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Jolly Batman goodness. I must admit, I never had such a difficulty to write a review, let alone formulate a final verdict about any MMO as in this case. The good and bad seems to fall so wide apart, that I have a very hard time to come to terms with it. So I can't in any seriousness make a final number rating. I can rate single parts, and I will try to make a written verdict.
CHARACTER CREATION: 3/10
I must say, the char creation is one of the biggest letdowns in MMOs for many years. I know I spent years playing City of Heroes, even though it was always the same 3 instances copy-pasted: office, cave, sewer over and over, but it had a super giant and diverse character generator, which kept me playing CoH for years, and even the dull Champions Online for over a year. I don't know why the most expensive MMO of all times could only come up with... this! I mean, by itself it isn't bad, but so devoid of anything unique, any individuality and ANY sense for the unsual. The difference between the preset faces is minimal, there is close to zero personality or character, and even the 4 body types don't help much. Where games like EQ2, WOW, CoH or CO have a wide variaty of characters & races, here all chars are only human with facepaint or humans with Lekku with the always same boring, soulless faces. Sorry, but this is so... DULL and boring, I have no idea how a Triple A MMO of 2012 can have this.
USER INTERFACE: 5/10
I would not say it is bad. It is functional, IMO it does look slick and elegant, I like the Star-warsy design, but it lacks a lot of standard things, like target of target, not to speak of moving and resizing windows. Again, it looks more like the simple UI of a F2P Asia game in terms of functionality or from early beta. I expect a Triple A MMO has a fully customizable UI.
QUESTING: 7/10, STORY: 9/10, Quest-diversity: 5/10
This is surely the hardest thing to judge. I really appreciate the addition of VO and story, a lot. I really gives me the feeling of being in an epic story, and most class stories are cool and entertaining. However, what I would critizise in the class stories is, how much you are railroaded and stereotyped into a certain corner. I never had the feeling to "just be me in role X", but listening to an interactive story. The entire MMO aspect totally drowns the in the heavy story aspect, and IMVPO this is at the same time the greatest asset as the likely downfall of SWTOR. Like a good book, you follow the story one time and then there isn't enough world that is not your class story in this game to stay. But staying on topic of questing: The planetary side quests are a more mixed bag. Some stories are very interesting, but many are, alas, also bland and forseeable. After playing a while, I got the feeling to have copy-paste type of stories and way too many deja vus in how characters and stories were made. After a while I really felt pissed over EVERY single non-class story made as either "I am the speaker most important X and want ti hire you for his dirty work" or "I am in dire need *whine whine* but I have a PLAN!" This entire thing made me so much a sort of unimportant Fedex-person. Go here, go there, you are always sent somewhere by someone, and of course everyone already has a PLAN, and you are just going to execute it. As much as it's cool to have alternative answers, they rarely lead to much difference. Sure, you can kill those cute blue Elephant people or defend them 2 minutes, but the overall decision is never yours. You are just the arm and hands of others. And that is where the entire feeling of being a great and wise Jedi Master or experienced Trooper collapses. In the end, you are the same low helper as ever. The other very unfortunate effect of the long and many VO is: people are even more isolated, so I still have a VERY hard time to even accept SWTOR as MMO. As a MMO I would rate SWTOR much lower, but if I accept it as single player RPG with online options, I could be more generous. People spent all their time in VO dialogues or hurrying to the next VO NPC.
MULTIPLAYER: 8/10, FLASHPOINTS: 9/10, PVP: 4/10
The multiplayer aspects are Flashpoints, Operations and PVP. Operations aka Raids I have not done, so I can't say. Flashpoints are very interesting, imagine a dungeon with story. There are, however, a few inbetween Flashpoints like Hammer Station, which are just relatively dull without much story and just go there and kill the bosses. Esselles and Black Talon, the first Flashpoints are the best, but later in the game are also some cool ones like Teral V and Maelstrom. I just find it odd not all flashpoints were made so story-heavy. PVP on the other hand is more a figleaf PVP. There are only a handful of arenas, which get old soon. The promise to make them with story is mainly a fake, and open PVP is barely existing. I feel like in PVP Bioware just entirely dropped the ball. Why EA did not learn from the popular tiered open zones like in WAR is beyond me.
