So awhile back, shortly after they announced they were forming guilds for Star Wars The Old Republic, I mentioned why I had changed my mind from getting the game outright to not even pre-ordering for lack of any kind of real news, gameplay, etc. That all changed a few weekends ago with a little invite to the beta followed by eighteen hours sunk into the game between six characters. I’m off the fence now, and am pre-ordering. So I figured I’d put together a few thoughts I had while I was playing since I really only bit off a small piece of the pie instead of getting a whole slice. Bear in mind I mostly played a Smuggler on the Republic side up to level 14 and a Sith Warrior for, well the Sith Empire, up to level 6 or so. I figured everyone would be playing a Jedi on the Republic side, and I was mostly right.
1. Bioware has always been good at telling stories. Through dialogue and cut-scenes their games come alive. This really happens in Star Wars The Old Republic. I’m kind of an MMO hog, meaning if it’s free to play I’ve probably tried it, and if it’s not I’ve done the free trial when available. I’m used to a cut-scene here or there and maybe a line or two of sputtered and uninspired dialogue with a giant wall of text to read so you know what the hell is going on. If you end up in a conversation with almost anyone quest related in TOR you get a cut-scene. Full blown, Bioware style ala Mass Effect and Dragon Age cut-scene complete with dialogue wheel choices. The interesting thing is they have your Dark and Light side choices marked, but you can also turn that off if you want to play a certain type and not just always go for the one response or if you just want to be surprised as to what points you’ll earn. The Smuggler’s story was interesting and kept me going. The Sith was a bit more complicated and choices I thought any Sith would make were not necessarily so which will make running a Sith force character for a particular light or dark outcome a bit harder. I didn’t get into the others much other than to check out the Jedi starting area a little bit and created a Soldier just to have one if I wanted to try it.
2. At first the classes seem limited. You’re only given four on each side and one is mostly the counterpart to another, or at least seems like it. But then you pick up and advanced class later that really defines more of what you are and what you can do. The Smuggler I had the choice of going Gunslinger or Scoundrel. The Scoundrel to me sounded more like the Dungeons and Dragons Rogue, with stealth options and so on. I went Gunslinger because I love two-weapon fighting styles and while I like using the cover with the Smuggler, I’m not one for sneaking around. And it was my Gunslinger that saved the day in the Flashpoint I was playing in and took down the Sith guy who had wiped the floor with the three Jedi who were on my team. Not bragging, just stating a fact.
3. Flashpoints and Heroic quests are another thing I wanted to talk about. For being an MMO, there is an awful lot of this game you can run solo, especially when you get your companion characters that run around with you as a counter to some of your weaknesses. Heroic quests are smaller private areas within the open map with over-powered enemies that you’ll want to take some friends in with you to finish or depending on your play style and resources, they’ll finish you. Flashpoints are like the more traditional instanced raid or group questing I’m used to in LOTRO, DDO and Guild Wars. You can do these on your own, but I tried out my first one in a group and ended up with a DPS Jedi, a tank Jedi, a healer Jedi and my Gunslinger. Your ship gets attacked en-route to Coruscant in the first Flashpoint I came to and you help the Republic forces repel the Sith boarders but then have to go over to the Sith ship to disengage the tractor beam so you can get out of there. This one actually took me a while to play through. I’m guessing an hour and a half to two hours and we only wiped twice, mainly due to getting a feel for the game and what we could do. So Flashpoints can be long, but are not only rewarding in a sort of group story-telling, but also it was a lot of fun to play.
4. Speaking of wiping. While there aren’t currently severe penalties for death other than broken gear, like DDO, they’ve handled it interestingly. Now bear in mind, this is beta and this could all change before next month. In the Flashpoint, it was almost like there was a save point. Like we’d cleared out this one area controlling the tractor beam and had to fight this giant power droid that took us a bit to figure out tactics on. This meant a few party wipes in the process. You can revive back on the station and get right back into it, obviously with damaged gear, but you’re not stuck at the beginning and you don’t have to do the whole thing over. DDO penalizes you for leaving and re-entering a quest this way. Other MMOs I have played do not. Also, if there are surviving members of your party they can revive unconscious members. If you’re out on your own, you’re kind of screwed. You do have the option to revive at a healing station which usually puts you at the start of an area, or you can use a medical droid that will fly out and revive you where you dropped. These guys work on a timer though, so if you wiped recently you might have to wait 2 minutes for that to happen which can be frustrating if you’re reviving in the middle of strong enemies.
