Before this month, I had never played an MMO. The world of online gaming just doesn’t appeal to me as much as a story-driven, single-player video game — and playing with lots of strangers always intimidated me a bit. It took my love of BioWare games to change my mind a couple of weeks ago, and now I’m officially obsessed with BioWare’s MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Venturing into online territory without a friend at my side was outside my comfort zone at first. To begin, I chose a PvE server and went with Imperial Agent as my character class, which focuses primarily on ranged combat and has an awesome Snipe ability available from the beginning. I dove in, slightly nervous, and intended to play solo for as long as possible.
SWTOR is very beginner-friendly. A small question mark button lights up and pulses at the bottom of the screen when you encounter a new concept. Clicking on it opens a tutorial box that explains what you’re encountering — such as vendors, inventory, or what to do when you die in combat — in brief, clear terms that let you quickly jump back into the action. But the game is laid out in a way that’s easy to navigate and understand, so I barely needed to skim these little encyclopedia entries much of the time.
SWTOR is also surprisingly generous to solo players. With the exception of Heroic Quests, most missions on the starter planets are easy to complete solo, and you get to bring along an NPC companion starting around Level 7 (depending on your character class).
There are also private areas where cutscenes abound. During missions, you occasionally encounter a green doorway, which is your green light to enter. Once you’re in the area, it’s just you and the NPCs in your story (and your friends, if they’re not the same character class as you, I believe). In other words, it’s time to forget the rest of the MMO world for a spell and immerse yourself in your story.
These were some of my favorite sections of the game at first, as I got to take a breather from the crowd of avatars outside and sink into the story content, with dialogue choices that sometimes gave me alignment points for the Dark or Light Side. (Apparently, your alignment gives you access to certain types of gear, but I haven’t gotten that far yet.)
Sure, MMOs are about playing with other people — friends or strangers, or strangers who become friends — but many people enjoy playing them alone. Being new to MMOs, I definitely fall into this category, as I need space to explore on my own before I feel comfortable enough to join others (and figure out how to use the chat box). On my first days, looking around, I soon realized that the pairs of avatars I often saw running together actually consisted of a single player and his NPC companion or pet.
So if you’re looking to play alone for a while, here are a few tips I’ve learned from my first 20-odd hours soloing through SWTOR. For an experienced player, these are pretty basic points, but they’ve definitely had a big impact on my experience as a solo player new to this game and MMOs in general.
1. I Do Every Side Quest I See
When I see a white icon on my map or a gold icon over an NPC’s head, this indicates a quest opportunity — and I jump on it. As a solo player, I need all the XP I can get from pretty much every solo-friendly quest available. Many quests also highlight additional parameters that net me extra XP, such as killing a certain number of enemies in the area on my way to the site. I’ve found it’s always worth meeting these additional objectives to enjoy the bonuses.
2. I Log Out in Rest Zones
This gives me an XP boost that I need as a solo player. When it’s time to log out, I just head to the cantina (or, later, my ship). Later, my XP bar, which is normally yellow, appears green, meaning I’m reaping double XP points.
3. I Don’t Tackle Missions Until I’m Leveled For Them
Playing alone means I tend to race through the character quest line. That’s not necessarily a bad thing… until I get a mission intended for a much higher level. Even one level higher makes a big difference in terms of what I can handle, combat-wise. I’ve learned to check the Missions screen in the upper right-hand corner to see what level the quest is intended for before venturing out.
As an example, I got to a Level 7 mission when I was a Level 5 and proceeded to die under droid fire more than once. I revived on the spot a couple of times, but each time I did, I had to wait longer to rez there. When it got to the 2-minute mark (my third death, I believe), I gave up and revived back at a Medcenter in a safe camp. I took on a few side quests and leveled up to 7 in about an hour. When I returned to the Level 7 mission, I handily beat the droids who had watched me die and revive so many times before.
As for level grinding, it’s highly possible in an MMO environment where enemies respawn all the time, but it’s not nearly as useful as taking on a quest. Killing a cluster of about three gang members at a time on the starter planet netted me 23 XP, but completing a side quest that took just 15 minutes earned me several hundred XP (and sometimes closer to 1,500).
4. I Visit My Trainer When I Level Up
Okay, so I don’t do this every time I level up… but it’s sometimes worth it to purchase new abilities that help me get through difficult missions.
As an example, there’s a Level 10 mission for Troopers that is incredibly tricky to get through without Mortar Volley, an ability you get from the Trooper trainer when you reach level 10. This helps you knock down up to five targets at once, which is helpful for the Trooper quest that involves several enemies, including a boss who’s really tough to down. Going in as a level 9 character — or even a level 10 without the ability — means you don’t have that crowd control and are in for a ride riddled with revives. For me, that was definitely a lesson learned.
5. I Skip the Heroic Quests
These could just as easily be called Team Quests for their difficulty. I knew this going in to SWTOR, but I accidentally took on a Heroic Quest as a Level 4 without realizing what it was. As I neared my objective on the map, droids shot me down in seconds — my first online death. I checked my Missions back in the safety of camp after being revived and saw that it was a Heroic+2 mission, so I unchecked it to stop tracking it and skipped to another quest.
The only time I can solo Heroic Quests is after I’ve leveled up several times so I’m overpowered for them… and I have my NPC companion with me to help.
6. And I Skip the Flashpoints, Too
They’re not available on the starter planets, but in the first few minutes on my second planet as a level 10 Agent, I found myself accidentally queuing for a Flashpoint. I promptly left when I realized what I was doing. These are the raids of SWTOR, apparently: awesome quests with enviable loot, but specifically not for solo players.
Apparently, leveling so you’re overpowered can help you solo through, and you can bring an NPC companion if you’re playing alone. But really, these missions are intended for groups. (And if you have a full group, your NPC is not invited.)
7. Before I Leave a Planet, I Check for Bonus Series
Occasionally when I’ve completed the main quest line on a planet, I find a new white icon on my map or some NPC at the spaceport with a gold icon above her head. I believe this only happens if I’ve reached a certain level, and it’s entirely possible to miss these quests in my haste to get off the planet. But they’re not just single missions; they’re often the start of a bonus series that can add hours of gameplay and provide new gear and more credits.While they’re certainly not necessary — even for solo players — I’ve found it’s nice to earn some extra rewards, especially since I’m missing out on loot from group quests.
Playing with others is better than playing alone, in a lot of ways. Without doing Flashpoints, I’m not going to get great gear — a problem for a lot of players who enjoy soloing through MMOs. And soloing sort of makes the game a race to Level 50… which is fun in its own way, but perhaps more of a single-player video game experience than a true MMO good time.
Of course, getting used to the MMO world has made me much more comfortable with other players (or at least their avatars)… and watching a live conversation scroll in the chat window comparing Mal from Firefly to Han Solo definitely made me feel at home. For now, I’m still playing solo, but I have a feeling my days of declining group requests will end soon. After all, those LFG requests for the Heroics that pop up all the time are way too tempting to resist forever.