27
Dec
11

Big Glowy Sword Fun Time

So The Old Republic has been out for awhile – technically a week, with another week of early access for early preorders, which means that I’ve had ample time to play the game – ample enough that I’ve hit 50 with my first character, though I still have a few more narrative beats to go before reaching the actual conclusion of her class narrative. Still, it’s given me more time than a weekend to sample the game and collect my thoughts together regarding what I think of it.


I’ve found that the obvious comparisson to World of Warcraft is quite interesting if you look at it in detail – many of the mechanics are designed very much the same way, but the intentions they’re used for and the results expected of them are all from a much different mindset which puts a much different spin on it. If you look closely at the seams there are a whole lot of clear differences in emphasis that really reflect upon the whole end result and permeates the two separate products.

For one, BioWare has tried to keep the progression curve sensible – they haven’t really succeeded because the level progression system is ultimately a very artificial and game-y construct whose very nature is to scale player power and player challenge with player progression and ensure players move forward at a pace dictated by the design. But they have tried, and I discovered that as the game progressed, enemies which were classed as Elite (golden) early on in the game, such as Sith Apprentices, slowly became Strong (silver) and eventually Normal enemies as I progressed; there has certainly been some effort put in to try and avoid the issue where your average untrained level 40 farmhand can utterly destroy your average level 20 hardened elite soldier without effort, but the system is still there because it’s part of the design. I understand why it’s there and that it’s part of the draw, but I can’t help but feel I’d much rather have seen them just increasing numbers than toughen up the same type of enemies.

This also crosses into the matter that the average battle in The Old Republic is actually generally more challenging than those in World of Warcraft – if you don’t pay attention, a Strong (silver) foe can actually cause quite a bit of harm, and they’re not all that uncommon. This is further underlined by the enemy balance being a little here and there, with some specific types of foes being significantly more difficult than others of their same difficulty class, and the game sometimes being inconsistent in just how large a challenge it’ll throw at you. There’s been occasions where a smaller, mid-planet battle has involved as much as one Elite and two Strong foes at once (where both the elite and the strong duo would make a challenge just on their own), while some end-planet encounters were merely a Strong foe backed up by two Normals. And all of this is still to say nothing of the times when the game gives you what sounds like it’d be the kind of challenge you normally eat for breakfast until the quest log cheerfully tells you it’s actually balanced for four people.

Another thing that’s a clear difference of emphasis is the way The Old Republic treats your character, which is to say the significant amount of respect the game has for your character and what they’ve accomplished, even in the case of detractors or enemies hurling insults. By contrast, World of Warcraft tends to have this constant undertone of laughing at your character for being an absolute idiot, often setting up situations where your only choice is to undertake actions that are phenomenally stupid all while the game makes it very clear just how stupid the decision is, and once you’ve gone through with it, the game effectively laughs at you for being stupid. Sure, World of Warcraft also lets you play the role of grand hero from time to time, but it always seem to be while elbowing you in the ribs to ask whether you were dropped on the head as a child one too many times.

Comparably, in The Old Republic, even characters who responded with frustration, annoyance and distaste at how entirely un-useful my character spouting yet more mystical force nonsense was still acknowledged who and what she was and what she clearly was capable of for having gotten that far; and more yet who clearly ended up very thrown by being told some philosophical mumble, but put on a polite smile and said they’d get right on following the “advice” before getting to what they needed to have done.

There’s also this sense of scale, which unfortunately hits significant limits likely due to performance – where World of Warcraft is typically hypercompressed to a level that’s outright ridiculous, The Old Republic offer vast open spaces to traverse (and no flying mounts to skip around effortlessly with!) which gives a sense of size and expanse to the snow fields of Hoth or the dune seas of Tatooine. On the other hand, it also means you have a Republic Senate building large enough to house the entirety of Stormwind and have space over, yet is much more sparsely populated with NPCs. Blizzard has a much greater attention to letting NPCs wander around and live their own life, and while The Old Republic does have things like that, it’s not as common, and seems even less so because the voids available to fill are just that much greater. Of course, having the senate building full of NPCs walking around would likely eat away at precious performance both on server and client sides, but I’d love to see the populace living up to the scale of the world itself.

