The day has finally come. Star Wars: The Old Republic is here. Having done both the beta testing and having pre-ordered had early access to the game, I would like to now share some of my experiences with SWTOR.
At the time of writing this review I have only reached level 16, so this will not be a full game review but rather my initial impressions. I will do another review dedicated to some higher level content at a later time. Mainly I wanted to reach level 16 before writing this review because by that level I had access to:
- Personal Ship
This review is full of my personal opinions and I understand that everyone will not agree. Also I believe I had high expectations going into this game and I am a bit tainted by all the other MMOs or games I play. Still this game was in development for 3 years, and they hype before the game was launched was unprecedented. So it is difficult to not build up you expectations first time you play SWTOR and I think this review reflects that although maybe a bit unfairly.
I want to start this review with graphics because they are immediately both rewarding and challenging. This game will require a good computer to run even on low settings. I am not going to get technical about the type of graphic card you need, however I can tell you I have an Alienware M15x (which is 2 years old and no longer all that) and I can only run this game on the lowest settings. My advice is to disable shadows in the graphics preferences. The game will probably set shadows to low automatically if your computer is not up to par. However I found setting Shadows to off will give you a large performance boost.
Here is my gripe with the high graphics requirements. I have a Playstation 3 which originally cost about $500. Years later it can still play games like Skyrim with beautiful graphics without any problems. However I have a laptop which cost $1500 and it is obsolete within 2 years. I am not sure if Bioware is to blame for this or if it is a Windows problem, or if it has to do with the fact that a PS3 is a dedicated gaming system. However it is an issue that I think will prevent many people from enjoying this game, as not everyone is willing to spend extra money to update their computer before purchasing the game.
I do have to admit that even on low settings this game kicks the graphical crap out of most MMOs out there. I can only imagine how it looks like on high level. As of now I am still trying to find a friend who has the horsepower to run it on high graphic settings.
Once you get past the graphics requirement, the game is in fact beautiful. The graphics are done in what BioWare calls cartoon realism. What this allows the character models to be a bit more expressive. We have all seen games where the character models are attempting to match real live humans just do end up with that dead look in their eyes. This does not happen in SWTOR. I believe this was a good decision and it works for the game very well. I want to conclude that players should not be worried about how the game will look like even if their current computer cannot run the game on anything other than low settings. Don’t let the word “Low” ruin this game for you because in low settings the game will still look way better than WOW or LOTRO or DDO in their highest graphical settings (put together).
Character creation met my minimum expectations but did not exceed. Don’t get me wrong it will leave WOW or DDO or LOTRO character creation in the dust. However it is not as good as a game like Skyrim. The character models look good. I can even say that they look great. You can even make them fat which was a first for me.
However I would like a slightly larger variety of options. Fox example you can choose from a pre-set number of face models which all look good, however you cannot modify the face model to make his chin or nose larger, something we have seen in Oblivion years ago. I would also like to have the option to make my characters model look a bit older. Right now he looks like he just finished high school. Another gripe is that I can make my character’s hair white, but his eyebrows are always brown. That just looks weird. Again this is nothing that will prevent you from enjoying the game; however it did not exceed my expectations either.
Out of all the gripes I have with this game, combat is probably the largest. It is a direct copy of WOW’s combat system. This means you have a hot bar of icons and you click (or use keyboard or gaming mouse) on each one to do a different type of attack. After a while you will figure out which order gives you the largest benefit and you will start clicking the hot bar in certain order or combination to achieve maximum DPS.
This is a combat system from the last decade. If you look at the combat system of a MMO like DDO you will see right away how crappy the combat system is in SWTOR. Play any modern PS3 game like Skyrim or Infamous and it is hard to believe that this is the best the MMO community has to offer. To be fair I do see the logic of copying WOW’s combat system, considering that it is the most popular MMO out there, and attracting WOW’s players is what all new MMOs try to do. I just wish there was even a small level of improvement.
I do want to add that once you get over the whole hot bar issue, the characters looks great swinging their light sabres. They even block and parry. It actually looks like you are having a light saber fight. So I would say poor marks on the combat interface, great marks on the visuals.
Star Wars: The Old Republic takes place thousands of years before the rise of Darth Vader and the Clone Wars. This is a time when the Sith Empire was as strong as the Jedi Republic. The story takes place after the end of a violent conflict between the Republic and the Sith empire during a fragile peace between the two factions.
I have to say this is brilliant. Let’s face it the Clone Wars and the 3 prequels did allot of damage to the Star Wars franchise and are enjoyed only by the most hard core fans and little kids. However in this game we get to play the Sith in their prime, against the equally balanced Jedi. I have to give full marks to BioWare and Lucas Arts on the Lore of this game and for making such a great world and lore.
I don’t think Bioware had a blank canvas to work with. They already had several games that took place in that timeline and there are books written that tell stories about the Sith Empire and the Republic conflict. I did not read these books or play the previous games so I can’t judge how accurate they were in creating their world compared to the existing lore. However I do want to say I found the Lore in this game to be deep and well done. I believe allot of time was spent developing that part of the game.
