[SWTOR] Flashpoints, romances, endgame [spoilers]

instancespinks

So Spinks is now level 50, and I think I’ve completed all of the flashpoints apart from Directive 7 (which is cool but looooong – I dropped out before we got to the end, but the guys were able to finish it) and Kaon Under Siege, which is the newest one. I’ve found them fun in general (although there’s massive hate on for Colicoid War Games, which is just an odd instance – think vehicle fights), especially the more story based flashpoints like Boarding Party/ Foundry and Battle for Ilum/False Emperor.

These pictures show:

  1. On the left, the downside to killing mobs by flinging them off high places. I’m standing on a beam, looking down at dead mobs who are way out of my reach …. and who have loot on them. Oops. However, force push is the best power evah! Flinging people off things is great.
  2. This is the equivalent screenshot to the one everyone took in Wrath of their character sitting on the frozen throne. Since Spinks is modelling a shiny black and silver set of badass armour here, she doesn’t show up too well on the leather-upholstered throne. Also it’s perhaps not the most ladylike pose, but who cares?

The levelling game in SWTOR has been one of the best CRPG experiences I’ve had in any game since Planescape. This game is no Planescape, but I don’t think the Bioware storytelling model has ever worked better. You have the multiple origins of DAO, the ‘you are a god/dess in mortal form’ of ME, and combat is genuinely more fun than either (for me at least). However flawed, the dialogue wheel has added some fun to the game, and so have the companion stories. I’ve enjoyed the various jumps in difficulty, but mostly I’ve loved feeling like a badass sith warrior and pretty much just abusing power in all of its forms.

It’s been a blast.

Endgame was always bound to mess up the nice smooth lines of story flow. There’s no interesting story way to really explain running dailies, PvP in the same battlegrounds, or regular flashpoints … or even why there are hardmodes in the world at all. The Ilum instances in particular include massive spoilers for the Ilum storyline, but you’re allowed to go run them as soon as you hit the appropriate level. They’re not gated by whether you have got to that part of the story.

Bioware pretty much have to do this, because plenty of players will not want to keep questing when they get to 50 just to get access to an instance. However, it does mean that you could innocently agree to an instance run with your guild and get massively spoiled on story.

Companion romances also have the potential to mess up the story flow. Unlike in DA2, where the progress of the romances was tied deeply into the plot, in SWTOR the romances proceed based purely on your level and the companion’s level of affection.

So, for example, you could be in a situation where the levelling storyline runs that your companion attempts to betray you, where the romance storyline for that companion is that you’ve just married them. And there’s not really much dialogue to explain either how that’s affecting the relationship or why it didn’t. (This has been a massive source of complaints on the Sith Warrior forums – I’m a RPer so I’m used to tying myself in knots to explain why my character has done fairly inexplicable things, but this one was a doozy.)

Actually, while the romances have been fun, it does my head in to imagine my character being happily married at all, and the thought of her having kids … (I’m not kid-averse, but she’s a badass sith warrior with poor impulse control, this is not perhaps the stuff of good mothering. Besides which, surely she’d rather be trashing the universe?) The marriage thing feels a bit tacked on, like a Lucasarts nod to conventional morality. ie. you can be as evil as you like, but if you have a permanent relationship, it should end in marriage/ commitment.

The DA2 relationships worked better, for me. But hey, it was still a bit of fun. Especially since the Sith Warrior romance with Quinn plays out more like an extended comedy sequence than a romance anyway. I did laugh at the conversation where he noted, “Now that we’ve agreed to get married, you could call me Malavai?” Just because it raised the spectre of ‘what on earth was she calling him in private if not his first name?’ Too much information on my character’s private life there, perhaps :)

[SWTOR] In which Bioware finally nail single player gameplay

A funny thing happened to me this week while playing Star Wars: the Old Republic. My Sith Warrior chick (partner says accusingly, “She looks evil!” but I think he’s just influenced by being in the same room as me while I’m playing) is in the final stages of her class quest now, and I’ve noticed a couple of difficulty ramps in the single player game as I go. But the funny thing is that this week I realised that I was enjoying the single player difficulty, in fact I’m enjoying it far more than WoW.

