Tuesday, 6 December 2011

SWTOR Beta Preview

By this time it feels like pretty much everyone who wanted to has played The Old Republic. Even so, having playing played in beta, and trying to play as little as possible so as to avoid spoiling the story (and not being very successful at it), I thought it might be nice to share my thoughts on the game.

In the end I made a deal with myself: I allowed myself to play the origin planets (except Hutta) and not any of the other planets (except Dromund Kaas). I didn't want to play Hutta because Imperial Agent will be (one of) my (two) main characters (the other one being Jedi Consular) and I didn't want to spoil the story (any more than I already did at the London Fan Day months ago). And since all the other planets are shared I didn't want to play those either... though I allowed myself Dromund Kaas so that I could see how things were after the starter planets and get to my ship (and thus experience some space combat). Since by the time I decided on this self-imposed rule I'd already played a Consular to level 10 playing Tython again wouldn't be an issue.

As such I played every Republic class up to level 10 (and the Consular three times), both Sith classes to level 16 and a Bounty Hunter to level 20. The Bounty Hunter was a special case where I avoided all side quests (though I did do all side quests on Dromund Kaas again just to bridge the level gap some) and managed to finish the class story on two planets after Dromund Kaas. I tried to do similar with the Sith Inquisitor after Dromund Kaas, but half-way through Balmorra ran into a level 20 elite (while I was still level 16) that I couldn't defeat.

Read on after the break for my experiences in the game.

Let me ask you this first: did you like BioWare's single-player games, particularly Knights of the Old Republic? Because Star Wars: The Old Republic is pretty much Knights of the Old Republic, but much bigger and online. It definitely is a Massive Multiplayer game, but it feels like a big single-player game that has other players run around in it (and who you can play with if you so choose). This, I think, is a good thing (for this game at least). If you enjoyed BioWare's single-player games then you'll likely enjoy this one as well.

If you're more of an MMO gamer then whether you'll like it or not depends on a number of things, particularly what kind of gamer you are and what you're looking for in an MMO. But I've been saying that for a while; The Old Republic will not be for everyone. And that's fine as no game is. Hopefully reading the following sections can help you decide whether the game is for you or not.

A quick note before I begin; apologies for the screenshots. I wanted to include screenshots I actually took (instead of posting screenshots already posted elsewhere), but completely forgot to make specific screenshots. So I had to scrounge something together from the scant few screenshots I'd already taken and rip a few more from movies I'd recorded while experimenting with Fraps (which I'd never used before). As such the shots aren't entirely fitting and not of the best quality. Oh, and the title image above is one of the official SWTOR wallpapers as I couldn't find anything fitting. In the end it's about the text though and not the not-entirely-pretty pictures.

Character Creation

As with any MMO the first thing that you'll do is create a character. And when doing so you might notice that the options are fairly limited, particularly when compared to other current (and upcoming) MMOs which all offer a wide array of sliders and options. Even so you definitely have a bit more selection than a number of other, particularly older, MMOs. That is code for saying: it has more options than World of Warcraft.

You first choose your faction, Republic or Empire. This is probably the most significant choice you'll make in the entire game as the faction you choose greatly changes the content available; supposedly there is absolutely no shared content between them, and indeed so far I haven't seen any. Each faction has four separate classes which are functional mirrors of classes in the other faction. For the Republic there are Jedi Knight, Jedi Consular, Republic Trooper and Smuggler. And for Empire there are Sith Warrior, Sith Inquisitor, Bounty Hunter and Imperial Agent. Anyone who's followed TOR should already know this.

Each class has its own set of species to choose from, with a fair bit of overlap between them (everyone can be human, for example, but only Sith Inquisitors and Sith Warriors can be Sith Pureblood). Then you choose gender before you get into the nitty-gritty of appearance customization, selecting from a number of heads, hairstyles, skin colors, etc.

There are no 'sliders' at all, no part of the characters that you can morph as you want. You do get the choice between four physiques: skinny, average, tall and large, which is the most noticeable addition compared to older MMOs. Each option also tends to have a fair number of choices (sometimes over forty choices). But what things you get to customize and what options you get depends on your species and faction. Humans tend to get the widest array of choices, and Empire also seems to get a bit more choices (and more interesting choices) than Republic (no tattoos for Republic humans, for instance). I personally found the choices available for twi'leks to be particularly limited; the number of skin colors seem few (for a species with as many possible skin colors as the twi'lek have; they have fewer options than humans do) and there's no choice in how to wear your lekku. Additionally most of the cosmetic options are clearly made for a flesh-colored skin as they don't work with most of the other skin-colors, limiting the choice even more.

