Tuesday, November 22, 2011

SWTOR Beta Impressions

The NDA (non-disclosure agreement) has finally been lifted, as seen here, so I can finally talk about the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic Beta. I've played two weekend beta tests so far, the first of which I made it to level twenty or so as a Jedi Knight, advanced class of Sentinel, and to level five with a Sith Bounty Hunter. The second time I played I had less time and focused specifically on a Sith Inquisitor. Each class has it's own prologue area that takes up till level nine or ten and brings you to the point where you get your first companion. Every class does not have it's own individual areas, it seems divided based on classes, but it seems as if two classes have reign of each prologue area. With my Jedi Knight the only other classes I ever saw in the prologue area, other than some super high level people flaunting off their prowess to all of us newbies, were Jedi Consulars. There are eight classes in total, which you can check in detail here. There are also advanced classes for each class and you can check those out right here.

I wish the game had looked this good, but it almost did

My impressions right off the bat were about the graphics, they are a bit depressing and seemingly old, but it is very easy to get used to them and appreciate them despite their old graphical look. Once I got to some of the space and big city areas I noticed how the environments, even with this faded look, can be a little bit impressive. One thing the engine show off is it impressively far field of view and the large amount of characters that can be on the screen without any kind of slow down. According to the screenshot above they are putting on a lot of polish, graphics wise, before the release. The game was very easy to run and the servers, even on maxed out beta servers, seem to hold up very well and provide a lag free experience. Every area I made it to was damn near filled with players, both weekends I played, but it didn't detract much from the experience.

The dreaded grind quests they give you in each area are fairly easy and are intended to give reason to killing enemies on the way to a particular goal or area. On top of it just being extra income for the most part, they don't require you to kill so many enemies that you can't possibly do them with other players everywhere and never did I run into people camping enemy spawns. Bioware did a good job populating the areas with a plentiful amount of enemies, often several times more than what you might need for a quest. When I got to some of the higher level areas that changed a bit, but that was only in regards to bonus quests, quests that pop up in an area that give you money/experience for killing x number of enemies. They are quests that are very optional and often require far more kills than the grind quests, but they are nice when you have to plow through a bunch of enemies anyways. I should make it clear that these quests don't feel nearly as solid as real quests, they provide no dialogue, no background, no purpose, just extra income/experience for having to kill enemies in an area in order to travel through it.

I managed to play through one of the PVP Warzones in the game called Voidstar. Each team took a turn attacking while the other defended areas of the ships against the invaders. The first time we defended and immediately had to protect sets of blast doors. It was simple idea, two blast doors and all you had to do was plant explosives on them. You could defuse the explosives but you had less than a minute to get over there and defuse them. Once one door was down it moved to the next area, another area with two blast doors that led to another area. The last area also had two blast doors but if you destroyed those you had to head into a control room of sorts and do different tasks to win. When we defended it went fairly well, we barely communicated and generally stuck together. When we attacked we had the most success working in small groups, distracting the enemy team while one or two people went and planted the bombs. The Warzone was pretty fun, but it wasn't horribly special compared to most other pvp in mmo's.

So far everything I've talked about doesn't make this game seem even the slightest bit unique, but it gets unique when it comes to crew/companions, group instances and conversations. Once you get past the prologue area you get your first crew member, whom you can have assist you in combat or they can go off on missions. You can have them learn different types of skills, each of which have to do with gathering resources. You base what three skills you want on what you want to craft. For instance I had my companion do archaeology, artifice and biolanaylsis. Bioanaylsis didn't help that much or fit in, but archaeology and artifice went hand in hand when making Sith and Jedi related artifacts. There are quite a few skills you can choose for a crew member and you can have several crew members later on, so you could have access to quite a few crafting skills. You can check out the large amount of crew skills here and all that info on that. With my shoddy set up I was able to find lightsaber crystals and modify other elements of my lightsabers.

The conversation system is probably my favorite thing about this MMO, one of the few things that feels fresh to the genre. Conversations feel ripped out of any of the Bioware single player games out there, which is never a bad thing, and when they get meshed into a MMO there are some interesting aspects of it. Of course you have the normal picking light side/dark side options, but when it comes to group it can be quite fun. When you are dong a group mission there are almost always choices to be made and when you are making choices in a conversation or action each individual member of the group gets to pick what they want, but it is all decided on rolls. Each time you pick a decision or conversation option a hundred sided diced is rolled and whoever has teh highest number gets their choice shown. This creates some fantastic situations when it comes to light side/dark side options, especially if one player picks dark side and the rest pick light. If the one person who picked dark side won then everyone would have to live with that decision but I'm uncertain of whether they would all receive dark side points or just the person who picked that. The one group flashpoint I did had some interesting dark side/light side options that we could pick and one person did pick the dark side option against the rest of us, but they lost and we got to go on. The conversation system for groups making all the group stuff a lot more enjoyable than basic MMO grouping.

One of the newest Flashpoints to be shown

I've said quite a bit about SW:TOR but it feels as if I've said very little. Most importantly I should note how huge the game is, especially with all the different areas for levels 1-10. The story is a bit more fun on the Sith side, at least with the Jedi/Sith lightsaber wielding classes, but all of the voice acting is very well done. This is one of the few MMO's that I generally don't want to skip over the conversations and get straight to the objective. They do a good job throwing light side/dark side options at you all the time, but I'm very interested in how they plan to balance that. If a player tries to maintain a neutral stand point it seems as if they would miss out on much of the best equipment and I'm not sure how much access you would have to dark side equipment as a Jedi. I had seen a few bugs last time I played but they were very minimal and didn't cause any hardship. I definitely like the game quite a lot and I am willing to bet many others who generally enjoy MMORPG's will be able to get into the game easily. This isn't anything innovative but I don't think anyone is expecting that of SWTOR, at least I hope not, it's all built off MMO fundamentals and previous Bioware games. I may get to play it again this weekend but probably not until early access starts in December. Thanks for reading and I hope some of you get to play it on this last beta weekend starting on Friday.

-Written by Sean Cargle


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