Let me take you on a long 10-year long SWTOR history with a thorough recap and analysis of every single patch, event, memorable moment!
Ten years is a long journey. Sit back comfortably and enjoy the read! We’ve got so much to talk about, starting with the very launch in December 2011 all the way up to the moments leading up to the 7.0 Legacy of the Sith expansion, releasing in February 2022.
Game Update 1.0 – SWTOR Launches
I remember there being a lot of criticism at launch that there wasn’t much endgame content. I don’t think that complaint was reasonable. On the PvE side, a single full raid (Eternity Vault, EV) plus the first boss of the next one (Karagga’s Palace, KP) was available at launch. A month after the game came out, the rest of the second raid, KP, was released. 2 months after that, we got Explosive Conflict (EC) in SM and HM, and in September, 9 months after launch, the fourth raid, Terror From Beyond (TFB), was released in SM (Story Mode) and HM (Hard Mode, now called Veteran Mode).
The only way I see this criticism of a lack of endgame content making sense, at least from a PvE perspective, is that EC NiM (Nightmare Mode, now called Master Mode), the first proper nightmare mode, wasn’t available until November of the first year of the game’s release.
For 11 months, the only NiM content available was for Eternity Vault and Karagga’s Palace, and those were removed from the game a long time ago for not offering almost anything in the way of additional mechanical complexity. There were slight differences, but the most significant difference was just in terms of higher numbers checks.
BioWare managed to course-correct pretty quickly. EC was significantly more challenging than EV and KP, and I don’t think it’s entirely unreasonable to start out a bit easier anyway while players are still learning the rest of the game. It’s an approach still used to this day when introducing new players to raiding.
EC also marked the beginning of a release schedule that would be maintained until 3.0, where BioWare would release a new operation (or equivalent) every 6 months. I’ll speak more about this as we continue.
PvP at Launch
On the PvP side, things were a bit worse. 1.0 was plagued by low-FPS open-world PvP that we still experience today and RNG-centric gearing (rare random gear drops from boxes). We also *only* got 2 new Warzones in the first year, though Novare Coast and Ancient Hypergate were both fabulous, in my opinion.
Let’s not forget that balance was also horrendous out of the gate. The flexibility of Skill Trees and Stances (Lightsaber forms) facilitated broken builds that either dealt way too much damage or had way too much survivability because players were creating ridiculously strong hybrid builds by going halfway up two different trees.
Even if you were playing as intended, there were still pretty significant balance issues. I remember BioWare hadn’t quite figured out how to make a good glass cannon, resulting in some classes being a bit too squishy while dealing way too much damage.
Unfortunately, I didn’t do PvP consistently as a primary endgame activity past early 1.0. I didn’t get into ranked until 2021, so I won’t be able to offer as much specific information about the state of PvP throughout the years as I can with other aspects of SWTOR.
There was little solo and small group story content released during 1.0. We had the Black Hole and Section X daily areas and the Rakghoul storyline with Kaon Under Siege and Lost Island. Given that all of the class stories were new to everyone and the leveling process, in general, took much longer to complete, it was reasonable that BioWare chose not to focus on additional solo story content in 1.0.
Lost Island was a lot more challenging back then. You still get a bit of a taste of this with the Sav’rak fight today, but when that Flashpoint (FP) was released, every fight had demanding and punishing mechanics on top of higher numbers checks.
It’s hard to compare Lost Island to today’s Flashpoint content since it was so long ago. Each boss in Lost Island was probably closer in difficulty to today’s bonus bosses, with an extra mechanic or two to deal with. Umbara, Copero, and Nathema are the most comparable modern Flashpoints in terms of the overall challenge. I think it would be cool if BioWare temporarily reverted Lost Island to the original difficulty for Master Mode so players today could experience it.
Game Update 2.0 – Rise of the Hutt Cartel
I think the Makeb story was one of BioWare’s bigger missteps. It was the first major solo story content we got since the game’s launch and marked a shift away from stories unique to each class to a single story for each faction. It’s tough to say if this was the right call. If BioWare had created 8 individual stories instead, they would have been much shorter, possibly too short, and I believe that was the explanation they gave at the time for why they went with 2 factional stories.
Unfortunately, the Makeb stories were a bit too long. They had some poignant moments but also dragged on at times. It would have been much better to have 2 planets with shorter stories, which is what BioWare has opted to do ever since (though 7.0 seems like it will buck this trend).
Continued Poor Balance
BioWare was working hard to improve the game’s balance, but it was still pretty bad, especially at the start of 2.0. Strangely, BioWare decided at the time that Marauders / Sentinels and Snipers / Gunslingers should deal more DPS than all of the other DPS specs because they could only be DPS while all other specs could also be tank or healer. I can’t remember when they eventually fixed it, but I think it took quite a while.
2.0 had other balance issues as well. Many specs were still far too RNG-dependent, resulting in unreliable numbers. Overpowered hybrid builds remained rampant; tanks and healers weren’t performing the same. I remember Operative healers, in particular, were much stronger for the entire expansion.
I want to be clear that the balance issues we have faced in recent expansions pale in comparison to the balance issues that players faced back then. The game is far more balanced now than it’s ever been. To give you a rough idea, balance differences similar in power to something like 60% Force Speed DR for Assassins / Shadows from 5.0 or the Rocket Fuel Vapors tactical for Mercenary and Commando Healers at the beginning of 6.0 were far more common back in the day.