I may have noted previously that Bioware have done a good job in making the set piece, end of plot arc, boss fights harder than the comparable missions while not being minmaxingly hard (ie. you can beat them if you play carefully even with a randomish build and your choice of companion). But looking back, they have also been teaching you as a player to figure out how to work out a decent rotation (ie. which of your abilities do most damage so you should use them as soon as they come off cooldown, etc), how to use interrupts, using the scenery to help, figuring out how best to handle groups of linked mobs, using your companion to help out, and so on.

For example, I struggle to take on two strong mobs of my level … unless I let my companion pull one while I kill the other and then taunt the spare one back. Even the wimpiest of companions, assuming they’re geared at their level, can tank a mob for awhile on their own. Where there is a strong mob with one or more normal ones, the normals usually do more damage and die faster so it’s best to kill them first. Corner pulls can be used to drag ranged mob out of a room. As an MMO dino, I’m familiar with a lot of these tactics, but I get a kick out of how much more manageable the game becomes when I start using them rather than just piling straight into a fight.

And what’s more, I’m finding that the difficulty supports the storytelling. Not in every case for sure, but the way the single player class quests balance increasing difficulty with increasing story importance has worked really well to draw me in. And in a way that DAO/ DA2 never quite managed (much as I enjoyed them as story games).

I like that as an MMO, players can also choose to level up or bring friends to make the quests easier if they prefer that route. Choices are good. But I think Bioware have hit on some very solid  gameplay in the single player quests, still in the MMO mould for sure, but a subtle improvement nonetheless.

Now the interesting thing about single player difficulty is that part of the difficulty is because you’re still learning the game and the class. I’m sure if I played it through again on a new Sith Warrior, I’d find the quests far easier. Partly because I know what’s going to happen in the fights, and partly because I’ve learned how the class handles. So I want to record that NOW on my first ever playthrough, without looking up builds, gear, or rotations and learning as I go I found that the difficulty level was fun and appropriate. I like only having to worry about one companion, as opposed to the party based DAO, it keeps things fluid and dynamic while not having too many NPCs to gear up and worry about at the same time.

I hope that this is something Bioware can build on in future content. I don’t expect single player endgame to be their main focus, but in SWTOR, they may actually have built one of the more solid gameplay engines of any of their games that I have played. So I found it interesting that Tobold wondered today whether the game will be appealing once the stories have run out — it’s a valid thought, and I enjoy the stories, but I think the gameplay has a lot of merit too.

[SWTOR] Quest of the day, companion chat, and when is a ban not a ban?

taris1

I’ve mentioned before that I love the graphical sides of being in cities or built up areas in SWTOR. In this screenshot, my Sith Warrior surveys the departures board (I assume) in Taris spaceport.

Taris is interesting in many ways, especially to anyone who remembers it from KOTOR when you encounter the planet before [spoiler alert] it is turned into an industrial wreck. This game takes place around 300 years later, and although Taris is mostly a swampy ruined wreck, it’s been interesting enough that both Republic and Empire have forces there and there are some alien settlements also. It’s not an especially pretty planet, but gives the Bioware artists more opportunities to show their chops on wrecked out industrial landscapes. And swamp.

What I found enthralling is that my class quest here could be boiled down to “find and kill four named republic generals.” That doesn’t sound too exciting, and mechanically it is exactly what your character is doing. And yet, due to the writing, the quest presentation, music, and pacing, it included some of my most memorable moments in the class story so far.

