I need to admit first and foremost that I am not the biggest Star Wars fan. As a kid, I watched the movies with friends but never anything really beyond that. When I heard about SWTOR from a friend, I was really skeptical. Thus far, there hasn’t been a single game <-> movie series that hasn’t been terrible. I dismissed SWTOR as another typical WoW clone that would have some nice gimmicks but fall flat on its face after those gimmicks wore off. My only exposure to the game prior to the beta weekend was some early Alpha footage demonstrating basic gameplay mechanics. After this beta weekend though, I can definitely see why my friend was so excited for the game.
As always, right click > view image to see a larger version of the pictures.
Lore and Questing
One of the first things I worked out was that each class had its own specific quest line. My friends all picked the Sith Inquisitor and I picked the Imperial Agent, which meant they all got to do their beginning quests together and I had to do mine alone. In order to deal with congestion, there are separate instances for quests and the first player to enter determines which instance is initiated.
I managed to unite with my friends after leaving the starting area, and I was pleased to find that my individual class quest had not completed. Unlike other MMO where everyone congregates on a common greater good storyline, you continue your own individual story while experiencing new areas and content. When my friends and I hit a new area, we all had our own respective class quests in specific locations, but also had some common quests to complete as well.
The quests themselves are nothing out of the ordinary. Players are told to go to different places to kill mobs, collect things, or destroy things. More often than not, players are placed in situations where a conflict of interest is present, and the ultimate mission decision will reward light or dark side points. For example, there is a quest where players are told to eliminate people who are stealing medicine. Once you get to the final room, you find that the medicine is being stolen to help aid the sick who aren’t able to afford it through conventional means. Killing the medicine thief anyways will yield some dark side points, and sparing him will yield light side points.
All of the interactions with NPC have voice acting. Thankfully, unlike Age of Conan, all the NPCs seem to have their audio scripts in tact even beyond the starting area. As with the classic Bioware experience, there are good guy, neutral, and bad guy responses through interactions with various NPC.
A new dynamic introduced is the multiplayer conversation choices. When players are grouped together and share a common quest, they all get to select dialogue choices as normal, and an automated roll takes place to decide which player’s choice is acted out. I think the rolls are done such that it is more or less a round robin style where every player will eventually have their choice selected. This makes for a rather humorous progression of dialogue as you can imagine.
My two friends playing the Sith Inquisitors were going for the standard evil / bad-guy approach while I was attempting to be the Good Guy Sith. As a result, all of our dialogue choices were constantly conflicted, though typically more in favor of them than me. I offered to save someone’s life if they provided me with information, and my friends would elect to kill them right after. There is definitely much room for trolling friends here. Fear not though, as long as your character selects the appropriate dialogue choice, you will earn the light or dark side points regardless of who wins the roll.
As part of the starting quest line, you eventually get a companion of some sort. I am not sure if they are randomized or not, but this seems to be the case. For my Imperial Agent quest line, I ended up with Kaliyo, who is basically the SWTOR version of Jack. She hates authority and absolutely enjoys chaos, which conflicted with my Good Guy Sith approach to things. It was pretty funny for me to constantly see Kaliyo’s picture pop up with a -1 affection constantly while I did good deeds endlessly.
Having a companion with you unlocks a whole world of possibilities. It makes doing some of the group quests by yourself possible, expediting your leveling experience. Seeing this system in place and thinking back to the days of FFXI where I would spend up to 2 hours looking for a group to grind exp sure brings a smile to my face. Balance is maintained though, as your companion will disappear if there are two or more player characters within your vicinity.
General Improvements to Life
There are several things that I think should be universal in MMO that SWTOR has brought to the table:
- Returning to any bind spot you have synced with instead of returning to a specific one - This makes traveling much less painful and cuts down significantly on the constant running that takes place at lower levels. I wish more MMO would introduce this, as opposed to having a shorter cool down timer for specific classes.
- Looting all nearby corpses - Funnily enough this is an option that has to be enabled in the preferences screen. I don’t know a single person who would prefer to loot each dead mob individually.
- Self-res via probe or auto return to medical bay - Corpse running is definitely not enjoyable by any person, especially if they have accidentally stumbled upon a terribly difficult area. In addition, wiping to a specific group in a compound would mean having to clear the entire compound again without self-res options.
