Like I said earlier, there are two core differences to the presentation of Star Wars The Old Republic (SWTOR) from other vanilla MMOs. Fighting static NPCs is one of those differences. (The other is replacing quest text with interactable cut scenes, but I will save that for a later post.) Fighting feels less formulaic than many other vanilla MMOs, and it definitely feels higher in action even if it is still the equivalent of two spreadsheets in mortal combat. The reason is that instead of single mobs, SWTOR has encounters.
Encounters are a group of enemy NPCs (i.e., “mobs”) that are all alerted to the player’s presence if one of them is attached or alerted to the player’s ill intentions, like walking by. They all aggro, but even with a 4-on-1 fight, the heroic player wins the day.
The early Trooper skills were great for taking on these groups of mobs. I could throw a sticky grenade on one weaker mob, which would put that mob into a “get it off me”-type panic and then launch an on-hit explosive to knock another off his feet. I could start whittling down any tougher mobs in the bunch while the sticky grenade finally exploded sending nearby weak mobs again the ground. I had to admit it was tricky, but fun.
The added puzzle element of dealing with the groups of enemies made me think early on how to handle my skill rotations. It was almost like dealing with two skill rotations simultaneously where one skill rotation was simply which enemy to target in sequence with my actual skill rotation. I am making it sound horribly complex, but it was quite intuitive at the lower levels.
I admit that I am not sure how far BioWare took this mob action mechanic since I did not get beyond the Trooper’s starting zone. I would be interested to hear if this dynamic changes as player’s progress. What happens when a player gets a full skillbar with 20+ skills to chose from. One “pitfall” of many vanilla MMOs is that the fight length seems to increase proportionally to character/creature level. Does that pitfall rear its head later on in SWTOR, especially since without critical balancing fights versus multiple mobs could overwhelm players quite easily.
The downside is that once a first player damages each enemy in the group, he or she basically “owns” that encounter. There is little point in having a friendly, ungrouped player help since the mobs are tagged only for the first player. I had to say it’s a tad immersion breaking to run into an enemy base, see an intense firefight, and not even care. The mobs will ignore you, the system will ignore any “contribution” to the fight, and the players likely will too. For the most part players essentially phase out of the persistent world as they engage the firefight.