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Star Wars the Old Republic: Beta Reviewgitation

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While Star Wars: The Old Republic isnt released yet, we were lucky enough to be able to sneak into the MMO stress test this past weekend to see if the Star Wars fanboys had any reason to start frothing at the mouth. And what we’ve seen so far is pretty promising.

First up: Character classes in Star Wars. Each side has 4 basic classes, and each class has 2 advanced classes each. You’ve got the Jedi Knight (Guardian/Sentinel), Consular (Sage/Shadow), Smuggler (Gunslinger/Scoundrel) and Trooper (Commando/Vanguard) for the Alliance Galactic Republic. On the Sith Empire side you have the Sith Warrior (Marauder/Juggernaut), Inquisitor (Warlock/Assassin), Bounty Hunter (Mercenary/Powertech) and Imperial Agent (Sniper/Operative). Each advanced class is also sufficiently different from each other than each side essentially has 8 classes. It’s interesting to note that while some quests overlap, story quests for each of the different classes are all unique, and you can be in the same area as a friend and be having an almost totally different levelling experience.

Korgath  Avatar It makes the experience feel more integrated, knowing that there are several concurrent storylines being told in the same area – being privy to some information and totally oblivious to others. Of course, this means that the creators have to rack their brains for eight unique storylines and quests, but kudos to them for creating the possibility to.

Direcow  Avatar And hopefully they can keep it up! This isn’t just coming up with some new flavour text to fetch 20 more animal hides – this is voice acting, choosing where to place the light/dark options – but I guess we’ll touch on that later. What I do mean is basically – to keep this up, it’ll be a huge undertaking.

Kakita  Avatar In the end though, classes and combat are relatively similar to WoW and other MMO iterations. You’ve got your hotkeys. you’ve got your skill tree that you level up and reset by paying money… the usual. They don’t really push any new boundaries, happy to stay in the safe place for MMOs. One thing that made me a bit sad was realising that every class was the same version of another class on the other side with a reskin. For example the Jedi Sage is just the Sith Warlock with a telekinesis instead of lightning.

Korgath  Avatar My first reactions to SWTOR were: having just tried MMOs like Allods Online and Lord of the Rings Online, only to abandon them after a couple of months – what makes this any different? In fact, for the first few levels, I honestly did not see any point in picking up yet another generic MMO.

On hindsight, however, the decision to ease the player in by presenting a well-trod gameplay style will probably be the hook for experienced gamers looking for new stomping grounds. After all, if it isn’t broke, why fix it?

Kakita  Avatar Graphics are similarly ‘tried and tested’. Textures are basic, graphics and design are very KOTOR, which also means that they’re not as pretty as say… Guildwars or the newer RPGs. It gets things done, but it’s nothing to write home about. I did however have some ‘tourist moments’ when I saw my first capital ship in space, or when I first touched down on Coruscant.

Korgath  Avatar On the other hand, I had no complaints about graphics. Yes, Lord of the Rings Online still remains my number one choice for gorgeous MMO gaming on a two-year old laptop by recreating the wonderful kingdoms of Middle Earth and automatically selecting the optimum settings for your card. Nonetheless, I appreciate that SWTOR has tried (and succeeded) in utilising a graphics engine that can still be played with relative ease, on a legacy laptop graphics card. Plus, it still looks not half bad, even with manually all the settings at its lowest.

SWTOR also preloads areas, something which I hadn’t experienced in my other MMO outings. This makes movement from area to area practically seamless and definitely enhanced my gameplay experience. Nothing takes you out from enjoying a game than load times.

Direcow  Avatar Oh, that was lovely, going seamlessly into new areas. If only it worked for some of the dungeons too, but reentering after dying actually skips you forward into the last checkpoint, so that’s not such a bad deal. And loading times are speedy anyway.

Kakita  Avatar Btw, flashpoints are what Star wars guys call dungeons, but more on that later. On to my favourite bit. Where The Old Republic really shines though is in its storytelling. They’ve brought in a plethora of tweaks to make the game more immersive than their MMO counterparts. The first is of course personalized (to each class) storylines. Tie that in with voice acting, and you’ve already drawn me partly into the world. Of course, if done poorly (some voice acting could be better, and some quests are still a bit too go-here-kill-that for my tastes) it doesn’t help, but generally voice acting made a big deal to me, and well… it makes me a lot more open to going out and collecting teeth when a mother chokes up when she finds out that she can finally make that poultice for her child.

Direcow  Avatar Honestly fetch quests don’t bother me so much (once I get a landspeeder I’ll be even happier) but in my experience the voice action has been more than top notch, and, well, there’s only so much of the mmo wheel you can reinvent – or even the RPG wheel. I’ve not tried Skyrim, but I doubt for such a lauded game it’s immune to such.

Kakita  Avatar Nope, you still have your ‘go here do that’ quests in Skyrim; it’s just that they feel like they have more of a reason than your usual RPGs. And as of this moment The Old Republic feels that way too.