In PvP, balance problems mostly pertain to differences in survivability, and BioWare is trying to fix these for 7.0 by making Guard tank-only and rebalancing defensive capabilities across the board.
In PvE, there is still some variability among DPS classes. Still, those differences are typically irrelevant except for reactive damage like PT / VG Reflective Armor and Sorc / Sage Lightning Barrier / TK Defense. 6.0 (with post-launch balance improvements) was the first time that tanks and healers were adequately balanced. If you didn’t pick the meta tank or healer, you were in for a much harder time in past expansions.
RotHC represented the height of NiM raiding. With 2.2, we got TFB and Scum & Villainy (S&V), and with 2.7 and 2.8, we got Dread Fortress and Dread Palace NiM with their temporary Nightmare Power buff for players that wanted the ultimate challenge. 2.0. It was the only expansion where we received more than one NiM raid too.
I didn’t get into NiM in 2.0, though it must have been quite restrictive to have a viable DPS composition with the rampant balance issues. I remember people complaining about the Dread Guards being mathematically impossible to beat, though I think some group still managed to beat it somehow before it got nerfed.
2.0 also had a couple of gearing exploits. There were a few places you could kite Dash’roode to where you wouldn’t take damage from the sandstorm. It was still tricky, but it was easier than fighting that boss the intended way at the time and was doable with players that couldn’t meet the standard DPS check.
The bigger exploit came shortly after DF NiM was released. Players figured out you could farm Nefra with a tiny group by standing in one of several locations where you could hit her, but she couldn’t hit you except with the DoT. People tended to do it in 16m because you got double the loot. The only limiting factors were lockouts and time. Some groups even went as far as having all but one player stuck it and exit the instance right before the boss died in order to preserve lockouts.
BioWare spent several updates adding invisible walls to prevent players from going to safe locations and eventually ended up having to add a mechanic where Nefra does a scream that deals a ton of raid-wide damage if she couldn’t hit anybody.
I don’t think it was possible to get fully geared with either of these exploits. If I recall correctly, you could only get mods and maybe enhancements of top-tier gear, but it was still rampant.
There was a bit of a longer wait for traditional content between the release of Oricon and 3.0 because we got Galactic Starfighter (GSF), and Strongholds. GSF was your textbook example of a flop. Many players were intrigued about the prospect of Star Wars dogfighting at the time, but when it was released, it seemed a lot of them got turned off because of the complexity.
I think that’s only part of the story, though. Ship combat is just a completely different game genre, and I believe that fans of that kind of gameplay are more likely to seek it out in dedicated games rather than as an add-on for an MMO. Dogfighting has a loyal fanbase, but it isn’t super large for Star Wars fans.
In Star Wars Battlefront 2, the ship combat wasn’t very popular and received limited support as a result, and I don’t think Star Wars: Squadrons ended up being super popular either. The point is, GSF was probably doomed to fail even if it was a bit more approachable. To my knowledge, the most recent major update to this game mode came with the launch of 4.0.
Towards the end of 2.0, we got Strongholds. We only had Dromund Kaas, Coruscant, Nar Shaddaa, and Tatooine back then. In my opinion, these remain some of the best strongholds BioWare has ever created.
Some players still dislike that BioWare opted for a hook-based system instead of free placement, but I think you can still create some great-looking areas with the provided hook layouts. I think the more significant limitation of the system is the inability to resize decos, though BioWare has been less restrictive with hook sizes for newer decos.
BioWare continues to release Strongholds, though I think that has more to do with their economics involved with creating one rather than the proportion of the playerbase. Strongholds themselves probably don’t cost as many development resources to make compared to other types of content since you don’t have to create new assets or even fill in the world. Meanwhile, they take quite a long time to decorate fully, provided you actually try to make things look nice instead of just dumping what you have on every hook in sight. Furthermore, they’re pretty lucrative, thanks to CM deco packs.
Unfortunately, decorating in SWTOR has been in a pretty bad spot for a long time. It’s obscenely expensive; in the beginning, fully unlocking a stronghold was a much more significant proportion of the overall cost of decorating, now you have to be prepared to spend 10x that to make it look halfway decent. Newer strongholds have some obnoxious QA issues. Public listings are practically useless. BioWare just doesn’t seem interested in actually fixing these issues.
Conquest is Introduced
Given how significant it is for so many players, it’s pretty crazy to think that Conquest wasn’t a thing for the first third of this game’s history. It wasn’t released until late 2014 alongside the Strongholds update.
BioWare has improved and refined the Galactic Conquest system a lot over the years. In the beginning, it only took 35k points to reach CQ, but it was a lot harder to earn points than it is now. Many activities used to not award points at all, and the sources often felt a bit more like busywork rather than just reaching the goal from playing the game. In this regard, it was more akin to how Galactic Season 1 was.
Strongholds also had to be decorated and publicly listed in order to benefit from the Conquest bonus. We’re still feeling the ramifications of this decision today as Public Listings is still brimming with strongholds filled with nothing but achievement decos.