I don’t want to give too many spoilers but one questline in particular sees you furiously racing against time to unlock a safe room inside a reactor that is about to blow up, after having unmasked a ‘fake’ general, and been jumped by republic troops who clearly have no qualms about running into a reactor that’s about to blow up just for the chance of downing a sith. The timer was down to 10s, the music was getting more exciting and intense, and a speech option came up. I said to my companion (Quinn), “Do you have any last words?” And he said, “My lord, you know how I feel about you.”

I laughed. Why can’t you ever say anything that romantic when we’re actually on the ship and don’t have 10s left to live?, I thought, although that option wasn’t actually present. I have enjoyed having Quinn around while questing. He does occasionally pitch in to suggest ideas, or comment on military plans that someone else suggested. Annoyingly, he’s always right. But that comment above came from left field, I was expecting him to have a smart suggestion.

But now I’m curious as to what other companions might have to say for themselves during quests and whether it’s comparable, or if Quinn is an outlier and the writers just liked him.

Pacing

Because I’m a) really digging the game and b) am on holiday at the moment, I’ve been online much more than I usually would. There is a risk in Bioware-type games that once hooked, you can burn through the quests very quickly because you’re just that keen to find out where the story is going. I remember feeling similarly exhausted in Cataclysm-era WoW, because the quest pacing was fast enough that you could burn through content like a three year old in a sweet shop. And it gave me the quest equivalent of a sugar rush back then too.

I am already thinking that I may play another Sith Warrior alt, and take it more slowly next time, writing up each planet or questline as I do it with commentary.

Having said that, the pacing in SWTOR is generally fine (this is on a scale where LOTRO is glacial and WoW is superfast).  It’s a bit slower than WoW because of travel time, listening to quest mobs (if you don’t spacebar through them), and zoning in and out of your ship, and although some would disagree, I find that it gives you some slow time to appreciate the scenery rather than rushing questquestquest.

I have found the difficulty generally good in the game. I’ve been upgrading my gear via quests and gear tokens (which you get for planetary quests), and using biochem to keep myself supplied with healing and buff potions. I am enjoying that I can sometimes die in quests, but that when this happens, I can try again with a bit more thought and get through it. The end of chapter 1 was a particular high point and I died about 4 times in one part before I got the hang of it. Finishing that questline and picking up my legacy name felt like that much more of an achievement.

We’ve also had a chance to run some more flashpoints, none of which have really compared to Black Talon in terms of story. Which is not to say that they haven’t been fun. Plus you may meet some old friends in Boarding Party/ The Foundry which was split into two parts so as presumably to be more manageable for players. (I don’t think either is especially long but they work fine as shorter halves.) We’re still dual tanking them, although I’m now taking on more of the single bosses/ tougher mobs.

The bans, they burn

Top ‘news’ in the game this week was that some people were temporarily banned for doing something exploity in the level 50 zone with their low level alts. (The official explanation for this is behind this link.)

If you read the comments on the RPS story about this, you’ll see how quickly some players get riled up about this. And how people are able to (with a straight face, I presume) argue that innocent players who just wanted to test the limits of what the game allowed them to do are being HURT by this evil EA attitude.

But as an experienced MMO player, I tend to assume that ultra competitive players have a propensity to be obsessive cheating gits (as shown by every exploit in WoW ever) who are not satisfied with merely finding interesting loopholes and reporting them but will then go on and exploit them as if their lives depended on it until stopped, and if that ruins the game for other people then that’s seen as an added bonus. So colour me unsurprised when RPS later posted a more nuanced explanation, and were immediately accused by their readers of pro-EA bias.

What we get from this is that the readers of RPS tend to be twats. Or maybe it’s just that most gamers are twats (present company excepted, naturally), the jury is still out.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no issues with people playing competitively. But if something needs a fix that cannot be done immediately (ie. needs time to decide what the best way is to proceed), I have no issues with temporary bans being handed out while that happens as long as the players were given the chance to stop the offending behaviour first. Also I have no issues with people being banned for gold farming. And one of the good things about playing a sub game is that they usually have active CS teams to deal with this kind of thing, which I believe makes the game better and fairer for everyone else.