It is also somewhat perplexing that they haven't spent more time on face customization. In most MMOs having lots of sliders for the nose and jaw and lips and eyes seems pointless as you only even see your character from a distance and from behind at that, but in The Old Republic with all its cinematic dialog you will see your character's face up close a lot. If there's one game where sliders would've made sense, it's The Old Republic. And in lieu of sliders just having more options and more separated out options would have been a lot better. Separate 'Cosmetics' out into 'Lips', 'Blush' and 'Eye Shadow' or such. Take eyebrows out of 'Complexion' and into its own category. And give me some color choices so that I can make that lipstick and blush work with different skin tones.

So in general the character customization works well and it offers a bit more choice than a number of older MMOs, but it feels like it could have been so much better. At best I'd call the character customization "adequate" and that's being kind.


BioWare isn't selling The Old Republic on the strength of its character customization though, it's selling it on the strength of its story. And in that, indeed, it leaves any other MMO miles behind it. Story truly makes all the difference. Where in other MMOs quest texts are rarely read and easily ignored, quest givers just being there to give you some mundane task to do, in The Old Republic it is all about the quests. You'll get to know your quest givers, interact with them as you decide how to respond, get to care about why you do the things that they send you to do. Watching the cinematic conversations, choosing how your character acts in them, and seeing the story gradually unfold before you truly is the highlight of the game.

And they've been fairly clever about how to distribute this story to you. Instead of going to a 'quest hub', picking up a dozen quests and then spending several hours in the field killing random monsters to complete the quests, TOR tends to only have a handful of quests in a hub. You might pick up a few more on your way to the area for completing the quests and usually a couple more while you run around in said area, meaning that you end up doing just as many quests, but it's broken up so that you don't first get a big dump of story and then hours of grind-y gameplay (so far at least; not sure how that plays out after the capital worlds). Seeing a quest marker (a triangle instead of an exclamation mark) isn't met with general indifference the way it is in most MMOs, but with excitement at getting to see another bit of story.

These stories all have a tendency to make you feel like the hero, make you feel like the main character in your own, grand, Star Wars movie. This is a particularly neat trick considering that all the other players get the same stories, are treated the same way. But while you know this in the back of your mind, it doesn't feel like that. When you speak to an NPC it goes into 'cinematic conversation' mode, basically a small, ingame, interactive cutscene. During this none of the other players show, it is just you (and your party) and the NPCs. And for certain bits of story you get your own phased dungeon, a small section of the world only for you (and your party) though (mostly) seamlessly integrated with the world. There is only a green haze (or red if you're not allowed to enter) over the entry to let you know that you're going into your own story phase. Seeing someone run into their phase makes them disappear (and people appear out of nothing when running out of them), but you see this rarely enough for it to not break immersion any more than a big green screen already does.

This feeling of being a hero is even maintained when grouping with other players and playing through the multiplayer dialog together. The main difference is that where running around the world the other players can be imagined as random population, other padawan doing their training, when playing in a group it feels like grouping together with other heroes. Heroes each with their own stories that you might not know the details about, but heroes nonetheless. This is the case particularly when grouping with other classes, who certainly have their own story. It unfortunately gets a little less when grouping with the same class, particularly if the player has the same gender as that means they have the exact same voice. But even so it is a lot of fun choosing dialog options and hoping that the system will pick yours, allowing you to speak for the whole group. Though even if you're not chosen it is generally a joy to see what choices your group mates made and how their class responds to the situation; are they choosing to be nice or rude, helpful or arrogant? Though I'm generally happy to play solo, the multiplayer conversations definitely make it worth playing with others.

