I recently had the honor of joining general game testing for Star Wars: The Old Republic. I have been following this game since it was first announced, and as such I had many expectations for how it would deliver the MMO experience in the Star Wars Universe. Star Wars Galaxies is a game that is in my gaming resume and I hoped that The Old Republic could achieve more than that game did. Now that I’ve played it, did SWTOR meet my expectations or did it feel like a big pile of Wookie poo? Read on to find out if the resident Gatekeeper was satisfied.
There are two points that are paramount before I get started with my assessment. Firstly, I want to make it absolutely clear that I was playing a pre-launch version of the game. The build I played on was in no way ready for launch and no one involved in the testing process, neither the testers nor BioWare, ever considered this to be the case. So many of the bugs and defects I encountered could easily be fixed by the time the game launches. Secondly, I feel it is inevitable for there to be some cynics and naysayers out there that will complain about this or that feature not being in SWTOR. As much as folks seem to be annoyed by that three letter abbreviation, WoW, I feel many are comparing SWTOR to WoW in terms of features or mechanics of the two games. One such feature is the Dungeon Finder tool. In the build I played there was no Dungeon Finder; I suppose in SWTOR such a feature would be called the Flashpoint Finder. Anyway, I can hear people complaining even now that a feature will not be in SWTOR at launch. An important point to keep in mind is that WoW is a seven year old game. There has been plenty of time to get these features in the game and “working as intended.” I see no reason to believe that BioWare could not or would not implement such features in patches or expansions later down the line. As we MMO gamers know, nothing is set in stone and the only constant in MMOs is change.
With that disclaimer let us get down to the good stuff. When you launch the game for the first time, it plays The Return trailer that we got this past year. In case you do not recall this is the trailer with Satele Shan and her master fighting Malgus and his master. Satele gets away and her master dies at the hands of Malgus. At the very end, Malgus killed his master.
You then choose a server, and go directly into character creation. The first thing you pick is your faction, either the
One fact I have wanted to know for a long time now were the race (or species) and class combinations. Here is a list of the available races for each class by faction.
Human, Zabrak, Cyborg, Miralan
Human, Zabrak, Twi’lek, Cyborg, Miralan
Human, Zabrak, Miralan, Miraluka, Twi’lek
Human, Zabrak, Miralan, Miraluka, Twi’lek
Human, Zabrak, Cyborg, Rattaki, Chiss
Human, Zabrak, Chiss, Cyborg, Rattaki
Human, Zabrak, Sith, Cyborg
Human, Zabrak, Twi’lek, Rattaki, Sith
The only racials in this game are social, meaning they are emotes of one kind or another. Here is a list of them by race.
Rally: Rallies nearby allies.
Inspire Loyalty: Inspires loyalty in nearby allies.
Scan Target: Scans the target with a critical cybernetic eye.
Focusing Ritual: Undergo a focusing ritual to rest and recuperate the spirit.
Sense Force Alignment: Senses the target’s alignment with the Force.
Parlor Dance: Perform a unique cultural dance.
Punish: Punishes your companion for his or her continued failure.
Shaodwbox: Performs a series of mock blows, blocks and counters, warming up for the fights to come.
Salute: Prompts nearby allies to stand at attention
Character creation for the most part is done by selecting faction, then class, then species, and finally gender. You then customize your character’s appearance. Instead of allowing us to tweak every part of our character’s face, like the nose, brows, chin, etc., BioWare decided to give us a slider called “Head” which cycles through a series of preset faces. I would like to take this opportunity to thank BioWare for that. I could not tell you how many times I have had to restart Mass Effect or Dragon Age because the character I thought looked great in the Character Creator looked like crap when they got a close up in the dialogue scenes. I have had my fill of sloping brows and no chin men to last me a lifetime. Anyway let me know in the feedback for this article how you feel about having full control over a character’s face or whether you are like me and prefer to just choose a preset and go. Apart from this Head slider, we have the standard sliders we see in other MMOs for hair style, hair color, eye color, etc. Some races have other sliders unique to them, like the Cyborgs who have a slider to determine what cybernetic implants they have.
While we are on the subject of Cyborgs, I must admit that they are my least favorite species. They simply look like humans with a few trinkets on their face. This may be a biased opinion because when I think of Star Wars Cyborgs, Darth Vader or General Grievous immediately come to mind. When I first saw Cyborg as a playable species, I thought of having a toon that breathed through a respirator and you would hear heavy breathing throughout his dialog cut-scenes. I wanted more machine than man, but that is just my opinion.
