The biggest strength of both titles has always been the story telling aspect for me. Playing other MMOs since TSW launched has always left me feeling disappointed in the writing and how game story expands in other titles. I think that the way SWL had its missions restructured slightly to provide more directed flow to how players progress through zones is an improvement over TSW. Having played TSW before the New Player Experience started, it was interesting to see how there were steps taken to guide the player around, where in TSW there was much more “here’s the zone, happy blundering!” On the one hand, it meant that people seemed to get a much better grasp of the zones, but it arguably did dumb it down a bit - on the whole, I found it to be a more approachable system that was a positive change.
I think that for the most part, combat in SWL is better than it was in TSW. In TSW I saw countless new players stop playing because the complexity of the wheel meant they ended up with builds that gimped themselves. When I first started playing TSW, I decided I was going to play a chain build. I got a long way into the game before I tried out a different type of build and suddenly discovered that I was doing about 30% more damage. A lot depended on how soon new players got into a social group who could help them correct the mistakes they were making in their builds - that’s not something which really happens in SWL, which is a positive change. The only real place for build diversity was PVP, and that could be really frustrating if you ran into something like a glance tank, and you hadn’t yet bought abilities to counter that build. I never really liked PVP very much in TSW - I’ve played it loads in other titles, but TSW’s just never really did it for me. Fusang was occasionally fun, but for the most part it was just zerg or be zerged. I’d have like to see SH and ED in SWL, though I suspect that the purges in AR would have meant that would have dominated pretty badly.
The gearing system in SWL is another double edged sword. In TSW, I could get a new item to max in under a week - as a veteran player there was very little reward left in the game for me. The power creep meant that I outgeared almost everything, and once I’d managed to grind my AEGIS up then there was almost nothing to challenge me.
TSW had more content yes, but it was pretty irrelevant because I could just blitz everything. It was like going into an e2 dungeon in e10 gear now - my character was just OP, and it wasn’t just me being great, our gear made everything trivial. The only thing I did that presented any kind of challenge was the single kaidan dungeon that I was grinding at that time for AEGIS kits. I was still running other stuff to help gear other people, but the challenge and reward were gone from most of the game, and the frustration of grinding a single dungeon for a chance to roll for a dropped module was pretty high. At least now I know I can run any e10 dungeon and it’ll be more of a challenge than anything in TSW was after a couple of years.
I think that the changes to the gear system have been a mixed bag. On the one hand, I’ve been playing for years and still haven’t maxed my gear out, but on the other, you’re a lot more restricted in terms of flexibility. I’ve got all the weapons at mythic or legendary, so have gone with agnostic signets to give me more options, but it’s still noticeable when I swap away from my highest levelled weapons (which isn’t really a HUGE shock). It’s nice to still be getting some kind of progression rewards, but the rate is so slow that it ceased to be much of an incentive some time ago.
I think the biggest change I’ve seen between the two games has been in the community. Overall, it’s still one of the best out there, but I think the relaunch was a bit of FC shooting itself in the foot, and then the community shot the other foot in protest.
The launch of SWL was accompanied by much wailing and gnashing of teeth by some in the TSW community. It was understandable that they were (are) upset that FC would change so many systems and force us to start over, but looking back, I don’t really see much in the way of alternative options. They changed so much about the way gear works, there wasn’t going to be a good way to swap over without creating a massively disproportionate imbalance between vets and new players, and removing the process of learning the way weapons work now. The new weapon gimmicks are a mixed bag, but you do need to spend a bit of time working out how to play each weapon right. That’s not something that was really true in TSW, where 90% of the builds played exactly the same, just with a bit of variety in range.
The TSW community’s acrimony meant that SWL had a lot more negativity, and some people who were great in TSW became loudly toxic in SWL. The nostalgia factor meant that many of TSW’s failings were ignored and it became a common thing to hear people talking about how much better it was before the relaunch. I don’t think that new players were too badly effected by that, though it certainly wore down a lot of people who didn’t think SWL’s changes were that bad. I do wonder how SWL’s launch would have been if TSW hadn’t preceeded it. I susect there would be fewer complaints about the gear grind (there would still be complaints, because the system is flawed) but I think that there needed to be more changes to the mission design to avoid making the obvious (and understandbale) comparisons.