I don’t believe that Conquest originally had different sized yields either, so the tiny guilds had to compete with the largest guilds on the server. I still think this aspect could be handled a bit better because it’s still usually only a competition between mega guilds that can’t fit all of their members into a single roster. I don’t get why BioWare hasn’t ever increased the maximum number of toons that can be in a single guild. It’s so strange that mega guilds have been a thing for so long.
I wish I could provide a better history of Conquest, but it’s just never been a focus for me.
Game Update 3.0 – Shadow of Revan
Rishi, Yavin IV, and the Revanites
3.0 was focused on fighting Revan and the Revanites who were trying to summon and fight Emperor Vitiate the wrong way. I wasn’t super interested in this story since I hadn’t (and still haven’t) played KOTOR, and I remember some players were frustrated with how Revan’s portrayal.
Shadow of Revan also featured only a single main story for all players. It seemed reasonable given what was happening in the plot, and I don’t remember people complaining about a lack of a second story. I’m not sure if this was because most players don’t play both factions or if people were happy with the single class-specific mission they got towards the end of Rishi.
I wish they’d put that class-specific mission on the Mission Console on your ship or something. I’d like to see those missions, but I’m not willing to go through Rishi 8 times to see them all.
Skill Trees Removed
With the launch of 3.0, BioWare switched from Skill Trees to the Disciplines and Utility Points system we know today to improve overall balance and eliminate unintentionally overpowered hybrid builds. It also made it slightly harder to be bad at the game by ensuring that players would always have all the discipline passives required to execute the rotation properly.
Players still had access to choices in the form of Utilities. I think these were the sorts of choices that BioWare probably intended for players to make when allocating points in the original Skill Trees since many optional points from Skill Trees stuck around as Utilities.
Many people were unhappy about the introduction of a more restrictive specialization system, but I think most people would agree that it has led to a far better experience overall.
The Beginning of the Decline of Raiding
3.0 was a rough time for raiding. BioWare hadn’t yet begun to rebalance old raids to match the new level cap, and Level Sync wasn’t a thing yet. EV, KP, and EC were all level 50, and S&V, TFB, DF, and DP were all level 55 while the level cap was 60; so level 55 bosses didn’t hit nearly as hard, and in the level 50 raids, the only thing you had to worry about were one-shot / 0 damage mechanics because 10 levels meant you didn’t take any damage.
HM Ravagers and Temple of Sacrifice (ToS) were balanced differently from all other operations before them. BioWare decided not to make a NiM for either of them and opted to make tighter numbers checks (DPS / HPS) for later bosses and, in some cases, make them more mechanically complicated as well.
Revan, in particular, was basically a proper NiM fight with a ton of mechanics and tight numbers checks. I remember BioWare even gave a plaque to the guild who managed to beat it first at one of the Cantina Events back then. Nowadays, the fight isn’t nearly as challenging because the numbers checks are more in line with your typical HM raid, resulting in shorter phases and less punishing mistakes.
3.0 effectively eliminated the vast majority of raiding content. Existing NiM raiders only had a few bosses of actual challenging content, while HM raiders (which were still a thing) had a tough time getting past the first few bosses.
Major Gearing Exploit
Due to a bug with the Coratanni fight, players could get a complete set of 180 gear (the max rating at the time) without even fighting the boss. This exploit festered for several weeks because BioWare released the expansion right before going on their winter break. Since it did give you a full set of gear and was more clearly an exploit, BioWare also decided to dole out punishment to exploiters this time around.
The Ziost Experiment
BioWare opted to release the Ziost storyline in several parts over the course of a month where only 1 mission was available each week, like episodes of a TV show, so we all had to wait a week in agony to find out what happened after Vitiate disappeared before consuming all life on the planet.
Many players were annoyed by this decision to dole out content rather than just give us the story update all at once. I think they were just experimenting with the Chapter format at the time and possibly trying to make that piece of content last longer. If I recall correctly, BioWare also expressed a desire to minimize spoilers for such a massive plot development. This release schedule gave everyone plenty of time to do the story.
Even with the obnoxious release schedule, as a Sith Sorcerer main, the Ziost storyline continues to be one of my favorite story updates.
Game Update 4.0 – Knights of the Fallen Empire
The Chapter Format
In 4.0, BioWare opted to focus exclusively on solo story content, likely because they thought that was the most popular type of content and wanted to revitalize the game in preparation for an influx of players who would see Star Wars: The Force Awakens 2 months later.
Chapters were a fair bit different from past story missions, though. Cutscenes were far more frequent and featured significantly more advanced cinematography. The production value was higher across the board too.
BioWare also streamlined the questing experience by almost wholly removing mid-story side quests. The only thing resembling them were the companion recruitment missions, but those weren’t available until after Chapter 9 was released.
It’s been a while since I’ve done KotFE, but I remembered the monthly chapters (starting with Chapter 10) feeling drawn out sometimes. They didn’t need to have entire chapters dedicated to a companion or two. The Chapter format is still great for solo story content, though. I found it odd that they moved away from it for Onslaught, but I’m glad they basically returned to it with Echoes of Oblivion and have a similar plan for the Legacy of the Sith story coming with 7.0.
Knights of the Fallen Empire Story
The most frequent criticism of the story continues to be that it only really makes sense with Force wielders. I think it would have been better to have partially separate arcs for Force and tech wielders.
