Like most of the known universe, I played the SWTOR stress test beta weekend and OMG what a blast I had! If I had any doubts about the game before hand they were obliterated after a few days of hands on play. Well…actually… within about half an hour of hands on play, but that’s beside the point. As the play time increased my viewpoint did not waver. For me, SWTOR did not disappoint at all. Were there bugs? Yes. Does it share similarities with every other dull MMO out there? Yes it does. Is the game perfect in every way imaginable? No. Is it truck loads of fun? You bet it is! For your reading pleasure I thought I might give you my impressions of the beta and talk about some of the experiences I had within it.
My pre-beta experiences were not that great. The launcher crashed on me about a dozen times and the download would stall and not resume automatically. This caused the whole download process to be twice as long as it should have been. Grrr!!! I also didn’t get an email stating what day I would be let into the beta, which caused me a few nervous days as well. Once it came to actual beta play time though things went pretty smoothly.
At it’s heart, SWTOR is not a revolutionary MMO. At its core it is very much like WoW, LOTRO, RIFT, and the like. That being said, there is a hell of a lot that is different and makes it stand out from its rivals. I’ve heard these differences referred to as “window dressing” but they are much, much more than this. The “same thing, different skin” argument to me is about as valid as saying Battle Field 3 is essentially Counter Strike with window dressing. The devil is in the details and the details make a huge difference to the overall gameplay experience. For me, the experience was overwhelmingly enjoyable.
The major difference between this title and its rivals, of course, is the much talked up story aspect. Does it make a difference? For me it did; In a big way. For a good portion of my first day of play I kept going to save my game. Whether this was because I had just logged way more hours than was good for me in Skyrim, or because I felt like I was in a single player RPG, I don’t really know. I do know however, that it really did feel like I was playing a great Bioware RPG… but with my friends!!! At every turn I was faced with decisions that had to be made. Decisions that actually made a difference. The story was engrossing. The story, rather than the desire to get more XP and level is what drove me to pick up the next quest. I forgot all about leveling and just got immersed in the world and the narrative. Adding a compelling story with A grade voice acting does indeed make a huge difference. Don’t let anybody try and tell you otherwise! This really is KOTOR 3.
There were a lot of lesser things too that made the game more enjoyable than it’s rivals. One example (of many) is the way quest hubs are designed. In many games you will pick up quests that send you to an area to kill certain mobs. After you return and hand in the quest, you are given another one to head back to the exact same area you just went through and fight the exact same mobs you just killed to get to some other quest objective. SWTOR streamlines this process very well. When you get sent on a quest to a certain area you will pick up other objectives on the way there. These will have you travel to other areas on the path to your original objective, or complete additional quests at the place of your original objective. There was no excessive running back and forth. Some have labeled this linear. I label it a great time saver and the end to a pet MMO peeve.
Kill XYZ and collect XYZ quests were also disguised well as “bonus missions”. You were not sent out on a mission to “kill 10 swamp rats and collect 15 swamp rat eyes”. That would not, after all, be very heroic. If you managed to kill said creatures and collect thier eyes on the way to speak to the imperial spy however, there would be a bonus in it for you. In almost every case, these bonus missions would be completed without you trying to do them. They were just a natural consequence of completing your original objective.
There are so many little things this game does that make a difference that I couldn’t begin to name them all here (though I must point out that “Sprint” at level 14 is fricken awesome!!!)
Although I was going to roll a Trooper for the beta, I ended up playing a Sith Warrior (Juggernaut) on an East Coast server along with about 20 other Southern Wardens who collectively decided to play Empire. My goal was to test the PvE up to the point where you get a starship and then spend the remainder of the time testing the PvP.
Server stability was good. There was the occasional lag spike, particularly after the second day, but other than that things were peachy. The server never crashed and even though it was an East Coast server I had good latency. Playing other MMO’s in Australia I usually had a ping of 350-450 to West Coast servers. My average in SWTOR was 280! Much, much better! I did not experience any super serious bugs or crashes to desktop. There were however numerous little glitches. Things like the guild list not showing all members on occasion, the group leader icon being randomly assigned to both players and NPC’s alike, the map bugging out and not showing objectives… things of that ilk. I expect the bulk of these to be fixed for launch as the build we were testing was an old one. The most annoying bug, for me, was hearing every god damn companion in the zone talking even if they were not in view, let alone earshot. If that makes it into launch I swear I’m gonna punch a puppy in the face!!!
