In March, Bioware proved once again that it cares for its fans - the studio invited representatives from guilds that operate within Star Wars: The Old Republic to talk directly with the developers. We were there to sit in and watch events unfold.
Guild Summit. Location: Austin, Texas
Bioware is one of the video game world's brightest and most reputable studios. After such a mammoth studio approaches you in person and invites you to openly speak about the strengths and weaknesses of Star Wars: The Old Republic, you don't consider refusing.
Invitations have been sent to excelled guild leaders and representatives to hear what Bioware has planned. At the same time guilds are offered an opportunity to give their opinion directly to the people who are responsible for the development of the game. The whole event is also streamed live around the world, so that the revelations to follow can be watched.
While in Texas March is already close to summer temperatures, the assembly hall we're gathered in is large and cool, even with 150 people crowding inside. BioWare representatives appear relaxed, and with a few jokes cracked the atmosphere eases.
In organising such an event, it is clear from the beginning that Bioware cares. Paying for flights and hotels for such a large group is not a small sum. The studio is sincerely interested in customer satisfaction, and this is a kind of opportunity to create a direct connection to the core of their fanbase and bypass all the middlemen.
Bioware listens carefully to all the criticism it receives - every so often the developers write down ideas from visitors, and if the idea is feasible, it will end up in the game.
The event is opened by lead designer James Ohlsen, who takes a moment to share broad figures of the success of The Old Republic. Two million copies sold, four million created characters, the average daily session in game lasts for five hours... large numbers that seem staggering, but then, they were meant to: dry statistics that create the great "us" bond between developer and player.
With results aired, Bioware move onto the future, and the cheer that erupts from the combined crowd for video showcasing the Legacy update erases the last divide between creators and audience.
An essential part of Star Wars is that the main characters know each other, or are even directly related. From the beginning of the development, Bioware was building a system that would allow for strong relationships - both friend and enemy. This Legacy system was not completed in time for The Old Republic's release, but the wait is not infinite.
The Legacy update allows characters to develop themselves as part of a larger whole. Characters can now be not only relatives such as father and son, but also best friends, blood enemies, spouses, and so on.
So far, only your characters can be each other's BFF, but Bioware is actively looking for ways to also allow characters from different players to have these relationships. Lead writer Daniel Erickson is a hard-core role player, and he's excited about the opportunities this Legacy system presents for players' self-invented stories.
From a purely game mechanic standpoint, Legacy brings some interesting tricks. Characters that are elevated to level 50 open a special class ability that can be used by your other characters. Example: If your Sith warrior has reached level 50, your second character (say, a puny Smuggler) is, come a heroic moment, capable of using the Force and strangling his enemy like the Sith would.
This addition does little to change the balance of events, but it it embellishes and adds flavour to scenes, especially for those who are interested in characters' stories.
The New FlashPoint
While Legacy is the core of v1.2 update, the additions do not end there. The package comes with a completely new FlashPoint mission "Lost Island", which ends the previously started Rise of the Rakghouls plot.
According to the authors, this new instance demands strength and skill from players and the claim is not exaggerated - our experienced team were badly beaten in the first run. Some adjustment first and we managed to meet the second boss, but again, the challenge caught us with our pants down.
If you do not find enough challenge from the normal mode, the update will present also the new Nightmare difficulty level. Nightmare will be found in all the previous missions, which will delight gamers looking for tougher challenges. Fans of bigger Operation missions also get something special. Explosive Conflict brings a new mission that scales for 8 or 16 people, and it is quite a massive task.
The New PvP
For PvP-oriented players there's a new strategically interesting Novare Coast battlefield: instead of simply beating each others the players have to fight for control of Coastal Artillery, and the battle is quite tough. I'm usually not a huge fan of PvP, but Novare Coast's strategic nature managed to appeal to me with its "King of the Hill" mentality.
Bioware openly acknowledged it went wrong with the design of Ilum battlefield and is planning a redesign. The studio also promises to improve all PvP mechanics and are making real efforts to eliminate loopholes and punish the players that behaved outrageously.
It's easy to conclude the Legacy update brings something for everyone, but it's not just the big changes. The patch will add such a huge amount of stuff that all the details makes for dizzying reading. Colour co-ordination of armor, stat bonuses for bribing partners, special items from Legacy system, significantly improved guild tools such as guild banks and guild calendar, extra content for goods-manufacturing crew skill, buyable contents for your spacecraft, and most importantly...a customizable user interface.
Yes. Legacy update allows players to adjust the position and size of the windows on screen. And frankly, it was about time.
All in all, the first Star Wars: The Old Republic Guild Summit left us with a new hope. BioWare clearly listens to feedback from fans and will do its best to remedy those defects and outright loopholes reported by users. It teased content of future updates, which strengthens our faith to the game's future.
Star Wars: The Old Republic is one of the best MMORPGs right now and its developers are among the best of the whole industry. These continuous updates and high production standards suggest it'll only get better with age.