The system is not entirely perfect. While at first each choice seems important on subsequent plays of the same dialogs it becomes apparent that there aren't really any consequences for the choices that you make. For a few examples, without giving away spoilers, you might have a quest where you need to convince someone to let you help them. If you choose to be incredibly rude to the character you'll notice the character talking himself into letting you help them regardless of what you say. Or as a Jedi you might choose to solve an issue with violence instead of negotiating where your master will comment on your poor behavior... before sending you on another special task (instead of letting you meditate on your failings for a while or such while picking someone better suited to the task at hand). While the choices you make might come back, it seems to be more a short call-out of "oh hey, you made this choice then" before continuing as normal. And though there are a few cases where the choice you make changes the path of the quest (on Ord Mantell there is a side quest where you can either report on people or participate in the 'game' they've set up), they tend to be quite uncommon. It's far more usual for quests to bend themselves such that they always continue in the same direction (sort of like "you can do this for the money or do it out of a good heart where we'll give you the money at the end anyway"). Even if you refuse to do a quest the quest remains available and the conversation is started from the beginning again as if you've never talked to the NPC before. Makes you wonder why they included the choice to refuse quests to begin with. Generally if there is consequence to a choice at all it tends to be restricted to a single email you get a bit later.

Alignment, too, seems to have very little effect. There are items that require a certain value in Dark/Light standing before you can use them (not that I've seen any with the low level I'm at) and you can choose to let your appearance change based on your Darkside standing (there's no equivalent for Lightside standing unfortunately), but neither seem to be of much consequence. Similarly your companions will gain or lose Affection based on the choices you make while they're with you (with their approval being 15 or more points and their disapproval being at most -1 that I've seen so far), but this doesn't really seem to mean much either. At worst you might miss out on a few Companion quests. We know that Companions can't die and that you can't (permanently) lose them, so it makes me wonder what the point is. Considering the lack of consequence I'd wish that the disapproval would be higher and general affection wouldn't matter a thing so that making choices that your Companion disagrees with is as valid a path.

I'm also not at all enamored with the dialog wheel that BioWare seems to be in love with. It might work well on consoles (for Mass Effect and such), but it doesn't really fit here. Even more so since at most you'll have three dialog options. The biggest problem with it though is its short form selections; instead of giving you the full text of what your character is going to say you only get a few words hinting at it. And considering that I seem to be on a different mental wavelength from BioWare's writers that means I very often mis-judge what an option refers to and how it will make my character respond, meaning I often get unpleasantly surprised by how my character acts. I might think that something will be a lighthearted quip when it turns out to be an abusive sneer, or I might think that something is resigned acceptance when in fact it turns out to be devote obedience. Things like that. I wish that they would at least give us the full text and, though I unfortunately seem to be in the minority, I wish that they wouldn't voice and animate my character.

Don't get me wrong, I've had my enjoyments with the cinematics and dialog as well. As I express above they're the highlight of the game for me. But I miss that connection to my character that comes from making permanent choices that truly matter, that comes from me filling in my character's personality and voice. The entertainment value The Old Republic's stories give are akin to a generic movie or television series; entertaining enough to experience and enjoy but ultimately forgettable as they lack any personal connection. I'm fine with that. I've learned that this is not the game to look for that deep connection to a character and just look at is as some light entertainment that I can be along for the ride for.


And as you're on that ride you have some quite enjoyable sights. The game most definitely has its own, unique, style. For the most part this is for the better, making the game look quite beautiful. Particularly the environments are gorgeous and come with a lot of variety. Each planet I've been to is definitely distinct and all are beautiful in their own way. Sure, Korriban lacks the lushness of Tython's forests, but it has its own oppressive atmosphere of ancient secrets. And even the polluted brown-greens of Hutta are their own kind of beautiful ugly. They feel like distinct places, each masterfully crafted. And even within a single planet there tends to be variety as they're consist of various areas. In this way you have mountains, ruins, plains and the Academy on Tython, each distinct yet part of the whole.

I do however still find the character models somewhat lacking. Luckily they don't seem quite as bad anymore as they did in earlier screenshots and movies and to some degree I'm sure I've gotten used to them too. But I'm not altogether happy with the cartoon-y "stylistic" approach they've taken. They're more Clone Wars and less, well less like the movies. Not that I'm asking for hyper-realistic graphics, but I do find myself having a harder time getting emotionally engaged with what feels like cartoon characters. Most of the outfits don't look particularly interesting or good either and a lot of the helmets look downright ridiculous (as such I've very grateful for the 'hide helmet' option).