Perhaps only Force wielders would get possessed by Valkorion, and the story would focus more directly on fighting the royal family and interacting with Lana and Senya. In contrast, the tech story would focus more on the Gravestone, Eternal Fleet, and the Star Fortresses and interact more with Theron and Koth. The Alliance would then have joined both stories together, with the player character still as the leader.
That idea wouldn’t really have worked with their one-Chapter-per-month subscription model, though, not that it was a great plan, to begin with, considering they had to incentivize players with rewards to keep them subscribed continuously instead of just waiting until the whole story was released.
I felt bummed out about losing my seat on the Dark Council, too, and didn’t feel like being the Alliance Commander was a clear upgrade for my Sith Inquisitor or made a whole lot of sense as a diehard Imperial. The entire concept of the alliance was already done better in Shadow of Revan since it was more clearly temporary and born out of necessity.
Overall, these criticisms have been primarily circumstantial. Looking at KotFE as a standalone Star Wars story from the perspective of a generic Jedi or Sith, I think it was pretty decent. The new characters were all pretty interesting to me, and the inclusion of all the old companions was a neat idea, even if we spent a bit too much time with some of them.
Don’t get me wrong; the story still had its flaws. Bringing in a whole new, much stronger empire out of nowhere that also happens to be led by the Sith Emperor just felt so random that it didn’t work as a twist. Vitiate should have been actually finished off before KotFE was released, and Valkorion should have just been a new person. I imagine this was just unfortunate timing paired with EA being unwilling to fund an actual transitional story.
Mass Exodus of Raiders
Even though BioWare rebalanced the old raids for the current level cap, the population of raiders steadily declined throughout 4.0. In hindsight, it seems so obvious. Even if solo story is the most popular type of content, SWTOR is still an MMO first. You can’t just not make new group content and expect old players to stick around.
At the same time, the existing 9 raids should have been plenty to satisfy the influx of new players joining the game after seeing Episode VII for quite a while. It’s possible that BioWare (or EA) was banking on this and didn’t realize that letting the old guard walk out the door would mean that no one would be there to help teach the new recruits.
Partway through 4.0, BioWare experimented with a new type of content billed as a solo raid. The Eternal Championship featured 10 bosses with raid mechanics meant for solo players, though you could enlist the help of a buddy if you were struggling.
I enjoyed the Eternal Championship, but I don’t think it was super popular since they never made another one.
In addition to rebalancing operations, 4.0 also rebalanced the planets by introducing Level Sync. Before this, you remained at your actual level when going to old planets, so you could effortlessly and utterly annihilate everything in range, including world bosses. I’m talking about wiping out whole groups of adds with just the damage from your knockback ability.
Some players were upset by this change, but I think BioWare struck a happy medium since you are still significantly stronger on lower-level planets compared to higher-level ones. The only place it’s still a bit of a problem is when you return to a lower level planet to fight a story boss, though that became an issue as soon BioWare made leveling faster and increased the level cap. If BioWare were ever to make more new story content on old planets, this would absolutely need to be fixed.
KotFE featured a major revamp to companions. Before 4.0, players only had their class-specific companions plus HK-51 and Treek. Companions had bonuses for specific Crew Skills instead of crafting critical chance and mission efficiency scaling with influence and applying to all Crew Skills as they do now.
Companions couldn’t perform just any role in combat either. Each one had a distinct primary role (similar to a discipline), so some classes didn’t get access to a healer until late in the game. For example, Inquisitors had to wait until Hoth to get their first healer companion, Talos Drellik. Some companions had a toggle ability which swapped the companion to a hybrid DPS role. Treek was the notable exception being able to tank and heal simultaneously with her hybrid toggle ability.
Companions without the hybrid role had some sort of unique ability instead. The only one I remember is HK-51’s assassination ability, which generated stacks as he defeated enemies (or something like that). At a certain number of stacks, it enabled his assassination ability which could only be used out of combat and had a 5 or 6-second cast but would auto-kill any Strong (silver), Standard, or Weak enemy. That being said, I think the other special abilities weren’t quite as flashy.
Back then, companions had an affection level that only went up to 10, but it took much longer to reach 10 than it does to reach 10 influence, though not nearly as long as it takes to reach rank 50 now. The original companion cutscenes were unlocked by reaching certain affection thresholds rather than being granted after specific missions in the class story as they are now, and you could lose affection if you made dialogue choices your companion didn’t like.
I never understood why they bothered to increase the influence cap to 50 instead of just leaving it alone. There’s not nearly enough influence available to get a companion to 50 with cutscenes alone, so you’d always have to use a ton of companion gifts or buy a Commander’s Compendium to reach 50.
Dark vs Light Event
BioWare celebrated the 5th Anniversary with a ‘new’ Dark vs Light event. Just so we’re clear, this preceded and has nothing to do with the DvL mechanics we have in-game like the world bosses and having a winning side.
The event required playing through old content, and players would earn rewards for completing specific tasks. There were 6 levels, and each level had increasingly extensive tasks to complete. For example, the first level just required you to reach level 25 with a new character, while the 5th level required you to finish Shadow of Revan, Chapters 1-9, and the introductory Stronghold mission.
The final tier was insane. Do all HM FPs, get Legendary Status, reach 550 (max at the time) with all crafting skills, and a ton more. Here’s Vulkk’s Dark vs Light Event Guide that lists all the requirements and rewards if you’re curious.
