Star Wars the Old Republic – Beta

Star Wars the Old RepublicRecently I was included in the weekend stress test for Star Wars the Old Republic. And I must say I enjoyed it thoroughly. I’ll try to capture some of my experiences and thoughts below.

The interface is always one of the first things you see in a game and for those who’ve played World of Warcraft, Star Wars the Old Republic will feel very familiar. Action bars, chat windows, and interacting with with objects are all similar. This isn’t a bad thing as WoW has gotten a lot of that right. I do have some complaints though, as many interactions with the user interface aren’t intuitive and I find myself having to hunt down options. Many of these I feel will be resolved after the game has been out a while.

Now that I discussed UI/UX I can move on to the actual gameplay itself. It’s a very Bioware game. Anyone who has played Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age, or Mass Effect will understand that comment. For the rest, SWTOR is a very story driven game. Everything is voice acted and you are the hero for your story. You have a main quest storyline that you’re following and you end up coming across side quests along the way. Whenever you enter a storyline portion of your quest they usually have it blocked off to allow only your class in. This helps keep the story feeling like yours and not you with 30 people standing around doing the same exact thing. You still get that, but only for the side quest stuff. The game lets you choose conversation options involving and engaging you in the choices that much more. As this is a Star Wars game, there are of course Light side and Dark side options that come up on occasion. This is regardless of what faction you chose. You could be a light side sith or become a dark side republic trooper. A bit of an oddity but I guess some people may have just missed their calling and joined the wrong side.

The MMO elements of the game are there, but they seem secondary to the game at some level. The “single player” story telling is so rich and involving that it seems they could have stripped out the MMO stuff and still had a very strong game. You even get companions in the game (first one around level 10) these are NPCs whom you can equip with gear and weapons and they bring their own set of skills to the field. The girl I got was DPS. Others, depending on your class, got a healer or a tank. I imagine eventually you’ll have one of each as you gain levels. They’re very useful as they give you an additional person to help take down the tougher monsters and they also do all the crafting work for you. However, they don’t entirely replace a real person. Quite often you’ll be given a Heroic quest which just means the monsters in that area are much tougher and require you to team up with another person. Often I found myself ignoring these for a bit and coming back to them later. Not knowing what I’ll be getting out of the quest doesn’t give me an incentive to try and complete it. So I skip it and go around doing the quests I can. One thing that I wasn’t even thinking about until someone mentioned it later is the fact whenever you do a quest, you are always going to get a reward that is applicable to you. WoW still has the quests that show 4 pieces of gear as a reward with you choosing and one of them that MIGHT be useful for you. With 10 classes, 8 with options to need different stats on the gear, that’s a high percentage that you’re probably not gonna get something you want. It’s not fun to do a bunch of work and not get anything for it.

What’s an MMO without instances/dungeons or flashpoints as they’re called in SWTOR? There are several areas where a flashpoint will be available to you. It’ll start like a normal storyline quest and if the people in your group are nearby they’ll be included in the interactive cutscene that happens for all major conversations. Once you’ve been briefed it’s off you go! I was only able to do a couple but they were both very involved in terms of feeling like I was actually DOING something, rather than just clearing out a dungeon for a quest reward and gear. The first one I tried was Black Talon. This has you boarding a transport ship which ends up being ordered to attack a republic ship to capture a person of importance. The conversations are done well in that each person selects their choice as to how they want to respond and then the game does a roll (random number between 1 and 150 for SW) and whomever is the highest gets their choice picked. A clever way to incorporate that without picking one person to be the leader who makes all the choices. The first time I went through Black Talon we made several choices and things happened. I went back with another friend, we made different choices and the flashpoint played out differently! I was impressed and excited to see that. It’s an increase in replayability and it reminds you that your choices do make a difference.

The areas in the game are wonderful. Nicely detailed especially when it comes to a major city like Nar Shaddaa. Everyone kept commenting how it felt like Blade Runner. Tall buildings with neon signs and displays. The environments are varied, going from temple ruins to jungles to cities and off to deserts. The weather effects (that I’ve seen so far) feel rather lackluster, unfortunately. I understand people don’t like weather stopping them from being able to do what they want in game, but it’s always something I’ve enjoyed seeing the developers give a strong attention to. I loved the blizzards in Skyrim.

In summary, I really enjoyed the game from what I played. I’m not sure about end game content as there wasn’t enough time to get that far, but leveling up looks to be a ton of fun. I am a bit worried about longevity, as the game seems so focused on the single player experience that it’s easy to forget you’re playing an mmo or to feel you need other people. If they can survive their first year and incorporate UI/UX feedback and updates to make the interface easier to use and more intuitive then they’ll only have to work on content. Which, given the amazing universe they have to work with, not a problem I think they’ll have.

[Note: I would have included screenshots but everything that I took seems to have come up as black screens.]

Posted by dracmtt

Matt Scott is an experienced gamer, zombie survivalist, and lover of all things robot. He firmly believes that games are one of the ultimate ways to bring people together to learn, teach, and grow. You can follow him on Twitter

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