That said the game is still pleasant to look at overall. The animations are very smooth and work quite well. If you pay attention to it you see your character dodging and parrying, moving their lightsaber to block incoming blaster bolts, etc. And if you don't pay attention to it then it's still there making the combat look more dynamic. Sure, your character is standing still all of the time unless you manually move around (for which there is little reason unless you're kiting to keep out of melee range or to avoid the occasional incoming AoE), but despite this the combat feels a lot more dynamic and active than other MMOs tend to.

The UI design unfortunately isn't that good. The UI feels somewhat big and clunky, I really wish that I could scale a lot of the elements down, and the style isn't particularly interesting meaning that it's wasting the extra space it's using. Add a lack of customizing the UI (personally I would prefer close to nonexistent borders) and you see a lot of people falling over the UI. They don't even seem to have bothered giving Republic and Empire different color themes despite the UI feeling way more Republic than Empire.

One thing I should also note is system requirements. When I started beta I was playing on a pretty much minimum-spec machine and got framerates around 5fps. Now, this was months ago as since then I got a new machine (giving me closer to 100fps). I've no idea if they've improved framerates on low-end machines any. But it is something to consider. Though if you can put up with the game being rather choppy I found that it is still playable as in I was still able to defeat all enemies and finish all quests. I was just surprised that it didn't run better considering that BioWare supposedly specifically chose this art style to make it run better on lower end machines, or so I understood.


A lot better than the graphics is the music. I guess it helps a lot having the Star Wars music and sound effects to draw from. Not only does the game include the Star Wars music as is most noticeable when you create a character and press the play button (that trumpet blare is unmistakable and really sets the mood for "you're going to experience Star Wars now"), but it adds a lot of new music all of which, as far as I've heard, fit in perfectly. I personally wouldn't be able to tell with certainty when music is Star Wars stock and when it is newly created.

Another point in favor of the music is that, so far, I haven't once gotten tired of it. I haven't had the impression that music repeats too much or gets in the way. The music always seems to be appropriate, even if sometimes I do get battle music that's a little too epic sounding for the trash mobs I'm taking on or which starts when I'm already pretty much done with the fight. But these are very small issues. Not once have I felt the need, like I do in most other MMOs, to turn the music off and turn on WinAmp instead. That time might still come after I've spent hundreds of hours in the game, but so far I happily leave it playing as all the music is a joy to listen to without being too in-your-face when it's not appropriate for it to be.

Sound effects too seem quite appropriate. I'm not enough of a Star Wars fan to be able to tell whether a lightsaber sound is exactly correct or if a blaster bolt sounds right for Star Wars or not, but everything sounded quite appropriate and Star Wars-y to me, from the bleeps of your droid Companion to the roaring of the spaceship engines. And as with the music it never gets in the way. Audio tends to be at its best when it's unnoticeable; if you notice audio it tends to be because it's bad, it's inappropriate, or it isn't there at all. And I think that the sounds definitely add to the Star Wars feel of the game.

But of all the audio the highlight has to be the voice overs. Not only is there an absolutely staggering amount of it (every conversation is fully voiced) but it's also all of the highest quality. It would have been so easy to make the majority of characters speak in alien languages and use subtitles, re-using a lot of the alien samples (as we can't really hear the difference anyway), but aliens (speaking in alien languages) are actually relatively uncommon that I've seen. They're common enough that they're definitely there and that it feels normal for them to be there and speak in something other than English (or whatever language your client is), but uncommon enough that it's noticeable when someone is. It helps accentuate that this is another world, another universe.

One of the latest builds even seems to solve the issue of alien speech often being too short for the line of text, leaving long silences as your reading catches up with the dialog. Though I did notice aliens repeating phrases within a single dialog line, that really feels like a nit-picky thing to bring up. Either way it neatly solves the one jarring issue I had with the dialogs.

Overall that makes the audio experience of the game exceedingly positive.


So far I've said a lot about the game (just look at that massive wall of text above), but haven't really said much about the gameplay. For many gameplay is the most important, if not only important, thing about a game and it's judged mainly on that. And by that token The Old Republic seems to be a disappointment to many people.