And now, here is two sith dancing (/clubdance is great)

dancing

[SWTOR] Let me tell you about my character (Sith Warrior – minor spoilers), and notes on difficulty

Fortunately (?) for my loyal readers, Bioware decided to put a maintenance window in from 10am-4pm local time today. Which means that now that I’ve figured out screenshots, I can talk more about my sith warrior and why I love it.

EA did note in a recent press release that over 850k sith warriors have been created over the holidays, so I don’t feel particularly special in that respect. Still, this one is MINE. EA are also claiming “fastest growing subscription MMO ever” which I’m sure is true, and it will be interesting to see if/when they break 2 million subscriptions. (More of an if really, because that would definitely put the game in a different ballpark than anything other than WoW.)

I make no predictions as to what the community/size will look like in 3 or 6 months. But then, I’m wavering on whether ANY new MMO could retain the majority of customers for over 6 months these days, sandbox or themepark. Bioware have already announced that they’re working on a new operation (raid) and flashpoint (instance) for the next update and it would make sense to focus the first new content on the hardcore since they’re the ones who rush through to endgame most quickly.

Anyway, on to my sith warrior… with pictures!

spinksSW1

The top picture here is Spinks riding on a speeder in Tattooine, this isn’t my personal transport (sadly that looks more like a floating lawnmower), it’s the local public transport but I thought it was a nice design. Bottom left is Spinks looking out on Nar Shaddaa which is a moon/planet taken up entirely by a Bladerunner-esque city. And the bottom right screenshot was taken inside an instance, in which I’m standing next to the viewing platform in a spaceship looking down at a planet’s surface.

As you can see, my whistle stop tour of the known galaxy to spread mayhem and destruction is going pretty well. The planets are beautiful, with plenty of open space to explore and maybe find lore objects or holocrons (unless you are totally cheating and look the locations up online in which case you can’t really call yourself an explorer). Each one has a theme, backed up with its own music, colour scheme, and architecture. So you never really get the jarring zone transition of going from a desert to a jungle that’s such a feature in many open world MMOs.

One thing that Bioware have executed brilliantly is lots of large cities that look like actual futuristic cities and not just a small collection of houses with a corner shop and pub. The urban architecture on SWTOR is absolutely stunning. It’s not true open world  where you could go into every house and interact with whoever lives there, start your own business, build your own house, but in truth very few games are. SWTOR has gorgeous themepark style cities to explore, and I love them.

The gameworld itself feels spacious. Aside from the large open vistas when you are outside a city, Bioware are comfortable with making huge cathedral-like buildings when they feel like it, even for a one man instanced class phase. There are small buildings too, but I think the larger ones add to the general epic feel.

The main hub though is the fleet which is where you’ll tend to go to meet up for flashpoints, use the auction house or bank, train crew skill recipes et al. If you don’t fancy the fleet there are other cities you could use as your own personal hub but they’ll tend to involve a slightly longer journey (Kaas City and Nar Shaddaa for Empire both have auction houses, trainers and banks, for example.) Actually travelling from one planet to another is done via your space ship, which you acquire via class questline on the second planet you visit. So you have to get to your ship via the local space port, take off, select your destination via the star map, warp through, and then exit. This doesn’t actually require any piloting ability, it’s similar to the Mass Effect style of teleporting to your destination. It does take a few minutes though, especially if you are lagging.

spinksSW2

Top screenshot here is inside a palace in Aldaraan, with my handy companion and a rebellious noble who I captured and am delivering to justice (or my personal variant that once met justice for an awkward blind date before deciding that they really had nothing much in common.) My class storyline is exciting mostly because I’m starting to care more about it and the various characters involved. I want to see what happens next, I recognise foreshadowing as it is happening. It isn’t a coincidence that a couple of the quest NPCs associated with long planetary questlines recently have both warned me about my sith master, hinting that my long term interests may not be his.

