SWTOR beta review from a WoW perspective
by, 03-12-2011 at 13:34 (6353 Views)
My attempt at a 'professional' review, as 'professional' goes after only a weekend of play. Have divided it in Excellent, Good and Average. I dint really find any bad points so no category for that. Overall I was pleasantly surprised about the game, I have been highly sceptic but it won me over rather quickly :D Read why here:
Bioware's interactive storytelling brought to the MMO genre! If you ever dreamt of playing games like Baldur's gate, Knights of the Old republic, Dragon Age or Mass Effect in a multiplayer environment then this is definitely the closest you'll get in possible wet dream scenario's. Every mission you take is an excellently voiced dialogue with the questgiver with several options of how to react, get more background, morale stances etc. These dialogues are nice cutscenes in which the gazillions of players standing around the questgiver are mostly phased out which helps tremendously with immersion. During these cutscenes the chatwindow is still available so you are never removed from the community at large or the group you are playing in. Also grouping up and doing the same conversations is well thought out, team members each get to do a random roll for the reaction they would like to give and the highest roll gets to answer, resulting in players delivering their lines in turn and giving the illusion of a party with different personalities reacting to the things being said and happening around them. (makes even a silent pug seemingly have a personality ;)) It being the Star Wars universe allows for some technical innovation so if a party member delivers a shared quest and you are not at the same spot to join in the conversation you can partake through use of a holocam.
Considering that interactive storytelling with branching based on player choice is still very much a new medium, I would say that both the class stories (from the ones I have seen) and the side quests are quite good. There is still a fair amount of trope villain/good guy developments and some sidequests are basically nicely dressed up versions of the classic kill 10 rats quests. I also saw the typical could you helps us out with these nasty level 1 beasties that have been wiping whole squads of the imperial army which you then proceed to kill with a training sword and negligible health loss. That said I can see that they worked on bringing in some nice story arcs with the occasional moral gray zones that make the process of who to help and who to kill/let live a hell of a lot more interesting then clicking the accept button on the bottom of a text balloon. Its still nothing compared to a single player rpg like The Witcher series or any good book imo but the fact that this is an MMO of course also limits the impact of player choice and thus the quality of story you could possibly deliver.
Overall, from the opening cutscene to the gameworld the graphics are imo good looking and very reminiscent of the graphics used in Knights of the Old Republic. They opted for a 'cartoony' realism but everything lives and breathes a Star Wars/Science Fiction feel with grand vista's, epic sized city environments etc. Textures are blurry at times though and the detail of your Avatar's armour and character model is not great, this being an MMO however and thus having to account for a large amount of computer specs, its understandable. Still a bit disappointing for those with the possibility of maxing everything out and having a large bit of their performance sitting idle.
The world/map design from what I have seen looked good with a fair bit of variety. They seemed a bit linear with a lot of natural 'walls' limiting your exploration but that might change at higher levels. A last thing to remark is that some area's like the Senate or the city on Corcusant are epic in size indeed but virtually void of npc's resulting in a lot of walking back and forth through relatively uninteresting environments. There is always the possibility of taxi's though or your quicktravel 'hearthstone' with a 30 minute cd that can transport you to any bindpoint on the map you have previously discovered.
From the promotional video's I had seen prior to playing the beta the gameplay seemed a very standard WoW hotkey affair and it is. The lower level abilities include quite a lot of instants (at least on the classes I saw) which enables more movement early on but channelled and cast time abilities enter the fray after a while which makes combat a mostly static affair of standing and spamming your rotation until either your or the npc's healthbar gives out. That being said, combat is exciting since most of the time you will not pull single mobs but groups of 4 or 5, consisting of melee and ranged opponents. Most of them are easily dispatched but some groups are blended with stronger or even elite enemies which opens up some strategic gameplay possibilities even when soloing. Overall I thought it was a very enjoyable affair with a good amount of cool moments. Your companion (more about them later) does quite a decent job in these encounters but unless you micro manage him/her/its abilities add little more to the fight then a hunters pet or a warlocks minion.
Sadly I didn't see any possibilities to slice into computer systems to disable enemy security or blow stuff up in their face as you could in KoTOR, it could have given a bit more variety as to how to deal with enemies. (edit: From what I have heard of others: depending on crafting skills there will be several optional ways to go through a dungeon, deal with mobs, create short cuts etc).
Gear comes in the same quality ranks as WoW, green blue purple and orange. Purple and orange are not limited to the highest level, you can find them early on already. The great thing is that some gear is upgradable: it contains no basic stats but only the stats of the upgrade components you put in (fx with a lightsaber, the hilt, colour crystal etc). These upgrades you can buy, create with crafting or find in loot, meaning that you could keep that piece of gear for the whole of your gaming career if you wished, properly updating it with mods and enhancements as you come across them. With the ability to also just standard swap lower level gear with higher level it might create some variety in what people choose to wear.