Korgath  Avatar Regardless, if you like Bioware games (and honestly, who doesn’t?) then you’ll feel right at home here. One of the biggest draws for me was how little this felt like an MMO and how much it felt like I was playing the latest edition of KOTOR, albeit with Mass Effect/Dragon Age 2 dialog options. Add that to the new-to-MMO inclusion of a Light Side/Dark Side dynamic and suddenly the game is more than just getting from place to place, its paying attention to the story you’re trying to tell.

Direcow  Avatar Yes, whether in group or solo play the Bioware feeling is all over, and that is a very, very good thing. In WoW after a while you start skipping the flavour text, but here more often than not you just want to pay attention.

Kakita  Avatar Speaking of storytelling, I think the piece de resistance comes from how they handle conversations and plot points in a group setting. During a conversation in a group quest everyone gets their own choice. Who actually GETS to say what though is determined by a roll of the die. This means that when a Jedi chooses the altruistic option and a Smuggler decides to hustle more money out, only one person will get his say (the highest roll). Which is awesome, because this actually leads to some sort of drama and tension within the party. As long as everyone’s civil about it of course.

Flashpoints and operations up the ante even further, with conversational choices determining how the rest of the instance will unfold. And when the choice comes down to say… saving civilians or choosing for them to be acceptable losses… let me tell you I was more interested in that conversational roll of the die than any loot during that quest.

Direcow  Avatar And that was an amazing moment during the game – having chosen to play a naughty Jedi, I chose the dark side option every chance I get. The very moment I succeeded and the rest of my group failed – well, let’s just say that was a mind blowing experience. I just stopped and went “whoa”.

Kakita  Avatar Of course, being Star Wars the light/dark duality has to be in effect too. When you make key decisions you might end up getting light side or dark side points. To be honest though, this doesn’t bring in THAT much to the game. When the only effect of your points is the type of equipment you get to wield, it doesn’t bring much more to the table than ‘points grinding’. I hope that they will put some more polish onto that system in the retail (as well as in updates).

Direcow  Avatar One thing I hope to see is how the light/dark diametric affects the game in the long run – if you’re able to jump factions that’s going to add a nice touch to things. Affecting what equipment you can use is pretty nice storyline wise – good Jedi cannot use red lightsabers, etc, but otherwise… it’s not a big deal. Yet.

Kakita  Avatar Someone was complaining that they didn’t have an option for neutral jedi… I personally think that eq should be available for ppl just based on the number of points you accrued, and then maybe design tweaks based on your good/evil leanings. that way you’re not ‘forced’ down an all good or all evil path. Or grinding morality points. Also, from what I’ve seen there’s not option of faction switching if you’re sufficiently good or evil, but with any luck Bioware will tackle that in a future expansion.

Korgath  Avatar And I imagine having Jedi powers having cheaper cost or being more effective depending on your alignment would be a major gripe if your character is leaning towards the Dark Side.

Direcow  Avatar Well, anger leads to suffering? I think some of the dark side powers manifest after rage and etc. But then again, I do agree – I was trying to play early Anakin, cocksure, proud, but not quite “I am your father” yet. I wonder if toe-ing the middle ground ends up with you not having some of the good “alignment-specific” equipment.

Korgath  Avatar Well, we do know Bioware (and later Obsidian) did that for KOTOR 1 and 2, so that much is a given – you deserve to be penalised for sitting on the fence after all.

Direcow  Avatar True. Still not quite the “ideal”. But it’s worked well so far. “Decide and stick with it guys” seems the way to go.

Kakita  Avatar Moving on to more new ways of tackling old MMO paradigms; companions and skills. Companions in the Old Republic are NPCs that you can acquire in the course of gameplay (your first companion joining you towards the tail end of your first storyline arc). More than just a pet or a packmule though, they are both combat support as well as how you perform your traditional crafting and gathering skills. You can still run around gathering crystals and the like, but you can also dispatch your companion to do those things. You’re out a few credits, but more importantly, he/she/it disappears for a length of time proportional to the value of that you want. So if you’re running into an area with powerful mobs, don’t ask your droid to go to spelunk some crystals for you; you’ll be needing his help in other ways.

While I’m especially fond of this new mechanic (I am more than happy in sending my companion to ‘run gathering errands’ while I’m in a safe zone or chatting with friends), the one thing that I don’t appreciate is that I can’t craft my own items. Crafting is also done through your companion, which means I lack any sort of direct contact to what I’ve made, so to speak. As a big crafting fan, I have to say that the disconnect disappoints me somewhat.

More than that though, the companion was another way for your story and character to develop, and anything that gets me more immersed into the world is a good thing.

All in all though, I am pleasantly surprised with what Star Wars the Old Republic had to offer. When you first look at it it doesn’t seem all that great, but once you crack the shell there’s a lot of good stuff in there. And bear in mind we only got in the first 10-15 levels, so mid and end game should be pretty cool.

Korgath  Avatar For a relatively anti-social gamer like me, SWTOR delivers the goods as well. At least in the first few levels of the game (I didn’t go past level 10 with my limited play time) there are more than enough specifically solo quests that handily immerse you into the Universe without the need to suddenly break away and go “LFG generic hack-and-slash quest”.