I have a hard time to really judge this. While some worlds really look great, like Tatooine and Hoth, overall the graphics just lack soul and detail. Take Alderaan: sure, visually at the first moment it looks awesome. But tbh, I never "felt" anything for Alderaan. I can't 100% say why, but even a lush world like this felt dead and cold to me. Too less fauna, too less or sometimes no ambient sounds, so as many said, most places feel like you are in a museum. Same to the presumed busy streets on planets like Coruscant or Nar Shadda. They feel SO lifeless, despite the grandeur of the tall buildings. Most planets feel like a stage, with a few good exceptions, like Hoth and Tatooine. I never felt so much in a theatre stage as in places like Tython, Coruscant or Nar Shadda. You go to the center of the galaxy, Coruscant, and the steets are mostly empty and dead. Cantinas are dull and boring, and in Nar Shaddas cantina are a handful of people. The idea of the visual design is IMO between all chairs. It isn't cutesy-colourful as WOW nor is it gritty-serious like AoC, so for me, too many places (not all!) have just no emotional feeling created by the visuals. Thats not a matter of detail in terms of polygons or textures, its a matter of design. The design just feels too often dull and uninspired. And the top critique goes to the HORRIBLE clothing and gear. All through the levels 17-45 my friend player a Trooper had had essentially the same Trooper gear with a bit super tiny changes. Nothing fancy, nothing special. There ARE a few good looking pieces of grear, but they all have low rez textures which look extremely bland, and so lack detail. I played cheap F2P Asia grinders with better looking gear! Where is the "ohhh I want THIS hat/robe/chest piece" effect? A lot of armour pieces just look merely functional. In the entire terms of clothing and armor, with some expections, SWTOR failed BIG TIME. It's not all bad, but too many things are, again, just a joke given the development costs and the fact this is supposed to be a Triple A.
SOCIAL ASPECT: 2/10
SWTOR is unfortunately an all-time-low in the social aspect of MMOs, but we continually had a decline here. The presumed social hub, the Space Sation, is easily the most ugly, boring and bare-bone social hub I have EVER seen in a MMO. And boy, I have seen a lot. It's functional, but anything even remotely alife, with soul and feeling is entirely devoid. With the large emphasis on "go there go here", being sent from planet to planet (and the many loadscreens it takes to travel just from one planet to another), the planets itself will never work as social hubs. While in beta some planetary instances had up to 200 players, and even THEN they were spread thin all over, I had hoped later on Bioware would bring together MORE people, like 500 in a zone, to have a feeling of densely populated places. But the opposite happened. Even in evening times, a planet like Coruscant has maybe 70-80 people, and servers have already dropped from full to standard. Where in my guild in the first weeks usually 70-80 people were logged in at prime times, now only 20-30 are logged in anymore. It is just a small impression, but I fear a huge mass exodus will soon begin, and Bioware will be forced to merge servers by summer, latest. This is, I must say it so clear, why I think SWTOR will in the end fail. It rarely creates any feeling of community of social togetherness. You are pretty alone quite a lot in this game. People rush through a flashpoint, but thats pretty much it. The giant spaceports, the dull cantinas, the huge buoldings - the players are just lost in these endless giant halls. Places like Anchorhead would could and should have been busy and full, but people only rush through, buy and sell, listen to the next VO and quickly leave. No one here stays or lingers. The place is just totally deserted, and so with most places in SWTOR. The big issue is, if you played SWG, WOW, EQ2 or any such MMO you know how communities CAN be. Especially SWG will always cast a long shadow over SWTOR, despite all the many shortcomings, SWG had a great communty and a lot of things you could do together, from player cities, over having a shop, being a doctor or image designer and cutting people's hair, - SWG was a world! Or every time I returned to Stormwind in WOW, I met tons of people in this relatively small city. It gave me the feeling to be in a community. I recall how in winter I had a costume and dressed an animated snow man and roleplayed with random strangers! I know how funny it was in the many seasonal or holiday events to get fancy things, to be able to transform into beings. There are so many social things MMOs had and supported, and why SWTOR has NONE is entirely beyond me. It's not like this is the first MMO ever, but under their great ideal, that players should always be movie-heroes, all wishes for "smaller, fun things" (fishing, dancing) were buried. I can't count how many times I had a fun conversation just sitting near Goldshire and fishing alongside other players!
