Big Glowy Sword Fun Test Time

So The Old Republic had a beta weekend going last weekend, which to my understanding was open to pretty much everyone who had signed up for the chance to test the thing prior to the announcement that it would happen – meaning that I actually got a chance to try it. Though the amount of time I had with the game became somewhat limited between insomnia and spending almost an entire day between sunday and monday without electricity or internet, it’s given me the opportunity to formulate an opinion built on more qualified factors than trailers, developer claims and second hand experiences.

So, in the apparent catchphrase of my beta testing consular, This matter bears investigation.

Before I get started, I’m going to preface this by stating how and why I play MMOs, because I feel my answers may be somewhat atypical. While several friends of mine have mentioned looking for the next new MMO to get involved with as World of Warcraft fatigue sets in more and more, I’ve never really been doing much of that. As I’ve mentioned in prior posts, adding random people from the internet to a game is typically something that is more likely to reduce my enjoyment of it than increase it; I prefer to try and immerse myself in my current actions and the reason for them, and there are few ways more effective at drop-kicking me out of that state than some random internet person running up to me and spouting some nonsense in internet shorthand. Or wordlessly challenging me to a duel, because that’s how communication works.

Which is not to say that it’s all bad – I’m well aware that not everyone you meet is going to be a rotten internet egg; I’ll even admit that some of my greatest (though also some of my worst, in all fairness) experiences from World of Warcraft involve roleplaying with random internet people, and sharing group content with friends can be great fun. But when I’m out running around on my own and trying to get immersed in the story and context of what I’m doing, having to wait for respawns or communicating with people who consider “lol” an appropriate form of punctuation is going to be detrimental to my enjoyment.

My point with all of this is that the primary reason I first had an interest in World of Warcraft was because it was Warcraft, and that it was made by Blizzard – it being an MMO was something that made it less interesting to me, not more. So now when I’m looking at The Old Republic, it’s really the same thing: it is Star Wars and made by BioWare, not because it’s an MMO.

Right, with that out of the way, let’s move on to my actual opinion of the game.

The first, most obvious and ultimately unavoidable comparisson is going to be to World of Warcraft, regardless of how warranted it might be or not. There’s an undeniably great chunk of mechanics and other gameplay functions that are almost entirely mirrored, but there’s also a difference in focus that makes it akin to comparing, say, StarCraft II to WarCraft III – or perhaps less charitably, comparing either to Command & Conquer: Generals. Most mechanics are either mirrored or have analogues, and a great deal of The Old Republic has clearly been designed to be easy for players (or former players) of World of Warcraft to get into – between the interface, the abilities and the most obviously apparent mechanics, it’s going to be very familiar.

In fact, the first solid opinion I formed was that The Old Republic seemed a whole lot to me like if you took a late Burning Crusade-era World of Warcraft, put it in Star Wars and hade it made by BioWare instead; for all their touting of Story as another pillar to the design, it struck me less as an innovation and more of solving a particular problem completely opposite from how Blizzard chose to solve it, the problem being that most people don’t bother reading quest texts. Where WoW chose to deal with this by making quest texts less important to read, TOR solved it by making you more likely to want to read them – or listen to them, in this case.

Of course, there’s an inherent problem in that approach, which is to say that I found that thinking of it like World of Warcraft in Star Wars Space actually limited my expectations of what I could do. For example, I spent most of the test playing a Jedi Consular branching into the Jedi Shadow advanced class, and I found early on that I had a hard time adjusting to the fact that several of my ranged force powers were actually considered instant cast and were possible to use while in motion since their visuals took time to execute. Later on and perhaps more significantly, I found that since Jedi Shadow is a rather rogue-ish stealth-using melee class (with a backstab ability!) I kept having the expectation I should stick mostly to melee, constantly forgetting that my (admittedly rather short-) ranged force powers were still every bit as useful as they had been prior (Jedi Shadows use the Willpower stat to boost both melee and force power damage) and sometimes it’d simply be a better idea to pelt a more difficult melee enemy from range for awhile.

