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Jan 07 2013

Rewards vs Restrictions: The Free-to-Play MMO’s of Revived Sagas

Jedi-v-Sith-First-500x281The two series that defined my childhood are each getting three new movies. The first in a three-part film adaptation of Tolkien’s The Hobbit came out a couple of weeks ago to mostly positive reviews, smashing box office success, and a display of nerdgasms from the audience, yours truly included. Is there a lot of fluff and filler? Yeah, but that’s what you’re going to get when you try to stretch a 300 page book into three movies. And this piece of news is as old as Jar-Jar’s attempts at comedy, but Star Wars is due for Episodes VII, VIII, and IX sometime in the future (around 2015 I think?), this time with Disney in the pilot’s chair. So if you’re a fan of these series, a fan of MMO’s, and are looking to save your money for future midnight release tickets, then the Force is strong with you, son of Gondor. But let’s make something clear, this is not an either/or piece. You can, and I in fact encourage you to play both Lord of the Rings Online and Star Wars: The Old Republic. This articles seeks to compare the effectiveness of each of their free-to-play systems. So strap on your blaster rifle, muster the Rohirrim, and of course, put away your wallets. Well, for now at least.

newlotroSince the first of the three new Lord of the Rings films came out first, and given that Lord of the Rings Online came out before SWTOR, let’s explore virtual Middle-Earth first. If you want to know more about the gameplay aspects of LOTRO, you should read “A Peak Down the Hobbit Hole” and learn about the game’s story, crafting stuff, and achievements. But for now we’re going to talk about it’s F2P system. With a free account, you can level a character up to the level cap, participate in a few skirmishes and instances, fight in PvP areas, craft items, and form guilds and fellowships. Now, most F2P MMO’s feature an in-game currency, and LOTRO is no different. LOTRO uses Turbine points, and these points can be used to buy almost anything, from goods and services, buffs, crafting and experience boosts, cosmetic items, additional character slots, guild upgrades, and even house decorations. You earn these points by completing achievements (a.k.a. deeds), which are accomplished by killing certain types of enemies, travelling to new places, using abilities, building up reputations, and competing in PvP. You can also earn points by completing quests. Turbine points are what allow free-to-play players to compete with subscribers, as things like mounts and the ability to ride mounts are given to subscribers, but not to the free-to-play players. LOTRO succeeds in drawing in players by rewarding them for playing, with Turbine points, titles, and abilities. It’s not perfect, as a lot of areas and instances are locked off to free players, and require a large balance of Turbine points, but that’s to be expected.

newswtorSo let’s push past fantasy now and talk about a game that could’ve been game of the year if not for two things: the pretentious gang of indie-lovers I work with, and the infuriating F2P restrictions that seek to hinder your experience in a galaxy far, far away. [Ed's Note: Don't forget the fact that it came out December 2011 and therefore didn't qualify for the 2012 GOTY awards, also careful who you're calling pretentious there buddy.] Yes, I’m talking about Star Wars: The Old Republic. Now don’t get me wrong, I love and adore SWTOR. I think the game does a fantastic job at storytelling, but what else would you expect from Bioware? Combat is simple and satisfying, and the presentation that includes fully voiced conversations, light and dark-side options, and a companion influence system that reminds me of its KOTOR predecessor; it’s more fantastic than Princess Leia in her slave outfit. But there’s a downside to The Old Republic that’s almost as tragic as the destruction of Alderaan: its system of F2P restrictions. Let’s go through the list of restrictions that make me want to renounce the Jedi Order.

  • No titles. I can understand restricting certain advanced and special titles that are rare and hard to obtain, but how can you justify restricting titles that you earn through the main story missions?
  • I can deal with limits on the number of characters per server, and I can even roll with limits on certain races you can play as. But two characters per account? Across all servers?? Sure, you can just keep making free accounts, but it ruins the point of SWTOR’s Legacy system that links your characters together under a common surname, and rewards all of your characters with experience with rewards. Also, I don’t want to have to make a Word document to keep track of info for multiple accounts.
  • Restricting certain crew skills (SWTOR’s profession/crafting skills) is fine. But limiting free-to-play characters to only one crew skill, in a system that requires two skills to gather resources and THEN craft them into useful gear, makes it impossible to craft anything useful or valuable. I’m stuck with selling basic resources for a price equal to the cost of obtaining them, or just acquiring companion gifts.
  • Speaking of selling things, you only get two slots in the Galactic Trading Network to sell things. So my habit of holding onto advanced gear that I cannot use so I can sell it on the market proves to be less fruitful than I imagined.
  • Restricting your choice of quest rewards. This is just cruel and unnecessary.

Now, you can unlock some of these things from SWTOR’s in-game store, but you can’t earn in-game currency by playing the game, you have to pay actual money.

So who has the better F2P system? Well that depends on who’s asking. From the player’s point of view, Lord of the Rings Online does a better job because instead of cutting things out and making you pay for them, they give you the opportunity to earn them by playing instead of paying. But from the publisher’s point of view, SWTOR’s system is better because it encourages the player to want to subscribe. So when it comes down to it, Lord of the Rings Online has a better free-to-play system, but Star Wars: The Old Republic has a more effective set of restrictions.

If the next six films you plan on seeing involve dwarves or stormtroopers, then you will be pleased with either one of these games. But if you’re short on time and only have enough hard drive space for one, then I have to pick SWTOR. Yes, the restrictions are annoying, but it is a more fun, more polished game. If you find yourself on the “Jung Ma” server on the Imperial side, give my Sith Marauder Poppop a friend request. There’s always money in the free-to-play system, and to be honest, Bioware and EA deserve it for The Old Republic.

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