On the weekend, I managed to get into the Star Wars: The Old Republic Beta Weekend. TLDR – I liked it
Note: My major experience is WoW and single player games, I’ve really only dabbled in other MMO’s. So mostly WoW in MMOs. All my observations will likely be tinged by it.
I played a smuggler for 20 levels. From what I read of the classes it was the closest to an all-round character that I could find. (Yes I play a Druid in WoW.) The Smuggler class starts like every other class, with a DPS setup up till Level 10, after which you choose a specialisation. I chose Scoundrel to give the added healing ability as a survival component. I didn’t spec into the healing tree, as I would if I wanted to be a full-time healer, but the basic heals worked quite effectively in close situations.
One flaw I did see to it though was the indecision. The Smuggler has a basic move called Cover, from which one of their most powerful normal abilities can be used. Additionally, Cover protects them from incoming fire similar to a Dodge or Parry mechanic. Conversely, they have an almost Combo Point-like system called Upper Hand that allows them to use devastating attacks that consume an Upper Hand stack. Upper Hand stacks are lost fairly quickly after battle, and can’t really get moved from combat to combat. The only ways to get an Upper Hand are to kill an enemy (and you must land the killing blow, not your companion) or to use Blaster Whip. Finishing off an enemy is fine, unless you’re fighting an elite by himself, and Blaster Whip requires you to be in hand-to-hand range. I was torn between leaving cover and dashing up to people to use Blaster Whip, and hiding behind cover and hoping they’d come to me. Those that did come all the way up were dispatched fairly quickly, but for some elites, getting into melee range with aggro is a very very bad idea.
Other notes on the Smuggler and general gameplay:
- Using cover often places you side on to your target, or even facing the wrong way, just because there was “Cover” from something right behind you.
- The AOE attack (I forget the name) that uses an Upper Hand buff to hit 5 targets in front of you, requires the Cover you’ve taken to be pointing at the target, or for you to stand up getting out of cover. It won’t fire centered on your target.
- Hand to hand combat feels a little clunky, though that may have been my class experience. I spent a lot of time hitting a guy over my shoulder because I was facing the wrong way but still able to attack.
The quests were your usual run of the mill in a lot of respects. Go get this thing, go kill that guy, go investigate this. Similar to the WoW proximity quests, there were bonus quests that turned up when you killed something, or moved into an area, tied to a quest that you had.
Bonus quests turn up when you kill something. Thus you are compelled to kill at least one of EVERYTHING. Their typical progression was “Kill X of the mobs in the general area.” Once you were finished, a bot appeared with a new quest, giving “Kill three times X of the mobs in the general area.” Finally, a “Kill this elite mob” quest would appear.
Something I discovered though was, you should never fall behind in these quests. Don’t get the attitude of “I’ll come across enough as I complete the quest” because you never do. I found after falling behind the third time that its better to complete the Bonus quests before you move on.
The quests themselves however, had one aspect which I initially wasn’t thrilled by, but eventually got drawn into, and will probably be the biggest drawcard for the non-MMO crowd. Most questgivers are similar to BioWare’s other titles, where you walk up and are brought into an interactive cutscene. The characters make sense, and have superb voice acting (Sorry Chris Metzen, and Bat-Boss/Alysrazor/Cigarette-smoking-woman) which feels very much like Gears of War or Mass Effect (so I’m told on the last one). During each interaction, you have options like “Flirt” which have real consequences (I had a female character with a male companion who got jealous and lost Affection stat if I flirted). The quests also have morality tests in the form of “You can hand the slave collars to the cops for destruction, or the Senator who ordered them” giving you Light and Dark points. The points factor later on with Light or Dark gear, which apparently is a big complaint in the community. If you a) redo repeatable questlines to see the other results or b) choose a middle line or an RPG choice structure, then you can be left short on having Light or Dark, and there’s not much ‘grey-side’ equipment available yet.
Probably the second most significant improvement I found was the interactive storyline. Each class has one, which threads its way through everything you do. By level 15, you get a ship, which is awesome, though its mostly a major zone movement thing. All the way from Level 1 onwards though, you get your own private areas to complete quests, and your own contacts and experience. The private areas also are instanced meaning that when you enter, you don’t have 50 other Smugglers waiting around the quest giver, or killing the mobs you need before you can talk to them.
As part of the story you pick up a companion, one for each class, that helps you along your way the entire path. They can be a real help while you’re learning, and as long as you gear them up as you progress, they stay just as powerful as you, if not more-so. My only gripe was that their specialised gear (tagged with the character specifically) came at a cost of passing on token rewards on the class quest lines.
