Below you’ll find my feelings about SWTOR based on the beta testing I have participated in for ~1 month. I have no experience with the end-game, crafting, PvP (if you can’t predict the PvP you need to play more of these games) or much at all beyond the level 20 gameplay. I felt no need to spoil the game for myself any further. You’ll glean this from what I have to say later, but SWTOR is a predictable game and I am confident that I have judged it accurately, even with my limited experience. I’ll be honest up front with you guys and tell you that I offer nothing ground-breaking by way of new information. If you find my opinion helpful (whether it be we think alike or you know to think the opposite of me), then read on.
Note: I’ll break down individual mechanics, features and theorycraft about what they can improve upon after launch.
Overview (Read this, if nothing else)
SWTOR is a themepark through and through. If you hate WoW for the kind of game that it is, don’t bother with SWTOR; however, if you simply hate WoW because it’s cool to hate WoW or you’re simply tired of playing in Azeroth, then you might want to give SWTOR a chance.
As a new game being released, SWTOR does nothing to change what we’re all familiar with in games. It’s the same RPG story-telling we expect from Bioware and it’s the same WoW-clone we expect from MMO’s. SWTOR does it well, though, and that’s where I justify wanting to play.
A line I have used in the past is, “If [MMO] is like WoW, but not better in any way, why not just play WoW?” I like to use Rift as an example. Rift is not a terrible game, but it does nothing better than WoW; content was boring, combat was stiff, etc. That’s why I saw no reason to keep playing Rift. SWTOR has fun and interesting PvE content that keeps me interested and wanting to see what happens next. I’m confident that I will feel the drive to see every area and encounter the game offers.
Graphics, engine, atmosphere
The Hero Engine might already be showing its age. I’m not very impressed with the quality of graphics. They are inferior to WoW. However, SWTOR might make up for graphics in atmosphere. Use of vertical space is superb and in general I feel immersed in the experience of Star Wars. Hutta feels like a Hutt planet and you can tell immediately when the Empire owns a location.
Maybe it’s a beta issue, but when there are too many people playing it lags. I’m hoping it’s from an optimization issue and not a sign that the engine can’t handle the load.
I have no UI complaints. I don’t understand any hate for the chat since it works just fine for me. I love the map. I prefer minimalistic, so your mileage may vary.
Instancing and storytelling, SWTOR’s day-to-day content play
Bioware dialog options in a multiplayer setting works — it really works! (“It’s working! It’s working!”) They have no excuses anymore for making their games not support LAN or multiplayer. Seeing what other people choose based on their class, alignment, or how they want to respond to a conversation keeps dialog always fresh. Unfortunately, or maybe it isn’t unfortunate but simply a reality, this is going to be a very magical experience the first time through but it won’t be in subsequent play-throughs. I can already vouch for the starting experience being numb for me, whereas the first time through it was mind-blowing.
The story is fun (I say that in a general sense, I’ve played only Empire and mostly Bounty Hunter as a completely evil person). At times I feel like they insert “kill X” crap but at least there is humor mixed in. The game os not as funny as KOTOR., i.e. there are no HK-47 moments of brilliance, but you’ll still laugh and enjoy the standard Bioware humor. I was particularly impressed with being allowed to complete quests in different ways. Right at the beginning of the Bounty Hunter story is the option to kill a guy or let him live. You get to choose. Not only that, you get to choose how you report what happened to the person you were sent to kill. You can lie or tell the truth. Other opportunities to extort more money or be a nice guy, accept or decline awards, and all that other Bioware dialog RPG stuff is in SWTOR. It’s a decent upgrade from the standard quest turn in options.
SWTOR can feel lonely if you play by yourself. The instancing is seamless when you transition to your private areas (those green instance walls you see in screenshots) but it can still feel like a very solo game. Play with some buddies and the game feels a lot more social. That sounds obvious, but even WoW feels like a solo game when you quest with friends because it’s mindless.
Classes and Races, companions, customization in general
Bioware did a good job with class selection. I’ve enjoyed every class so far and I think they all feel very different. I like their abilities, I like the lack of auto-attack, and I feel like, even though there are only a handful of classes, we have some diversity in how we’ll all play. I can’t promise it will always make sense, though. Bounty Hunter tanks, healing smugglers…. it’s weird.
Races suck. I really hate them. You can be blue people, red people, or just people. I have no idea why Bioware has us restricted to the most human-like of the humanoids. I’d rather be an Ithorian, Rodian, Bothan, Jawa, Wookie, Weequay, Trandoshan, Toydarian, Gamorrean, or Ugnaught! Most of these are NPC’s in the game, but not playable. The ball has been dropped on this one. Don’t get me wrong, this is the first time in a while you can change your weight, but this smells of corner cutting.
Some of the voice acting blows. I can’t choose my character’s voice and it doesn’t match his body or personality. Sometimes the voices feel like they’ve been added after the original recording and they aren’t spliced well or they’ve been recorded on a desktop mic. I’ve submitted numerous in-game bug reports about them.
Companion characters are better than I thought they would be. You get to customize their look with kits, give them stuff to use, and control their abilities quite a bit. I like them. I regret being so vocal against them a year ago.
Final thoughts (for this blog entry, anyway)
SWTOR is worth buying because it has the qualities of every other Bioware RPG. If you bought Dragon Age Origins or Mass Effect and had fun, and you like or tolerate themepark MMOs, then SWTOR is no different.
From what I have seen, I fear the end-game will be just like WoW. I’m not a fan of raiding for gear and I don’t like repeating the same raid over and over. That truly is the end-game for me now — that’s where I’ll end playing the game.
I’m going to play. I’ll enjoy the story, the Star Wars setting, and the cinematicness (Firefox tells me that’s not a word) that will define SWTOR. I can’t promise anything else. It sure beats the heck out of Rift, LotR, Aion, and the rest of the WoW-clones, though. A completely better game than most and obviously on a generous budget.
SWTOR obviously has flaws and there are legitimate reasons for people to dislike it. All said and done, a lot of people who hate on SWTOR as vehemently as they do are probably the same who refuse to buy BF3 because it is on Origin. It’s somewhat nonsensical. A game can bring nothing new to its market and still be a good game. WoW-clones can still be good games. If you have an issue with it being a themepark, power to you and I’m supporting you. Don’t play. To the rest, SWTOR is a Bioware RPG that you can play with friends. Shut up, and enjoy.
I wish the NDA hadn’t lifted right now. I’m away from my computer and unable to stream the beta events or take screenshots or any of that good stuff. This is just the beginning for my SWTOR impressions, though. There’s a lot to talk about after launch when I see more of the game.
If you have any questions, ask away. I’ll likely add more as time goes on.