Speaking of the world itself – I’d love to see more interactible chairs and the like – there are several locales that are full of seats and the like which would make absolutely amazing meeting and speaking places… if you could interact with them in any way. Other things that would help are generic talk animations when speaking in /say and speech bubbles; your character turning their head to look at who you have targetted is a nice touch, but there’s definitely more features I’d love to see implemented just to help acting in and interacting with the world beyond cutscene dialogue. It’s one of those cases where the potential is there, but it’s not really tapped and I’m not sure if it actually will be.

But let’s move on to the central feature, the part of The Old Republic that’s meant to make it really stand out from its peers – Story.

While I still have a few beats to go (maybe two hours at the absolute most) before reaching the conclusion of the consular story and I don’t want to spoil it to those who picked other classes or haven’t had time to finish yet, I’m going to start by saying that I’ve found the journey of Kayrin Olana from a padawan recently arrived on Tython to a highly accomplished Jedi Master and diplomat both entertaining and compelling. Sure, I’d be hard pressed to call it groundbreaking as a game story, but in typical BioWare fashion it’s a basic but functional story with usually good presentation behind it. Well okay, the consular story does drag itself along throughout most of chapter one, part because chapter one is so long, part because it’s pretty sparse with handing you clues to work with, but once past that it starts taking off to interesting places.

The way she developed, she quite quickly became the typical “model Jedi” – she’s calm, patient and serene and dedicated towards doing what’s right, even at the expense of herself, the Jedi Order or the republic. She still has a bit of a dry edge to her which makes itself known on occasion, but for most part she’s entirely content in doing the right thing and spouting Jedi Wisdom of varying utility to anyone who provides the slightest prompt for her to do so.

All throughout this I’ve found I really like the orange quality of equipment present in The Old Republic – what it is is essentially an equipment class that has no inherent stats on its own other than which slot it goes into and what type of equipment it is, and it then gains all its statistics through swappable modification items, such as armouring to improve the armour, and so forth. As a result, Kayrin have been using the same low level hooded robe since around level 10 and it’s still a fully competitive piece of combat equipment as I’ve just kept swapping out the old mods for new ones as I’ve gone. This is even more expanded upon by several vendors (refered to as social items vendors) throughout places in the game offering various froms of guard uniforms or the like available for purchase provided you have the appropriate social level which are all also of orange quality, so spend enough time grouped and you can pick something completely different for your active combat gear if you wish.

I found the companions I picked up ended up growing on me too, though only being able to bring one at a time strictly limits how much time I’ve gotten to interact with them – a limit only increasing by the combat difficulty often insisting that I bring team members that are useful over ones that are not. I would, of course, love to have more banter and interaction between them, and I’d love for more of them to speak up during space combat, but unfortunately so far no.

There’s another thing with interactivity that very clearly comes out of the widely different types of armour and four body types – since the game can’t make assumptons as to your characters size and shape, we’re back in all character interaction being essentially look but don’t touch – there’s very little direct character contact and it puts characters at an arms length interaction which is understandable but really a pity. I understand the amount of work that goes into animation, so I realize just how much I’m asking by saying this, but it’d be great to see characters able to touch shoulders or hug or the like when appropriate – it simply adds to the percieved connection between them.

Of course, it’s far from a perfect game – the UI is limited, there are still several strange bugs that come with it its recent release and BioWare’s inexperience with a project of this sort, and there are a whole lot of abilities that are situational, conditional or sequential in ways that simply cry out for the existence of conditional macros, which unfortunately are absent. There are also several elements of the UI which I’d love to be able to move around but most of it is pretty much entirely static. You can really tell too that BioWare didn’t really think about the UI when they made many of the abilities – many are situationally interesting, certainly, but the UI provides little space to easily place them in easily accessible places and less indication when they’re available for pressing. Certainly, World of Warcraft had similar issues with its UI, but its UI was built entirely out of lua script and could be modified by way of that; The Old Republic has a static and macro-less UI that makes the large amount of abilities all the more difficult to juggle.

