[SWTOR] My first thoughts on beta

swtorbetachars

((A sith warrior and jedi consular from my beta weekend – does this robe make my bum look big? YES!!))

After playing a bit (*coff*) this weekend, I’m very positive about the game.  Star Wars: The Old Republic is a well executed themepark style MMO in the WoW mould –  I’m looking forwards to playing the game when it goes live, but the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Anyhow, these thoughts are based purely on low level play of a few classes, so doesn’t represent much of the game. I also played a flashpoint (Black Talon) with some friends, which was good fun (there were three of us so we used a companion to fill out the group). Fun is the keyword here, because I had lots.

The Good

  • The fully voiced questlines are amazing. I predict that the PC voice actors in particular will become fan favourites at conventions, if they aren’t already. (Grey DeLisle as female bounty hunter is awesome.) I also liked the music.
  • I enjoyed the cut scene excepts. They aren’t really cut scenes in the classical sense, because they often frame conversations in which you can interacts. They occur in solo questlines, in group quests, and in instances. If you have the patience of a 2 year old on a sugar rush you will hate them.
  • Combat is snappy. Classes felt fun to play, not far from the WoW mould but fun.
  • Planets are large and the locations are very immersive. It doesn’t feel tiny, there’s room to run around.
  • The light side/ dark side choices are good fun. Group conversation options in instances/ flashpoints also work really well. Everyone picks their option and the game rolls to see who answers for the group. Everyone gets darkside/ light side points based on their choices. We found it amusing when the one lightside/ darkside group member got to make the choice, rather than irritating.
  • There are group quests in starting areas but you don’t have to do them, or you can always come back later. However, area chat was full of people looking to group, and that gave the beta a very old school feel for me. I put this as a positive because I did try some PUGs and had a lot of fun. Plus at the end of the PUG you get the option to add the other people to your friends list, which was a nice touch.
  • I liked all the classes that I tried: Sith Warrior, Bounty Hunter, and Jedi Consular.
  • Darth Baras, who you’ll meet as a Sith Warrior, may have the sexiest voice in the game. I recommend everyone plays one for a few levels just to meet him :P

The Bad

  • The main bugs we found this weekend were one which meant you couldn’t log out and log in again as another alt (they fixed this one on Sat), lots of disconnects while in a flashpoint which meant we couldn’t finish it together, and other bugs around logging out. There probably were more minor ones but those will need to be addressed.
  • Lots of running around. I don’t mind this, it just makes the game feel a bit more old school. Some people will find it annoying.
  • Minor clipping issues.
  • While the map is great and quest directions are usually fine, there isn’t a lot of instruction around game elements such as bind points etc or how to find them. This may be annoying for less experienced players. For anyone else, you can just set the map to show them.
  • I don’t have a lot of bad things to say about SWTOR because I was happy that the game met my expectations, plus I only played a few classes to level 10 so I’ve barely scratched the surface. I heard comments that some classes were associated with more fun storylines than others, but that may depend on taste as well as objective appraisal.
  • Screenshots weren’t working. I had to ctrl-prt and then tab out to get the ones on this post.

Some class thoughts:

Sith Warrior plays a lot like the WoW Warrior. Force charge replaces charge (it’s actually more like heroic leap on a short cooldown), saber ward replaces shield wall, etc. But I never get bored of landing on top of a bunch of unsuspecting mobs and laying around with a buzzing lightsaber so that’s OK. The storyline was pretty much as you’d expect: trials to complete, a rival to encounter, opportunities to stiff your master, but I was getting quite into it by the end. I liked how my true sith gal looked too, with the funky metallic skin piercings. And her voice acting was great – authoritative and a bit sardonic. The jedi and sith do seem to have more interesting dark side/ light side choices to make, I think it’s just more key to their characters.

