Sunday, November 13, 2011

Star Wars the Old Republic: Beta impressions

Star Wars the Old Republic is like a nerdgasm times 2!  I got into the most recent weekend beta and as you can guess, I enjoyed myself.  Each moment was something to treasure, marred only by a few quirks that I feel are indicative of it being a beta, so they should be fixed by release day.

Installation and getting started:
First off, the instillation for this game takes forever and a day.  It is 19.8GB installed on my hard drive and I had to download all of that, before I could play.  It probably took me a bit longer than most, since my router is a bit iffy and I had to keep resetting it and the launcher crashed a couple times.  However, built in safeguards checked my progress and picked back up where they left off.

Once I got the game installed, I tried to start it up and it crashed.  This was a recurring problem and I could not get in Friday night/Saturday early AM, so I just called it and got some sleep.  The next day (Saturday), I picked back up and gave it a second shot.  This time, I got in.  Immediately, I was treated to a gorgeous couple minute cinema.  You can really see the effort and polish that was put into this game.  And, it was most definitely immersed in those brief moments.  I believe the words "Oh damn!" were uttered a few times.

Opening cinematic and character creation:
Picking a server was a bit...rough, since most were full, but I finally got into one.  There, I got to pick my allegiance, which was to the sith.  What can I say?  Bad guys do it for me.  Anyhoo, I was treated to another gorgeous cinematic that focused on the sith and how absolutely baddass they are.  What is that?  I can take a billion jedi and there are more just like me?  So much awesome it can barely be contained in one cinematic.  But, one issue came to my attention.  I was watching cinematics for the first seven to ten minutes, without ever really playing the game.  That is negligible, since the cinematic is skip able.  Another thing I noticed was that it focused on the jedi primarily and the other two classes received cameos.  

Making my character was fun.  I chose the Zabrak male, just like Darth Maul.  There are 4 classes for the Sith: Sith warrior, Sith inquisitor, Bounty hunter, and Imperial agent.  I chose the Sith Warrior.  The character customization isn't all that much better than World of Warcraft's, but that is not terrible, just not exceptional.  

Finally, the game starts.  The opening is just a short cinematic that is very reminiscent of most bioware games, including a few iconic Dragon Age/Mass Effect wheel choose your own response options.  Finally I got to play!  

I'll break the next part up into a couple sections: combat and quest/story.


The sith warrior plays like a single target melee DPS/aoe minion killing machine.  Basically, he is the standard warrior for all intensive purposes, but with very star wars-esque abilities.  There is no "Auto attack", but the 1 key is bound to my right click on my mouse.  The queuing system for attacks works well.  I just tap the next attack I want to do, while I'm doing my current attack and when the current attack ends, it moves onto my next attack in queue.  The sith warrior builds "hate" which builds as combat goes on and is used for his other abilities.  I don't like that I have no ranged abilities, except for a charge that puts me into melee combat immediately.  But, that is a small gripe, since I am a warrior and not an inquisitor (which has force lightning).  

Spamming the one button/right clicking got a bit old after a while.  But, I had multiple abilities, outside of the "bread and butter 1 and 2".  All of these abilities had a situational use.  However, I found that some of them overlapped with one another.  For example, force shout has a slightly longer range than a melee attack, which was nice if I didn't charge into combat every time, but I do.  It is single target and does the same amount of damage as a strong strike.  There is a stun component for weaker enemies, but you can just as easily melee attack twice and kill weaker enemies.  Thus, I did not find much use for this ability.  However, the force smash was very useful.  It does a decently high amount of damage and can stun weaker enemies.  The high hate cost is worth it.  I could store up hate and charge a big group, then use force smash and just watch four enemies drop dead/get stunned.  After, I could easily clean up the remainder with basic attacks and move onto the next group.