Beyond that, I’ll admit I’m still finding it difficult to judge what kind of staying power The Old Republic fields – I haven’t really looked at end-game content yet, but considering how the journey towards end-game is comparably much more interesting due to the greater emphasis on narrative and character, I’m having a hard time seeing how the end-game content can really live up to that. Of course, I’m told that the PvP is actually quite fun (until the legions of premade inquisitors come to ruin your day, anyhow), but while I haven’t tried it yet, I have a hard time seeing how even that could really hope to stand up next to the class-personalized journey up to 50. It may surprise me, definitely, and I suspect we might see a whole lot of quick iteration for upcoming content throughout early 2012 to expand both end-game content and provide actual features for the legacy mechanic.

I wasn’t there when apparently everyone else on the internet were handed out their crystal balls, so I can’t make the same kind of accurately contradictory predictions regarding The Old Republics longevity like everyone else; especially since I suspect the game won’t remain static in the near future – BioWare have already said they have something they’re adding for people who like the space combat, and that features for the Legacy mechanic is coming, so I’m quite curious where it ends up. And, to be honest, even if I don’t end up sticking with it, I do hope the game manages to keep around for awhile, even if only because the scene could use another heavyweight name next to World of Warcraft.

For the moment though, I’m looking forward to hitting the conclusion of the Consular story, and already have at least three more alts in mind to play in the coming future. I suppose after that, we’ll see where the game is. Presently, I’m happy enough with it.

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15 Responses to “Big Glowy Sword Fun Time”


  1. December 28, 2011 at 03:10

    Big post coming your way:

    First, let me say, that even with you slowing down with BtT, I still read this part of the blog for the insight into the gaming world. Really do appreciate your take on things. Have you ever written / considered writing for a magazine?
    Now, on to real questions:

    What is the RP potential? I noticed you didn’t really go into mentioning it, which was odd, since it’s sort of your forte. I’ve only read up a bit about game mechanics, but is your own ship actually a viable place to RP? Or is it too stale still, without sufficient potential for interactivity? In the long run I guess it could be ideal?

    I spent nearly 1.5 years in WoW from lvl 1 to lvl 70 before I even felt I understood the game in a more balanced sense. Didn’t pick up real speed until end of Wrath, but already then the feelings had started to cool. What is the emotional value of Old Republic? Can / Would I return to old zones just to reminisce?

    Finally, is it a game where soloers could still hang out casually, or do you see it more going in the direction of groups / guilds and more serious raids? You seemed to put a lot of confidence in the story lines of each class, which would sound like solo play to me? In the end game, what is left for me if I never enjoyed raiding in the first place?

    So. Good Evening,
    and some clever Jedi greeting, too 🙂

  2. 2 Noriam
    December 28, 2011 at 13:32

    I’ve found the personal story really compelling, too. So much so that I inadvertently played my Consular to level 17 when I had intended to stop at 12. Even then, though…

    It suffers from the MMO grind. An inevitable part of \any/ MMO, of course, but doing Coruscant actively sapped my willpower. I was appreciative that they pulled a distinction between me butchering gangsters and butchering ironically criminal vigilantes, but it is still just wandering through an enormous zone and slaughtering people, many of which I aggro’d inadvertently. The implication of some of the quests being ‘bonus’ seems… Superficial, at best. It generally just covers how many people you have to kill to get to your story phase and quest objectives.

    That said, where WoW is that MMO grind and then another one after that with little distinction, SW:TOR does have the conversations and story sections. Even haphazardly glued on it would make the grind less unrewarding, and it’s integrated quite nicely if you ask me. It worries me that it’d make a better single player game in places, though. I’m glad I played my Sith Warrior through with a friend – multiplayer conversations whilst in Skype contact can be… Somewhat amusing.

