Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The shortcomings of Makeb

I’m not sure what I was expecting. Initially concepted as a content patch when Star Wars: The Old Republic was still using the subscription model, Rise of the Hutt Cartel released on April 14 and I’m already finished. I’m not level 55 though; I’m only about half way through level 52, but I’m done with Makeb. What seemed like a full, fleshed-out planet turned out to not even last 10% of length of the base game. Instead of something like Tatooine or Corellia, I got Quesh.

One of the best features of The Old Republic is its story telling. No other MMORPG has yet to replicate its quality and it’s one of the main reasons I still play. An expansion adding more story content, even if it’s only faction related and not class specific, sounds so exciting. However, that’s also the reason Rise of the Hutt Cartel is so disappointing, and sadly, making me look for reasons to not login. I spent over 200 hours playing my first character to level 50, poring over the quests, and incredibly well done voice acting. I completed Makeb in 12 hours. A game like BioShock Infinite took 16 hours to finish, and it's not even an RPG or a multiplayer game.

Imagine if when World of Warcraft: Cataclysm launched back in 2010, you played all the way through to the end of the Twilight Highlands, and I’ll be generous, only to hit level 83. Using a Star Wars: The Old Republic comparison, imagine completing all of the quests on Corellia, continuing to Ilum and completing its story quests, only to finish at level 47. It’s kind of amazing level pacing like this actually made it to live, although through its development, BioWare never opened up the leveling portion of Rise of the Hutt Cartel to external testers.


Rise of the Hutt Cartel gives less of this...

Not only does level pacing seem disjointed, but side quests feel largely scattered. I can counter on my fingers the number of side quests I encountered during the main Makeb story missions. I’m not a designer, but placing side quests between point A and point B of story missions means that story content lasts longer and feels more substantial. Few players will go out of their way and search for side quests unless presented to them.

It’s depressing because the content that is there, the main story missions of Makeb, are great. The planet’s landscape and atmosphere are a tad bland, but the quality cutscenes still make questing fun and contextual. One of the first Heroic 4 quests has the mechanics and elements normally found in flashpoint. I never felt like I was leaning into the MMO trope of killing 10 wild animals.

When it all ends, Rise of the Hutt Cartel feels splintered and jarring. As a Republic class, you escape on the ark just as the planet is beginning to fall apart, but as soon as you’re back on the station orbiting above, you’re tasked with going back to the planet because it suddenly stopped having earthquakes and being a crumbling piece of rock. It’s as if the writers put their finishing touch on the story, then the quests designers took a look and said, “Um, you can’t destroy the planet, we need it for daily quests.”

The gross part is after I finished the story, the only way to continue leveling on Makeb is through daily quests. Rise of the Hutt Cartel didn’t add any new flashpoints, only implementing hard modes for existing flashpoints, and hard modes aren’t designed for leveling. So besides the usual war zones and space missions I’ve already done several hundred times, I’m relegated to quests I can only complete once per day. Effectively this gives designers a way to gate leveling progression, doling out only so much experience per day. This comes just weeks after James Ohlen’s talk at GDC about how they expected players to get through 170-180 hours of content at launch in 3-4 months, when in reality players chewed through content at an average of 40 hours per week. It’s easy to connect the two and see how BioWare uses daily quests to gate players, slowing down their churn of content.


...and more of this.

The expansion leaves me feeling bitter, as the thing I was looking forward to most, more story, is the exact thing Rise of the Hutt Cartel has the least of. I keep trying to rationalize the dollar value, which at most only cost $20; half of what most expansions cost. But the price doesn’t matter. A free game can still be terrible, even if it’s free, and while Rise of the Hutt Cartel isn’t terrible, it severally lacks what made the base game so exciting. I’d recommend against buying it, but as an MMO expansion, it’s almost necessary. MMOs are not the type of experience where you can choose to not buy a piece of DLC and continue to play the base game. Being level 50 in a world where everyone else is level 55 and the majority of new content is designed for level 55 players is disheartening. So you’re probably going to buy it, but at least have your expectations curbed, unlike me.

2 comments:

  1. I have not yet gotten into Makeb, having failed to comply with EA's unprecedented "pay us three months in advance or be locked out for five days of 'early access'" ultimatum. I.e. it's possible my opinion will change after playing the content.

    That said, I don't think it's necessarily a problem for the solo leveling content to run out before the stated level cap of the game. I say this despite my status as what they call a "WoW Tourist", having come to the genre when it became possible to solo and soloed my way to the cap in seven different MMO's (neither of my two SWTOR 50's grouped in any significant way en route to the cap, and both cleared their Chapter 3 stories at level 48).

    If I am out of solo content and do not intend to continue, I don't need those last two levels for anything because I've already beaten all the content - someone will fix the leveling curve before the next content they want to sell me. If I do go on to grind daily quests, then I'll have those two levels before long. If I want to go into group finder hard modes, well, I haven't seen the rate of progress when you do a level 50 hard mode at level 53, but I can't imagine that's going to be too lengthy of a grind either.

    The thing that concerns me is that we're sitting here nearly a year and a half post-launch and the most significant additions to the game are things that were in the pipeline from before the dark times. Twelve hours is a reasonably respectable $20 DLC (for preferred players, $25 including a month of sub time or slightly less for people on multi-month subs) given that you can repeat it on multiple characters without additional payments. On consoles, I've seen companies ask $10 for way less than half that much content, which is often less repeatable besides.

    Now when is the next DLC? Will it look more like Makeb (which I'd be fine with) or more like the Gree event or Sector X - a new daily quest hub because that's what the current team can support? The next six months will be the team's chance to show what they can string together. If the answer is another Makeb in 6-12 months for a similar price tag, I'll pay. If not, well, at least it doesn't cost me that much to play all the class stories I haven't gotten to yet as a non-subscriber.

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  2. Just wanted to add a few tibit of information:
    Regarding the fate of Makeb it might interest you to play the Imperial storyline. That one should explain the “splintered” feeling you mention. I guess it is similar to only the Jedi Knight’s class quest getting into detail about the Sith Emperor.

    I do concur that some more side-quests on Maked would have been nice! But I do recommend also doing the Seeker and Macrobinocular questlines which a really very well done too! Also I am looking forward to the questline regarding the Operation.

    All in all I really did like the continuation of the storyline mission on Makeb! And hope we will see more of that!

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