MatchUp: Star Trek Online vs SWTOR
We're putting two giant franchises head-to-head in our newest MatchUp, it is the endless rivalry of Star Trek versus Star Wars in their respective MMORPGs Star Trek Online (STO) and Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR). The rivalry between these two titles goes beyond the MMORPG market, it has divided sci-fi fans for generations and the franchises own pulling power is no doubt one of the bigger attractions for players of either title. Two big brands, two big games, but when it comes down to it which is the better game and furthermore which offers more to the free to play player?
From the outset it’s worth pointing out that neither of these titles started out as free to play games, both going for the traditional subscription route Star Trek Online got almost 2 years of subscription content before switching to the free to play model, happening at a time where the rest of the market and other MMORPGs were already launching as free to play MMO’s. In contrast Star Wars: The Old Republic was released almost 2 years after STO went F2P, in spite of the rise of the F2P business model and believing their game was strong enough to ask for a subscription payment from players and going against the grain of the rest of the market. They were wrong. SWTOR saw one of the biggest mass exodus of players in the first few months after launch than any other MMORPG with hundreds of thousands of players abandoning the game; their move to the F2P model was implemented with enough time to stop the game being a complete failure. Since then EA managed to recover their lost player base, and then some, and the game is now extremely popular.
As far as gameplay goes both have their similarities as well as massive difference, for us STO stands out a little more as trying to be a pioneer of the genre, trying new things and implementing new systems and features, whereas even pre-release and from the initial launch SWTOR always felt like a reskinned World of Warcraft with too many similarities (including the idea that they could get players to be subscribers…) Side by side comparisons are a little harder to make, where Star Trek has three playable classes in comparison to Star Wars’ 8 classes, both handle character classes completely differently where STO potentially offers a much more customisable career path for their classes, SWTOR went for the more traditional WoW-esq talent tree approach for each class. Similarly with the available species/races SWTOR were limited by both choice of faction and character class (WoW…), whereas STO divides some races by their respective Faction providing players with bonuses for that chosen race, alternatively they can recreate races for any faction as well as create other unofficial/unsupported races with the powerful character customization.
This level of customisation is developed further with the players ships, in both games players can customise their ship with various upgrades, though in STO ships really act more like a player’s gear so instead of wielding a powerful lightsaber players will pilot a Klingon Warbird and upgrade both it and their crew. The manner in which players use their ships differs as well, the majority of actual in game content for players in Star Trek takes place in their ship, though players are able to walk round as their character to take on missions, explore worlds when they go planetside and does have character/ground PvP, the majority of the content is geared towards space and their starships.
SWTOR, however, is primarily a ground-based MMORPG where each player earns their own ship at later levels, the type of ship depending on their chosen class (6 unique ships in total in comparison to the 300 available in STO), which is used as a hub for their gathered crew/companions, a place to craft, store items, travel to other worlds and acts as an area for story driven plot content. SWTOR later introduced the PvE space mission content and with their previous expansion brought in some arena style PvP, but space is still an extremely instanced and contained experience (albeit extremely well done). It’s clear that space content is an addon and is still only a small portion in comparison to the much larger ground based game filled with PvP battle arenas and huge planets to explore.
The biggest issue with SWTOR is it never felt like it was something new, it felt like it had taken all the things people look for in popular MMORPGs and put them into the game, not even necessarily putting any unique twist on them that we haven’t seen in other MMORPGs over the years. The biggest thing the game has going for it is the various story arcs for each class, with the BioWare style gameplay players face various choices throughout the game during their quests with multiple options to choose from, such as choosing a dark side option (kill) or a light side option (mercy) when facing a particular enemy, which is quirky and definitely personalises the story slightly to each individual player. The problem is that the game still falls into the traditional theme park style MMORPG, level locked quests, content and planets and often the different options players can choose in quest dialogue still can lead to the same result and it is only the illusion of choice.
Star Trek Online offers a vast wealth of customisation, from characters, ships to even the ability to create your own environments and quests using the powerful Foundry system (also used in Perfect Worlds other MMORPG title Neverwinter). Here players are able to create their own instanced locations, from outdoor planetary expeditions, unique personalised ship interiors or other weird and wonderful creations that can be used for role-play purposes or actual quests where the creator can place NPC’s and even attackable/aggressive enemies. This type of feature is a huge boon to the MMORPG world and something we can only hope more MMORPGs try to replicate in the future instead of copy/pasting the same overused features we’re getting bored of seeing.
So when it comes down to it what do you get for “free”, well both games do have a free to play option with various limitations, primarily on things such as trade and chat (no doubt to make it harder for spammers and gold sellers to abuse free accounts), as well as a few tweaks on gameplay here and there. Star Trek Online has some limitations on some of their core features, but there is very little that is out right restricted, a stark contrast to Star Wars: The Old Republic where many of their most popular features are massively limited or free players simply do not get access to them. SWTOR allows full exploration of the level content all the way up to level 50 and so the core of the game is still playable and it is more the Space, Raiding and PvP features that players must forgo. However, players are able to tailor their free to play accounts by purchasing particular features whilst remaining a subscription free account, so if a player wants full access to the PvP Battlegrounds but not so much having access to the PvE raid Operations, then they have that option.
Both games have a subscription option that is identical in price but differs in what you get for your money; side by side SWTOR has the better subscription plans, with both offering the same incremental price increase for their three packages ($14.99, 13.99, 12.99) but the amount of days you get for your money vastly differs with STO being 1 month, 2months, 3 months, in comparison to SWTOR’s hugely improved 1 month, 3 months, 6 months. Both have options where F2P accounts can get a slight upgrade by simply making a single purchase in their respective cash shops, loosening some of the limitations, and STO offers a lifetime package for $299.99 for a full accessed subscription free account that comes with its own sets of perks and bonuses.
So which is better? Well content wise they both offer completely different experiences that will appeal to different types of players, so loving the franchise alone probably isn’t going to be enough to keep someone playing either of the games if they don’t love the core features. For your money Star Trek Online puts in place less restrictions for the F2P account, but their subscriptions are a little more expensive (considering you don’t get that much more as the F2P account offers quite a lot). In comparison Star Wars: The Old Republic has a lot more limitations, but it’s core questing /exploration /story-arc gameplay is fully available so players aren’t exactly lacking, combined with the cheaper and more rewarding subscription options it’s easy to see how EA have cleverly pulled in all the subscribers they originally lost by offering players a lot with the free content, a few tasters of key features that are limited and a providing low financial pay gate to access more content. Ultimately this is going to come down to personal taste on the type of MMORPG you prefer, but both have a wealth of pros and cons to them.