The main issue seems to stem from the fact that the gameplay is very similar to a lot of other MMOs, most notably World of Warcraft (to the point that some accuse TOR of being "WoW with a Star Wars theme", which is an unfair assessment). Indeed the game plays very much the same. You target enemies first, use your hotbars to activate skills (which are on various cooldowns and require various resources based on class), you have experience and levels and skill trees, you pick up quests which are generally similar in nature (kill X, collect Y, etc), you have dungeons and raids and PvP arenas, you craft things my collecting items harvested from nodes, etc. And it is indeed well understandable that a lot of people might be utterly sick of those mechanics and wish for something different (particularly with the likes of Guild Wars 2 promising just that).

And yet dismissing the gameplay for those reasons would be doing it a disservice. The Old Republic's implementation of the gameplay is incredibly solid, possibly the best implementation I have seen of it (for as far as I can tell these things; I have no head for skill balances and all that). The gameplay feels faster than in other games, and where usually I quickly grow tired of doing the same skill rotation over and over again I've yet to hit that point in TOR. I think that's mostly because the gameplay feels broken up enough and as I've experienced there are a fair number of situational differences in skills used (as a small example, things such as knockback don't work on "strong" mobs meaning it makes less sense to use that skill against one, and there are a few skills that you can only use when the enemy is in a certain state). Now and again you have to reposition to get out of an AoE the enemy is casting, to get behind them for that backstab skill, or to position yourself for better use of your flamethrower.

It would also be ignoring some of the changes to the formula that TOR makes. For example, TOR doesn't have an auto-attack meaning that you have to be present and press your skill buttons to do anything against a mob. To me, this doesn't feel like it makes that big of a difference and I don't find myself playing any different because of it, but I can definitely see how it makes you more involved with your character if you have to initiate every attack. And then there are entirely new mechanics such as the cover gameplay for Snipers and Gunslingers, which I personally find very enjoyable so far as I've seen it (as soon as you adjust to the mental change required that you need to get into cover first).

In general the gameplay in TOR consist of the existing formula, yes, but with a lot of tweaks and bits of polish which make it, if nothing else, a very solid implementation. The area-looting option where if you loot one body you automatically also loot all the other bodies within a radius, clearly inspired by Rift which had a very similar system, is an absolute blessing. Being able to resurrect in place and being able to resurrect every other player are also blessings. As is not having to stand at a crafting table for hours to craft items (though you do lose the sense of making something yourself, the modification system does alright in giving you some of that sense back).

Speaking of items though I do have to say that I feel that the itemization system could have been better. I wish that they'd just strip all stats off of items and made stats purely dependent on the mods that you've slotted in the item (and as such decrease the number of armor/weapons that drop while increasing the number of mods that drop). Fairly few items seem to have modification slots so far (except a color crystal, which I wish would lose the stats as well and just become a cosmetic item). I think so far I've had one armor piece with slots, which looked worse than the armor I had on and even with all my best armor mods (of those too I only had one) the armor was worse on pretty much all counts too. Overall I don't get the impression that I could, if I wanted to, keep the same look all the way up to maximum level. Even if you do have fully mod-able armor the armor still also has base stats so in ten levels or so you'll want to change again anyway.

Another, relatively minor, complaint that I have is that we seem to get an awful lot of skills. Already at level 20 I'm having a hard time keeping track of them and my two skill bars, which is about all the hotkeys that I can handle, are already getting awfully full. And that's with me putting my toggles and skills you don't really use during combat on a third bar. I fear what'll happen once I'm nearer maximum level.

But these seem to be relatively minor things and perhaps more reflective of a desire for a completely different kind of MMO game; one more leaning towards sandbox gameplay. I've always said and I will maintain that you don't play BioWare games for the gameplay, but for the stories and the whole ambiance. As long as the gameplay is solid and doesn't become frustrating or get in the way the game will be enjoyable to play. To me gameplay doesn't really matter beyond that in this case.


What does matter though is multiplayer. Though I'm the consummate solo player I still play MMOs, in part, because of the other people around.

And playing with other people in The Old Republic is a blast. Next to just playing together a real highlight is the multiplayer conversations. Because even in multiplayer you get the cinematic dialogs, played for all players at once. And all get to pick dialog options, with a roughly random roll determining who gets to say the option they picked. You still score light and dark side points based on the choice you made, but it's just really fun to all contribute to conversations giving you up to four different tones (one for each base class).