Storyline & Questing
Finally a game that does not require me to go kill 10 rats over and over again. Yes there is some of that in the side quests. However mostly there are beautifully written stories with voice overs that make you feel like you are actually accomplishing something. Yes even the go kill 10 rats side quests have voice overs. Furthermore similar to other BioWare games you get to make some choices about how you answer the NPCs. Some of the choices you make have consequences and earn you either light side or dark side points which have other consequences later on in the game. I think this is the first game where I did not simply fast forward to quest text to get to the end so I can start killing my 10 rats. I found I actually sat there and listened to every quest conversation and participated in the answers. I know this is kind of hard to explain, I know when I read about it I was thinking “Story who cares”. However it really works and it is really well done, and surprisingly it makes all the difference. I give SWTOR high marks in this department and believe they truly had set a high bar for any future released MMO.
Crafting and Companions
Similar to other MMOs in SWTOR you get a companion (NPCs that helps you). Which companion you get depends on the class you choose. Each class will eventually unlock several companions. What is different here is that these companions have their unique story, personality and roles. They interact with you. You can flirt or even marry some of them. They can be happy or unhappy with your decisions, and you can give them gifts to make them happier. Now if this was not well done it would be kind of cheesy, however this game excels at storytelling so it is not cheesy and you will probably find that you like your companion.
Companions have different roles and they are actually very useful. I have heard somewhere that a companion is equal to about a 60% of a player, which I think is fairly close to what I have experienced.
Companions can also take care of some of the more boring parts of playing an MMO like selling vendor junk, collecting crafting ingredients and even crafting items. You just click on your companion and tell him to sell your items, and he disappears for a few minutes than comes back with the cash. You also send them on a mission and they come back 3 minutes later with the reward. I think this is a great innovation for MMOs and again I think it will set a high bar for future MMO developers.
Flashpoints are repeatable group instance quests. They are long and they usually have a rich story and great rewards. It is well done and enjoyable. However I do not like the fact that you can’t just join the instance from anywhere. You have to actually walk up to the entrance. Walking to a flashpoint is boring and they are often not located close to your current quest area. However there is quick travel in the game so getting there is not all that difficult and it does make the flashpoint feel a bit more “real” if you have to walk up to it.
I would also like to have an instance finder that allows you to be automatically matched with a flashpoint group. Currently to find a group you stand in front of the entrance and spam the chat channel with “LFG Black Talon”. This is the same for any other instance quest. This game really should have an instance finder; I hope this is something that gets added in the future.
There is no open world PVP, which is ok with me. There are some open PVP areas on PVP servers, there are PVP instances called Warzones on all servers and there are duels. I have not yet heard about any class imbalances, and my experience with PVP was fun. The open PVP areas are kind of pointless since you get very little or no rewards. You can’t loot the loosing player. Warzone PVP is where it is at and where I think most PVP action will happen.
Warzones are still a bit limited in party size and they are random but I think this will be remedied in the future. Is the PVP as good as what I have seen in the upcoming Guild Wars 2? I would have to say no. But it is fun.
SWTOR worlds are large enough to make you feel like it’s a real place but not too large to make you feel alone. There is instant travel (30 minutes cool down) to an unlocked location similar to WOW except you can pick from many locations not just one. You can take a taxi to an unlocked location. You can walk and at higher levels you can get a speeder. I have not yet seen animal mounts. You also get a personal ship to travel between planets or you can take a shuttle. There is enough traveling to make you feel like it is a real place, but not too much to make it too boring.
Your personal ship is not only used for traveling and space missions but it is also your home. It’s one of the few places where you can talk to your companions. I am a big fan of MMO housing so I was very much looking forward to getting my ship. Although I is instance based so it can’t compare to some of the housing in sandbox MMOs, however in other MMOs you can’t take your house into a space battle so I can't really complain.
Based on the pre-order numbers, the hype in the MMO community I think SWTOR is here to stay. The real question how big is it going to be? In order for the game to really make headway it will need to attract existing MMO players. I think the time for this has never been better. WOW is still huge but declining. Their best hope is the Disney Panda expansion which has the MMO community rolling their eyes. Other than WOW, Rift and some F2P titles, there is no real competition on the market.
Furthermore there are many non MMO players that will try this game because it is Star Wars. Many will solo play the excellent storyline, get bored and uninstall the game. However I think quite a few of these new players will try the MMO aspects of the game and get hooked.
My personal prediction is that SWTOR will do well, and might even reach a steady 2-3 million subscriptions. It will certainly be larger than any other MMO with the exception of WOW. Is SWTOR perfect? Absolutely not. Some of the problems will get fixed in future updates; some will never get fixed because they are such an integrated part of the game mechanics (like combat).
However on a whole the attraction of the Star Wars IP, the great story, great graphics and great gameplay, great marketing and great timing will make this game a winner. I certainly will keep playing.