So it’s a curious game to play from the perspective of a World of Warcraft veteran because on one hand it’s obviously very familiar, but on the other hand it’s been designed with some very different intentions in mind. The distinction between melee and ranged is much looser in The Old Republic, with the result that TOR seems much more accepting of letting ranged characters fight while on the move. Of course, many of these things might change as the game balance grows and matures, but for the moment there’s a kind of innocence to the mechanics where they’ve not yet gone through years of rigid balancing and embrace possibilities that WoW seems to reject because they don’t fit the rigidly enforced balance.

Which of course leads into the fact that The Old Republic isn’t finished yet – not only can we likely expect balance to move and adjust over time once it’s out the gates, but the version held up for test definitely wasn’t final; not only having a tendency to lose half the settings set when disconnecting or crashing, player-created channels were notoriously temperamental and I personally kept getting stuck on or halfway falling through the ground in regions of Taris, so they definitely have work left to do in the weeks remaining until launch, and most likely even following that.

So the question then, is it good?

Well, I certainly want to play more of it, so there’s that? It’s hard to judge the entirety of an MMO on a mere weekend of playing – I only reached level 20 and didn’t even go through the entirety of the first story arc for my class, so so there’s very clear limits to how much of the game I’ve actually experienced. I didn’t get involved in the crafting, the level differences between me and my fellow nubs meant I didn’t really try much in group content and my focus with the test was largely centered around deciding whether or not I’d enjoy a Jedi Shadow as my first main character.

I had fun though, and I definitely want to see more of it when it hits actual release. I’m not going to presume I’m in a position to make any projections as to how long it’ll last as I wouldn’t have expected WoW to last nearly long as it did for me either, but at a glance it’s certainly fun. Not perfect by any stretch, but I’m curious how it might mature over time.

I mentioned earlier that The Old Republic struck me as if it was built out of late Burning Crusade-era World of Warcraft, and the reason for this is while The Old Republic brings its fair share of tweaks, changes and refinements compared to WoW, it also doesn’t incorporate all the refinements that WoW itself introduced with Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm, for better or worse. There’s a fair few things introduced purely for convenience (being able to tell which quality loot a corpse has through un-subtle pillars of light and the loot area option comes to mind), and I’m actually rather curious what might happen if the market manages to support both WoW and TOR at the same time; there’s space for plenty of beneficial cross-polination between the two for as long as they share market, and I think both might be better off for it.

Jumping topic, I was suprised how fun I found the Space Combat missions minigame, considering just how similar they were to parts of Rebel Assault – a game I never cared much for at all. Of course, I kind of expected I would like those missions so it’s a bit of an unsurprise of a surprise, but after comparing the two I think the best way I can probably describe the space combat is “Like Rebel Assault, but less tunnels and more Fun.”. They’re a bit unrelated to just about everything else, being more of a distraction minigame than a vital part of the experience, but being able to upgrade your spacecraft with better gear through money is a nice addition; the availability of upgrades being tied entirely to player level is a bit more arbitrary, but since you actually get optional quests for space missions, nevermind gain experience both for said quests and for kills you do during the missions, it’s not too large a disconnect.

Of course, it’s also a far cry from the X-Wing series that I have great fondness for, but seeing how the last game in that series is over 12 years old and how the genre itself is almost dead these days, I’ll take their rail shooting offering and run with it. Mind you, I’m not going to deny I’d love to see it expanded into something larger and more freeform, like taking the flight and combat mechanics from FreeLancer and put it into a combat scenario within a limited arena. It’s not something I expect or demand they do, but as someone who has logged quite a few hours flying TIE craft, I’d absolutely love to see it happen.

The final thing I feel I should mention is roleplaying potential because, let’s face it, that’s much of what made World of Warcraft last as long as it did for me, and… well, in The Old Republic it seems a bit of a mixed bag. Not having speech bubbles for characters (nor animations that happen when a character talks over /say) makes interacting over local chat seem a bit awkward and disconnected, and while there are some rather nice looping animations (I’m a fan of /ponder, personally), a whole lot of animations that seem like they shouldn’t loop still do loop, and for all the effort BioWare have put into giving the classes character in quest dialogue, emotes that have sound attached seem to lack almost all of that personality.

On the other hand, with the addition of player starships, they’ve provided a great personal and private stage for player interaction that Blizzard stubbornly refuses to provide, including the part where other players can be present as your ship travels between worlds and even see the jump to hyperspace through the bridge window, and there are several other great and expansive areas that look good for just wandering and interacting.

LIke most other aspects of the game, it’s an element I feel is difficult to predict both how it will grow and mature on its own; in my opinion, it’s a field that BioWare could vastly improve by a few more additions, but I’m uncertain whether they’ll actually take the time and effort to do so or not.

Considering how BioWare have at least once suggested they’re considering letting guilds have instanced capital ships the way players have player ships, I think it’s an aspect of the game that has potential, even though I’m not sure to what extents BioWare will live up to that potential just yet.

So, bottom line. Is it the greatest game I’ve ever played and does it automatically make rainbows appear and kittens parachute from the sky with messages of world peace while accompanied by angelic chorus? Well… no, it isn’t. Nor can it really lay claim to being the most fun game I’ve played this year – Saints Row the Third stubbornly holds that title in a vice grip and has no problems fighting dirty to keep it. I had fun, however, and I can easily see the game lasting me through one or two full class story arcs in the least – I don’t regret preordering it by any means. As for whether it’ll keep me around for the long haul… I find that hard to judge at the moment. It depends on more aspects of the game than I’ve tried, as well as how many of my fellow nubs decide to come along for the journey.

For now, I’m content in putting my trust in the Force. So to speak.


16 Responses to “Big Glowy Sword Fun Test Time”

  1. November 30, 2011 at 14:27

    I want it! I want it naaaaauuuuuuw!

  2. November 30, 2011 at 15:17

    The unoriginal gameplay is one of the main reasons I’m not going to play it myself. One of the reasons I left WoW was because I was (and still am) extremely tired of the traditional MMO gameplay; a few brief, curious ventures into other MMOs helped me realize that.

    I’m waiting for Guild Wars 2 for various reasons, including that one. A lore-rich world, very “roleplayable”, and well… it also has your own personal story and huge loads of voiced dialogue (difference is that choices you make aren’t through talking, but through deeds), so I don’t need to worry about missing something essential by not playing TOR.

    Star Wars could’ve been interesting, but they went and ruined it (for me personally) by pretty much copypasting the same old gameplay. And well, as compelling as the story might be, gameplay is far too important an aspect for a, you know, game, to just disregard in favour of story. I’ll wait some months longer and go for both instead.

  3. 3 Moltrazahn
    November 30, 2011 at 15:37

    Having enjoyed the weekend beta myself, i can say that i enjoyed the game alot. I didnt speed through it, but took my time. Even stopped around lv 12, to go to Koriban, and help a lv 7 get up. Which felt amazing, being a bounty hunter, i could just imagine the rp in my head. BUT, since it was a pvp server, there wasent any rp, however the people were helpfull (most anywho) and i got to try 2 Flashpoints (instances), space battle, a good share of both personal, and miscellaneous questlines.

    Crafting, well, its interesting at-least. As persay its not your character that gets a proffession, but your companions that do. So it wont ever be you that stands at the blacksmith for twenty minutes makeing stuff. You just get a companion to do it, while you do your thing. I found it an okay way to handle it, and it works out quite well to my playstyle. Less grinding iron ores from other players!

    The whole Dark/Light side aspect was -really- what sold it for me. The “Choice” of quests was so great. Sure, your quest tells you to do this, but sometimes, the sheer calibur of what you actually do… god its great. An example would be one of the first Bountyhunter quests. A mother asks you to return her son, from her husband, who is trying to flee with the kid. y’see, mum wants the kid to become sith, daddy knows sith is nasty evil people, and wants to prevent this. Cut down, you can chose to: 1: Lie to the mother, help the dad save his son (good guy) – 2: Shoot the dad INFRONT of his kid, seeing the kid stutter, kneel down and cry at his side. Then toss a cruel remark about him owing you one for “securing his future”… – And these are just the two options i noticed. But the mere fact, you can actually be -evil- to the full extend of the word. You aint the “Hero” of warcraft quests, hell no, you -can- (if you so chose) shoot people for talking back, freeze them in carbonite, show the head of the husband to the wife!… while making sarcastic remarks about it!. A quest system that allows you to be evil, and does not seem to put fingers inbetween… THAT is new (for me at least).

