Brace yourselves… this is a long one!
A few things first about this before you start reading this Impressions. Over the weekend beta I managed to clock maybe 5 or so hours of play time, I got to level 10, got a companion, a lightsaber and left the starting area. But in a game of the size and scale of The Old Republic this is barely scratching the surface of the content in the game. I mean, add in all the other classes, all the other worlds, the rest of the story and levels, I didn’t even spend more than 5 minutes on the Dark Side so all my experiences comes from the Light Side… Basically this means I only saw a fraction of what the game holds and Tim saw even less. Plus what I did see WAS still in beta so it was buggy and glitchy and not completely finished. As such this will not be a full review and only my impressions formed over my play time.
Another thing I want to point out is that, for some reason, in the game chat a lot of people didn’t want anyone comparing SWTOR to World of Warcraft. This is a silly idea. WoW is the benchmark that has been set for MMOs these days so comparison is inevitable. Also let me say straight away that SWTOR does stand up to the standard set by WoW even taking away the fact that my love of Star Wars is matched by very few other franchises…
Let’s go through the problems SWTOR faces before we get to the stage where I be nice about it!
A problem straight off the bat, predicted by Tim right after the announcement of the game, is that in a Universe where you can roll a Jedi/Sith or a non-force wielding class like the Trooper or Bounty-Hunter NOBODY wants to be the non-force sensitive classes. Lets face it, everybody secretly wants a lightsaber and the ability to use the force (some more openly than others) and so given a choice like this, EVERYBODY will go for the force-classes… And everybody does. The Jedi starting area (planet Tython) was literally chock-a-block with Consulars and Knights while the Smuggler/Trooper starting areas (planet Ord Mantell) had about… three players… in the whole place…
While the Jedi classes do cover all the bases of Tank/Healer/DPS (and yes SWTOR is sticking to the “Holy Trinity”) this whole thing effectively removes four of the eight available classes from play and that will never be a good thing because in an MMO you want to see a goodly number of all the various classes running about.
Another issue with the game is that despite trailers and hype of Jedi sword-fighting and force-using looking like you’re a real Jedi, leaping about and blocking lazers… as far as I could see it was really fairly standard MMO material. I.e. you had an ability bar, you press a button and the character does it before moving on to the next ability animations. There was definitely some polish to the fighting and it did look pretty cool at times, but it’s a shame that it just doesn’t achieve the level of flow that I was expecting after so much hype.
Also, grouping up with friends (or just with randoms) was an absolute pain in the arse. Each realm actually had different “instances” of the main zone instead of instances of dungeons (for example). and if you were on a different one from your group mate, swapping was ridiculously difficult… Although this was most likely down to bugs and glitches in the beta… Still a problem though!
It does take an awful lot from other MMOs to be honest… one in particular… But WoW got a lot right and so taking a lot of WoWs ideas and applying it to a Star Wars MMO does work. It’s not all that original but it does work and is good. So really you can’t complain.
In fact it’s difficult to find much to complain about at all in SWTOR. I mean, I actually really enjoyed my experiences in game. To start with: the graphics are really rather good and the animations for the various moves and abilities I did try out were all pretty damn nifty. In fact a lot of stuff in the game looked really pretty cool, even with my graphics dialed waaay down low. Although I might have been seeing it through rose-tinted goggles as I was exploring my beloved Star Wars…
My character I played with was a Zabrak Jedi Consular named Sabor. By the way Star wars fans Zabraks are an alien race which include Darth Maul amongst their ranks (I didn’t have red skin, as that seems to be a Sith trait). Consulars are Jedi who focus more on force abilities than ability with the lightsaber. They seem to be the equivalent of a mage class, squishy but can deal a lot of damage. Bizarrely, healing and tanking are also possibilities if you choose the correct skill tree (as is the same for all classes I think…). I have to say though, that my time as a Consular was very enjoyable, throwing rocks about the place with the force WHILE using a lightsaber to chop people up… Well… That’s pretty awesome! The gameplay was, as I have said, basically the same as most MMOs I would care to name. But most MMOs use the same system because it is a system that WORKS! The standard MMO system of items and stats was there as well, but there seemed to be less items around than in WoW (not a bad thing actually, the slightly less variation simply struck me as more realistic). Plus the system of making the Jedi use the same hilt for the whole game but increase it’s stats by changing the components is a really cool idea and makes perfect sense in this environment.
An interesting thing about SWTOR is that there is a surprising amount of focus on the R in MMORPG. Not only is there a great deal of focus (at least for the levels I played) on story progression, but there are actually “moral” choices in the game. The moral system is a little confusing though, Jedi are meant to be inherently good so it seems odd that they could be particularly “evil”. This raised the idea in me that maybe it would be possible to switch sides depending on your moral choices.
Quests all involve talking to an NPC and there will actually be a brief cut-scene as you talk to them and are occasionally presented with a wheel of conversation options. It may not seem like much but the amount of immersion this provided was absolutely amazing.
And that’s one of the key things about SWTOR. More so than WoW (even after Cataclysm has revamped all the quests and storyline for players) and a great number of other games I can mention, SWTOR immerses you completely in it’s world. Never have I felt more like I was a Jedi. I was the padawan who was unusually powerful. I was the ONE with a rgeat destiny ahead of me! I mean it was detracted a little by the fact that I was watching hundreds of other people being told that they were “unusually powerful” and had “a great destiny”, but that doesn’t change the fact that I felt like I WAS my character and that I was going to save the galaxy!
The story itself was pretty good as well (as far as I could get anyway), the voice acting pretty darn good too! The quests were all varied and only ONE of them went by the formula of “Kill X of Y and hope they drop some Z, because you need 20 of Z”.
The companion that I managed to get, a Trandoshan named Qyzen Fess was pretty cool as well, and from what little I experienced, having a companion in the game was a definite bonus. Like having a companion in Mass Effect.
Hang on… Now that I think about it… An awful lot of the game is like Mass Effect… Companions you can romance, conversation wheel, moral choices, saving the Galaxy from evil, magnificent Space setting full of back story and awesome… Hell it even had the beginnings of what looked like a good story… So Bioware you’ve simply turned SWTOR into an MMO Mass Effect? Veeeeery crafty! I can only approve!
Overall, I really liked SWTOR. I think there was an awful lot of potential there for a truly great game. Possibly better even than WoW, if you are more of a story orientated player. It is just a great shame that the game will have a subscription cost and will involve (like many MMOs) a massive time-dump to experience it to any great degree. And I’m sorry, but as a Uni student, these two categories when combined simply mean that I can’t feasibly get it… Which I will regret… for a long time…
Me and Tim show you guys a quick look at SWTOR:
I also make another video after I hit level 10: