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I've tried many MMOs but have mainly enjoyed City of Heroes, EVE, Guild Wars, and LOTRO.
I had been following SWTOR for a while, and on a whim decided to preorder it.
This weekend was the first time I've played SWTOR and overall, I'm both impressed and disappointed.
Here is my zero BS, zero PR spin review...
Please post some comments on the game and my review.
Gameplay - 7.5/10
The core gameplay is solid and based on the holy trinity, with no attempt made to alter the formula. If you've played LOTRO, WoW, EQ it is pretty much the same style.
Combat felt a little clunky due to poor animations and it lacks that extra wow or 'engaging' factor, such as a manual blocking/dodging mechanic. The force could've been used in many interesting ways, such as interaction with the environment or being able to apply it with more control, but at lower levels it simply felt like a generic spell.
The cover system for smugglers and agents is decent and a great idea, but again very spotty about when and where you can use it. It didn't feel very natural and I'm guessing most players will either ignore it for a stealth, heal spec or simply use it with their portable shield screen.
Positional play and strategies are very basic, and basically amounted to tank and spank.
(Also, this might be a personal preference of mine, but I dislike the way some MMOs give you multitudes of skills that do the same thing but slightly differently. It just clutters up my bar and makes me feel like I'm fighting my keyboard rather than the enemy. A more immersive system would've been to combine some abilities by making them have different effects by how long you hold down the button. (eg. Champions online)
Character customization is passable but not spectacular. The base classes do not really matter much, so each side essentially has 8 unique classes. Within each class is 3 talant trees (2 unique and 1 shared with the base class).
I got to try out most of the classes to around level 14+ and they offer some nice variation with multiple roles available to most classes, however the talent trees leave you with little room to experiment. You are only given enough points to max out 1 tree and 1/3 of another. With most top-tier talents being so powerful that means that hybrid builds are relegated to being novelty specs.
The companion system is very well done. You can choose and outfit a companion to suit your class and playstyle. They are also a great help for solo/duo players as they can help plug whatever gap you have in your team.
Aesthetics - 9/10 *but currently at 7/10 for the beta due to technical issues
The stylized art of SWTOR is very well done. It is not up to Mass Effect standard, but more like KOTOR level, which still looks fantastic to me. Sound and music are lifted straight from the KOTOR series but are still top notch.
The cutscenes and storylines are the main star. They are engaging and add that extra fun factor to questing. The stories will never be as epic as the single-player Bioware games, but they are a huge improvement from reading text boxes and are THE saving grace of an otherwise generic MMO.
However, ingame animations are lackluster. They all suffer from that disconnected 'floating' feel, commonly found in other MMOs, but in this game its particularly jarring as you go from the fantastically animated cutscenes, to generic combat animations.
Also of minor note, during beta some graphics options were disabled...
I had everything on maximum (High) settings, but was frustated at the lack of any (Ultra) settings.
- Antialising was greyed out but will be back for release.
- Anisoptropic filtering was maxed, but it only looked like 2x which is horrendous.
- Many places suffered from texture pop-in, and also there was a marked difference in the quality of the cutscene textures, and ingame textures. This is likely because we got a 'lite' client for the beta. (It was only 20gb while the release game will apparently be 40gb, so hopefully we get some high-res textures in there.)
I'm quite confident that the technical issues will be sorted out for release, but it was annoying that the graphics were being 'held back'.
Innovation - 5/10
I don't like making such simple comparisons but it REALLY does feel like WoW with lightsabers. The combat is similar, the character classes and specs all have functional equivalents. Same goes for the crafting, items, mission layout/design...
I'm not saying it's a bad thing...it works, it's fun and it is likely to attract many players but it is disappointing that a potentially awesome IP has been boiled down into a generic MMO mould.
Of the 5/10 points, 1 is for the fantastic companion system, 1 for the cover system (even though its not well implemented) and 3 for the high quality presentation that manages make questing and repeated playthroughs a fun endeavour, rather than boring grind.
Polish - 7.5/10
Now being a beta, it's not really fair to judge the polish of this game, however with 1 month left to go I think this is a fair score. The game itself works great, looks and sounds great, however it lacks little details that would make it truly AAA.
The city hubs are large, but not very detailed with most places being empty and vestigial. Mission areas are usually confined to the star wars equilvalent of warehouses and hangars, with lots of space-barrels and space-crates. This may change when you get to the higher levels, but so far it lacks that epic feeling.
Space combat is a nice diversion, but is simply a rail shooter. A good X-wing Vs Tie Fighter or Rogue Squadron style minigame could've made this a major selling point for them, but as it is now, it feels very cheap. On the topic of minigames, they had time to implement space combat, but where is the Pazaak?!! or the 3D chess? I know they play card games in the old republic, we even have a cutscene of an NPC playing someone. Plus, it was in KOTOR, couldn't they just ctrl+C a simple version and implement multiplayer later?
Also, I experienced a few minor bugs and quality of life issues, such as camera/look speed being too high, fuzzy dual-monitor support and not being able to transfer keybind/settings to your alts.
The UI is functional, but outdated with very little room for customization. The guild system is functional but needs a little work. The fact that these simple quality of life issues have not yet been addressed is indicative of an overall lack of polish and that they are rushing this out in time for the holiday sales period.
Value and Longevity - 7.5/10
The game longevity is looking quite promising. There are meant to be 8 storylines, but in truth there is quite a bit of overlap in terms of side-quests etc., but its still a good amount of content to go through.
I'm a bit skeptical about the fully voiced quests, as already at level 20 I've heard a few repeat canned responses from my avatar. In the future, will they really be willing and able to secure the 8 main VO actors and companions for new lines, or will we just get reused lines?
The end-game looks like it will be the standard raiding model. PvP is there as well in the form of zone PvP, world PvP and arenas, with rewards that will mainly affect PvP stats.
The base game is solid and with a subscription model, and EA/Bioware behind it, I am hoping for and will be expecting some major expansions and updates in the future. Being such a major release I'm expecting it will have a massive launch but how many subscribe will depend on the frequency and quality of updates.
Conclusion - 8/10
It is not a revolution, and certainly it's not even an evolution...BUT it is a very good and very fun MMO.
If you are fan of KOTOR, Mass Effect or Star Wars in general, it is worth considering. But if you're playing it as a 'single-player game' for the story, it will no doubt be average compared to the other Bioware games (and expensive too).
As an MMO, the mechanics are getting kinda stale, but it will offer some solid entertainment. The community at launch looks to be quite big and will probably remain so for quite a while. The PvE content is very well done, and I'll be subscribing for a few months at least, to see off my female 'jerk with a heart of gold' twi'lek scoundrel.
Personal Thoughts and Rant
I had read up and watched videos of SWTOR prior to ordering it, so I knew it was going to be fairly generic. Still I had a lot of fun in the beta and will be awaiting and playing on launch day. (Hopefully my copy will arrive in Australia by then). I'm planning to subscribe for a few months to enjoy the story and mainly because of loyalty to KOTOR/Mass Effect and sci-fi mythos in general.
But I'm skeptical on whether it can retain my interest long-term, especially with Guild wars 2 around the corner.
The reason I've been so critical of it, is that this game has a major IP, a fantastic developer Bioware, and an established publisher EA. The potential of the game was huge, and it had a budget to match.
Personally, I think the project manager or whoever was in charge of design take a long hard look at whether their time/money was well spent. Yeah, those cinematics were awesome and we all love fem Shep, but what would've better was some motion capture animations, or a full-blown space shooter or even some freaking Pazaak...