    Another fun aspect is that like the previous kotor-games, if you get really darkside, it will show on your char, pale skin, dark veins, corrupted yellow eyes etc. It can be turned of in options tho, but just that its there.

    Last to mention would be companion romances. If you have a companion with you in quest dialog, what you say at certain points will boost, or negate their thoughts of you. And from what i gather, you can even go asfar as to have relationships with them (again, like previous kotor games).

    I shows a lot of promises, that i hope it will keep, but hot damn… i want more. :3
    Pardon the rant ^^

  4. 4 saila aka wester
    November 30, 2011 at 15:54

    Well I played the open Beta and I stay neutral on most part mostly be cos I still haven’t decide, or seen enough to have an valid opinion.

    but as I played an Imperial agent (rep have smugler).
    I can say that I am happy about the cover system it makes the battle feels like having tactical advance means something exempt that it looks nice.

    Also something that I liked was that even istant cast had the short animation played whit made battle not only have an nice flow(aka not going up and down in speed) but also look visual stunning.

    then that you only have 2-3 option (in convertions whit NPC) in whit one or two is either an dark/light side option or Greed is an complete different story but when I think about it where wow only had one.
    Then that you can affect the quest line and it will show an effect not sure how far forward.

    like should I use the chemicals to purify an lake but if I do the local population will have some serious problem whit huge monsters.

    or destroy the chemicals and the machine by the lake (lake remains pollute) but the population is safe.

    I took the purify options and to my joy when I got back to the quest giver I had the option to tell him about the sour taste I had over that option and that he didn’t tell me before hand about what problem the purify caused.
    and that he acknowledge it by saying that I should not feel so bad, you only did what you thought was the right thing to do.

    Let just say that that quest left me touched.(that is early in the game so you can easily see it yourself.
    note: Imperial agent
    notenote:side quest
    notenotenote: text hΓ€r.

  5. 5 Ripwarrior
    November 30, 2011 at 19:07

    I didn’t get to play much, as I had some accout issues and weren’t able to log in until late saturday( that and my roommate would beat me into pulp if she saw anything while I played πŸ˜› she doesn’t want any spoilers at all)

    I think that in a lot of future MMO’s it’s going to look and feel a lot like WoW, and I don’t have any problem with that.

    Trying out this game for me was just to see how things looked and felt. I didn’t want to quest a lot or level up high, in fear of beeing struck by the boredom-curse I got in WoW after leveling X amount of alts πŸ˜›

    I think this game has great potential, and the fact that EA stayed the hell out of biowares way( as far as I know) is just filling my heart with rainbows and parachuting kittens πŸ˜› EA games destroyed WAR completely, which I will never forgive them for >(

    So yay, looking forward to playing this game. Going to be playing a bounty hunter, and I hope I can get on an RP-PvP server.

  6. November 30, 2011 at 19:47

    I managed to play around a bit with the Trooper, and while I liked and enjoyed the storyline… I doubt I will be playing this game. My computer is pretty old, so even on the minimum settings I had a LOT of framerate issues. I think I spent several hours alone simply trying to enter doorways. –_–;

    Its a good thing that it has impressive graphics… but for the time being, I’m gonna have to pass on this game.

  7. 7 Malochia/Sarl
    November 30, 2011 at 22:39

    Enjoyed the Beta weekend immensely myself, Through I do not feel as if it’s as close to WoW as some seem to think. The emission of Auto-Attack alone makes a significant change for my experience of it. It might be the classes I played, or how I played them, but I found it feeling more like Dragon age, or Kotor than I found it like WoW.

    As far as bubbles go, they’re in for launch, as is, I believe, sitting and the like. wasn’t expecting animations and such to have all that polish when doing testing… I doubt that’s what they want to test extensively.

    For me, there are some major things that draw me to it as an RP-er, Firstly, you can play as a proper villain, be the bad guy on either side of the fence, with back-story supporting it. Secondly, there’s the sheer mood of the game, thoughtfully and thematically crafted worlds, story-lines that draw you into it, and refreshingly, not every quest has to be a pun-name, or a reference.

    Third, the setting is very interesting, and allows for a lot of imagination, and with a dev team that not only sticks to the lore, but builds the worlds around it.