I can confirm that we get eight character slots per server, so I plan on playing all eight Advanced Classes for the Empire on one server then all eight Advanced Classes for the Republic on another server. I am glad that BioWare went this route because I do tend to be a bit of an altaholic, but I feel the story will compel me to continue until I complete one character’s class story all the way through before starting another. It does not really bother me personally that I will have to play the same class’s story over again if I want to play the other Advanced Class. I see that already when replaying Mass Effect, Dragon Age, or even KOTOR . I have done that multiple times over, and I could see myself easily doing that within SWTOR. Perhaps not playing the Jedi Knight story back to back, but maybe going back to it after I have played the others through.
Questing/Leveling Up in TOR
Since this is a core aspect of the game, the questing (BioWare calls their quests “Missions”) are an integral part of the experience. I feel that the Level Up game can be both the best and worst thing about SWTOR, depending on your point of view. If you spacebar hero all the way through the story, skipping the cut-scenes, quickly selecting what you want to say, and moving through the story without experiencing it, then while I feel that you are missing out, there will be players who want to push push push to that endgame. These players may get frustrated when in other MMOs they simply clicked “Accept” and were off. The voiceovers and cut-scenes do slow progression down as well. On the other hand, if you are like me and enjoy good story that is expertly presented then you will love the leveling experience in SWTOR.
I would be lying if I said that the missions were innovative by totally breaking the mould of the types of quests we have run in the past. Kill quests, go grab me some of those clickies out there, go talk to this guy because he does not have a phone quests; are all well represented in SWTOR. What I will say is that unlike other MMOs, I did not feel as if I was doing the same kind of quests that I have always done in other games. This is because I felt not only immersed into my character and why he was there in these situations, but I was also immersed into the world of Star Wars. There was a reason I was killing those separatists on Ord Mantell and gathering up illegal weapons from their corpses. There was a reason I was scanning these ancient Sith writings on Korriban. The story helped me to accept the fact that I was doing “work” and it livened up the whole leveling experience for me.
Just like in Mass Effect, I was so engrossed in the story that I was not even noticing that I was leveling. Many was the time that I would look down and say, “Oh, I made a level.” BioWare did a good job of keeping a steady stream of new abilities coming most levels, and the abilities “rank up” like they used to in WoW and Everquest 2. Occasionally the new improved version of an ability did not get placed on my hotbar automatically and I had to do so manually, but once again this was a beta and bugs were to be expected. Like all the bugs I found I /bug‘ed it.
In missions where I had to use an item on a mob, I had to either drag that item to my hotbar, making a hotkey for it or use it manually from my bag. WoW and even RIFT both created hotkeys in their quest trackers so that we did not have to do this. This may have been changed since I played, and I was sure to give BioWare feedback about this.
BioWare has asked that we not spoil story, and I agree with them. If someone had told me that I was Revan before I played KOTOR I think I would have been robbed of a genuinely gratifying experience. So I will not give spoilers in this or my other beta write ups. However, I will give my opinions on the class stories. In general, all of the class stories I have played were truly fun and entertaining. Many were the time when I knew I had to get up in the morning to go to work, but I was pushing myself past my appointed bedtime to finish just one more round of missions. Like reading a really good book, the stories I have experienced so far in SWTOR have been “page turners.” Constantly I found myself hurrying off to find out, “What Happens next?”
One of the characters I played was a Sith Inquisitor. I was playing a female and all the NPCs were calling her “Sir.” It seemed a bit odd at the time but I later found out that Lord is a title given regardless of sex. Apparently there are not any Lady Sith out there in The Old Republic; they are all referred to as Lords. This was a little unusual to me at the time, but I can deal.
One thing that I cannot accept is an overabundance of Jeff Dunhams in that galaxy far, far away. One annoying glitch for me was that in some instances with dialog, either my character or the NPCs they were talking to never moved their lips. The rest of their animations were fine—head movement, body language and eye movement—but they should all have had a wooden dummy sitting on their laps. I have affectionately called this the “Ventriloquism bug” and referred to it as such in my bug report to BioWare.
In my other write ups I will go more into detail about subjects like combat, progression and skill trees. I will only say here they all of these three things felt very polished. Cantinas were the only places I found that gave rest experience for being in them. A nice touch in the Cantinas were the Jukeboxes. You can literally change the song playing in the cantina when you spend a jukebox token, which is purchased from the bartender.
I think it is important that any game, MMO or otherwise, which is based on a popular intellectual property like Star Wars, live up to its name. Does it feel like I am walking around in the Star Wars universe? More importantly, does it feel like I am walking around in the Old Republic? Am I immersed in the constant power struggles ebbing and flowing throughout the galaxy at this time? Do I feel as if this truly is MY character’s saga? The answer to all these questions is a resounding and absolute YES.