January 31st, 2013
Author: Nick Fox
For those new to the game, Star Wars: The Old Republic is a game set in the Star Wars universe over 3,000 years before the movies, and is the sequel to the single player game Knights of the Old Republic (1 and 2). The Old Republic takes place 300 years after Knights of the Old Republic and the Sith and the Jedi are back at it again. You choose between two factions: the Republic (Jedi) and the Empire (Sith). This game shares many qualities with other games in the massively-multiplayer online (MMO) genre, such as Talent Trees, small group instances, epic large-group instances, tanks, healers, crafting professions, and all of the other things that have made previous MMOs fun. However, this game seperates itself in many ways also, with traits like its rich story and singleplayer questline, companions who have depth and their own alluring story; it's an epic Star Wars style combat that feels exciting and satisfying. Dark and Light side points are reflected through the actions you take in quests, and you get your own space ship to fly around the galaxy, or just hang out with your crew inbetween missions. Sound cool? Well, now you can try Star Wars: The Old Republic for free.
The free-to-play (F2P) mode does not offer full access to everything in the game, but it's not exactly a disadvantage. You can quest and level without any limit, reach the level cap of 50, and get full access to the great singleplayer story (this is a Bioware game afterall). You can join dungeon groups, get a profession and visit every zone on the map. There are still some restrictions on what you can use or access.
Players who either purchased the game when it was released, or have bought Cartel Coins will be rewarded with "Preferred Player" status. This will instantly unlock a lot of features that you would otherwise be lacking in the regular F2P status, and there are slight bonuses given over the F2P restrictions.
If you are an enthusiastic MMO fan hoping to play a full game for free, you will be disappointed, as this is certainly not a full MMO that is completely F2P. Admittedly, there are a lot of restrictions, but none of them completely prevent you from playing the game. You can still play and experience all, but the large part of the game "Operations" is blocked. Nearly all of these restrictions however, can be removed with the use of Cartel Coins.
Flashpoints (four man instances): You only earn rewards from three flashpoints a week. I believe you are still able to join Flashpoints after your third flashpoint, but you will be unable to earn rewards for each one after the third.
Warzone PvP: Five a week.
Operations (8-16 man instances): No access without a pass purchase.
Money: There is a limit to how much money you can have. After you reach the limit, it starts storing the excess for you, only to be unlocked if you become a full subscriber.
Chat: You are restricted to which public chat channels you may take part in.
Trading and Mail: You can neither trade with other players, nor send mail (although you may receive it). Preferred Players do not any such restrictions.
Action Bars: You are limited in the number of action bars you can have on the screen (from six bars to two), thus limiting the number of abilities you can hotkey. This won't be a problem for some, but the lack of customization options when you really want to set up your bars in a certain way feels really depressing.
Bank: No bank available, Preferred Players are given the default bank amount.
Auction House: Limit of how many items you can auction at once.
Professions: F2P players can have one profession, Preferred Players can have two, and subscribers can have three.
If you are a MMO player, a monthly subscription fee is nothing new, and the subscription will still be in the game. The subscribed players receive unrestricted access to all content in the game and now, they will be getting free monthly Cartel Coins, which are used in the new microtransation shop. They will also be getting bonuses to experience gains, access to vehicles at earlier levels, and log-in priority over F2P players, and only subscribers can equip the most powerful levels of gear. This is good news for subscribers, and I suspect that eventually a lot of people introduced to the game through the F2P option will eventually become subscribers, due to the huge benefits offered.
Microtransations and Cartel Coins
Bioware is now using a new system of microtransactions. The store allows you to buy gear for your character, cosmetic items, and passes to unlock Operations and other such things for F2P members (who are otherwise restricted). Paying subscribers to the game will get rewarded with Cartel Coins every month to spend, and the F2P players will be able to buy Cartel Coins to purchase some features that they are otherwise missing out on. Almost all of the restrictions I mentioned earlier can be removed by Cartel Coins. You can buy access to larger bank slots, or you can buy a temporary pass to remove your restriction on instances. Some games, like League of Legends, have a lot of success selling items with no impact on gameplay. If the prices are right, and the items are fun and fair, I believe this system can be fun without hurting game balance, and allow the F2P audience a little bit of wiggle room to pick and choose if certain features are important to unlock.
Why this System is a Win/Win
Monthly subscribers will still be paying full price for a full game, and additionally receiving some nice bonuses, so this series of changes does provide some small perks. The F2P mode opens up the game to an audience it previously wouldn't have. For example, if you're a student or have a job that prevents you from committing a lot of time to the game, but once in a while you have a free weekend where you can play, you can buy a weekend pass to Flashpoints with Cartel Coins. You can do that and pay as you go, without having the commitment of a monthly subscription fee. This opens the game to new audiences without hurting its current fanbase.
The current subscribers will still receive a great game without limits, and the people joining with the F2P model would probably otherwise have not been playing at all. It also allows them to get into the game to see if they are interested in upgrading to a subscriber. At the end of the day, it allows more people to experience and have fun playing Star Wars: The Old Republic. If you haven't played it before, I really recommend trying it, and if you used to play but stopped, now is the ideal time to give it another try.