I must admit my rating here carries little weight, since I usually hate crafting and gathering anyway. But this is just so barebone and dull... Dunno how anyone can like this. In EQ2 I loved to craft furniture, because it was something I could see and people placed in their house. In SWG I had a tailor shop. But this crafting is just boring.
One wonders here where all the money and time went into. I am sorry, despite the great fun I have with playing the stories, I can enjoy this game with 2-3 stories, say one time Imperial one time Republic, and I can value SWTOR as a single player interactive story with a few multiplayer elements. As a MMO I just can't take SWTOR serious. So many popular, known and proven elements are nonexistent or just barely there. One thing I understand is unfair, WOW, SWG and EQ2 had many years before they became what they are. I used to be a big fan of Sims 2 for example. I had all expansion packs, 10 or 12, with tons of things to do. Then Sims 3 came, and I just COULD NOT start with such a barebone Sims. I never got into the game. Yes, I can't blame them, because how could they sell the same content of years of SIms 2 + expansions in ONE Sims 3 box? And SWTOR is a bit the same story. I know, SWTOR can't have so much as I was used from years of WOW, SWG and EQ2. But I must say: I don't care. As costumer, I miss these things and we have 2012 and I just don't plan to wait 3 years before SWTOR is complete.
I have the strong impression the huge secrecy and way too long closed beta only with "family and friends" broke the game the neck. Family and friends are just a way too well meaning audience. Bioware acted as if they never had seen another MMO before and all the popular and succesfull things from other MMOs were entirely ignored. The problem is, the story element is (mostly) great, it is super fun to play a Jedi Knight adventury story, even though it feels less like a RPG and more like a passive interactive story, a bit like an audiobook where I can answer in some cases. But SWTOR isn't even remotely anything like a "world", and I am NOT talking about sandbox. I mean world as in WOW or EQ2 or LOTRO. There is nothing that makes me feel like I am an individual character making a living in a world, I feel like in a movie or book. A good movie or book, but it is way too less to make me stay for more than 2-3 months at best and then move on. And I think for these story focussed kind of games, where SWTOR is less a MMO and more a category in itself, exists only a niche audience in the long run. I just can't see this game has the planned millions of subs past anyting like half a year or a year at best, and I actually expect the game to drop down a lot real fast within the next 2-3 months, and then they are in the same predicament than all previous post-WOW-MMOs.
SWTOR is a great bad of very entertaining and fun adventure stories. But it is no real MMO and not at all a world I will ever feel "at home" the way I felt at home in EQ2, SWG, LOTRO or WOW. So while the fun lasts it is great. But I already feel my emotional connection slipping away from this game. There is just too little to speak to my emotions, the warmth and soul, the many small things that make me feel connected to the world, and as much as I enjoy the stories now, I expect SWTOR to fall flat on it's face, because while they COULD turn it around, it isn't anything we have ever seen before in a MMO. If they lacked the insight to add these things in 5 years, how could they now? With so much money involved it is just a pity, that this is all we got, when it could have been so much more with just a bit more work.
People don't ask questions to get answers - they ask questions to show how smart they are. - Dogbert