5. Character Customization on the build I was playing on was pretty decent. I’ve seen some MMOs with less than half the options I had to make my characters with and I’ve seen others where I could pretty much do anything. This kind of falls in between. Although I have to admit I didn’t see any player characters at all that could be twins of each other. That was a regular occurrence in Guild Wars and Dungeons and Dragons Online. One thing I really wish every MMO had and this one doesn’t, is some form of dye system so you could make your gear or outfit whatever colors you’d like. The plus side to that is that even just using gear I’d found or earned through quests, my characters never looked like Disco rejects and all of the items looked like something someone would wear. It’s like they have some kind of color palette for gear for a character class and so items always manage to mix and match. My smuggler was almost always in some shade of brown, black, grey or white. So it all went together even wearing totally different types of gear.
6. While there were quite a few quests where I was out to just waste everyone I came across, there were a number of fetch quests which is normal for an MMO or even an RPG. But there were a number of quests where all I had to do was go talk to someone and either try to convince them to help, find out the truth about something, or trick them into doing something and I didn’t even have to pull a blaster or beat them to death. I don’t see those very often at all in an MMO, and while it might sound a bit dry, it’s character and world immersion and interaction. It got me into the game a lot more than just running around and killing everything. It put more of a face on things. Hell some of my favorite moments in the Mass Effect series are in the dialogue scenes where you’re just kicking back talking to your squad mate or someone who’s terrified and you’re trying to help. This made the experience a little more richer to me and it helps set a tone.
7. Scale. This game has it. Whether I was on Korriban, Coruscant or Ord Mantell, I was always in awe at how big the game world was. Not only that but buildings and areas were on a scale that made the game feel that much more epic. When I first got off the transport from Ord Mantell to Coruscant, I thought “Ëœgreat another hangar,’ then got through customs and out onto some platforms and there, looming over me was the main Senate Chamber and offices. You know that giant dome from the prequels? Yeah, that. It was huge and dominating and I felt so incredibly small standing underneath it and while it looked similar to the films it definitely felt a little different which accounts for the game taking place 3000 years before the films.
8. For being a Beta build, the game was not only surprisingly stable, but had much fewer bugs than I’ve seen in other live MMOs. Granted that may change as more gets added in or at later levels, but the starting areas had only minor glitches and everything felt like a release-ready title. There were some icons missing here and there but never any missing textures, and combat flowed well. During the cut-scenes though, it seems when aliens aren’t speaking English there are some long pauses, I’m guessing mainly for people to read the subtitles, but they should probably make the aliens talk longer so we’re not standing there all awkward like waiting for something to happen.
9. User Interface. I’m a bit sensitive to the user interface in an MMO. I’m used to customizing it, moving it around, dropping things I don’t use, or in Skyrim’s case, fighting with it to the bitter end. While the user interface is very functional and doesn’t hamper gameplay, it’s pretty fixed. You can’t make changes really other than to change the map and how many skill bars show at the bottom. I’m used to a certain amount of give with the interface on the MMOs I play and while most of my characters have relatively the same set up in each game I’ve played, I do make minor changes to help me play that character easier. Like my Clerics in DDO have a very different set-up than my Fighters, and my Hunter in LOTRO has a completely different UI set up than my Minstrel. Here it’s all pretty uniform, which isn’t a bad thing, but I would like to be able to customize it in the future.
10. LFG Spam. Most MMOs I’ve played in have some kind of grouping system. In DDO you had the social panel and the LFG tab where you could post what quest you’re doing and what you were looking for as well as the difficulty and people could request to join. TOR doesn’t really have that. So what you end up with is random groupings around elite mobs so people don’t have to wait for him to re-pop and can take them down faster, and a bunch of people spamming the chat channels with LFG or LFM requests. Not only is this not nearly as effective, it clutters up a channel that you might be looking to ask questions or converse in. Even if the social panel option is off the table I’d love to see just an LFG or LFM chat channel. Or the ability to flag what quest you’re looking to do on the who list beyond just saying that you’re looking for a group. This isn’t game breaking by any stretch of the imagination, but looking for a group or forming one is time-consuming this way and that’s time that could be spent doing things in game instead of waiting around for your team to form.