The best part is that all of this needed to be done on brand new toons. You didn’t get rewarded retroactively! To make matters worse, BioWare tried to hype up the event by announcing the rewards before explaining how the event would work. Many players thought it would be brand new content, which there was a lot of excitement for because we’d only gotten Chapters and other solo story content for well over a year.
At the beginning of 4.0, SWTOR suffered from a major credit exploit where players could purchase a whole stack of an item and then sell back a single copy of the item for the cost of the entire stack. This introduced a massive number of credits into the economy, resulting in server rollbacks and permabans. We are still feeling the ramifications of this exploit to this day.
Game Update 5.0 – Knights of the Eternal Throne
BioWare realized that players were unhappy with the pure story direction from 4.0, but had so much content already in the works that they were unable to pivot in time for the release of the next expansion. BioWare opted to condense the remaining Eternal Empire story into 9 Chapters and put an end to the monthly releases.
I think this change worked in BioWare’s favor since KotET didn’t feel nearly as drawn out as the monthly chapters from KotFE, though it did ruin their plan with bringing back companions. It’s crazy to think we’re still feeling the implications of this shift in priorities almost 7 years later.
The biggest criticism of the KotET chapters was about the often buggy sections where you had to pilot walkers and operate other heavy machinery. I didn’t personally run into these issues and actually enjoyed these sections, but it seems there are a lot of players that are solely interested in the cutscenes and couldn’t care less about the combat.
Does anyone remember these? Uprisings are like mini Flashpoints with a greater focus on combat without much story. I never really understood them as a standalone piece of content. The bosses themselves were interesting enough and the greater number of weak adds were more interesting than the standard 3-5 enemies you find in Flashpoints, but most players who enjoy SWTOR’s combat are going to gravitate towards raiding or PvP.
The Traitor Arc
After Iokath, BioWare released a trilogy of flashpoints taking place on Umbara, Copero, and Nathema. It had been a really long time since we had gotten a new Flashpoint. Technically, we got Blood Hunt and Battle of Rishi back with the launch of 3.0, but Blood Hunt is very different from most other Flashpoints and Battle of Rishi barely counts as new content since there were so many (crudely) reused assets.
These new Flashpoints were a great return to form featuring incredible new locations and challenging encounters (perhaps a little too challenging). Copero remains one of my favorite locations in the game; it’s just so gorgeous, I even named my island in Animal Crossing: New Horizons after it.
I didn’t try to copy Copero visually or anything, the only other similarities my island shares with the planet besides the name are the flag and you get to decorate a hospital in the Happy Home Paradise DLC, so I named mine Syndic Zenta Memorial Hospital.
Iokath demonstrates the importance of good map design and proper marketing. The planet is pretty straightforward to navigate; just like any other daily area, there’s a little route where you can do all the missions and little sub-areas with a few missions each, but the map is ridiculously confusing and unhelpful. To make matters worse, it was harder to learn the route because there are a bunch of different dailies and only a subset of them are available each day. Furthermore, the (bad) story didn’t take you on a tour through the daily missions like almost all other daily areas have done.
All of this culminated in Iokath being a lot of players’ least favorite location, especially in terms of post-launch planets. It’s really sad too, Iokath has a lot going for it. The visuals are pretty neat in my opinion, even if they feel a bit samey. The daily missions themselves aren’t too bad and don’t take very long once you know which missions are good and understand the route. There’s also a bunch of really cool open-world PvP implications from all the different things you can pilot, including the GotM bosses.
It probably won’t happen, but I’d love to see BioWare make a couple of small tweaks and then do an official article advertising what’s possible:
- Make all daily missions available on the same day.
- Put all of the vehicle pilot (walker, mouse droid, etc.) missions under a separate category.
- Move the Colossal Threat world boss mission to some nearby NPC.
- Get rid of Iokath Power Shards as a thing. Just make everything cost credits instead (GotM Control Modules have to stick around).
- Label the interior locations on the map and make the building outlines and unexplorable areas clearer from the traversable path.
- Connect all the pneumatic trams points so you can quickly move between the Alliance Base, Iokath Expanse, mission terminal area (for your supported faction), Landing Zone, East and West Weapons Factory entrances, and Superweapon Command Center.
- Introduce a unique teleportation map icon that makes it clear which points are linked.
I think these small adjustments would help a ton in making Iokath more accessible. If BioWare really wanted to go the extra mile, they could also add a little walkthrough one-time mission that takes you through each of the daily missions, perhaps with Lana Beniko giving you pointers through your earpiece.
Gods of the Machine
After nearly two and a half years, we finally got another Operation, or the first boss at least. It would be almost another year before the fifth and final boss, Izax, was released and nearly 9 months after that before GotM NiM would come out.
Many players praise it for being the most challenging raid in the game thanks to complicated mechanics that require a lot of coordination between players. Gods is also home to infamous trash mobs like the Vindictive Plasma and Preservation Droids and “toilet bowl” area.
The Operation itself didn’t have much of an actual story it, but the bosses were pretty hyped up throughout KotFE and KotET storyline where they were established as the Zakuulan pantheon through things like Senya’s song, the Exarchs, Heralds of Zildrog, and various codex entries.