    I digress. I’ve loved the game so far, and it’s with a PvE-orientated character I’ve played to level twenty-something as a sith warrior so I can hardly say it’s not working. The only thing that remains to be truly tested is the roleplay.

    I’ve limited myself, inadvertently or otherwise, by only roleplaying on my consular so far. And by her character’s very nature she spends 98% of her time on Tython, and 2% on a ship. Suprisingly, I’ve had some luck! Some levelling padawans whom I helped survive the terrors of the Mark V Commando Droid (since most of them didn’t have the companion required to successfully kill it alone) and the Chamber of Speeches have occasionally interacted in character, and I’ve managed to make a few friends.

    I hold high hopes. If I can attract the attention of people who are just trying to blitz their first 10 levels, maybe if I head to the slums on Coruscant with my smuggler, there will be larger crowds of people sticking around longer. The quality I can’t say I’ve tested properly, although it seems promising from initial results. It also remains to be seen how helpful the grand overlords of the game will be. They have plenty of time to alter things, from making chairs sittable to speech bubbles (I swear, I thought they said they were going to put those in during beta).

    @molnnio, I know you didn’t actually ask -me-, but I’ve prodded about the roleplay a bit.

    The ship restricts participants to other people who have a ship – anywhere between level 15 and 17 depending on how you quested I think – a feature I find… Perplexing, really. Maybe they’ll change it. But the roleplay potential is fairly good. It’s a private place if you want to talk with friends and probably fairly good if you want to roleplay a crew working together (some ships better than others for that).

    In terms of nostalgic re-visiting… You might. If you’re anything like me you’ll never want to see Coruscant again in your life once you’ve done it, but Tython is a really nice place. Usually nice people too. Down to personal taste, I suspect.

    Solo wise… Yes. Although it’s really four classes with different paint mechanically, there are definately eight solid storylines which I can trust to be compelling. Playing through it with a friend has the crucial advantage of speeding up the grind part, though.

    I’ve gone super ramblomatic and gods only knows if anyone actually wanted to read it, so I will stop here. Essay end, hope it was insightful/interesting/useful, and may the force be with you!

    • December 28, 2011 at 13:41

      Rambling is good.
      Thanks for the glimpses! To put things in perspective, I spent 10 levels grinding in Desolace on my first main, before I understood my mistake. Still I treasure the dead wastes of that zone highly, and was bitter about the revamp of the zone. Putting it into context, I might still like Coruscant 😉

  3. 4 Meglivorn
    December 28, 2011 at 14:25

    Really well written article, thank you.
    The fun part is, that I started at the first day of the Early access, and I’m still only lvl28. True, I was a bit stalling, not just going with the class quests and follow the yellow/red quest road, but finding the datacrons, trying to get them by myself (and ultimetly look up in the guide most of the time) :). So hving the time I can, not rushing.

    About the missing parts: the chat bubbles is promished to be very soon implemented, it didn’t make it to release but will be in. The chairs also, originally they were absolutely absent, implemented in the last phase becouse of the user feedback. The strange part is that after wow and aion, I thought its a standard feature but than tried lotro what also considered as a roleplayer’s game, and it still misses this.
    But, if we can believe what the devs says, the cantina chairs will be usable 🙂

  4. December 30, 2011 at 22:55

    I’ve been browsing your blog for some time now and the Beyond the Tree comic (which I have placed on my favourites list) and I really do like everything about the entire thing. I’ve been playing SW:TOR myself for a while now and, being the casual gamer I am, I have currently been leveling very slowly. I actually have started playing on a RPing realm (Shaltin Tunnels) and have a jedi consular main and a jedi knight alt, having planned to be entirely Republic side on the server (I hate the sith on this thing).

    Sorry if I’ve kind of gone off a bit on my post, but I like to state as much as I can. xD

  5. 6 Malochia/Sarl
    January 3, 2012 at 23:39

    Throughly enjoying it so far, personally, gotten myself into a nice guild, and at least on my server (which would be Trask Ulgo), RP seems rather refreshingly omnipresent, I saw RP on Korriban several places, the Imperial fleet, and Dromund Kaas, and RP guilds popping up wherever you go, rather than being the exception of running into them.

