Now that the NDA for SWTOR is down, I just wanted to give a few impressions of my first beta weekend with Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Those that know me know that I’ve been looking forward to this game for a long time. Because of this it was with a little trepidation that I started up the beta on Friday (November 11th.). Although I have read much about the game and watched many videos, I never know how I’ll feel about a game until I actually play it. The last MMO I really was excited about, Final Fantasy XIV, turned out to be a very big disappointment.
During my time with the game I played both an Imperial Bounty Hunter and a Republic Smuggler. I played both as a combination of Light Side and Dark Side characters, though I tended to be more light side than dark. I didn’t do any group content with the charters either. I just turned the chat box off and played the game. I spent more time with the Smuggler than the Bounty Hunter. I made it to level 11 with the Smuggler and about level 6 with the Bounty Hunter.
The mechanics in SWTOR won’t blow the industry away with innovation. They are like practically every other MMO that has come out since Everquest: Hot-bar activated skills mixed with 3rd person exploration and combat. Although the game-play mechanics aren’t new, there are some nice little touches I like. For instance: When a skill is activated, it isn’t canceled with movement. From watching all the SWTOR game-play videos over the last year, I feared this would be the case.. Also, at least with the smuggler class, the hot-bar is context sensitive. Since the smuggler has a cover mechanic, when I would duck behind something my hot-bar would switch to only ranged skills. All other skills on the bar, like melee and social skills, disappeared. The Rest/fast travel skills were still there on the far right but grayed out. This bar can be manipulated just like the regular skills bar,so items like healing and stat altering stims can be placed on it. Although the mechanics are obviously inspired by games such as World of Warcraft, I don’t think the devs just cloned that game. It shows that Bioware just didn’t go the route of a game like Allods online and copy everything.
I also like how the map is handled in this game as well. When a player presses the map key, a full map comes up to cover most of the screen. The map shows the area the player has explored and has the rest of the world shrouded in darkness. All the current quest locations show up, however, even if it is in an unexplored area. If the player is in a city, a local zoomed in version of the map comes up. If the player is between cities, the map shows the world. Pretty typical of an MMO game. However if the player starts to move while the map is up, the map turns opaque so the player can see where he is going. A small touch, but one I liked.
Items can be also upgraded and worked on. I haven’t really explored this yet but I have received several items that can have parts and crystals that can be replaced.
The quests in SWTOR are separated in to world quests and personal quests. The world quests are in on the map with every other player. Here a player will find quests like “Kill the Separatists that are waging war against us!” So the player out and kill six separatist soldiers. Although these can be just like the typical ‘kill x and get y” quests of other MMOs, I like the fact they tie in to the over arching story of the class the player is controlling. I never felt pushed to finish a quest and killing the amount of people tended to coincide with other quests I was doing at the time. Yet since there were so many people on the server, sometimes I had to wait for enemies to respawn to take them out.
Solo quests are handled a bit differently. These quests are the ‘story’ for each class, unfolding the much ballyhooed narrative. There are green and red force fields in doorways as the player explores the world. The red ones block a person from going in to the area while the green ones allow the player to enter. These are areas that are set aside for solo quests – they are basically what I call “Pocket” instances. When entering these green doors, the player doesn’t leave the game but are in a small instance separate from the world. The player can see what is going on outside the door if he stands looking out, watching the other players going to and fro outside. Because of this, as I traveled through some of the small missions like this, I could hear battles and such raging through the walls. I thought this was a very cool touch. The way these quests are set up do give the game a very single player feel. I felt as if I were playing KOTOR with different game mechanics. I predict people will either love this or hate it, I actually really like it.
The companion a player receives is also a big part of the the storyline. I found out quickly that these companions often take the opposite role of what class the player is. I played as a squishy ranged Smuggler for the most part. My first companion was a tank and did a good job of taking the heat for me from the enemies. I also found out that I needed to change the characters abilities fast. My first companion kept bringing the enemies in close, which isn’t a good thing for a ranged person. At least Bioware has given us the ability to do this. There are also character packs that let a player change what the companion looks like. My first companion went from a white douche looking guy to a black dude with corn rows. Go figure.
I have to mention that this feels like a Bioware game through and through. Because of this, I’ve wanted to pause the game to plan out strategies, save the game, and looking for a button to press that will highlight everything in given room. None of that applies in this game but it felt like it should.
A glitch in the System
However this being a beta test and it being a new launch game, there were a lot of glitches in the game. . For instance I was dropped from the game after about an hour and a half the first day I played. . I couldn’t get back on for about two hours after that. When I was able to log back in, most of the servers had queue times attached to them. This is why I ended up changing from a bounty hunter to a smuggler, I went to a lower population server.
Also the frame rate suffered pretty badly for the first couple of hours. I helped stop this by turning off shadows in the settings menu. After that the frame rate was okay, but I still saw people riding invisible speeder bikes and doing the lag chacha on several occasions. Also I picked up equipment that either didn’t have art associated with it or was just glitching – the icons were just blank. The equipment did appear in game on my avatar, at least. I also experienced wonky camera angles in quests and sometimes people I would be talking to wouldn’t move their mouths. This all reminds me of WoW in the beginning, with invisible enemies, queue times and such. It didn’t bother me much and did little to take me out of the game.
Come to the Dark Side of the Force
This isn’t a game where a person can redo a quest that has light side/dark side points involved after turning said quest in. Yet the ‘light side/dark side’ options in the quests are not always clear cut. I made a couple of decisions with my character that I thought would lead to light side and ended up getting dark side points. I found out later that a player can look at the quest options with a mouse to see the what is the Light Side and Dark Side options. Also some quests don’t have a Dark side option but have a light side option or vice versa. I experimented with receiving dark side points on my Republic character and light side points on my Imperial one. I really think it is cool that the morality system isn’t based on the faction a player is in. I know this was talked about by Bioware on several occasions, but it was nice to see it in action.
My initial impression of the game is extremely positive. I have no worries about it now. Although the game mechanics aren’t revolutionary, they do refine much of what is common to most MMOs. I think the story portions of the game will keep people playing until the end, going back through different classes to see what has changed and what hasn’t. As I said earlier the last MMO I was really excited for was Final Fantasy XIV. After playing that beta for that game, I went out and canceled my preorder for the product. With SWTOR I am even more excited about the game now and not at all disappointed. I haven’t spent any time with multiplayer but I have to say I am looking forward to it. I don’t generally like multiplayer in a game but I really want to check it out. I meant to try MP last beta weekend, unfortunately I was just to tired by the time I got to the first flashpoint. I will give it a go in the next one.
This article was first published over at MyDeadHeroes.net