The second screenshot is from Tattooine, and an encounter that I had with my darkside shadow (that’s why she’s looking especially murky) who also told me off about being overly light side. She was extremely convincing. I am reconsidering my character’s morality strongly right now, and this is the kind of story based experience which is making the game so compelling.

Tattooine, although I didn’t realise it at the time, has also hosted a couple of the most memorable quests I’ve run so far. One was part of the class quest, where your warrior is instructed to go search out a sand demon and bathe in its blood. “Simple,” you think, “Mr Sand demon, meet Mr Lightsabre.” But the Jedi you are tracking down apparently accomplished this without killing. So the question is, are you feeling competitive enough to say “Well if she could do it then so can I!!!” or do you just kill the thing and get the blood and have done with it? I went with the first option, and felt pathetically proud when I was able to pick out responses that allowed me to do it. Clearly at some point you’ll be able to look this stuff up online – but by doing that you’ll miss out on how it /feels/ to think it through yourself. This is what MMOs have lost by getting rid of puzzles that require you to think things through.

The other Tattooine questline I enjoyed was about an ancient alien artifact with a corrupting influence. This for me was a great example of how good questing can be. There was lots of travelling, fighting, talking to NPCs, and the final fight in an ancient tomb was very well balanced for me. I won, but used all my cooldowns and ended up on a sliver of health.

SWTOR isn’t a hard game, but I do find it entertaining that the harder bosses in the single player storyline are noticeably tougher. It’s a place where the mechanics really underpin the storytelling. Although there was one fight on a hidden orbital station that I found really tough, only to realise afterwards that there were two tanks full of healing gas that I could have broken mid-fight to heal myself up. “Oh!” I thought, “that’s how I should have done it.” But there was no time before the fight to explore the scenery and figure that out.

In which I remember I was going to talk about flashpoints

I have not been religiously running every flashpoint or heroic/ group quest as they come up for me, but the flashpoints I have seen so far have ranged from “really fun” (Black Talon) to “kind of cool” (Athiss, Mandalorian Raiders — both of which are more similar to WoW instances  in terms of the layout).

My sith warrior is Vengeance specced. That means her advanced class is Juggernaut, but I’m focussing on a dps tree. I still do get some baseline abilities that help with tanking and I have been tanking the instances. It would be truer to say that we’ve tended to dual tank them, which works quite well given that I’m not currently full tank spec. The sith warrior (unsurprisingly) reminds me a lot of Vanilla-esque WoW warriors in that their AE threat isn’t very impressive, and they have a sunder armour type debuff and an AE thunderclap-esque ability. They also have a variety of response skills (ie. things you can use after you have parried, or when your opponent is stunned et al) that do good damage if you use them appropriately, although elite mobs are fairly resistant to stuns and knockbacks. So being adept at target switching when you are trying to tank more than one mob will come in handy. I’ve heard complaints about the Sith Warrior’s tanking, but I’m finding it fine.

Generally, the trash mobs are fairly simple but the bosses may have more involved mechanics. None of them so far have been especially complicated, but using interrupts appropriately makes many of the encounters MUCH easier.

Mandalorian Raiders was the first instance where mobs really started to use knockbacks against us, handily knocking me off a platform mid fight. (This is where having multiple tanks gets really useful.) Lesson learned, in future I’m tanking with my back to the wall. The final boss was also good fun, teleporting around the room while turrets fired on the players from all corners. It felt like a very interactive fight, with me (as the tank) keeping the boss occupied as best I could while dps took out the turrets and Arb’s healer somehow kept us all up with some phenomenal multitasking.  I’m looking forwards to trying out the others as we level up a bit — I keep hearing that The Foundry has awesome lore, so that may be a particular high point.

[SWTOR] Are we there yet?

Bioware have taken the fairly brave step of allowing new players into their shiny new servers/ game in waves, depending on when they entered their pre-order codes into their accounts.