    While there certainly are minor stuff I could see improved, the main thing I want to see improved is the species selection.. but with the legacy system’s unknown rewards and species not closely linked to storyline, they maty well be able to add those with relative ease.

    • 8 Nhani
      December 1, 2011 at 05:08

      Mmm, as I mentioned earlier, I think the fact that it looks very WoW-like at first glance can do players a bit of a disservice, because there’s a whole lot of details that change what you can do with the combat mechanics, especially in terms of mobility and range. In its current incarnation, it doesn’t enforce the distinction between melee and range nearly as rigidly as WoW does – especially since there’s really only two (one on each side) true melee classes in the game, with all others being at least part-ranged if not fully so.

      It definitely has a different dynamic going, but I think it’ll take some time for people to adjust to and realize that, as well as some time for BioWare to adjust said dynamic to see where it goes.

  8. 9 Noriam
    November 30, 2011 at 22:55

    I don’t have much to add, but there is one thing.

    Since you can’t really judge the final product on a beta by any means (In an unrelated genre, Battlefield 3 was proof of concept, the beta had about twice as many bugs, and the current version still has a lot), I would say there is one teensy shaft of light through potential WoW-emulation.

    Bioware. As you say, roleplaying kept you with WoW as long as it did, and was still a tough as shit tie for me to break with it. But, if anyone will listen to the not-entirely-unreasonable requests of a roleplaying community, it would be Bioware of all potential MMO creators. Who might even retroactively respond to said requests, within reason.

    As I say it’s a shaft of light not a beaming rainbow. It might illuminate the way, but it also might /just/ miss the bear trap that’ll chop off your foot.

  9. 10 LoLDrood
    December 1, 2011 at 00:52

    “For example, I spent most of the test playing a Jedi Consular branching into the Jedi Shadow advanced class, ”
    πŸ˜€ I knew you were good people.

    How goes the character customization?

    Here’s hopin for a ton of end-game/max level stuff to do. Even if it’s just an eff ton of different and varied quest chains; something besides “grind for gear” or “i hope you like mat farming for crappy gear” please.

    Also, pleased to be having a DovahShy, the best pony:

    • 11 Nhani
      December 1, 2011 at 05:02

      The customization could be better, let’s be honest; if you’re expecting a typical slider bonanza like Dragon Age or Mass Effect, you’ll be disappointed. Still, there are four body types, something like 16-20 head shapes, some varied details and a surprising number of skin colour shades.

      Quite a few hair options too, though seeing how this is BioWare and Star Wars combined, most of them are… yeah. They are, they always were and one day they will rise from the sunken city of R’lyeh and consume all of Coruscant and indeed the Galaxy.

      It’s still way more than World of Warcraft offers, especially with how you have actual body options (those being small, normal, huge/muscular and large/chubby), and I’d suspect limiting you to a set of options has a fair bit to do with reducing demands on both memory and bandwith. So it’s not bad, but it’s still a step down from all the tasty sliders.

      • 12 LoLDrood
        December 3, 2011 at 03:57

        Hmmm, I suppose I can bring myself down to the level of a game that doesn’t even have 18 sliders for my nose; though I’d really like to see a boob slider that goes from ‘reasonably under-endowed’ to ‘redonkulous beachballs’. In those exact terms.

        Do you know if one can change their lightsaber color on a whim, or is that a one-shot SOL kinda deal?

        • 13 Nhani
          December 3, 2011 at 04:15

          Unfortunately for your breast slider desires, that option is tied up into the general body shape. But hey, at least that means your breast size is now inherently tied to the size of your arse.

          Lightsaber colour is changeable whenever – or rather, whenever you have access to a colour crystal of the colour you want it to be in. Like socketing in World of Warcraft, you just take the new colour crystal, put it into the colour socket, and off you go. The main difficulty is really in locating/purchasing/crafting colour crystals of the colour you want.

  10. December 4, 2011 at 16:15

    Good stuff πŸ™‚

    Also, I added a link to BTT on: http://gogglecat.blogspot.com/
    I figured it’s time to grow some more apple trees πŸ˜›

  11. 16 Xel
    December 4, 2011 at 19:24

    My name’s Commander Shepherd and this is my favorite SWTOR on the Citadel.

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