Thoughts on SWTOR’s first “gameplay footage”

BioWare and Lucasarts timed the release of their official “sneak peak” at the “gameplay footage” for SWTOR pretty well. It follow marketing’s panic attack after John Riccitiello goofed and revealed that the upcoming MMORPG would be utilizing some form of microtransaction system. I won’t bother turning this into a post about my feelings on RMT/Microtransactions (RMT = fail) but instead focus on what I saw during the footage and what I heard the developers/producers say.

First, let’s look at the graphics, animations, and the overall appearance. BioWare’s own words are “stylized realism”. I actually like it. Lucasarts seems to be going this route with the Clone Wars stuff. It’s a smart decision to go with a graphics style that will last. Stylized graphics are an easy way to sorta immortalize your game or make it still look nice years and years after it comes out. It’s like looking at EQ2 and WoW. In 10 years WoW will still look like WoW, but EQ2 will look weird because it’s mimicking realism and graphics trying to mimic realism will get better.  Stylized graphics are nearly timeless and realism is always short lived.  The animations looked a bit stiff but it’s alpha and forgivable. The combat animations and fights looked pretty neat and I can forgive the “zomg lightsabers that don’t cut people in half” stuff because, after all, it’s a game. I would love to see blasters in action and animations against things that aren’t scripted Jedi fights though.

Notice the choice of words during the video. They’re really wanting to push SWTOR as the next best thing from BioWare and Lucasarts’ Star Wars. They’re also wanting this to be a huge entrance into the online gaming scene.  “Scope” was a selling point – as it should be after the RMT debacle. Words like “deeper” and “broader” are being used in reference to the world. Story is also being emphasized and I think this is where they’ll make or break their game as they set out to distinguish themselves as a new face. I’ve been burned in the past by believing new features will be truly new as advertised, so I’m a little hesitant to get sucked in by the hype of their story system.  Putting story at the forefront of the experience where every one of your decisions is “impactful” to your end-goal and character progression sounds great. Let’s see it in action.

They’ve come out and said that combat will be fast pace and action oriented.  That’s a good thing, given what we’re working with here.  Lightsabers being slow to the point of turnbased skill selection would be a yawn-fest.   That’s not a liscense to go where Age of Conan went with combat though.  I hope that we see a lot of reactionary animations and moves from characters in response to other player’s abilities.  This would be a good way to get the combat looking active yet at the same time manageable.  Working auto attacks into a sort of flourish could work.

Playstyle was only touched upon in one sentence.  Like all games try and do when advertising their game, they’re trying to appeal to everyone.  Yeah, never going to happen.  The game will have a target audience and an inherent style;  the casuals, the hardcores, the accisibilitites, etc.  If I were to take a guess here… I really think that SWTOR will not be a PvE treadmill game whatsoever like WoW and I’m almost positive that there will be little to no PvP design (afterthought style).  I’m actually expecting a Guild Wars type game here folks.  I think it’s going to be that “jump in and jump out” type play with a lot of storyline incorporated – perhaps like LOTRO did but better.  Add in the “rumored” *cough* leaked *cough* microtransaction news and it only confirms the potential for a shallow experience.  If the game world turns out to be immersive and the scope enormous while somehow achieving quality gameplay, then we’ll see a success.  AAA, however, may be questionable.  I think it only holds the potential right now in name/brand recognition.  It’s a Star Wars MMORPG made by Bioware – c’mon, of course it’ll be popular (and even moreso since they’re constantly plugging KOTOR).

The real test will be in a few months when more information is available.  I’ll ask myself the following question to decide if I’ll get the game:  “If this wasn’t a Star Wars game and it wasn’t made by BioWare, would the game stand on its own merits?”

  • It would appear that “Age of Conan: IN SPACE!!” is Lex Luthor approved. That alone speaks volumes.

    But I liked your analysis. Your question at the end really is a good one. Games like DC Universe, this, and, well, lots of recent MMOs (AoC, WAR, LOTRO) seem to come in with the idea of using existing IPs their company didn’t make. I wonder if that’s the only way they think they can compete with WoW, through name recognition.

  • Brief notes:

    – Guild Wars was based around PvP (not ‘afterthought style’), so if there’s little PvP in SW:TOR expect some differences

    – “If this wasn’t a Star Wars game and it wasn’t made by BioWare, would the game stand on its own merits?”

