Over the weekend I took part in the Beta Weekend for Bioware’s Star Wars MMO called ‘Star Wars: The Old Republic’. It’s something that I have looked forward to for a while now and I was very keen to jump straight in and see what Bioware had created to topple WoW from it’s increasingly more precarious position on the MMO charts.
Oh I also really stupidly forgot to take screen-shots over the entire weekend, so sorry about the wall of text.
My first concern was whether my low-power graphics card would be good enough. I’m using an old GeForce 7900 until I can afford to get a better one. Surprisingly, it ran alright. I had to lower a few of the graphics options to remove the small amount of stuttering I experienced but all in all, I was surprised at how well it did run on a lower specced machine.
I had the time to try two classes, both for the Empire, though there are very few differences (If any) between the Empire classes and their republic counterparts. My first class was an Imperial Agent and my second was a Sith Warrior. The agent plays in a similar way to the Warcraft Rogue and Hunter. She had a set amount of energy with attacks draining that energy. She could attack at range or melee though range was definitely preferable to me. The Sith Warrior generated force in the way that a Warcraft warrior would generate rage. The Agent was more fun to play than the warrior, but I always prefer long distance combat especially with my lower graphics card which can make a lot of melee action impossible.
By far the most impressive elements of SWTOR are the RPG elements.
There are no long quest/mission briefs to read. By clicking on a quest-giver you are shown the conversation taking place. Every conversation is voice acted. You can choose options which could alter the outcome of the mission. Better still, when in a group you can enter conversations as a group, where you can all get a chance to speak and alter the flow. The cut-scenes and voice acting worked so well in Dragon Age and Mass Effect, I can see why they made sure they brought them to the table here. Though, you can skip them with the space-bar if you’re keen to go kill or save something.
In many conversations you will be given the option of selecting a light side or a dark side option. The dark options tend to result in a death or a threat somewhere along the line, while the light side are all for that dull generosity and honor stuff. Each response will add either light or dark points, the more points you generate the better items/options that will be opened up. Oh, and don’t think ‘I chose Republic I have to choose light side’ both options are available to both sides.
Your character’s story is progressed by your class missions. They take place inside instanced areas, where you can group up but you can be the only one of your class in the group.
At around level 8, my class quests introduced me to my first companion. In many ways they work like pet, they will fight for you, defend you etc. and they bring in a few more RPG elements. The favour that companions hold with you can be changed depending on your responses. Be the person they want you to become and watch them like you. This in turn opens up options and equipment.
You gain social points every time you group, or take part in a conversation. The higher the points you accumulate the better the gear you have. This presumably is the way Bioware is going to entice people into being sociable. For me it was the conversations (I have simple tastes) but I assume Bioware figured that others may need something a little more practical as an incentive.
There were Beta bugs. I’m only going to briefly mention these as it was only a beta test after all, but there was the usual array of clipping, texture and glitches common with beta tests.
So, here’s my final conclusion…
Star Wars: The Old Republic is a very nice and seemingly well thought out MMO. There are plenty of classes to keep you going. 4 per side with a further two option specification at level 10. It looks like many of the higher level options depend on you accumulating points, whether they are social points, light/dark points, or companion points.
The solo questing and RPG elements are fantastic. From the get-go your character is dragged in and you feel important, it’s like you’re not doing something that everybody else is doing (Even though you are.) More importantly though the solo/RPG elements do not look like they are bolted on, they are an integral part of the game,
Saying all that thought I was a bit disappointed, though I really don’t know what I was expecting from it. There are some really nice touches, such as the voice acting and the RPG elements, but underneath what you have is just a Star Wars looking Warcraft-clone.
SWTOR doesn’t deviate that much from Warcraft. If you peel away the Star Wars shell, you’ve got WoW, there’s a little too many similarities for my liking, at level 10 anyway. Sith Warriors/Jedi Knights work like Warcraft Warriors, Agents/Smugglers are Rogues and Hunters, Sith Inquisitors/Jedi Consular’s are Mages. It’s not just the classes that show similarities, nearly all the game echoes towards wow some where
The elements that I particularly enjoyed are considerably better in the solo RPG games. In fact, this weekend the decision to play SW:TOR and not Skyrim became even more difficult as the days progressed. Sure, I could be evil in SWTOR but only when the options came up, I couldn’t romp into a village and murder the inhabitants. I have been spoilt by the sand-box game-play of Skyrim and trying to get back into an MMO world where there are so many rules and restrictions was difficult. Of course, this is nothing bad against the game more a thought on how my attitude towards MMO’s has changed.
I played the beta incessantly this weekend, but I feel it was more to find out what would come at the various levels and not for a love of the game. The former wears off very quickly once you’ve seen (or discovered) the progression.
It’s too soon to talk about the end-game, but I wonder if they’ll do anything different, or whether it will be the standard ‘run dungeons to get gear’ approach.
Leaving that aside, I think Star Wars is going to give Blizzard that boot up the backside that it so desperately needs. Do I want it to end Warcraft? Probably not. Though anything that brings along changes (That don’t include giant panda’s) has to be a good thing.
Oh, and don’t think I am going to cancel my pre-order either. Despite my negativity, I’ll still be giving it more of a go on December 23rd.
If you want to read about my more positive experiences on the second Star Wars beta test weekend, click here.