The loot is very much a standard affair, ranging from cash, vendortrash and gear. In the lower levels (starting area) there is an ungodly amount of junk which fills your limited bagspace at an alarming rate, its nice for money but personally I prefer a bit more variety. It picks up later though, with mods and enhancements that also drop, making looting a bit more exciting (the mob with loot has a coloured beam indicating the quality of loot dropped making sure you never miss the really good drops). Apart from gear, junk and enhancements, mobs also drop commendation tokens corresponding to the planet you are questing on, gather enough of them and you can buy a nice piece of blue gear at the commendation vendor. Quests also often give you the choice between either a token or a piece of gear, if the gear isn't better then what you have equipped you still have a nice reward. Same system applies to the dungeons where it is very much the same as in WoW with the emblems of triumph but available at all levels.
Not much to say here, tried it a few times, and it was fun. Didnít really have a feel for class synergy yet of course so while fighting it more often then not resulted in rather noobish button pushing but we survived, most of the time. The shared conversations worked very well as mentioned earlier and the ability to see and help out in each others class story was nice (though you couldnít influence the dialogue, there you were merely the spectator). I tried the first flashpoint (dungeon) and it was long with a new objective popping up when completing another and dialogues prolonging the experience. While it was very nice to have a story with the dungeon I wonder how well that works out while running it for a 10th time fx to farm for gear or marks (you might not have to though, not sure) but that counts for a lot of the content. Overall a very enjoyable experience!
Talent trees/ skill training
First thing I must say that the talent trees in potential give a lot of variety. There are 8 classes and each class has the ability to choose from one of two possible advanced classes at level 10. In the example of The Jedi consular (which I played most during the beta) that means that you can choose between jedi sage (healer/mage damage type) or jedi shadow (a rogue damage type with defensive capabilities). These two advanced classes each have 3 separate skill trees that are distinct to that advanced class (there is possibly some shared abilities in there but not at first glance). So in terms of WoW this would effectively mean 16 different classes. Seeing that within the advanced class you can either spec for damage or healing or damage or defense and respec when needed there is a lot that you can play around with. Advanced classes are a binding choice atm, once chosen you cannot try the other one. This means you could replay the same class twice for a potentially very different combat experience.
Sounds all very interesting, why then put it under average? Well two things mainly. First, glancing over the talent trees I saw a lot of what WoW nowadays calls filler talents, 2% more crit,damage or healing on this ability kind of thing. I didn't make a deep study of the higher tiers but as a first impression it wasn't very exciting. Secondly there is the classic back and forth to the trainer at every level often finding you can only buy an upgrade of an existing spell or ability, not very thrilling. I do not agree with every development WoW made in regards to the talent tree but the scaling of learned abilities with level and a trimmed down talent tree with more interesting abilities is something I would like to see in any new MMO, the system here feels almost archaic. Obviously opinions will differ.
This one I am not sure about whether to put under good or average. I put it here mostly since I have always been a big fan of ui customisation. In WoW as soon as add ons were available (hotbar extensions etc) I used them. Admittingly it tended to go overboard in WoW sometimes but I liked that the option was there. SWTOR has no such thing, yes you can hide elements of the ui and move the chat window but that is as far as the customisation goes from what I have seen. Macros' are also not in so some of the conveniences we got used to in WoW are sorely missing here. The chat window is also basic, only giving the option to decide which channels you want to see in a given tab, but no way to colour code them. There is an option to create a custom channel but didn't see it in the list of channels after I created it and was not able to select it for communicating. This is probably just a bug though or my own stupidity. I have read somewhere they would add a lot of customisation soon after release so this might end up being a non issue and probably already is for a lot of people that never used any addons to start with.
That said there are quite a lot of options in the preferences menu that you can customise to your liking, like detailed tooltips (detailing exactly what enhancements you have in your gear fx), comparative tooltips for your own and companions gear. After a bit of tinkering I was able to create a ui that pretty much did what I needed it to do and have a smooth gameplay experience.
The map is nice, fading when you walk so you can see where you are going while walking. There are also several options for marking what you want to see on the map and minimap (vendors, trainers and so forth). If in a party you can see the partymembers questgoals on the map also, in a different colour from your own.
Crafting and gathering:
Only initial impressions here since I didnít go all to deep in to it. Each char can choose up to 3 professions (or crew skills as they are called in TOR). Two of those are gathering missions and 1 crafting or three gathering if you so choose. There is a lot of variety in crew skills and in possible items to be crafted. The change TOR brings compared to WoW is mostly in the convenience area, crafting and gathering is not something your char will be doing, its your crew (companions, up to 3 per character) that will be doing the hard work. You can send your crew on gathering missions, this will cost money and a certain amount of time, when ordered to do so they will disappear from your side (I only had 1 companion so far) and return after the allotted time with some resources corresponding to the mission you send them on. Your skill will also go up after they have returned. You can also gather in the field but clicking on the resource will make your companion do the work.