These conversations also earn you social points, which are a nice way to encourage people to play together though it does feel like patching a problem instead of fixing it; people should naturally want to play together instead of being artificially encouraged to do so. And the Warzones, I haven't experienced any of the other PvP, can be quite fun playing with and against other players.

Even so I can't help but feel that this is less of a multiplayer game than many others. For example, you see others run around outside but zones never feel crowded. For me that is a good thing, but I've heard others say that it makes the world feel less alive and less of a massive multiplayer game. What bothers me more is that the game seems to discourage helping people you're not grouped with. When running past someone else fighting a mob I often want to help them, but I always fear that I might accidentally steal their mobs (particularly with my Bounty Hunter who has a couple of attacks with splash/AoE damage; the splash damage I fear might tag mobs the person I'm helping hasn't attacked yet). TOR also doesn't make it that easy to group together as there's no real LFG system. There's a LFG flag and comment that you can look for I think, but people generally just spam general chat looking for groups.

And even beyond all that the game seems to go out of its way to make it hard to play with your friends. First is the problem of it having multiple (and based on its expected popularity that's likely going to be a lot of) servers while offering nothing to mitigate that obstruction towards playing with friends on a different server. I would really have liked free and unlimited server transfers (which would require some mechanic to have unique names cross-game) so that I could (possibly just temporarily) switch to whatever server any particular group of friends are playing on.

Having two faction is also a big obstruction towards playing with friends. With there being no shared content between the factions it's just not possible to play with someone on the other faction, meaning that someone, or both, will have to make a new character to play together. It might not make a lot of story-sense for an Empire character to do Republic missions, but in a game like this social considerations should always trump story considerations.

Levels too get in the way and again TOR doesn't do anything to mitigate the problem. If I'm ten levels or more above my friend's level then I'm way too powerful for my friend's content and my friend is too weak for mine. Not to mention that I'll probably already have done all the quests at my friend's level range (meaning we can't participate in them together beyond the gameplay, with me waiting for my friend to finish the conversations a lot). Some kind of side-kicking system would be greatly appreciated (if still ill-fitting with TOR's heavy story approach as someone would get stories out-of-sequence, there'd be problems with causing content gap because you'd finish it at the wrong level, etc). It would've been a lot better if TOR was far less level-focused (where really quickly your character's power level doesn't really increase anymore but you still get more abilities to give you a wider range of options).

And then there's the Legacy System. In general I like the idea of the Legacy System. I like that all my characters are tied together and that whatever character I play contributes to some shared progression. I don't even have any issues with the whole surname thing (considering the options you have regarding how to display your legacy name). But what I do have an issue with is that your legacy is tied to a server. This means that people are greatly discouraged from creating alts on other server (for example, to play with their friends there) as their playtime would go to 'waste' as far as the Legacy System is concerned. This makes it feel like it's just better to play solo with the occasional pickup group. Why the legacy system isn't game-wide instead is beyond me as I see zero reason for it.

So overall The Old Republic has all the trappings of an MMO, but also all the traps. It's technically a multiplayer game, but it feels like a solo game. Personally I'm fine with that. I'm happy to just play the game largely solo for as long as I enjoy doing that and then move on to the next MMO (I suspect in a few months). While BioWare and EA might disagree I think it's fine for a game to hold me a relatively short time and don't really see why every MMO has to be one that you can play for years. To do that it needs to be much more of a sandbox game, a place where you can live; you don't build your home in the middle of Disneyland either. The Old Republic chose to be a story-heavy MMO and that's great, but in that it has to realize that story always have to end.

Space Combat

The first time I played Space Combat in beta I thought that I was doing well, shooting at the ships, when half-way through the mission I got a popup saying I'd just destroyed my first enemy ship. What? Turned out that no matter what I did I had a hard time hitting the enemies. Did I have to lead? Was I doing something wrong? There was a lot going on at once and on top of trying to figure out the game I had to, somehow (the game didn't really specify how), protect this other ship. After failing the mission with only two kills (the second one when I figured out how torpedoes work) I recall writing some particularly constructive feedback something along the lines of "space combat sucks". Not my proudest moment.