Bounty Hunter is purest awesome. It’s a fun class, although less snappy than the warrior because many of the shots have cast times. The storyline was great and had me exclaiming “Oh no they didn’t!!” quite early on into the game. Also you get to feel like a stone cold badass all of the time, even when you are making light side choices. I think though that Hutta is the less interesting of the two Sith starting planets (this is where Bounty Hunters and Agents begin), but did very much enjoy the two group quests which I nipped through with an Agent at my side. (Bounty Hunter + Agent is going to make for awesome groups, and I imagine Sith Warrior + Inquisitor will also.)

Jedi Consular starts with a mixture of melee and ranged attacks, and doesn’t have as good a range as the bounty hunter. Because it’s a more fragile class, you need to play a bit more carefully but I didn’t have any trouble with the starting quests. When you do die, you have the option to res in place (with a few seconds grace to get yourself out of harm’s way) or back at the nearest graveyard. There is more crowd control later on, it feels very versatile in play. While people have complained that her starting story is dull, I think you need to ask whether or not you want to RP a jedi. Because if you do, there are plenty of chances to show wisdom and restraint and try to resolve things peacefully. I thought it was fine, but less overtly exciting than the more blood and glory sith style.

Conclusion

This is a large game, and regardless of the extensive solo class quests (which are fully voiced and rather splendid), it feels like a genuine MMO. Grouping is fun, combat is fast, flashpoints (instances) benefit from being punctuated with RP/conversation snippets which make them feel less like the standard ‘corridor full of mobs interspersed by bosses’ model. How that will play when everyone knows all the strategies and wants to grind them for loot I don’t know. But I think they’ll be fine.

Star Wars fans will love it, if they can stop whining about not being able to play some obscure species.

WoW players looking for a new game that isn’t too dissimilar will probably love it too.

I think single player gamers will enjoy the game a lot, but there are group quests and instances even if they’re not for you. So it depends on how annoyed you feel you will be to keep hearing people in area chat asking for groups for them.

Dragon Age (PC Version)! My first thoughts.

dragonagegraff1 Trust me, I’m a dwarf

Dragon Age is the game I’ve been waiting for ever since I started to play CRPGs, and I hadn’t even realised. In fact, I’d all but given up on ever having a computer based RPG that came anywhere near the nuances of a tabletop game. But I was wrong.

Bioware have learned a lot since the days of Baldurs Gate and Knights of the Old Republic – BG had a large game world and lots to do but never really grabbed me as a story. KOTOR leapt for the jugular with a character based storyline but made the player so much front and centre that it was almost embarrassing to play. I felt awkward knowing that the game was so blatently all about me.

In Dragon Age, you are the hero. You will do great and terrifying things, but there’s a whole world in this game and a lot of other people too. You will affect them, they will affect you.

The game is a solid blend of CRPG sections where you can explore the scenery, talk to other characters, do quests, and take everything that isn’t nailed down; and party based combat. Both sides of the game seem exceptional to me from what I have played so far. But the story and the immersion is where the game really shines.

The origins of the title are long intro sections for each combination of race/social background which ease you into your character and flesh it out a bit before the main storyline kicks off and you are taken away from everything and everyone you once knew. I’ve played through a few origins and thought they were all effective – although I can see how some might appeal more to different players. The mage background, for example, offers an insight into a life lived entirely inside the mage tower, with some moral and ethical dilemmas thrown in. But because of the moral choices, it doesn’t feel as streamlined as the city elf background where you’re given a fairly arse kicking revenge fantasy (no moral dilemma there!). The dwarf commoner is my favourite so far but none of the ones I tried were clunkers. They all worked at getting me to like my character and connect with it, and offering some long term character  based goals as well as purely quest based ones.

Voice work is great, although there do seem to be a lot of people who talk with posh English accents around the place. I’m a convert to voice work in CRPGs now, although I can’t imagine what sort of resources Bioware must have at their disposal. As others have commented, it is a little jarring that everyone except your character is chatting away – it makes them come across a bit grim, like the man with no name. But appealing voice work brings even the least convincing character models to life. The animation is also pretty good. I especially loved watching my city elf warrior heft a two handed sword around. I’ve seen people do real life swordplay with those and the moves looked right to me (none of this swinging it around your head like a rhythmic gymnast).

