Game launches vary in scale and scope. SWTOR's launch was huge! Over two million copies of the game were sold, and over 150 servers spun up the first week. That made some of features you'd find in older MMOs redundant. Group finders and server transfers are really not necessary when you have everything that you need at your fingertips.
At launch and during beta, the servers were filled to capacity, and the majority of players were at the same or similar levels. In fact, I myself noted multiple times that the game might never need a group finder because I could easily use general chat to find a group for whatever flashpoint or heroic I wanted to do.
Unfortunately, this joy ended about two weeks after launch. I'm not exactly sure why it started to become impossible to find a group, in general. If I were to guess, I'd say it was because as a person gains levels, the group role becomes more and more important. As a DPS character, I found my ability to effectively fit in a group became diminished because other DPS could perform the function better, and there were just so many other DPS characters on my server that the DPS slots in a group were usually the first to fill up. Once I hit level 30, I stopped doing heroics and flashpoints all together.
What will 1.3's group finder offer us? The unfortunate thing is that exact details are scarce at this point. But we do have a few details if we look closely at the video put out by the SWTOR team a couple of weeks back.
First and most obvious, we know that you can select your role in a group. No matter what specifically you're looking for, you are able to classify your character as Damage, Heal, or Tank -- pretty basic stuff.
If the video can be trusted, the types of groups you can queue for are pretty sizable. However, they are scaled by how appropriate they are to your level. For instance, you will not be able to queue for a flashpoint that you can't enter yet. But it works in reverse, too: If you're over-powered for a specific flashpoint and will impede the progress of others in the group, you will likewise be unable to queue for it.
In general, you can queue for nearly anything that requires a group. Planetary daily quests and heroics are available, as are flashpoints, hard mode flashpoints, and story mode operations. At this time, hard mode and nightmare mode operations cannot be queued for. These instances are difficult enough with a group that works together often; the difficulty and frustration will increase exponentially if these were done in a pick-up group.
The biggest boon to the group finding system for TOR comes not in finding a group but in how the group comes together once a group has been found. You know what I'm talking about: instance travel. For how long have players been complaining about load times and travel times? I'd say since beta. (In fact, there is a video on TORWars this week that talks about the woes of SWTOR's travel system.) Fortunately, when you find a group, you will be able to instantly travel to that instance -- no muss, no fuss.
"Massively multiplayer games are social games," Game Director James Ohlen told us in the Update 1.3 video. "You need to be able to play with your friends. We know that." That's all he said -- no real information other than it's coming. Fortunately, Lead Game Designer Daniel Erickson was a little more forthcoming in his interview with PC Gamer. He said, "We are coming up on a huge move to servers with massively higher population caps than we have today." Then, as if to confirm what's happening, Lead Designer Emmanuel Lusinchi said this at the London MCM Expo:
"Now I know Daniel Erickson has been mentioning things he probably shouldn't have about maybe the concept of mega-servers. It's a great concept because if you can have the server population that can accommodate a lot more people then you are much more likely to be with your friends and you don't have to transfer servers. Secondly, everything is just all of a sudden better. If you like PVP, the warzone queue pops all of the time, if you like the group finder it will find a group night or day for you to do things. So this is something we take very seriously."I see this going one of two ways.
Existing high-population servers, like Fatman, will open to players from low-population servers, like Veela. Veela players will be able to move characters and legacy to the new server. Unfortunately, if you happen to have a common -- or even slightly common -- name for your character, legacy, or guild, you will be forced to rename. On top of that, you will have to coordinate with your guild members on which server you're moving to. Those of you with large guilds or ones that might be spread out over several games know what kind of a pain that is.
This means that those on Fatman will not be allowed to move during this transfer time. For those on Fatman, it doesn't mean a whole lot; they should be used to a dense population. However, let's say The Bastion is chosen as a transfer-to server. Players might be used to the moderate population size and suddenly become overwhelmed by the influx.
The second way, in my opinion, is more likely: independent mega-servers broken down by playstyle, similar to DC Universe Online. Granted, DCUO has a very small number of servers. I think that SWTOR will most likely have more. They will be focused on PvE, PvP, RP-PVE, and RP-PVP, as the forums are set up now, but I think there will likely be at least two servers for each style if not more. This will give everyone currently subscribed to the game a fair shot at landing the character names, legacy names, and guild names he or she wants.
There is more to explore with Update 1.3, but unfortunately, the specifics have not come to light. I hope that it will hit test servers this week, and that way next week I can talk to you about future legacy perks and sitting in chairs.
Until next week, may your game be your own personal brand of epic!
The Hyperspace Beacon by Larry Everett is your weekly guide to the vast galaxy of Star Wars: The Old Republic, currently in production by BioWare. If you have comments or suggestions for the column, send a transmission to firstname.lastname@example.org. Now strap yourself in, kid -- we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!