The solo PvE in the game was fun. The quests were enjoyable. The story was epic. The worlds were large and the environments interesting. Combat was intuitive and fun.
Some people have complained that the combat feels slow; They don’t like the 1.5 second global cooldown on abilities and such. I didn’t feel this way and as far as I am concerned said people can f*ck off back to Counter Strike! It’s an MMO for gawds sake!!! One noticeable difference with SWTOR’s combat compared to other MMO’s is the amount of mobs you fight at once. In other MMO’s you might take on 2-3. In SWTOR it will be 5+! This is supposed to impart a feeling of “heroic combat”, and it does. Coming from an other MMO, you might be forgiven for thinking the combat it too easy because of the amount of mobs you can mow down in one time. Once you realise however that the standard pull is twice the size of other MMO’s you can see how it balances out. I found the combat difficulty to be tuned quite well at the levels I was playing at.
Some people have worried that because there is so much emphasis on personal story, that this game will not be a social one. They worry it will just be a single player RPG with MMO elements. I can say that this worry is entirely unfounded. The story works every bit as well in a group as it does solo. I got so many laughs out of the dialogue choices other group members made. They really have done the group conversation very,very well. If I think about it, the most enjoyable times I had in the game were teaming up with people, whether it be for general questing, running Flashpoints, or doing some Warfronts. Not only is the fun multiplied by playing with your friends, but you are also rewarded for grouping by being awarded “Social Points”, which can be used to get some nifty stuff. The game seems to cater very well to both kinds of people; The social and the anti-social. That’s made of win as far as I’m concerned. It’s not every day that everybody walks away happy!
Speaking of grouping, I had the pleasure of running the Black Talon Flashpoint a number of times. Wow! Compare this flashpoint to similar level dungeons in other games, like Rage Fire Chasm in WoW, and you will see that there is no comparison. It shites on all of them in every way possible. Story made a big difference here, of course, but it is not the only thing that was stand out. The encounters were also interesting. Of particular interest were the many different paths and options that opened up depending on dialogue choices. Numerous play throughs yielded different encounters and experiences. This is something new to the genre.
The other flashpoint I played was Hammer Station. I only got to play through it once though, and being under levelled and having only three of us, we failed on the third(?) boss we encountered. All in all though I was super impressed by the flashpoints.
Having being converted to a PvP freak by Warhammer Online, I was of course keen to check out the player verse player action. Especially as the same team was responsible for the PvP in both games. I was hoping to find WAR in space here but that wasn’t really the case. The PvP felt more like a fusion of WAR and WoW. That’s not entirely a bad thing, but it was different to what I imagined. I am happy to say that it was more WAR than WoW though. The combat felt like a faster, slightly less tactical version of WAR. It might be as tactical at higher levels, but it did not feel it at the level I was playing at.
Many of the great things from WAR made it into SWTOR. Combat length for example. There is no one shotting people here. CC, though present, is also not out of control. They have done a good job in both of these areas. Tanks represent quite well too. I played as a tank and routinely took home more medals than anyone else on my team. Tanks really are rewarded well for protecting their allies and soaking up damage on their behalf. No longer are DPS, heals, and killing blows, the only thing that count. Tanking is viable, fun, and rewarding (and perhaps even a little OP… Shhhh!).
Playing the warzones, I encountered the same things I had encountered in WoW’s battlegrounds and WAR’s scenarios. I found AFK Valor leachers and people chasing red names rather than concentrating on the objectives and trying to win the game. That being said, I am really happy to see that they borrowed and expanded on an idea from WAR and added “Defender Points”. Basically, you are given points for hanging around an objective and defending it. If you play to win, rather than play to just go on a killing spree, you will be rewarded. It will take a while to sink in that this exists, but once it does it should act as a good incentive for people to try and take and then defend objectives rather than run around mindlessly.
Huttball was fun. Voidstar was super fun. Alderaan was epic fun! All of the warzones were enjoyable but I liked Alderaan the most. In some ways it felt a lot like WoW’s Arathi Basin and that was always my favourite battleground. The only downside with warzones that I could see is that it did not allow you to queue for a single particular warzone. You could only queue for all three at once. I’m hoping this is something that they change at or soon after launch.
To conclude. I had a great time in beta and am eagerly awaiting Early Access. Whilst we don’t know what end game is really like yet, the path too it is pretty fricken amazing. Bioware have a winner on their hands here folks.
See you at launch!