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The Smorgasbord Begins

We are on the downward slope in our wait until the release date of Star Wars: The Old Republic. With a global release date of December 20, 2011 we are entering the T-minus 60 day mark. With less than two months until the release, the volume of information being released and player anticipation is increasing; now the press has been given the go ahead to tease us with a lot more information and impressions on the current state of the (beta) game.

While the NDA has not yet been lifted, we are being given first-hand accounts of early gameplay. Each of these press sites were given beta access to the Republic side of the game. They were basically given an open pass to preview the four character classes and storylines up to the point of their class story arc receiving their personal starship.

This means that they got to see all aspects of the game in the lower levels of progression, including class story, companions, crafting and combat. They were not required to follow the preset guide that they would have at a convention, and there was no strict time limit.  As you can imagine, there is a lot of information that can be acquired and impressions that can be made in that expanse of time.  All of the articles being released today and in the following weeks can be quite a bit to digest, so we at TOROcast.com will try our best to present the information in an easy to swallow and easy to find way.

Each of the press sites that have posted articles so far have done them in relatively different ways. IGN has created a breakdown of sections similar to that which can be found on the Holonet at SWTOR.com.  Gamespy, Rockpapershotgun, and 1up have all released great articles closer to your standard preview write-ups.

Each of these articles focus on different character classes and a generalization of those classes.  Each article gives a general impression on the many aspects of the game. The majority of the reviews are for the most part positive, with just a few minor negative remarks. The interesting part is the actual breakdown of what the article writers felt were the strong parts and what could possibly be the weak parts of the game.

The Breakdown

The story: I decided to start with what seems to ring true across all the articles written. Every article of the press beta experience have agreed that the story is the most impressive aspect of the game.

The core gameplay of quests and killing of X amount of mobs for Y amount of items is not much different than current MMOs, but as stated by John walker of Rockpapershotgun, “In the end, no matter what makes The Old Republic different from the MMOs before it, what you’re doing eventually comes down to killing ten rats. But here’s the thing: you care about why you’re killing ten rats. And that, above anything else, is what makes TOR different enough to be properly interesting.” Followed up by this from Leif Johnson of Gamespy, “with its BioWare-themed conversational choice options, SWTOR takes the story concept and launches it into orbit. Not only does the need to respond to NPCs in the cinematics force you to engage with the storyline, but the need to choose specific responses alters the way other characters interact with you in cut scenes.”

Of all things BioWare has pushed as being a unique and integral part of Star Wars: The Old Republic, story would be number 1 on the list, so it only makes sense that the emphasis in a completely voiced over game would be the story and interaction of your character with the NPCs. While other MMOs have had story behind the reason that you are out and about in the world performing quests, the difference that seems to count is your involvement in the story. The one negative that was mentioned about the dialogue scenes is the lack of instancing when you are in conversation. A couple of the writers mention that you would still see other player characters moving around the open world NPCs. So while in a conversation you may have another character stand inside your camera angle to the NPC. Also it was mentioned that things would be happening in the background while you are in dialogue, for example a rock that the NPC is telling you he can’t move being lifted and dropped by other players further along in the quest.

Companions were another aspect of the game that the press were given the chance to try out. Having only the lower levels, all the article writers seemed to only be able to get one companion unlocked, but their impressions again seemed to be mostly positive. “Companions are a core element of The Old Republic. They’re not simply pets that obey your bidding the way a Warlock’s Imp would in World of Warcraft, and they’re not just a body to spout dialogue during conversations or while you’re slaying crime lords in the city-world of Coruscant to spice things up. The companions are a Swiss Army knife of sorts, capable of both of those things and much, much more.” IGN points out here what is repeated in several of the articles: companions in SWTOR are not just pets, but play an integral part of your story; they also have interesting and intersecting parts of back-story. Companions are also very combat ready, “Each one has base stats approaching those of your own main character, and each can be equipped with about as many items and modifications as you can. The only main difference is the more limited pool of abilities, though even the abilities tend to provide some utility that you may not be able to find elsewhere. One question raised was the usefulness of companions at max level. They play an important and welcome role while leveling, but at max level do they become nothing more than overqualified crafting pets?

Crafting: it is impossible to not go into a crafting discussion directly from companions as they appear to be the main tool you will use to craft. “Crafting in SWTOR is an interesting process. It takes elements of standard MMO harvesting and crafting, adds in a few random elements, and allows you to perform it wherever, whenever.” IGN makes it clear that you will not be the one doing the crafting however, “While you are the one who learns the recipes, and while you’re able to harvest a lot of resources haphazardly scattered through the local gang-infested marketplace, you will never touch two items together to make a new one. Instead, you have to send companions away with your ingredient for a little while, and when they return, you’ll have a sparkling new Lightsaber gem, or a sweet set of bracers that will help you dish out damage.” While this will probably be hard to swallow for hardcore crafters, I think it adds a new and interesting dynamic to crafting; better keep those companions happy!

Last but not least is combat. A known fact for quite a while has been that SWTOR will not be an auto-attack game; it will be a button smasher. You will need to either hit your designated numbers or keys to kick off abilities, or mouse click icons on your tool bar. It is really no different from all other MMOs except for the animations. BioWare has worked diligently on creating combat that flows and looks as though you are actually engaged in physical combat. While this is nothing groundbreaking, 1up’s Ryan Winterhalter expressed the fun he had with combat. “It’s the same gameplay that MMOs have been copying for years, but for once I was actually having fun doing it. At least in the case of my damage-per-second Jedi Shadow/Consular, it was incredibly satisfying to unleash a devastating combo on tough enemies. Start combat out by using the Project ability to throw debris at the enemy — stunning him. Follow that up with Telekinetic Throw, which pins them under a volley of gravel. If they recover from that quickly, unleash Stasis Field to stun them and follow it up with Project again. After Stasis or Project, run behind the enemy to unleash the Shadow’s backstab ability (Shadow Strike). Rinse, repeat, and have a blast.” The general consensus throughout the various articles is that combat starts out slowly at the lower levels. With minimal talents, combat can seem repetitive and lacking.  As you gain experience things begin to change,” one of the cooler touches I noticed was that as your character levels, your combat ability evolves visually.” Casey Johnston of Ars Technica considers this, a small but welcome detail, showing that Jedi Knights aren’t born knowing perfect technique.”

Finally, with a resounding “YES”, it is clear that the press testers felt that SWTOR was very World of Warcraft-esqe. This is not necessarily a bad thing; many of us built our MMO foundations in WoW and similar MMOs. “While the core of the gameplay is nearly identical to WoW, the addition of story sequences and the ability to fill multiple roles with a single character means that I’m hooked for the time being.” Many times it isn’t about changing what works but instead improving the quality and enjoyment factor. “Perhaps SWTOR shouldn’t be judged by the quantity of the aspects that make it unique, but rather by their quality.” Taking what BioWare does extremely well, story-driven characters and immersion-based content, it is clear that this game is pushing massively multiplayer online role-playing games in the right direction.

With a new build of the beta in the next few weeks, the press will be able to return to The Old Republic and get a look at the Empire and possibly later stages of the game. Be sure to check in at TOROcast.com as we bring you more information from a galaxy far, far away.

Resources:

http://pc.ign.com/articles/121/1210147p1.html
http://www.1up.com/previews/star-wars-old-republic-wow-lightsabers
http://pc.gamespy.com/pc/bioware-mmo-project/1210233p1.html
http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2011/10/20/hands-on-the-old-republic-part-one/#more-78651
http://arstechnica.com/gaming/reviews/2011/10/playing-the-star-wars-the-old-republic-beta-the-birth-of-a-jedi-knight.ars

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