Direcow  Avatar Obviously all of us played as Jedi (duh, given the limited time we had), but man, the culmination of the padawan path was quite… satisfying to say the least.

Kakita  Avatar Really? My midpoint padawan quest was kinda meh. The end WAS pretty cool though.

Direcow  Avatar One other thing I want to point out is the character designs – or rather, back to the graphics of it all. What I do appreciate is how, while somewhat limited, the body shapes pretty much make sense, for the guys at least, especially the heavy-set ones. What was weird was how the plus-sized ladies just seemd out of proportion. Still, the Twi’lek lekku looked pretty good. As I understand the graphics for the open beta were throttled, so I’ll have to wait and see if the textures end up better, especially the wrinkles on the older folk.

And I’m not sure about you guys, but the “miniature person” thing happened too often – the npcs I spoke to during cutscenes were shrunk to a hand high. This, hopefully, will be fixed in retail.

Korgath  Avatar Didn’t seem to have that problem. My only issue was that every cutscene took a couple of minutes to load, but that went from being an inconvenience to something I began to ignore.

Kakita  Avatar Didnt have that either. I did however had annoying conversational pauses which really brought me out of my immersion, but similarly hopefully it’ll be corrected in retail. Or maybe it was lag?

Direcow  Avatar Actually, my experience with lag was little to none, which was amazing for a stress test based in the US. BUT! Once I grouped up, that’s when the lag came in. A little weird.

Korgath  Avatar Character creation bit of a crapshoot for me though, being probably on the lowest rung of Star Wars fandom. The races seemed to be purely cosmetic and the choices were sadly limited, though I did appreciate that fans of every aspect of the Star Wars franchise were catered for. There was the Expanded Universe Chiss, the KOTOR2 Miraluka, Clone Wars Rattataki, Original Trilogy Twi’leks and Prequel Trilogy Zabrak.

Direcow  Avatar Yeah – introducing the Chiss was a nice surprise. They definitely are a fan favourite.

Korgath  Avatar My personal pet peeve during character creation was designing my look, but I suppose the fact that there’s such a high level of customisation (I could even choose over a hundred different headgear for my Miralukan!) definitely would appeal to many players.

Just not me. I didn’t want to waste time with the minutiae of eye, nose and lips so I just randomly generated a look I liked and went with it.

Strangely enough, there didn’t seem to be any actual character customisation, or maybe I missed it in my excitement. No die rolling to determine starting stats, nothing beyond just choosing race and class. The handy mini-tutorial helped by succintly describe how each class should be played, based on the class’ skills.

Direcow  Avatar The no-die-rolling thing is pretty much how WoW works, hence some of my early identification with WoW.

I think coming to this as a Star Wars fan kinda skews my view a little (but could have gone both ways, if they mistreated it I would have been rage-quit) – I played Star Wars Galaxies back then and enjoyed myself even though I didn’t go far. Point being, I played, WoW, loved it then grew out of love with it. So now when a game puts both WoW and Star Wars together, and does it so well, so very, very nice sprinkles on top, it’s very hard to say no. At the most cruel you could say it was WoW with lightsabers, but the flashpoints, the light/dark options – these things help to make it just a little bit different and better. Full voice acting is also a nice touch, but man, that 20gb download killed a little, I can’t imagine if there’s constant data updates.

All in all, is it a buy for me? It’s hard to say. I have limited time to play it, but if I had the time, I’m sure I’ll be dropping everything to play it. That monthly fee seems worth it. Possibly not “collector’s edition” worth it tho.

Kakita  Avatar Me… I was won over during the flashpoint. I’m a sucker for drama and story. Already I’m trying to figure out how to sneak in a pre-order into Singapore (since we don’t officially have access to it early). I think The Old Republic is going to be pretty fun. It’s probably worth purchasing the game and spending a month or two in a universe we all know and love. Is it worth investing more time and money in it though? I’ll leave that for you to decide.

Korgath  Avatar I’m hesitant about MMOs in general, especially after all the hype with 2010’s release of Star Trek Online – a game I really wanted to love and get a lifetime membership for – only for it to be critically ravaged and become freemium in less than two years. My experience with free-to-play hasn’t been that great either, with Allods Online deciding that they were going hardcore freemium after less than a year – enemies essentially couldn’t be killed unless you bought a time-based item to reduce their defences.

Then there was LOTRO, which I played lovingly when it became free-to-play, coughed out money for an extra character, but ultimately abandoned after two months. My worry is that SWTOR will be the same for me – I guess I’m just not into MMOs.

Direcow  Avatar Maybe you haven’t played with friends yet!


Korgath  Avatar *LOL* I must admit, it’s ironic that I haven’t played any MMO with you guys since forever. That one group quest we were on – even though I couldn’t get the quest yet – was the most fun I had in a while.

kakita

Singapore’s resident Press Ganger, that is, the man to go to for Privateer Press’ WARMACHINE, and HORDES. Kakita also dabbles in Games Workshop’s WARHAMMER FANTASY and WARHAMMER 40K lines.

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