Late last night I decided to hop onto my Imperial Agent for a bit and knock out a few quests. One problem with playing alts in SWTOR is that if another character's story captures you, it then becomes hard to decide which one to work on first!
As I was doing my thing on Dromund Kaas, someone piped up in general chat that they were looking for more for a Heroic 2+ quest that I had in my log too. In fact, I had tried to solo it the other night - because I'm an Operative, I have a companion and stealth, surely that must be easy, right - and had subsequently got my arse kicked repeatedly. The thought of getting revenge on those mobs was quite appealing.
So I sent a quick whisper to the guy and started trudging over to the quest area. (Maybe I'm missing something here, but for some reason that I can't quite fathom, Dromund Kaas has a lot of flight paths that aren't actually connected, forcing you to walk between a lot of them either way.) I immediately told him about my attempts to solo the quest and how badly I had failed and he laughed. As it turned out, he was a Bounty Hunter.
Once I arrived in the quest area, we immediately set to work and I got to admire the Bounty Hunter's AoE abilities. Even though they are supposed to be an exact mirror of my main class, the trooper, the abilities had a very different look and feel about them. At least I never get to set that many things on fire.
When we got to the first group of mobs in the heroic area, I let him take care of the weenies, based on what I had just seen, while my companion and I did our best to stab and lock down the hardest one of the mobs. "Oh, this is so much easier!" my fellow Imperial exclaimed with delight once the first pack was down. "Admit it, you tried to solo it too," I teased him. "Yes, and I almost died on the first pull."
We proceeded to stab and shoot our way towards the final quest objective, where we were jumped by two packs of attackers spawning right after each other, and then a boss-level mob. "Whew, that guy was quite tough," I commented afterwards. I'd never even made it that far on my solo attempts, but I knew that I definitely wouldn't have been able to take both the waves of mobs and the boss guy on my own.
Afterwards my Bounty Hunter friend muttered something about a nearby datacron - I said that I didn't know anything about it as this is a part of the game that I haven't really looked into in detail. He tabbed out for a minute to look it up online while I watched his back. As it turned out there wasn't actually anything in the area, so we made our way back out of the canyon while joking about bad lift safety in Star Wars. As it was really late by now, I bade my group mate farewell after handing in and went to bed.
Now, there isn't anything unusual about this story, and I'm sure people are having similar encounters in SWTOR and other MMOs all the time. However, after coming at this after years of playing WoW, even a random encounter like this left me feeling extremely delighted. I don't care if I never see this guy again, we worked together and had fun. But I might see him again. I had almost forgotten what it was like.
It's funny because I have moaned about many of WoW's more recent changes, such as the introduction of the dungeon finder and the raid finder, but at the end of the day I still accepted them, used the new features and moved on. Things may have felt a lot more hollow, but I still got things done, right?
Playing SWTOR, in terms of grouping, has been like a massive throwback to my early days of WoW, and it's been wonderful. I shouldn't have believed those people who claimed that before the dungeon finder, everyone just spent all day sitting in chat and spamming LFG messages and it was tedious. I should have known better because I was there.
Suddenly I get to experience people treating each other with decency again. In each starting area, people were constantly exchanging buffs on the road (and considering that it's quite possible to die to a bad pull, every little helps). Multiple times while I was out questing on my own, I got myself into a pickle and some random stranger jumped in and saved my life just as I thought that I was done for. In a group, nobody blows a gasket at someone else being a bit slow or needing some help.
Part of it is probably simply that "new game smell" where everyone doesn't quite know what to expect, and with fewer expectations it's harder to get mad at people for not living up to them. On the other hand though, it definitely feels to me like SWTOR is actively trying to get people to be social. The conscious decision not to include a dungeon finder, group quests everywhere, social points - all of it seems to say: "I know you can do this on your own but... look at the people! Talk to them! Play with them! Have fun!"
It's made me very thoughtful, because I know some good people who really don't like this kind of thing and are big fans of systems like WoW's dungeon finder. I suppose at the end of the day it comes down to preferences, Bartle types, whatever you want to call them. I was looking back at this old post by Syl the other day and was once again surprised by my own test result in the comments. I'm not an achiever.
Things like an automated grouping system are great for achievers because it means that they can get things done, no matter the circumstances. They can say that they killed the boss and show off their new shinies. Me, I'd rather fail to get to the end but make a new friend on the way. If we do get things done it's a bonus, but it's not the most important thing.
From that point of view, I feel that SWTOR is a great game, and I do hope it stays that way. Giving people the opportunity to achieve is all fine and dandy, but there comes a point where even those who really love achievements start to wonder whether it's something that's worth sacrificing everything else. I was undecided myself for the longest time, but after being reminded of just how nice it can be when a game supports people simply being social and forming a community, I honestly wouldn't want it any other way anymore.