BioWare opted to scrap the existing way of gearing by earning various currencies to buy gear or getting unassembled boss drops you could trade in at vendors and with 5.0, introduced the Galactic Command system (this was renamed to Renown with 6.0). That’s right, at the beginning of 5.0, the only way to get gear was through leveling up your Galactic Command rank.
Galactic Command boxes had more stuff in them compared to Renown boxes. I can’t recall if each box had more pieces of gear or if it was just additional cosmetics, mounts, and pets. Regardless, there was more stuff in each one, but it wasn’t enough to make the players happy.
Early in 5.0, Galactic Command boxes took too long to acquire and their random contents meant you weren’t guaranteed an upgrade. Since the system was built on top of earning (C)XP, people figured out the best way to farm gear was by killing Champion enemies, so many players decided that it was a good use of their free time to repeatedly kill the trash at the beginning of Karagga’s Palace. BioWare quickly nerfed the (C)XP awarded by those enemies.
BioWare did work hard to improve the system over time, but eventually had to introduce a semi-supplemental Unassembled Components currency and vendors where players could buy gear directly.
I can admire what BioWare was trying to do with Galactic Command. Gearing has always had its problems in SWTOR and they tried to fix it by making a huge change that would reward players with eventually the best gear regardless of the type of content they were doing. That said, Galactic Command worked much better as the supplemental system it turned into with 6.0. A lot of players, myself included, are a bit upset that it’s going away in 7.0.
Unfortunately, Galactic Command wasn’t the end of 5.0’s gearing woes. Throughout 5.0, BioWare released several new tiers of gear and introduced multiple tiers of augments for the first time. This resulted in the vast majority of content being way too easy by the end of 5.0. A ton of players are concerned about 7.0 gearing because BioWare has already announced that they plan to do the same thing again.
When NiM GotM was released, BioWare introduced Masterwork gear that was extremely hard to come by. The biggest problem with Masterwork gear was that all mods were locked to a specific piece of armor, so you couldn’t take an enhancement from legs and put them in your boots. It’s possible that these restrictions were their way of limiting its proliferation in order to not make the game extremely easy for everyone, though why release a new tier of gear at all if you’re concerned about that?
Masterwork gear was craftable too, but required rare mats that were only obtainable from NiM GotM. This aspect was similar to how gold augments work now where you need OEMs that drop from NiM raids. I thought this was an interesting approach and would be fine if BioWare continued it in the future.
It’s funny that players often complain about not being able to craft relevant endgame gear, but it has been possible for literal years now. Even in 6.0, those armor sets you can craft from Kai Zykken have a full set of 306 mods in them.
Class Balance and Gear
Thanks to better gear, class balance became less important over the course of 5.0, though it was never completely irrelevant and it wasn’t until the very end of 5.0 that we got the final tier of gear anyway.
I came to realize that gear is imaginary and largely unnecessary. Its only purpose is to motivate players to continue playing the game. It’s a carrot on an invisible stick. If BioWare wanted, they could balance all of this content around no gear and it would be just as entertaining as being in the fanciest powerful gear available. This changed a bit in 6.0 with more interactive and influential set bonuses and tactical items, but stats have remained largely pointless.
Besides that depressing realization, 5.0 was mostly another step in the right direction in terms of balance. Let me be clear that it was by no means perfect, but I wouldn’t call it a step backwards. The biggest changes came from some classes getting massive defensive buffs and a refined philosophy on damage output.
5.0 was when Mercenaries and Commandos earned their reputation for having 3 health bars because they were given Responsive Safeguards / Echoing Deterrence, Kolto / Adrenaline Surge, and Trauma Regulators / Stabilizers. Assassins and Shadows were also the uncontested best tank class in the game thanks to a utility that gave them 60% damage absorption during Force Speed.
BioWare declared that DoTs and melee should deal more DPS compared to ranged and burst, because they considered melee and DoTs to have inherent disadvantages. This meant that melee DoT specs were the best, melee burst and ranged DoT were about equal, and ranged burst was the worst. BioWare largely succeeded in achieving that balance, though I wouldn’t say the game was balanced. Ranged burst had viability issues in a ton of fights which contributed to melee DPS being more heavily preferred in general.
Powertech / Vanguard DPS were considered the best in PvE content just like they are now thanks to their incredible burst, ridiculous reactive damage from Reactive Armor and Pyro / Electro Shield, and helpful DPS debuffs.
The biggest issue with 5.0 DPS balance was that the gap between the best and worst DPS was just too wide, about twice as wide as it has been in 6.0.
The culmination of player numbers in freefall was server merges. I haven’t experienced server merges in other games, but I imagine it would usually be a sad affair because it’s an acknowledgment from the devs that the game is going downhill.
The biggest issue at the time had to do with names. If two players shared the same names, the toon that had greater playtime got to keep the name while the other got a free rename. This created unfortunate problems when both players had substantial playtime or if one had saved the name for future use by making a level 1 toon, but there wasn’t a great way to fix this. They could have just let multiple players have the same first name like they do with legacy surnames and what other services like Discord do with the #fournumbers, but then you have to implement that and probably also need an official way to indicate nicknames and that costs dev time. I digress, and I’d rather not wade any further into the treacherous waters of this debate.
Surprisingly, that wasn’t the only naming issue either. The other had to do with server names. The Satele Shan server had a different name when they announced what each of the new servers would be called. Buckle up, the Satele Shan server was originally going to be called:
The Hot Prospect.
