…But mostly just to troll those butthurt by the statement
There is however some truth in the title statement. SWTOR is for almost all practical purposes, a “reskin” of WoW, with better graphics, better story and full voice acting. You see, when someone makes this statement, they’re expressing something specific, something that most people who have played WoW can instantly notice behind the thin veneer of polished dialogue – that the gameplay mechanics are not just fundamentally the same, they are exactly the same as in WoW.
Yes, many people at times have compared new MMORPGs to WoW, or called them clones of it, but much of the time this was an unwarranted comparison, which is why such sentiments were never particularly common or popular. However the single most common opinion expressed about SWTOR is that it’s basically WoW in Space. Why is it that this comparison comes so naturally and so often to gamers, when it so uncommon against other games? I’ve seen a lot of other MMORPGs come and go, but very rarely has this comparison been so popular among their critics.
The answer is that even though many of the other games might have shared some core aspect of MMORPG gameplay, as it’s been refined by Everquest and later on by WoW, they nevertheless included a lot of interesting innovations to make their gameplay stand out. I am not an MMO expert, but from the little I know: Conan had a completely different combat system, Warhammer online had its Overall campaign which relied on a dynamic conquest mode, D&D Online has a completely different leveling/class system and significant innovations in questing (eg the Dungeon Master). All these make these games stand out in their own way in regards to gameplay. Even if they didn’t manage to dethrone WoW as a fantasy MMO, they still helped to advance the gameplay of the genre of MMORPGs as a whole, by experimenting with incremental or sometimes revolutionary changes and see how well they work.
And even small gameplay changes can have significant effects on the dynamics and the “feel” of a game. This is how FPS manage to stay fresh, even though they’re all the same “point & click” if you get right down to it. SWTOR fans love to sarcastically respond “Yeah, and CoD is Doom with Snipers” in an attempt to point out that all FPS’ have the same control scheme. But the changes that differentiate between CoD and Doom and FPS in general, are not in the control scheme, which has to stay the same if a game will be in the same class and also instantly convenient/familiar to FPS players. Such sarcastic remarks,deliberately or not, misunderstand where the innovation in FPS happens. It is in the weapon mechanics, in the player health, in the player speed, in the implementation of cover mechanics (or not). These changes may be minor on first look, but due to the emergent dynamics of fast-paced games like FPS, they grow up to change the whole pacing. Consider for example that Quake 3:Arena and Unreal Tournament came out at roughly the same time. They were both very similar theoretically. Both had a sci-fi theme, both had fast-paced PvP-only focus, both had some weapons with similar use (rocket launcher, machine gun, shotgun), same type of game modes (FFA, Team Battle, Capture the Flag) and so on. And yet, the games, aside from the core “point & shoot” gameplay, play nothing alike. The game just feels completely different instantly.
And this unfortunately is not true for WoW and SWTOR. The games feel exactly the same. The gameplay feels like someone took WoW, improved the graphics, switched to sci-fi, renamed the abilities and classes and called it a day.
It is mistaken to mention the core similarities of FPS when trying to prove how dissimilar WOW and SWTOR are. This is because the core similarities of MMORPGs are on a different level. If we exclude strong outliers like EVE Online or Dofus, and simply look at the more focused example of “Theme Park MMORPGs”, the core mechanics – that is to say, the gameplay features that have been incrementally improved, shown to function well and most players of the genre are familiar with – are the 3rd person view, skill with cooldowns, quests, combat, levels & classes, and item seeking. At the root of all Theme Park MMORPG (TP MMORPG), all these exist in some form. Note however the last part: “In some form“. The fact that all such games include these tried & proven & expected mechanics in no way means they are clones of each other, because there’s still the differentiation happens on a layer on top of that, much like the differentiation of FPS happens on the layer above having a point & shoot, first person, multi-weapon game.
What is that layer? That is the layer where you decide exactly how the core mechanics function.
- Just how exactly are your skills with cooldowns are implemented in combat? How many can you have active? Do they use some form of “mana”? How?
