21/04/2012

Into The Black Hole

The rakghouls are still running loose, but I wanted to break up the deluge of world event related posts (not just here, but everywhere else too) with something else by talking about the Black Hole, the new daily quest hub introduced in 1.2. There are a lot of aspects to it that made me think.

First off, there is the location. I have to admit that when I first heard that we were going to get a daily hub on Corellia, I assumed that it was going to be placed on the already existing map of the planet. After all, TOR's planets are pretty big, so I figured that it shouldn't be difficult to fit some more content into a corner somewhere. Worst case, if they really needed more space, they could always add another sub-zone and extend the tram line. Right?

As such I was kind of taken aback when I arrived in search of the new dailies and the quest marker led me to a shuttle, which presented me with a loading screen and then a new area that was entirely separate from the rest of the planet. I have to admit that this left me feeling a bit disappointed, because you get no sense whatsoever of where the Black Hole is supposed to be in relation to the areas of Corellia that you already discovered.

Having the Black Hole as a completely separate area also isn't conductive to getting groups for the heroic daily, as general chat only lets you talk to the people in the same instanced sub-zone instead of everyone on Corellia.

The impact of the extra loading screen is not to be underestimated either, as they are very long and unpleasant as it is - having to deal with no less than three of them just to get from the fleet to the Black Hole is honestly a bit off-putting.

When I first talked about the Belsavis dailies, I noted that they didn't feel like they had been designed to be dailies, what with how weird it felt to have the same NPC conversations over and over, and the way that it just made no sense to do some of those missions repeatedly. I appreciate that repeating most content in an MMO requires a certain suspension of disbelief, but there are degrees to this, and things like the crashed pilot on Ilum were just stretching it beyond my patience. (One of my guildies has taken to referring to that guy as "that hermit who hoards all our medical supplies" - that's indeed what he comes off as in the context of his mission being a daily quest!)

Comparatively, the Black Hole dailies clearly have been designed to be repeatable from the start. Killing Quick-Hands Quarl over and over again doesn't exactly make sense either, but at least most of the dailies present the player with fairly generic tasks that live up well to repetition: kill some gang members, retrieve stolen weapons etc. They are also handed out by a terminal, so it's not required that you space-bar through the same conversations over and over again just to pick up your dailies every day.

I was surprised that I actually had somewhat conflicting feelings about this. I mean, it makes sense and it is convenient! And yet... there is a small part of me that was actually a little disappointed to see that once I had done the initial breadcrumb quest that led me to the new area, there was no more talking and no more story. Just clicking "accept" to kill ten dudes simply doesn't really feel right for SWTOR; it's just not what the game is about! I'm hoping that my appreciation for the no-nonsense structure of these dailies will increase with time and repetition. I guess I was just hoping for a bit more from that first experience, even if it was an irrational hope, seeing how the quests don't treat you any differently depending on whether you pick them up for the first time or for the tenth.

I may have sounded somewhat critical so far, but in terms of gameplay I have to give the Black Hole a big thumbs-up. First off, I appreciate once again that Bioware didn't feel the need to incentivise doing the whole lot of them every day - in fact the weekly quest that rewards the precious new Black Hole commendations only requires you to do each quest once a week, which strikes me as extremely generous and friendly towards casual play. There are also only six new daily quests in total, which is a pretty piddly amount by most standards, but again it is something that I am extremely grateful for. If you're the kind of player who feels constrained by WoW's limit of 25 daily quests a day, you might feel cheated by SWTOR here and feel like there is "nothing to do"... but personally I appreciate the way this design truly adds the new dailies as something extra, something to do when you feel like it, instead of presenting them as important content that you're expected to spend your entire evenings on for the next two months.

I also think that some of the quest mechanics are quite inspired and amusing. The one to plant the listening devices is quite atmospheric, and if you're like me, you'll constantly curse yourself for clumsily setting off yet another sensor. Tip: Bring a dps-specced scavenger with you and they'll tell you that it's perfectly okay to summon hordes of sentry droids as they happily collect their Durasteel after another round of AoE.

The mission to plug the radiation leak is fun too - the first time I just ran right into the radiated water and died, not noticing that I already had a quest item in my bags that I was supposed to use to protect myself. Funnily enough, many people I talked to did the exact same thing. There's also this little island in the water that looks like you should be safe quickly running over onto it, but you keep taking damage while standing on it and will die quickly. Maybe it's morbid, but I enjoy silly mechanics like that. I've even heard of people intentionally killing themselves in the radiation to quickly res back at the base afterwards.

The heroic 4 daily at the end is quite nice as well, not too difficult but still rewarding proper use of abilities like crowd control and interrupts. Also, unlike the former Belsavis heroic 4s, it can't be soloed by stealthers, which I have to admit fills me with a certain amount of glee. We want you in our groups too, you Shadows and scoundrels, don't always go off to do your own thing! I just think it's a bit of a problem that general chat is limited to this tiny area, making it a bit of a hassle to pull in help from elsewhere if there aren't enough people in the immediate vicinity right when you need them.

On the whole, I'm happy with this addition, but I do hope that Bioware won't just add more and more dailies as new content with every patch. They have their place, but in my opinion they should never be the focus of a game, even more so one that's as story-heavy as The Old Republic.

7 comments:

  1. Okay, short confession: I'm trying out TOR on a freebie weekend. When I finally finished the intro zone for my toon and made it to a space station, the first thing that greeted me were the announcements about Rakghouls. I was amused that I hadn't missed that stuff entirely.

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    1. I hope you'll share your impressions (both good and bad)!

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    2. Oh, I will. The freebie weekend just ended, so I've go time to process thoughts a bit. I'd better, since I apparently am going to be on the mics this weekend.

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    3. Blast, I hate this keyboard. That was "I've got time", not "I've go time" in some bizarre alien accent.

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  2. I think I mentioned it before ... I do not like daily quests one bit. They are certainly one aspect that can make MMOs feel like a real job or chore and I already have a job and daily chores to complete in the real world. I do not need that in a virtual world.

    I agree with you that many dailies in SW:TOR don't feel like they're designed to be dailies in the first place. I do think, however, that the only accpectable to way to present them in SW:TOR is via Mission Terminals. I feel it makes more sense to have a "standing offer" on a message board to kill a number of enemies (collect bounties) or to recover certain items. But then again, that's just a personal perference. It obviously also works with an NPC mission giver.

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    1. Oh, I do agree actually, in case that wasn't clear from my post - on a rational level anyway. It's just my gut feeling that felt like something was missing without the NPC chatter.

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  3. I like daillies just as they fit my time scale I can normally log on and knock out a few dailies and eventually afford some cool gear to buy. I have to pick and choose when I have 3-4 hours for an ops night so this incremental build up I think is a nice additional option to have.

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