    Screw that – the reasons I’m getting the game ARE that it’s Star Wars and made by BioWare (either one being reason enough). Otherwise all we would know about the game is “Umm we have this MMO from some indie dev house and it has a good story in an original new universe etc etc”. Who’s going to buy that?

  • @Melf: I think you’re missing the point. “Just because” it’s Star Wars and/or BioWare doesn’t mean it’s automatically the most awesome thing ever created. I more or less consider myself a “fan” of the IP but off-hand I don’t ever recall playing a great Star Wars game. No, not even X-Wing vs. TIE fighter. I’m putting effort into finishing Mass Effect because I’ve never had a BioWare game suck me in before. But the problem here once again is: I’m deliberately having to put effort into making myself play it. If we don’t lay off the hype bandwagon and honestly ask ourselves if the game stands on its own merits regardless of its bullet points, we’re just inviting more and more AoCs, Warhammers, Tabula Rasas, etc. that deliver broken and empty promises.

    In 10 years WoW will still look like WoW, but EQ2 will look weird because it’s mimicking realism and graphics trying to mimic realism will get better.

    10 years? Dude, EQ2 looks frickin’ weird NOW. I’m with you on stylized graphics having a longer appeal though. I noticed that most prominently during beta for AoC. The “sweet!” eye candy quickly wore thin and became boring for me because of its leaning towards the “realism” side of things. Same with Vanguard after a short while. But I can always go back to games that look more like art than an attempt at photorealism. LOTRO, GW, even TF2 for something outside the MMO sphere. WoW would certainly apply, though I refuse to ever go down the WoW road again.

  • I’m also, like Melf, planning to get it because it’s by Bioware. I hate micro transactions and so far thwe only Star Wars games i’ve found remotely interesting are the KotoR ones, but Bioware are the gods at storyline n’ choice in the current gaming world.

    If it wasn’t Bioware I wouldn’t be interested is basically where I stand. But as long as they keep pumping things out with their name tab on i’ll keep snapping them up.

    I also can’t see the point of forcing yourself to play something. If you’re not enjoying it – stop. Come back another time, do something else. I’ve never pushed myself through a game if I didn’t enjoy it.

  • Personally, the combat in the video looks stale and classic MMOish, which will absolutely be a complete fail if it goes through to launch like that. Characters didn’t move during combat, most attacks hit air in front of the targets instead of the targets themselves.

    For a first gameplay video, I was expected something more. Like a character finishing up a light saber duel and running off and jumping in a spaceship to fly off into the sunset.

    After WAR, I’m as jaded as can be. Bioware has to deliver with TOR, and not just lightsabers.

  • @Melf Himself: I did not imply that Guild Wars was afterthought pvp. The period before even talking about Guild Wars indicated that I was done talking about PvP as an afterthought and moving on to a new thought. Guild Wars is designed a certain way – pvp or not. I have a Guild Wars vibe right now that I can’t shake after watching the video.

    It’s totally up to you if you’ll walk into something blindly because of name recognition. BioWare has never done a MMORPG. They have no in-house model or plan that has been implemented before by which to be judged. Technically, BioWare is a newbie here and brings zero reassurment for me – in fact no more than an indie dev would in a similar position. I’ll need to see that they’re doing more than what I think they’re doing before I can begin trusting the game will be what everyone would hype it up to be.

  • I walked blindly into WotLK and loved it. Well.. till the raiding anyway 😉

    Sometimes it’s nice to just jump into a game with no previous following and see what comes of it. I found myself disliking WAR some what because I had been devouring every bit of information I could about it. Yet with WotLK I knew the talent trees and that’s it.

    In fact now I think of it, the games I actually had little/no real information on have been the ones i’ve enjoyed the most… period. I suppose I just like seeing for myself rather than being told.

  • Hmmm, Keen can you elaborate on the difference between LOTRO and WoW? Because for the 22 levels I lasted in LOTRO, it seemed like a reskinned WoW with good flavor, unresponsive combat, and a (theoretically) interesting PVP zone design. If by “no leveling treadmill” you mean that there was no endgame to speak of or that they basically forced you to do all of the quests with their xp allocation, then I’d agree with you.

    I’ll believe that this isn’t just “WoW with western RPG-style dialogue trees” when I see it. Otherwise you’re pretty close to where I am on TOR. I am going to try to play the beta and then wait a couple months to see if it has staying power. Lately I have been enjoying betas more, where everyone quickly hits the same cap and is just running around trying stuff, rather than release where everyone is speed grinding to cap.