What does that even mean!? I wonder if BioWare knew from the beginning that they’d have to change it and were just joking around or if they genuinely thought that was a good name for the server.
Jedi Under Siege: Ossus
Towards the end of 5.0, BioWare released Ossus, which I think is one of the best overall pieces of content that they’ve created to this day. It had a good story, especially for the Republic, which made sense for both Force and Tech classes, brought back several companions, had a cool new lair boss, 2 world bosses, new datacrons, doubled as a daily area, and looked positively gorgeous!
It’s funny to think that Iokath ended up being pretty similar in terms of what it offered. The biggest difference was in the quality of story and lack of clarity in the daily missions, which is why I think Iokath could be revitalized. Regardless, I hope we get more updates like Jedi Under Siege in 7.0+!
Game Update 6.0 – Onslaught
Onderon, Mek-Sha, and Objective Meridian
I have very mixed feelings about the Onslaught story. The characters are pretty great. Arn and Tau’s interactions were especially incredible and culminated in a magnificent moment towards the end of the story on Mek-Sha that players had the opportunity to influence. I was slightly devastated to hear in the story livestream that Arn will be a Jedi Knight when we see him again on Manaan. I felt like we barely got to see Tau and Arn as master and padawan, though I am excited to see if Arn and Tau will be different depending on the player’s dialogue choices.
It’s truly unfortunate that such wonderful characters were held back by such a lame plot. I get that refueling and shipbuilding are important in war, but I just don’t care. I think I could have lived with one or the other, but not both. Thankfully, Legacy of the Sith appears to strike a better balance with pursuing Malgus on Elom and battling over Kolto, which is still a resource, but one that’s more familiar and unique to Star Wars.
It was also fascinating to see such impactful choices. You can have a completely different outcome for everything depending on the decisions you’ve made. I am curious to see what that will mean for future story updates. It’s easy for things to get out of control with managing so many separate story branches and it can also result in a shorter overall story, albeit with more replayability.
As someone who has mained a Dark V Sith Sorcerer for over a decade, I can barely put into words how satisfying it felt to threaten and then rip Darth Anathel out of my throne with Force Lightning. Reclaiming my seat on the Dark Council was easily my favorite story moment in SWTOR.
Horizontal Gearing, Tactical Items, and New Set Bonuses
6.0 revamped gearing the gearing process yet again. Galactic Command was renamed Renown and had a greatly diminished role in the new gearing process. Since players only had to grind from 270 to 306 item rating once, gearing itself became about acquiring new set bonuses and tactical items rather than getting higher item ratings.
Set bonuses and tactical items marked a shift towards gear having a greater impact on how you play the game because they had a much more significant influence on rotations; far more than old set bonuses ever did.
I think most players were content with this approach, though I know some, myself included, disliked how much garbage we had to continuously sift through to find the actual good pieces. It would be difficult to replicate this process for a second expansion without taking away set bonuses and tacticals and I think that’s a big reason why 7.0 will return to vertical gearing.
I’m not sure how others feel, but I haven’t enjoyed Dxun NiM as much as the other raids. It has too much trash, too many bugs, several balance issues, and a different design philosophy that I dislike. I’m not sure how other players feel
Dxun has a ton of trash with ridiculously high health (though it is more manageable with AoE tacticals) and several puzzles on top of having to kill trash. The purpose of trash should primarily be to give players a short break from bosses and permit a few players to go AFK while keeping the rest of the group engaged.
I welcome trash mobs in between bosses. I prefer when trash has a mechanic or two because it makes the trash more engaging. I’m even fine with there being a puzzle here or there too. I’m not okay with trash just taking forever to deal with and having to kill trash on top of a puzzle. In my opinion, DP and DF had the best trash.
Dxun has a host of problems with bosses. For starters, it has too many raid-wiping bugs. Red has an issue where the damage from Acidic Jet doesn’t match the telegraph if you attempt to move the boss right before that ability is activated, which can easily cause unintentional deaths. For a long time, bulls would often spawn in the floor or otherwise be invisible.
The third boss (second encounter) is ridiculously inconsistent with how many adds get through the door and sometimes crabs can come inside which is just an auto wipe. The battery can occasionally spawn on top of regular players if it doesn’t disappear properly. Sometimes the bull doesn’t actually knock Huntmaster out of his Fortress.
Even if you get past the bugs, the design philosophy is a bit different and those differences create problems. In older NiM raids, players would get more immediate feedback if they were doing something incorrectly. Dxun tends to have more mechanics that build up into a wipe over time, so yeah you can make a mistake here or there, but the fight will become much harder.
This makes it more challenging to learn what the correct or successful strategy will look like because it just isn’t clear how you messed up. It’s like trying to drive on a racetrack without being able to see where the edges of the road are. Don’t get me wrong; there are instances of this sort of cascading failure in older raids too, but those seem to be a bit more straightforward.
It doesn’t help that the fights were designed to be beatable with multiple different strategies and the special Marks of Mastery achievements are evidence of that, so it’s less feasible to ask another group for help with a strategy because what worked for them might not work for you.
The later bosses especially have some significant balance issues. Titax is meant to be handled by 1-2 DPS, but it still requires those DPS to handle more mechanics than even tanks have to deal with compared to almost every other fight in the game. The timing on hitting the bosses with the train is also much tighter than all other timing checks in the game.