Your helper, Vette is pretty fun too.  She is the exact opposite of the warrior.  She uses a blaster, has no force powers, stays at range, and does not excel in close combat.  As your default AI party member, she is a solid and useful individual to have around.  Many times, I found her killing off enemies that I either did not see, or were too far away for me to get to if my charge was on cool down.  She acts on her own, unless you decide to take control of her actions, but essentially acts like the "pet" equivalent of World of Warcraft.  Vette fills in the holes of your character's combat capabilities and gives you a party play experience, while playing solo.  Something important to note, Vette never triggered any "extra" combats.  I always initiated it in one form or another.  I never found myself yelling at her for impeding my adventure.

The good:
The sith warrior plays real fluid.  I transition between abilities seamlessly and I don't recall having any odd moments where my character did not perform as I wanted him to.  I can easily handle multiple opponents and come out on top.  My damage output is decent and I feel as if I can be an asset.  Vette was fun to play with as well.  She acted on her own and made simple combat decisions without difficulty.

The bad:
Not having ranged abilities hampered my character a bit early game, since those are used to soften up opponents.  But, the sith warrior has such high damage output and survivability that this was negligible.  Later, Vette eliminated this as an issue entirely.  Some abilities either need a bit of tweaking or can be eliminated entirely.

The quests in SWTOR seem to be roughly the same normal MMO affair, except that they are almost all voice acted and include cinematics.  The included lightside/darkside mechanic is also interesting.  Mostly, it was collect x thing, kill x amount of named guys, and go to target place and retrieve target item. 

The main story quest was really where Bioware put their trademark on this game.  There was political intrigue, a rival that wanted my head from the get go, lesser students trying to impress me, and overlords (teachers), moving me around like a chess piece.  The twists and turns in the story were fun.  Often, I was given the choice to be good or bad.  These choices gave me light side or dark side points, the alignment of SWTOR.  These choices did later impact the main story.  I cannot find any fault with the story, except that it really shines with Sith brutality, even the light side choices.  If you do not like the idea of a Sith, this story is not for you.  I would suggest playing the other faction, because it is very unforgiving.  

Something I noticed, occasionally I did not feel like I was playing an MMO.  Instead, it felt like a single player game with a social component.  There were people around me, but essentially I was living my life.  This really can either be good or bad, depending on your outlook.

I don't know what the function of my alignment is.  Sure I am gaining these alignment points, but what do they lead to?  This is likely a late game functionality, as per most Bioware games.  The dialogue choices I made did seem to impact many of the conversations, but only in the immediate moments afterward.  My "master" seemed to forget quickly that I disobeyed a metric crap ton of his orders by sparing people's lives, helping some acolytes with their final exam, broke rules, etc.  I'll be honest; I was the worst apprentice a master could hope for.  I pretty much maxed my light side points, just to see what would happen.  I did not end up in chains and I was sad.  Some of the light side choices were a bit odd.  For example, I got this quest to help a creature get food.  It turns out he was eating failed acolytes (unknown to it) and the only recourse was for me to poison it, then yell at it and tell it to get off my planet.  I gained light side points, but felt like I needed to take a shower.

The good:
There are tons of quests!  The story behind the quests is both solid and fun.  There is enough that breaks up the questing experience that I did not feel like I was just going from point A to be and back again.  The light side and dark side paths were interesting.  

The bad:
I still don't know what my alignment is used for.  The quests still follow the core MMO format.  The Sith story does not appeal to a broad audience and may alienate younger gamers.  My "master" has some serious memory problems when it comes to my transgressions.  Sometimes I questioned whether I was "really a Sith".  Some of the alignment choices did not make sense.

Final thoughts:

I had a lot of fun and despite a few speed bumps; this was a very pleasurable experience.  This is really impressive, considering it was a beta test weekend and not the final release.  Right now, this game is worth the 60$ price point.  I cannot wait to see how it continues to improve.  I just about crapped myself when I realized, this game will have a subscription and that was awesome.  I can pay 15 dollars and get content updates of the same quality?  OH MY GOD!!!!!!!!


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