  • @ Shamutanti: Don’t confuse knowing what a game will be like with knowing the details of the game.

    Let me use a very easy example: Is the game a FPS or a MMORPG?

    If you don’t like MMORPGs then that’s a good thing to know, isn’t it?

    Let’s use a more relevant example: Is the game all about raiding or is it all about PvP? If you hate PvP then you’re not going to want to buy a PvP game. If you love raiding then perhaps the raiding game will be likely to interest you more. You don’t have to know what type of raiding, or what type of gear, or whether or not there are lots of drops per instance – the details don’t matter.

    Similar concept here. If SWTOR is like Age of Conan, regardless of it being Star Wars, I won’t be interested. If it’s more like WoW or WAR, then I very well may be interested. I don’t need to be told by other people or dig into the details and spoil the “newness” of the game to know these basics.

    That’s what I’m saying – It’s called being an informed buyer – a “duh” thing for most people.

    @Nissl: There are vast, yet subtle, differences between LOTRO and WoW. However, they’re not really relevant to this discussion. The only reference that I made to LOTRO was the story-driven content in reference to SWTOR’s goal of having story at the forefront. If you’ve played both then deep down you understand how similar and different they are in design.

  • See now I would simply stop at FPS or MMORPG. In the sense that if I didn’t want to play an FPS and I knew it was one, I wouldn’t purchase it. That’s all I personally care about.

    Going into detail about whether the game is PvP orientated or Raiding, etc. isn’t of interest to me. I’ll judge the game upon that, once i’m in the game and actually playing it. Which although sounds a rather stupid way of purchasing and playing games, I do I happen to like ‘most things’ as a general rule. I’m pretty forgiving on games as long as they keep me amused! 😛

    The only time I really ‘look’ at games is when i’m browsing the shops and see a particular design on a box that looks interesting. TOR has my interest right now simply because 1) it’s a new MMORPG and 2) I love the start of new MMORPGs.

    The only thing that would put me off that interest would be if it showed it had limited character development, e.g. only 3 class choices, etc. I like games with roughly 6+ choices given to me for class/race/customization, etc.

  • I’m just curious if the decisions will be paper thin like KotOR was. Most your decisions were “Be an angel” “Be indifferent” or “Be a bastard”.

    You come across a baby. Do you: Take it home or kick it? The decisions never felt impactful because you could see right through them. When I make decisions I don’t want it to be obvious what side they’re for.

    I like the Witcher’s version of decision making where it was all shades of gray and you constantly question your choice once it’s passed.

  • I would have to say there are very few game makers I trust to produce a great product.

    Love them or hate them now, Blizzard is one of them.

    The other is Bioware. They make good games.

    Arguing that Bioware has no experience in the MMORPG, while true, is a pretty weak argument.

    Recent history has shown that previous experience in making MMORPGs has little impact on whether a company is able to make a good game.

    Bioware will make a good MMORPG, they don’t know how NOT to.

  • As of right now, I’m still very much in the group of people that will be getting the game. It’s Star Wars and BioWare so it definitely will warrant me at least trying it.

    The only major concern that I have, it sounds like the game is going to be heavy on PvE. Hopefully they won’t forget about the PvP like Turbine did with LOTRO. The potential for PvP in TOR should be huge.. but the same could of been said for LOTRO.

  • @brandedx: Depends on what one is arguing. Having no experience with MMORPGs is certainly not a case and point argument because companies like Blizzard have come out and done miraculous things with the genre. However, arguining certain particulars can be fairly strong. The main argument I have is that we have no idea where they’re going with the game right now. Until we do, fear of their inexperience is justified.

  • Was it just me or did anyone else feel LESS enthusiastic about this game after watching that video? I liked the idea of story dictating a lot of the game’s events, but that was about it. Is everyone going to be a Jedi in this game or something? As Keen said, this is alpha, but still, I would be embarassed to show some of that footage. 😛

  • All I can say is that even though it is set out in the time before Vader where as was told to us constact fighting agains the sith and the Jedi, is that its not going to take off as you will not be able to decied from the start at level 1 weather your a Jedi or a Sith or a Bounty Hunter and have PVP.
    It also wont take off the way it is even after alpha, no im am not forgiving, you wanna showcase something hit with your best shot. It looks WoWish its going to stay WoW is for the next how ever long it stays around for.
    I love star wars but maybe some look into the way pvp is, ( for the shutting down in three weeks for ever after 5 years ) Matrix Online combat might help. You can still have story as well as PVP.