- Another minor bonus it he ability to revive not only your own companion but other party members as well. There is something like a 10 or 15 minute cool down for the revive party member ability, but it definitely makes life easier.
As you can see, these above features aren’t exactly ground shattering, but it is evident that Bioware understands the MMO experience and has found a way to make life easier without jeopardizing the content difficulty.
Player vs Player (PVP)
I managed to try out three different PVP modes, each of them requiring team work to achieve a common goal. For those familiar with WoW, one of them is similar to Arathi Basin. The idea is that turrets are spread out at three points of the map, controlling them allows your team to shoot at the enemy war ship. Whoever runs out of energy first loses. The games are pretty high pace with players scrambling around to various parts of the map vying for control of the turrets.
Huttsball is basically soccer with SWTOR themed elements. You are supposed to bring the ball across the enemy’s baseline to score a point. The biggest problem I have encountered thus far is that people aren’t aware of how to pass. There is a pass ball action under the “General” tab in your spell book (hit P to open it). Littered around the map are fire traps on a timer and air ventilation shafts that shoot you into the air (I have no idea how to reliably go a specific direction). In case of a tie, being in possession of the ball when the timer expires will also net you a victory.
The third map is similar to the rush style of game play in Battlefield 3, or Strands of the Ancients from WoW. There are two points of entry for each segment, and the objective for the attacker is to go through three of these segments and download some sensitive data hidden at the very end. The objective for defense is obviously to prevent the attackers from advancing. In my experiences thus far, it is pretty difficult for the defensive team to win. There is almost always a congregation of all players at one point of entry and 1-2 people manage to sneak to the other.
Aside from leveling your PVP ranking, it seems that PVP is a pretty reliable way to level your character as well. For completing each instance of PVP, players are awarded experience points, money, and valor points. Thus far, I have not found any items which are usable below the level 50 cap, I guess there is lots of time to save up.
Suggestions for Retail
In the above picture, I am stuck in the floor and my friend is unable to res me.
There are some things I would love to get fixed prior to the game’s launch on December 20th:
- Mouse dying - Lots of people have reported mouse problems regardless of what mouse and drivers they use. I haven’t experienced any thus far, but the error seems to be that the mouse just stops being responsive sporadically.
- Stock UI is ugly - For whatever reason, the stock UI for every MMO is pretty damn terrible. It isn’t the most space efficient, and the textures are often awful on the eyes. Very minor complaint since Bioware has announced that they are not supporting any mods for SWTOR, which means no custom textures for UI bars and the like. The UI at the PAX demo was actually very appealing, not sure why it was changed for the open beta.
- Questing locations of interest - Sometimes quests involve running through a packed area, then back out to hand it in. The next step involves running back through that same area, and doing so two to three more times.
- Points of Interest on the Map frequently disappear - The only way to fix this appears to be to re-log your character. There are times when re-logging or changing the map location doesn’t work either. Please fix this!
- Changing instances to join a friend consumes your return//hearth timer - I don’t know if this is intended or not, but it was annoying trying to coordinate with friends on instances. We found several times where everyone happened to be on a cooldown and could not join up for common quests. Hopefully we won’t have lots of instance hopping in retail.
I am walking away from the open beta weekend very impressed with the game that Bioware has put together with Lucas Arts. I am definitely eating my words about SWTOR being just another half-assed WoW clone. Having said that though, there always seems to be one big flaw that comes at the game’s actual release. I’m really hoping that SWTOR does well and skips the traditional huge flaw and just impresses from the get go.
I have not covered everything there is to cover in SWTOR as I want to leave at least parts of the experience untainted. Reading details and being excited about features and content is great, but nothing beats experiencing it first hand with a mind unclouded with preconceptions.
The one downer in all of this excitement for me is that HK is not going to be part of the cool group that gets early access to the game for pre-ordering. What’s worse is that a lot of local game stores still have no word on the exact ETA or pricing of the game. Theoretically, HK should have enough market presence for them to import the game here, but thus far everyone is remaining quite tight lipped. Pre-ordering the game and attaining early access looks like it is going to be a PITA.