Naturally this has spawned some classic board-rage on the official boards from people who don’t think they got their money’s worth. I don’t normally have a lot of time for board rage but in this case I think they have a point. Retailers/ Bioware were charging extra for those pre-order bonuses, and I think people are entitled to know exactly what they get for their money. Stepped pre-entry might have been fairer if the pre-order had not cost extra over the box version.

Arb and I cheesed the whole thing by getting given pre-order codes for free at Comic Con back in July, so we got in early and made our characters last night. I have a pretty blue bounty hunter and a pretty red sith and a pretty green smuggler. Who knew my life was so devoid of characters with primary-coloured skin? (I know people have criticised SWTOR for the fact so many of the races are recoloured humans, but I actually kind of like the way they look. I also like that you can make dark skinned humans, and that so many of the NPCs also have dark skin. That’s been missing from far too many games, given how easy it should be to do.)

So far the early start seems to have been going very smoothly. That’s not a small thing at all, so props to Bioware and hope they can keep it up. The pre-loaded guild setup means that if you had joined a guild and noted it on the Bioware site before launch, when you log into the server to which that guild was assigned, one of your characters (you can choose which) gets an automatic invite. This has also been working neatly, and saves a lot of hassle around “omg, is anyone around who can invite me???!!” (especially if one’s guildmaster did not get into early start until near the end.)

I will write some more specific posts on particular mechanics or storytelling tricks that I think either work or don’t in this case. But I am continually blown away by how clever the camera work is in the cut scenes, showing different characters’ reactions to conversation, and giving extra information about my character from her posture and movement. I see her leaning casually against a wall, pacing up and down like a caged animal, and all in the background of whoever is actually speaking. It very effectively gives the impression of the sith warrior as a lioness, ferocious, arrogant, contained. How can you not love that?

I am trying to decide whether to give amusing updates on how my budding sith warrior is faring. I don’t want to give spoilers, but … if they’re funny…? Maybe I will mark any such with spoiler tags.

Favourite moment so far: My warrior messing around and telling her master, “If you see the emperor, say hello from me.” His response, “I’m sure he’ll be thrilled,” which sounds like nothing unless you actually heard how dripping with sarcasm the voice work was. I wonder if I’ll have that level of sark when I’m a big strapping warriorette; one can but aspire to greatness. Have also decided that my warrior will suck up to the empire military because they have nice uniforms. Other than that, it’s light side for me.

Also teamed up with a friendly inquisitor (shurely shome mistake?) to complete a couple of group quests. We died a couple of times, but never both at the same time, so were able to press on and complete them both. Naturally I have forgotten her name and didn’t friend her at the time.

[SWTOR] More thoughts from beta (space combat, PvP, etc.)

This was the last weekend of beta testing for The Old Republic, and now the servers are down and being wiped. Hopefully some of the team get a few days downtime too before the craziness of launch.

The changes from last week’s build were noticeable. I think graphics were improved, servers seemed more stable (we didn’t suffer lots of d/c during flashpoints this time around) and I noticed some minor but very useful UI changes. For example, last week people commented that it wasn’t obvious where the bindpoints were or how they worked unless you specifically set them to show up on your map. Now they’re indicated more clearly in the game. There’s no doubt that the game itself is ready for prime time — main technical issues I had were with how long it takes to quit out of the game. (And it did hang my computer while quitting at least once, or at least took long enough that I got bored and rebooted.)

This time around I aimed to try a few of the classes I skipped last weekend, and level my sith warrior high enough to get my own ship and try out the space combat. My overall impression is that the story emphasis has a much bigger effect on how involved players get with their characters than I first thought. I did miss my sith warrior when I didn’t have beta access, gonzo as she is. Agreed with Arb and other friends in the beta that we had all enjoyed all the classes we’d tried, and thought it would be fun to play all of them at some point to see their stories. (That’s quite a lot of replayability in itself, but raises other issues around communications. This is a game that could really use a realID style comms channel, so you can chat to your friends without having to remember which alt they’re on today.)