Huntmaster has too much RNG with the movement of the light, fire grenades, egg placement, and a random rotation in the second phase that can also change in the first phase if someone dies. Apex doesn’t evenly distribute mechanics between players. There’s way too much required of the person who has to carry around the battery and they hardly ever get to use their abilities because they’re spending so much time running around.
Hopefully, things will be better with the R-4 Anomaly. I know my team is gonna spend a bunch of time on the PTS giving feedback in hopes that these issues can be avoided.
SWTOR’s economy has been experiencing high inflation ever since the credit exploit in 4.0, but in 6.0, the economy is barely functional (and I’m sure some players disagree with that assertion). Most of the coolest cosmetics sets cost hundreds upon hundreds of millions of credits. Some items aren’t even sold on the GTN because what people are willing to spend on the item is more than the GTN’s 1 billion credit listing cap. It’s absolutely insane for items to regularly cost 20-25% of the maximum number of credits you can have on an individual toon at a time.
BioWare has said this hyperinflation is mainly caused by too many credits being introduced into the economy through Conquest rewards and that they plan to remedy this by removing credits from Conquest rewards in 7.0. Since only they have access to the telemetry data, we’re not really in a position to disagree, though BioWare doesn’t have a great track record with managing the economy in the first place and if that’s all they’re doing while also removing the Amplifier credit sink, it will take a long time to get those credits out of the economy.
One of my buddies suggested that the best solution to this problem would be to let players keep their credits, but introduce a brand new currency and swap basically all game systems over (including GTN, vendors, and mission rewards) to exclusively use that new currency. The only exception would be the trade window and CoD mail. That would make it so credits could maybe retain some minor value in non-GTN trades, but the economy would essentially be reset. Existing assets (unsold items on the GTN and held in cargo) would effectively be the only way to retain wealth.
It would definitely be a controversial decision, but I can’t see another way to fix the economy in a reasonable amount of time and every solution will come with trade-offs.
6.0 had a pretty rocky start in terms of balance. Healers were particularly unbalanced with Mercenary / Commando having access to the ridiculously overpowered Rocket Fuel Vapors tactical which could generate up to 8 stacks of Supercharge with a single Kolto Missile / Bomb.
Thankfully, BioWare made some tweaks and now I would argue that the game is more balanced than it’s ever been. With the release of the Emergency Power set for PT tanks, I think this is the first time that all three tanks have been viable at the same time.
There are only a couple major imbalances left for DPS that were carried over from 5.0. The DPS gap between the melee vs ranged and burst vs sustained still exists, but it’s not nearly as wide as it was in 5.0, so you can mostly bring what you want to most content and it still feels tuned fairly.
In PvE, the biggest issue is with reactive damage, like PT / VG Reflective Armor and Sorc / Sage Lightning Barrier / TK Defense. In many fights, Combat Styles with access to reactive damage will do significantly more DPS than those without. This issue may be improved with 7.0 since most sources of reactive damage are locked behind choices with other incredibly strong options.
In PvP, stealthers reign supreme. Being able to exit combat and engage at will is incredibly strong because it allows you to heal back up and attack someone who doesn’t have a DCD up. In unranked, skank tanks and DPS guards remain popular despite several nerfs. Thankfully, BioWare seems to be aware of these issues and appears to be fixing them with ability trees.
6.0 has offered a lot less content than most other expansions. Since Onslaught was released, the only actual new content we’ve gotten is 2 Flashpoints (Spirit of Vengeance and Secrets of the Enclave), 1 Chapter (Echoes of Oblivion), a bunch of mini cutscenes, the Swoop racing event, and 2.5 Strongholds (Fleet Penthouses and Alderaan). That’s extremely little over the course of 2 years. Game Director Keith Kanneg has said that the world situation in 2020 and 2021 impacted their ability to release new content, but I’m not sure if that’s the whole story.
At the time of publishing, it’s been 9 and a half months since the last major update. I’m curious when BioWare began working on the Legacy of the Sith expansion. If they really only got started after Secrets of the Enclave was released, which happened to be when Galactic Season 1 came out, it’s possible that SWTOR is fully shifting to a battle pass system where they only do content drops with each new Galactic Season.
Looking back, it amazes me that the biggest problem with this game was just a lack of support. I think most players agree that the game has only gotten better over time. Yes, there have been temporary missteps over the years, but they’ve almost always been corrected. Whenever someone asks for a SWTOR Classic server, someone else usually responds with, “Do you really want to go back to worse balance, less content, and poorer quality of life?”.
As I look back, the best parts of the game were when story and group content were released at the same time with updates like Oricon and Ossus. It saddens me that for so much of the game’s lifetime, it’s been one or the other.
Imagine if we had continued to receive a new Operation every 6 months, especially during 4.0 alongside all those Chapters. What if we consistently got new Warzone maps more than once every few years? I am hopeful that we’ll experience this more often if BioWare does end up switching to only releasing new content with each new Galactic Season.
Well, that leads us to 2022 and the Legacy of the Sith 7.0 expansion, which is set to release two days after this publication.
I told you that this was going to be a long journey. Ten years of SWTOR! What was your favorite moment from the game? Share your story!