Immersion vs Co-operation
SW:TOR hooks you in like a BioWare game. You get involved in the characters and their motivations etc, and you get the feeling that you’re really a part of it. Then the other players turn up. Instances have a quest stream and a lot of phasing, and it feels almost like the old PnP Star Wars days, but then you get someone who comes along and goes “Lol I NEED” on items that are completely wrong for them, and the player who its completely right for starts a diatribe and threatens to quit, and so on. Those instances totally broke the immersion and I ended up skipping Heroic (group) quests, and skipping Flashpoints (dungeons) because I felt better in the single player game.
Admittedly this may have something to do with the fact that I was racing to see if I could get to L20 before the Beta ended (I got in on Sunday at 11am, and was home Monday my time in Aus), because in the WoW open beta (omg yes 7 years ago) I got to L19 before it ended. All of the work finding a healer meant that Flashpoints were very hard to organise, and single player was just a better investment in time.
I’ll put a special section in on crafting because I really quite liked the system. You do not personally craft anything, your companions do it. When you’ve only got one, if you send him off to craft, then you’re running solo, but at L15 when you get your ship, you get another companion that can be used to do all the grunt work.
A character gets 3 professions. A Gathering skill (I chose Scavenging) that is used to collect items out in the world as you pass by. This forms the basis of your general raw materials. At lower skill levels you only need to Gather to be able to craft your items. The second skill is your Crafting skill. This is what you make items with, whether its Armstech (my choice) for weapons, Armourtech, Biochem or other item generating skills. This is where the end product comes from. The third skill, which falls in between is your Mission skill, in my case Investigation. As well as telling your companion to craft items, you can send them on missions to investigate certain things (at a cost to you), which if they succeed will bring back items. Investigation can bring back weapons tech, like chips that go with the raw materials, or companion gifts, to make your companions affection rise.
Once I got my ship, my Droid was eternally crafting or on missions, but this caused one unforseen issue. As items are crafted, or missions completed, the results end up in your bag. For me this meant having 20 odd blaster barrels in my bags until I hatched on a devious plan. The ability to reverse engineer items meant that I could turn the blaster barrels back into raw materials (albeit less than it cost to make) which took up less space. Once I got to a Cargo Hold Access (bank) I’d dump all the raw materials back into the bank. Your companions quite happily crafted out of the materials in your bag no matter how far they were away, and once those were used up, they’d start drawing on the stuff in the bank. All in all it meant a bit of bag juggling (the bag expansions are credit based, and relatively expensive)
Comparison to WoW
Yeah, you knew it was coming, and the comparison to WoW was the major rantfest in General chat in most zones till I’d levelled above the pack. So here’s my breakdown of similarities.
- Keybindings are almost identical. I had a chuckle when I discovered that your “Abilities” button was P. Map (M), Bags (B or I), Character (C) were fairly obvious ones, though one switch around was Specialisation (K) and Crew Skills (N). After the 5th time opening the wrong screen I swapped them around to match WoW with K for Crafting and N for Talents. Auto-run button on the mouse was the same too, which I didn’t even notice at first, I just started running.
- Questing was very similar as mentioned above. The bonus quests were nice, and the UI had the usual “Here’s the area you need to be in” stuff, though I think they relied on it a bit too much and not enough description of the location, because I found myself constantly opening the map, more than I would if I had a rough idea of where to go by description.
- Specialisations and talents were almost identical, except that once you chose your specialisation it became your class. I couldn’t find a way to reverse that decision, but I’m sure if my next point happens there’ll be a way.
- The Dual-Spec concept of WoW was very needed here I think. No-one wanted to play a healer for levelling, for the usual reasons, but Flashpoints were nigh impossible without it. Forcing someone down a healing path is like making someone level a restoration Druid, or a Holy Priest. You can do it, but its far from optimal.
- The concept of a tank was relatively foreign from what I saw. I know there are classes who are designed for it, but I didn’t see much in the way of tanks and it wasn’t obvious without reading the specialisations who was supposed to be a tank. There were 3 Healer and 3 Tank classes on each side, but it wasn’t obvious to people who was actually what.
- Bag space was a bit tough. You started with 20 bag slots, and an extra 10 was 5000 credits, then an extra 10 was 20000 credits. I didn’t see what was past that because I was saving for my 40,000 speeder bike at level 25. Banks were hard to spot, though that probably comes with time and experience, so I didn’t empty my bags of non-vendor stuff often.
Of all the MMO’s I’ve come across, this is the closest I’d call to a competitor to WoW. Unlike a lot of other games like Rift or Warhammer, this will draw subscribers away not because they’re bored with WoW, but because SWTOR actually holds the same shiny new joy that WoW did at one point for everyone. I didn’t get to see the end-game, so I can’t say whether it’ll be a long-term competitor, but with the speed I levelled, if the end-game doesn’t hold people’s attention, they’ll play the game 8 times through to 50 and leave it there. Hopefully that won’t be the case.
Whether it will draw me away from WoW, I don’t know, but I have gotten my pre-order in, so we’ll see.