that just frustrates you, that you don’t even like.”

World of Warcraft has been my hobby of choice for seven years—almost exactly, as the game is celebrating its seventh anniversary this week—and in that time, I’ve come to dislike almost everything about it, from the combat engine to the part-time job of an end-game.  I like love the people, but the game…not so much.

After dumping more hours into Skyrim this week than I’m comfortable with admitting, I can honestly say I see her point.  This week has reminded me about what I have always loved about video games: they’re fun.

Fun is not a never-ending points grind.  It’s not a part-time job of raiding that leaves me with no real sense of accomplishment.  It’s not convincing myself that I like the idea of a game, when I dislike the reality of it.

That’s not fun.  That’s not gaming.  That’s absurd.

And it’s in the past.  I’m reevaluating my gaming priorities.  I am not going to play games I don’t like and convince myself that I’m having fun.

I am going to play video games and actually have fun, or I’m not going to play video games.

Anything else would just be silly.

Enter: The Old Republic

So as much as I am looking forward to The Old Republic, I wonder how long I’ll stick with it.  I spent one beta weekend there, and I’m sure I’ll spend another soon.   The NDA has lifted, and I can now tell you: Bioware succeeds at raising the bar in MMO storytelling.

What they don’t succeed at is making the game more than a themepark MMO.  I cared about the quests I was doing for the first time since EverQuest (maybe Star Wars Galaxies and the Jedi village stuff), but if the end-game narrative is restricted to raiders, then my Sith Inquisitor will just take his Huttball and go home.

Star Wars: The Old Republic has an incredibly polished storytelling and questing system.  Bioware did not let us down in this department.  The voice acting is nicely done, the dialogue choices are interesting, and the stories themselves are captivating enough to make me care about even the random FedEx quests.  So kudos to Bioware in actually integrating a real narrative in an MMO.

However, the rest of the game is nothing revolutionary.  It plays like any other class-based MMO with global cooldowns and hotbars and cool icons over quest-givers’ heads.  You go from one planet to the next, one quest hub to the next, killing ten foozles at a time, but in The Old Republic, you give about about why you’re killing them.

Sadly, that makes all the difference in the world.  At least, initially.

I got to level 15, and never got off the second planet.  I never got to see any of the zones where Republic and Empire were interacting.  I hope those are open.  I hope there’s some choice.  I hope those are fun.

Based on the little experience I’ve had on Korriban and the Imperial capitol of Dromund Kaas, I have no doubt that the game up to level 50 is going to be stellar.  I have no doubt there will be a bunch of max level content that continues the class quest stories through flashpoints and such.

My biggest fear, though, is that the core MMO gameplay will cause the fun brought about by the innovative storytelling to degenerate into another time-sink points/gear grind. If it does, then no Jedi Mind Trick in the galaxy will get me to stick around.

In the past seven years, I’ve spent over $1,200 on World of Warcraft subscription fees alone.  I’d wage that roughly 1/3 of that was actually well spent, that I had fun during that time.  The rest of it was spent on me convincing myself that I still liked the game.

Right now, I wish I had bought a PS3 instead.

By B.J. Keeton

B.J. KEETON is a writer, teacher, and runner. When he isn't trying to think of a way to trick Fox into putting Firefly back on the air, he is either writing science fiction, watching an obscene amount of genre television, or looking for new ways to integrate fitness into his geektastic lifestyle. He is also the author of BIRTHRIGHT and co-author of NIMBUS. Both books are available for Amazon Kindle.


  1. Blame Google Reader and Google’s updates to it, I totally missed that posting.

    Skyrim has some typical TES series flaws, took me some time to get in. Funnily I had the same awkward start till it “clicked” with Fallout 3. Which is actually the same game, just in another setting. There are some differences, e.g. less talk and quests than in Fallout New Vegas but this has the advantage that you are doing more by yourself than listening and thinking what you are actually supposed to do. Heck I can even solve the puzzles without having to look up guides. 😛

    My buddy Steve was playing a Sith Inquisitor this weekend, another one a Sith Warrior. I heard that other classes get a more exciting story, I didn’t particularly like the SI. A lot of walking and a lot of talking and people with “…” about their heads before they go their online soloplay ways.

    You already noticed that it is a lot like WoW, even the looks though the SWTOR chars are very slim in comparison, at least they have no shoulderpads fetish.

    You are playing WoW again and surprisingly the UI is rather a step back. The same for combat animations. They are very fluid, but actually your char and everything are not moving, it’s very static. While most quests are damn easy, there are some where you have to fight, so point for SWTOR there compared to the dumbed down levelling content of WoW.

    Sith Inquisitor is a Warlock with a Lightsaber melee attack. You are not playing a new game, it’s WoW and the relation to the Star Wars universe is rather vague, it’s set in the time of the Old Republic before the Stormtroopers and more a Bioware story than Star Wars. Not necessarily a bad thing.

    1. TORTURE 2. This is evil 3. X (but your char says something supposedly similar, Y) – SI dialogue.

    The story won’t entertain you for long and doesn’t go together with the lengthy go there, kill that quests. This really cries for early mounts. Do you really need a story for such trivial tasks?

    Maybe you should ask your wife about SWTOR as well, it’s WoW reloaded. You know I don’t dig this kind of MMO anymore, but I can tell you that WoW is a way better game than SWTOR. Never thought I would ever say something like that. It won’t take long till the appeal of being new fades away.

    *fades back into Oblivion… erm Skyrim*
    (Actually I am playing Panzer Corps atm!)

  2. I played a few beta weekends as a smuggler and would have to agree that the storytelling is amazing. Aside from a few small issues, I think this game is a long term affair. lol

    On a side-note, I’m building a SWTOR fansite (almost done) and would be honored if you would contribute to the site. The site will be mostly fan submitted content and it looks like you have quite a bit to say about the game. I would feature your article on the front page and link back to your site as well. Let me know if you are interested.

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