    The Sith Warrior Story, which is the one I’m currently working on, has perhaps some of the best moments of storytelling I’ve seen in a long time, it’s compelling, and it drives me foreward, and makes me really want to try all the classes out, which I probably will.

    Immersion seems pretty good too, even often spot creative and smart respawn methods, troops jetpacking or rapelling down, or insects burrowing ot of the ground, and areas filled with enemies usually being warded off from civillization by a battle line, or the way the guards at the Sith Academy bow before aspiring sith.

    Cross-faction RP is also a major boost up from WoW, and gladly gone are the days of *does something* and gibberish. I even find myself enjoying PvP and crafting, aspects of MMOs I normally never get into.

    Reverse-engineering is scarily addictive, and tends to tear at my credits.. but in return, it is actually useful.

    • 7 Noriam
      January 4, 2012 at 13:22

      Practically everyone I know is on Trask Ulgo, heh. Good choice!

      • 8 Nhani
        January 4, 2012 at 15:13

        Myself and my fellow nubs actually set up on the Progenitor – as far as we could tell in the early bustle, most people we could reach at the time that weren’t immediately in our gathering seemed to be heading there, and from what we could tell, Trask Ulgo was apparently being selected by a large russian contingent of players.

        Besides, in a choice between picking a server named after the typical BioWare die-ten-minutes-into-tutorial-guy and a server named after a Huge Bloody Shark, we had slightly more interest in the latter.

        • 9 Coragon
          January 6, 2012 at 12:18

          I settled on Progenitor as well! Nhani even snuck up on me once on one of her sneaky alts. 😦

          As for the post, well-written and I largely agree.
          What I’d also like to see is a few more character animations when doing things like..I dont know…speaking. As in, using saychat. More little things like that. oh, and speech-bubbles.
          WoW has it, and it goes a long way to changing the image of your stiff statue-like character. Im only level 25ish so far, but these things have to me been the main obstacle for roleplay. It still works however, and I am genuinly amazed on the quality of people on Progenitor. I can count the amount of rude people I’ve encountered on one hand, whereas I’d be up in three digits by now if this was WoW. But maybe I’ve been lucky.

          • 10 Nhani
            January 6, 2012 at 20:50

            Actually that wasn’t me, though it was one of my cunning eyes. I did spend some time last evening hearing Coragon get a sound IC thrashing for misbehaving in instances, though xP

            • 11 HalfTangible
              January 8, 2012 at 15:40

              Do you know if Prog/Torsk has RP on Empire side? I’m thinking about making my Bounty Hunter there, but I could do a trooper/smuggler.

            • 12 Nhani
              January 8, 2012 at 15:48

              I haven’t looked that extensively since I’m not too crazy about playing Empire, but I’m pretty sure I glanced some on Korriban, and since some of my fellow nubs prefer Empire over Republic, I’m sure there has to be some of it.

          • 13 Malochia/Sarl
            January 7, 2012 at 00:26

            Might have to drop on by to Prog, create an alt or two, seeing as my Trask Ulgo portfolio is liable to be filled with Imperial alts, for the most part-

  6. 14 LolDrood
    January 7, 2012 at 07:47

    My thoughts on SWTOR, based on the first few hours of gameplay, in chonological order:

    : Boy, I can’t wait for ME3.

    : So male Twi’leks get ears, and females get… cones? Alright.

    : Hmmm, they didn’t quite land the animations. Hehehe, my smuggler runs like Arnold Rimmer. ^_^

  7. 15 GRYFFYN
    January 11, 2012 at 20:29

    What I love about SWTOR is that I give a damm about questing. Up to 26 Jedi Knight and 25 Sith Warrior. Found out one of my companions on the Jedi side is former Sith and part of the council wants to lock them away while the other half wants to redeem. I care about them and do not want to lose them. Does that give you an idea about how much further this is above WoWs NPC?

    And I don’t have to listen to Jana be on the verge of tears all the time.


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