That said that was probably because the system was bugged because when I tried it again a patch later I could play it just fine with no problem shooting down enemies. I still think that the game has too much going on at once and the first mission, which should really be a tutorial, doesn't really explain things that well. It doesn't help that the mission objectives are on the load screen and due to me playing from my SSD the game loads so fast that I don't have time to read it.

Even so despite the poor instructions and there being too much going on (for early missions at least) I quickly got the hang of it. As Mako is fond of commenting: "you're getting good at this". To start you have three missions to play; an escort mission (which seems like a poor choice for a tutorial mission), a 'destroy a particular enemy' mission, and one where you do repeated fly-bys of a station and have to take out multiple targets on it. That third one is my particular favorite, even though I wish I could determine the flight path myself as sometimes I'd get a pass where I've already taken everything out from other angles.

After doing those three missions you get daily missions to basically do them again and the more often you do them the more predictable they get as the same things always seem to happen at the exact same time. Herein also lies my biggest fear for the space combat: it seems like it is something where you have to grind the same missions over and over to get the upgrades needed for later missions. And after flying each one a few times I've really seen all that I want of them.

Then there is the fact that it feels completely disconnected from the rest of the game. You fly your ship and you hear your Companion talk to you as you play, but that's really the extent of it. Nothing in the Space Combat influences the rest of the game and the rest of the game doesn't influence the Space Combat. With the gameplay being so radically different you might as well be playing a different game altogether.

So overall the Space Combat is a nice occasional diversion if you're a bit bored or just want to fill five minutes (which is about the time these missions take), but it lacks any connection with the main game. Seems a bit of a waste to be honest.


The Old Republic is definitely not a perfect game. There are definitely things that could be improved, places where BioWare seems to display an astounding lack of ambition compared to the ambition they've shown in other areas. The main complaints are definitely the itemization being so close to a great system but completely falling short as is, the UI being rather bad and not customizable, and the gameplay being somewhat uninspired. The game also seems to be particularly lacking in consequences; it doesn't really matter what choices you make as far as I've noticed.

But the game is incredibly solid, more so than any MMO beta I've seen before. The stories really make all the difference and I find that having tasted all of them I want to experience all the class stories. Even for classes, like the Bounty Hunter and Republic Trooper, I'd never thought I'd want to play. I still doubt that I will play most of them due to the fact that as you get higher level less and less of the quests you do will be story quests, thus most content being repeated between classes on the same faction. It might be possible to get a fair bit while avoiding most side quests though, just doing enough to increase your level when needed. On top of that the sound, music and particularly the voiceovers are truly outstanding and work to pull you in completely.

As I've not played beyond level 20 I don't know how the rest of the game is, particularly the "endgame". But to be honest I've never really cared for endgame much. For me I think that The Old Republic will be a great game to play for a few months, play through a couple of the classes, and then move on. Maybe BioWare can provide enough additional content fast enough to keep me in, but considering the quality requirement of any new content, particularly voice work, I somehow doubt it. I would really expect a new full planet complete with fully voiced planet quests and side quests every three months as that's the minimum that would be required to keep me in the game, but I doubt that they'll manage that. We'll see.

Overall The Old Republic, based on playing the beta, is a very good, very solid game that is incredibly enjoyable to play because of the stories. It is not a game for everyone; those not interested in the stories and only looking for traditional MMO content might not find much of interest beyond what every other MMO offers. But perhaps it will be of interest to those who traditionally only play single player games. To them I say that you really can play this game as a single player game without having to care or worry about the other players, the game really feels a lot like the single player games you're used to, just a whole lot more of it. To me that is a good thing, but not everyone will agree. And that's fine.

I'm much looking forward to the launch and to spending a few months in this game, which is longer than I spend in most MMOs (there have only been two MMOs that I've played longer than a year). I read a complaint somewhere of someone saying that after beta testing the game for 350 hours they had no intention of buying it and all I could think was "if I get 350 hours of entertainment out of this game then it'll be worth the money". And I think that I just might.

Right now I think that The Old Republic is the best MMO I've ever played.

1 comment:

Entilzah said...

Thanks a bunch for a very informative review. As with all reviews, everyone is looking for different things, but you have been very forthright in what you want and how SWTOR stacks up... not a very common approach these days.

I have been looking forward to your beta review for months, and this didn't disappoint. Well done!