So here’s some notes in bullet point form:

  • Found out how to buy advanced class skills. Apparently I did have a taunt at level 10, who knew? (Will post separately to explain how that’s done, in case anyone else misses it the same way I did.)
  • Sith Warrior still is a faintly embarrassing indulgence for me. I don’t know what the rest of her story is like but Act I is a gonzo non-politically correct power fantasy. There’s nothing really surprising yet, it’s the sort of stuff you’d expect, but beautifully implemented. Vette did imply that I was bonkers at least once, not sure if I should punish her for insolence or buy her a new blaster. No signs of any romance yet, but I think you’d have to be crazy to flirt with a sith lord anyway, even if they were hot. (OTOH, I could imagine my character picking out a hot imperial soldier with: “You, my room, tonight!” because that’s how she is. Like I say, it’s not politically correct. But probably something that everyone should try once ;) ) Am puzzled that my protective headgear seems to consist mostly of a mouthpiece — it is thematic but does the rest of my head not need protecting more? I do love how her voice changed when she was wearing it though. Darth Baras still sounds cool although am suspecting he is in fact a colossal jerk (you could argue that I should have twigged this sooner.) Created a male sith warrior to compare the voices, and he sounds awesome.
  • The ships are nice, similar in style to the KOTOR ship with floor plans and several rooms. It is basically player housing. It also comes with a friendly droid (who is excessively subservient if you are a sith warrior.)
  • Space combat is a separate minigame with its own missions, tokens, and rewards (mostly stuff to kit out your ship to make it better at the minigame.) It’s not difficult and I’m not sure how deep it really gets but is pretty and can be a bit fiddly, I had to repeat the first mission a couple of times before I got it. Kitting out your ship also helps enormously. Ultimately I thought it was fun so we’ll call that a win, but it’s not full 3D elite-style dogfighting, Star Trek possibly still your best bet for that in a MMO.
  • Tried PvP on my Bounty Hunter, I suspect strong influence here from the WAR team. Scenarios are compact and combat is fast paced. I tried Huttball which is a capture the flag scenario with extra tweaks involving ramps, platforms and air vents that help you jump. And you can pass the ball from one person in your team to another. Was fun, and worth doing once for the xp, but reminded me of all the annoying things about MMO PvP that bug me (ie. the bunny hopping rogues.)
  • Played consular some more. I still enjoy the slower, more thoughtful pace of the storytelling. And being able to throw rocks at people with my mind; that’s quite good and is a skill I’ve often wished for iRL. I’m curious to see how they deal with the mind reading/ controlling aspect of this class (a la Obi Wan), or whether it gets glossed over.
  • Played smuggler; the Han Solo quotient is high here. I find the class quite fun and like the cover mechanic. The smuggler isn’t as sarky as some of the empire classes (no really!), instead she has some cocky conversation options and lots of opportunity to tell people that it’s all about the money and you’re not really fighting for the republic. Liked the starting storyline also.
  • Character models are stylized and that can sometimes mean odd design decisions. All the male models except the weediest have huge barrel chests, and all the female ones have big boobs. (Was touched to hear someone on one of the republic chat channels wondering why the female models all looked skinny with big boobs, because he wanted to make a char that looked like his girlfriend who was “small and normal looking with big boobs.” Awwww.) Male characters do get an option to be fat, the female equivalent is merely very curvy with a big bum that sticks out when she is in combat stance in a way that makes you wonder if she’s about to fart.

As you can see I’m very positive about the game, and can’t wait to play it with friends in live. Haven’t decided yet on which class. I loved my sith warrior so much, but the bounty hunter was awesome too and it’s nice to have ranged options. Plus BH can be Chiss (ie. blue).

The judgement call is “if you like this sort of thing, you’ll really like this game.” It is what it is, but I’ve never played any RPG with this kind of attention to detail/ story/ voicework.

[SWTOR] My first thoughts on beta

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((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.