The heart and soul of the CRPG is in the companion characters who will join you along the way, and how your main character develops a relationship with them. There is always a danger in CRPGs that because the player is in the driving seat, all the other characters feel weak – they are always deferring to your opinions and letting you make the decisions. That does exist here, but they will also step up and challenge you when they think you are making a mistake. It’s not like having a full AI on board, but they do feel convincing to me as 3 dimensional characters.

For example,  as my dwarf rogue, I was commenting to my husband that I liked Alistair but thought he was naive and a bit of a tit. He said that as his mage, he liked him because he felt that they had a lot in common – they’d both been taken from their parents at a young age and sent off to an institution to be raised. So the character and conversation options were there to support both of those experiences.

The fighting sequences are fast paced, although you can pause the action as often as you need to, and can be as tactically deep as you care to go. Easy mode is a lot easier – you won’t need to pause the game too much and area effects won’t harm your party through friendly fire. Normal mode (which is quite hard in places, even after the last patch) requires more thought and hands on interaction. Although you can set programmable tactics for each character, mages need a bit more babysitting to get the best out of them. If one particular fight is kicking your butt and you get frustrated, you can change the difficulty to easy for that, and then back again afterwards.

Or just play it through in easy mode if you’re more about the story and the character than the tactical combat. That’s just as valid a way to play and I enjoy that the game gives me those options.

And really the one flaw with the character classes is that mages feel as though they have many more options. As a mage, you can have crowd control, you can nuke, you can have AE, you can heal, you can buff. Fighters and rogues are a little more one sided, although my rogue has some stuns and can set traps and throw bombs so I don’t feel restricted with her at all. The game is not set up to assume you always have a healer along, but if you don’t, take a lot of healing poultices and have one of the party train in herbalism (to make more cheaply).

And about the maturity? They’re not joking. Even if you ignore the blood and the entertainment on offer at the brothel (it’s all fade to black) or the options to romance your party (I can’t report on that since I’m having enough trouble getting them to stay with me at all, let alone anything more), the issues and moral dilemmas raised in the game are a step beyond most fantasy fare. How do you feel about casual in game racism? Would you kill a child if you knew for a fact that doing so would also destroy a demon? Free the condemned prisoner, even if you know he might kill again? This is a game where you will be facing those types of choices, and you’ll have to take responsibility for where they lead.

As if all that wasn’t enough, there are also achievements to unlock and lore to discover – Bioware have used something similar to WAR’s tome of knowledge where new pages open up to inform you of what you have learned about characters, items, gameplay, lore, and so on. Lore entries may also be expanded later as you find out more. I found that worked very well, although indexing it by number doesn’t make it easy to search.

My dwarf just hit level 10 with *cough* a fair amount of hours played and I feel as though I’ve barely touched the surface of the game. I’m thoroughly enjoying it, as you can probably tell. In fact,  I absolutely love it and will plan to spring for the warden’s keep DLC at some point, if only because I’m happy to have the chance to throw more money at Bioware for content of this quality.

Tell me about your character

Let me tell you about my character in Dragon Age. She’s a feisty dwarf rogue who began her life as a casteless commoner. She doesn’t take nonsense from anyone, she hates rules, and wants to do the right thing but doesn’t see why she should do it for free because that made you a sucker where she came from. Her story is of someone who came from nowhere and is struggling to learn what ‘doing the right thing’ really means.

When I compare notes with my husband, he keeps saying, “You’re horrid,” or “You’re evil” when I tell him about my dwarf girl’s exploits. But I’m not playing as evil, just as someone who doesn’t know any better and really really wants to try anyway.

Her companions aren’t very happy with her (except for Morrigan who she gets on with very well), and I think being motivated to try to stay friendly with them is probably having a good effect on her. I feel like I actually have a character that could change and grow through the game – it may not be Oscar winning material but it could be a solid fantasy pot boiler! To me, that lifts the whole game up another dimension because I actually feel as though I’m role playing.

So, tell me about your character?