[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.

[SWTOR] Be very quiet, we’re hunting bounties!

Band together with your most trusted allies to undertake some of the most dangerous missions in the galaxy! Flashpoints are action-packed, story-driven adventures that test a group of players to their limits, putting them up against difficult foes in volatile situations. You and your group need your wits, your skills, and all your resources to emerge victorious. Every Flashpoint begins with an exciting story and contains difficult decisions – choose carefully, because your group’s choices have a meaningful impact on the challenges you’ll face, the enemies you’ll fight, and the outcome of the story! All the danger is certainly worthwhile; the rewards from Flashpoints are some of the most powerful you’ll find.

That’s description we’re given for flashpoints on the official SWTOR website  – so basically think of them any kind of group content you’ve done before, mostly like dungeons/instances. I was lucky enough to get through a random selection to play one hour of a flashpoint during Comic Con – an opportunity I’m very grateful to Bioware for. And I was allowed to take a +1, so Spinks could at least come watch with me.

Bioware Base

Now, it wasn’t so easy to find our way in. The guy at the front told us to go to the back, where the door was locked. Being enterprising (and this is before we were in-game) we managed to sneak into the back door and find where the queue was for the flashpoint, at which point my ID was checked and we stood for only around 5m before we went in to play. I’d been assigned the Empire flashpoint Black Talon (first one for Empire players) and each of four computers had a class set up on it ready for action (there were 2 sets of Empire players and 2 sets of Republic ones, so 16 of us in total). The seat I ended up on was that of the Bounty Hunter ‘stupidname’ (ok, the name was something that reminded me of Hashish, so Hash-hash or something! It made me laugh anyway). I was sitting between two guys who OBVIOUSLY were obsessed fans, and another girl rounded out the group at the end. Amusingly, and not-at-all-insultingly, I think both female players were ‘helped’ by the male ones, and also by the staff when we had to reset the instance..

So, I got to play a Bounty Hunter for an hour, even though I very very rarely play ranged classes. It’s ok though, there weren’t many skills to learn, but I got around 30s to check them out before we set off. I had a normal shot, a multi-shot, a ‘death from above’ where I hovered and shot lots, a melee hit (rocket punch) and a brief stun, also a shot that worked only on stunned mobs. In addition a self-heal for use out of combat which I ended up using a lot. In this set-up I should also mention I felt fairly overwhelmed and quite a bit intimidated by the assumption I’d know a lot about the game and not need any time to get going. Dropping in at level 9 isn’t so bad, not unless everyone around you wants to go as fast as possible to voraciously see as much content as possible within the time. But being fairly resilient, I cracked on and at some points was actually running ahead of my group!

So, first let’s mention the look of the game. Much nicer than I imagined. Yes, the chars are more on the cartoony style than the photorealistic one, but with odd races and strange colour combinations, I actually preferred this. Animations were smooth and looked natural, both for simple things like running and also for fast-paced combat. Of course our group voted to kill the Captain not to take him hostage (one of the first decisions in the flashpoint and not a super spoiler I hope, since it’s been out there for a while). But after that it was pretty much all combat and exploration. Ressing one another was apparently possible, I’ve read a few write-ups of the flashpoint, but no-one told our group that so we did many death runs until we got a sense of working together as a group – the deaths were all dumb and much less likely to occur in release when you’re either playing with friends or have time to stop and discuss what’s working and what isn’t.

The dialogue wheel was as expected, though Spinks & I later commented on what it would be like to play with people who read slowly, or super fast, or were non-native English speakers. All responses have to be clicked before the game determines which to use. It’s the same when interacting with lifts, everyone has to select the floor they want to go to. Was fine when there was time pressure and everyone was super-keen, but I can imagine it’ll have a few disadvantages also. We were mostly upset that my fab sarcastic responses weren’t often the winning ones, so I only got to hear my char speak a few times. The voices I heard were all really well acted – but my sound had been mostly turned off for some reason, still meant we could check out all the subtitles and Spinks had some idea what was going on in the flashpoint.

And so we ran around a spaceship and killed lots of stuff, some humanoid, some not. I found some explosives to blow up, I rolled need instead of greed because I’d not seen the looting system before, etc etc. I quite liked the pillars of light denoting loot on bodies – hard to miss them. And it all played very much like every other MMO in terms of button-pressing, running around et al. I liked the speed of combat and how it felt very dynamic, though I found ground targetting my ‘death from above’ skill was a bit of a pain, and by the time my manual dexterity had managed it, the group often didn’t need my dps anymore. I did a LOT of damage and frequently pulled aggro, I loved shooting while running though, even if it meant I did some amusingly accidental pulls (hey, I was ranged dps, that’s like part of the job description). We got to fight some mini-bosses that were tough and required a little more coordination, or thoughtful fighting at least. And we got to see the objectives update organically within our ‘quest’ and give us new side tasks to do (like killing x number of enemy soldiers). It’s not too hard to see Mythic’s influence and knowledge of public quests there, but it feels a lot more organic – at least within a flashpoint where you’re already there as a group and doing these things automatically.

So, why didn’t I rush home and pre-order SWTOR? Well, I’m still not sure it’s for me. It’s fun, that’s for sure, and I do trust Bioware to give us a really good product suitable for months of use with multiple alts all not having the same stories.. but, it didn’t grab me. I don’t know if it’s just the setting, or just being dropped in and I’ll definitely give it a play when it’s released – but it didn’t grab me as a ‘must play’. Still, even having said that, if you’re interested in the game, I don’t have anything bad to say about it – so that should come as a welcome relief!

[SWTOR] I find your lack of excitement disturbing

Slowly, slowly more information is being released about Bioware’s upcoming WoW-killer, Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Last week, EA held a press event in London to show off a new playable species, their plans for class customisation and talent trees, and the Bounty Hunter. The link above also includes links to various press reviews of the demo. Most of which are notable for a tone of polite interest masking a lack of any genuine excitement.

Maybe people don’t want or need to get excited about their games any more. Maybe the journalists are so jaded from seeing demos and hype that they’re wary of piling on the plaudits for yet another game that will fail to meet its beta promise.

The writeups politely agree that combat looks fun, the demo story looks fun, and regret that much of the rest of what they saw is still in flux. Eurogamer has taken deserved flak (check the comments) for their MMO reviews recently, but Jon Blyth, reviewing for Eurogamer this time around does ask about plans for more alien races and gets the entertaining answer:

When I ask about others, I’m given an entertainingly evasive answer that they’d only be using humanoid races because love scenes get weird with blobs.

Love scenes get weird with blobs. Someone actually sat down and thought about it then? Hold me Garrus, Bioware are starting to scare me.

Today, the SWTOR Friday update announces their Advanced Class System, aka talent trees. This is Spinks’ lack of excitement. I don’t understand why my character has to choose between being dps or being a tank. Obviously I want to switch depending on what mood I’m in that night and what my friends are doing; or maybe that’s not obvious to anyone except me.

All I can say is that this fourth story pillar had better be absolutely knockout. And the truth is, I’m still so enamoured of the storytelling from Dragon Age and Mass Effect that if they are able to produce a massive version with several months worth of story based content, it won’t really matter if the gameplay fails to excite.