Crafting you also leave to your companion, after gathering the resources you click on create and your companion goes off to do his job, returning after a while with the crafted item and the corresponding skill up. Some of your companions will have a bonus on a particular crafting or gathering skill so choosing who to send is a must here. Basically you will never have to stop to do anything not fighting/questing related any more. I must admit that it is convenient but as I always liked crafting it also feels a bit sad that I have no possibility to do it myself.
As far as the recipe's/crafted items goes it seems like you will be creating lots of useless greens to skill up, like in WoW, difference is that you can reverse engineer these items to get some of the mats back and the possibility for a improved version of the recipe that you made. This hasnít happened to me but I only made 3 or 4 items. That there is a possibility is to discover recipe's is nice though and a reward for dedicated crafters.
Again only initial impressions .I got my first and only companion around level 9, he was introduced through the class story. I got to see and speak with him basically from level 1 so after he joined me I felt some sort of bond. Yeah sue me, I am a sucker for rp :p. After joining though he fell strangely silent only uttering oneliners once in a while, that, while related to his story, basically not amounted to more then the Who summoned me comments from the WoW warlock minion. Coming from Dragon Age and Mass Effect where each companion has a personality, banter and so on, this felt like poor manís version. This effect is only heightened by the fact that they basically act as your servants or slaves, gathering your mats, crafting, and even selling your grey items if you so desire.
The affection gain through decisions you make during quests seemed rather random to me. There is a description of his personality in the codex (game encyclopedia that fills up as you discover things) which lists his likes and dislikes but still I couldnít really find any discernible logic. Hilariously he even managed to like me more when I made a decision with him not present to notice it. Admittedly this kind of odd behaviour was also present in Dragon Age but this felt multiplied by 10. In solo combat without any micro managing he did relatively well as I mentioned before, in dungeons though he seemed rather useless but it might be that I should have infested in his gear a bit more.
Light side/Dark side
During questing you gain dark/light points based on your decisions, am I rude, benevolent merciless etc.? Now I don't have an extensive knowledge of Star Wars lore and I never been a big a fan of one dimensional moral barometers but I guess for the Jedi the light or dark alignement makes sense, either you are a paragorn of good or just an evil mother****ing dark Jedi. You will still be a dark mother****ing republic Jedi though since a faction change based on alignment choices isn't in. But the possibility of making 'dark' choices is nice to have anyway for rp and immersion. That said some lightsabers are only available for you to buy with a certain dark or light side rating so the points also act as a kind of currency (but do not get used up while buying stuff). Being consequent in your choices will pay off, though 'rewarding' alignment in that way for me kind of defeated the point of rping your decisions based on the idea of your character. The lightsabers are not a must have however since you can get comparable items through upgrading or crafting so a more neutral Jedi is not necessarily gimping him or herself. Light or dark side ranks are also used for buying more cosmetic related items.
The alignment, while making sense for Jedi's felt a bit akward for the other classes. I am not exactly sure what it means when a bountyhunter moves more to the dark side, since he doesn't use the force. Yeah, ok, nitpicking here :D
While satisfying, its not really anything to write home about either. I personally donít really mind that I donít get to choose how long my nose is or the exact shape of my eyelashes. While having more options is always nice for those wanting to use it I don't spend that much time on my character in general. I do find the options that are available rather lacking nonetheless. This is mostly out of technical reasons from what I understand regarding armour clipping and the like but Bioware chose only to have the humanoid model so all races have the same body and body size shape (4 options) is the same for all races to. The thing to distinguish yourself with is your face and here there are quite a lot of options available as Asuntil mentioned in her review. Problem is however that as soon as ppl start wearing helmets this difference is also gone. To top it off every race has the same dance and the same set of emotes. Might seem insignificant and for a lot of people it probably also is but its hard to make your char stand out from the crowd (or look different at least) in an MMO to start with, trimming down on options here is imo not a very good idea, not something I am overly distraught about either though.
Overall Verdict: Is it a game that changes the MMO genre compared to WoW as the most prevalent cultural reference point? I dont really think so, much of the social sides of gameplay are much the same as WoW, the questing for the most part can easily be done alone (certainly with the addition of an active companion) and there are harder mobs outdoor that require grouping if you would feel the need to tackle them as its not nessecary to do so to progress in your levels steadily. And ofcourse there are the instanced dungeons and raids at endgame.
That said though, SW never claimed to be different than WoW, they even admitted to keeping prety close to WoW's design philosophy. They made some huge improvements in quest presentation through dialogue which does make a huge difference to how the game feels compared to Warcraft, it begs the question however how long this *newness* lasts once you have seen and lived through the story. I am dissapointed in SW for not bringing the MMO any further but in its own right its a very enjoyable game.
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