- How many levels do you have? How do you gain them? How are they limiting the player in the world? What does a difference in levels interact in PvP?
- How are your quests activated? How are they completed? What is the usual types of quest? How many types do you have? When completed, is there any change in the world as the other players perceive it? How are parties created and how do they function?
- How do classes differentiate? Are they using a “holy trinity” setup? How are they progressing on their early levels? How does specialization happen? At which point?
- How do you find powerful items? How many kinds are there? How do people split the loot?
- What is the combat flow? Are there other mechanics outside of skills with cooldowns? Does maneuvering and a player’s skill make a significant difference given equal characters in power?
These are all the kind of questions that show how and where a TP MMORPG differentiates in gameplay from the other TP MMORPGs. A game which has significant changes in some of these, is usually changing its emergent gameplay and the general feel of the game so much, that it cannot possibly be considered a clone of another. Sure, fanboys of one game may call it a clone of their favourite game so as to discourage other players from jumping ship, but such voices are usually easily dismissed by those who experience it.
However, when almost nothing is different in all these aspects, aside from cosmetic changes (such as disabling auto-attack) or simple streamlining, then games feel and play practically the same. And this is sadly the case of SWTOR compared to WoW.
- The skills with cooldowns? Same exact mechanic. There is a cosmetic change in that your basic attack is now a skill as well and is not automatic but other than that, I haven’t seen a significant difference.
- The level mechanic is the same. A level cap is 50 (WoW was 60 at launch), you have areas with specific level requirements/expectations, you defeat everything of a significantly lower level easily, at the max level, the things that will keep your interest are very different from everything before.
- The classes all start at a safe area specific to them. The classes all have skills dedicated to a role of the holy trinity designed for them (healer, tank and DPS). The classes all select a specialization at level 10. There is a skill tree and you get or improve your skills with money.
And so on and so forth. Won’t bore you with the details, but suffice to say, the rest of the list is very much the same trend. There are cosmetic changes here and there but nothing particularly noteworthy. SWTOR fans at this point usually try to point out that this is the standard recipe for TP MMORPGs, so why should SWTOR change what is working? But that’s the thing, this isn’t the standard recipe for such games, all of them have at least a few significant changes in their gameplay. If they hadn’t, they would rightly have been called “WoW with ____” as well.
SWTOR hasn’t even attempted to put their own unique spin on mechanics. It’s just a shameless copy-paste of the mechanics that WoW has perfected, into a different theme. And there is nothing inherently wrong with that, mind you. I have nothing against a game doing this, so that someone can have the same gameplay they know and love, but in a theme they prefer. Some people are all for that as a matter of fact, and just shinier graphics and Star Wars are enough to make them switch.
But at least call a spade, a spade. Nobody is bashing SWTOR for being what it is. When people mention that SWTOR is simply “WoW with lightsabers”, they express something specific, that perhaps is not immediately obvious. From what I understand it is “I am tired/bored of WoW gameplay (or don’t like them at all) and was looking for something significantly different, but SWTOR is not it.” And again, there’s nothing wrong with that statement either. This is why it perplexes me when the obvious is denied. The obvious being that SWTOR is directed to people who wanted to play WoW – but in sci-fi, or people who wanted to play a Star Wars with the proven gameplay of WoW (or don’t care about the gameplay at all).
SWTOR does have strong and interesting points to notice, but they are not its gameplay innovation. The innovations of SWTOR lie on a different layer entirely: In the layer of the RPG elements and storytelling. In short, exactly the reason they chose Bioware to do this. And yes, from what I’ve seen, the story does seem to be worth it and anyone who liked KOTOR should probably like SWTOR as well. I would personally play it as well if the price was right, but it isn’t (primarily because I personally did not like the WoW gameplay.)
There is no reason for fans of SWTOR to get annoyed and deny that SWTOR is WoW with Lightsabers. The correct answer should be “Damn straight, and that’s all I wanted!”. And there’s nothing wrong with that.