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The world "Lazy" describes for me best the effort Bioware seems to have made with the game. To make this clear I would like you, the reader, to realize that this review is written in 2012, 17 years after Meridian 59 and 13 years after Everquest (1).
Their is a timeline in game genre's and usually each game later in the timeline improves on earlier games. Doom was better then Wolvenstein and Quake was better then Doom. Half-Life improved again on Quake and so on. As a consumer, you would be hardpressed to accept a Doom style game as being acceptable anymore AFTER Half-Life had launched.
Yet with MMO's the games really haven't moved on. What improvements, lessons learned, does SWTOR bring to the table compared to the over a half a decade old competition. Even Lord of the Rings Online (2007) is now 5 years older.
Full voice acting
That is about it... and it ain't all that new. Everquest 2 added some to the intro, with the leader of the respective cities having some voice acting. Age of Conan had the rather large starter area fully voice acted and Guild Wars 2 is claimed to have full voice acting as well. All of them with far small budgets and some even shorter development times.
Does it make a difference? A simple test, if you got your starship and entered it a dozen times, are you about ready to kill your droid and its insane banter repeated over and over again? Yes, me too. When the game was being shows to the press, we saw flashpoints with a lot of interaction. Well, they are there, Esseless and Black Talon depending on which side you choose. Later flashpoints have NOTHING like it, an intro, a debriefing and one silent (text only) dark/light choice in between that in the ones I seen has no futher effect on gameplay (Athis, Hammer Station)
Yes, getting the quest spoken out to you adds something and it does feel more like an RPG then most MMO's do but since a LOT of content is recycled between classes I find myself just fast forwarding through the speech after I heard it once. And the voice acting might be more impressive if there was more emotion to to the quests, most just ain't intresting enough to be voiced out.
The final killer is that as you progress into the game a LOT of quests are giving through terminals and use plain text. So much for fully voice acted.
Result: A nice bit of fluff but it doesn't make (or break) the game.
Here the game does try to do things different, at least partially. It copies 100% the node harvesting INCLUDING the demanded by law bugged nodes that still have not been fixed. I haven't seen a single MMO that used nodes for harvesting crafting materials that did not have massive issues with bugged ones. In this game the cause seems to be simple, it occurs most often with nodes that take extra inventory space. IE slicing nodes where you get a new case for every node. It is hard to escape the conclusion that people loot a node, have full inventory and move on, leaving the node tied to them. Surely people can't be that stupid or selfish? You must be new to MMO's.
Materials are harvested through nodes but to turn them into objects you got to send your companion out crafting... and here the game hits a massive "did anyone on the dev team actually play the game" snag. You NEED your companion with you between level 10 and 16 (when you first get a companion and you get a second one). Sure, you can send your companion on a crafting mission (5) when you log off but that barely suffices to get anything done.
Getting better recipes involves crafting low quality versions and taking them apart again for partial consumed resources and a totally random (and low) chance at getting a better recipe. Quality goes from Green (fodder) Blue (slighty worth it) and Purple (not really worth it considering the costs).
Blue requires rare resources that can only be obtained by sending companions on quests (1 mission at a time per companion, not 5 as with crafting) and they cost money. A LOT of money. The results are random, the quests you get are random and the quality of the quests are random. Getting metal from underworld trading is a nightmare. Medical supplies from diplomacy without getting the wrong alignment point is often impossible without waiting for a timer to expire so you get new quests.
These rare materials needed to craft blue items so you can deconstruct them to maybe get a purple recipe consumes so much money that you can't do it on level (as in craft purple items for yourself) and be able to afford paying for new combat skills.
The original idea by Bioware was to make crafting more fun then sitting there and watching a timer go by. EQ2 made crafting far to labour intensive (you had to hit buttons all the time even for consumables). Lotro just made it a time sink. Star Wars Galaxies still has the best, it took effort to craft a good recipe but then you could mass produce it easily.
I see more and more players just giving up on crafting and just make do with looted gear. Since looted gear is highly comparable to what you could craft and you get paid for doing quests to get you looted gear it is an easy choice.
Result: Nice idea, should never have made it out of basic playability testing
There is a school of thought that auto-attack is bad since it is just button bashing. So, they remove auto-attack which allows you to attack without hitting a button and instead require you to constantly hit a button to attack... makes sense no?
Basically, if you played a MMO before, you know how the combat goes but then without the tactics. In single player, you just fire whatever damage dealing attack that is available and do some light Crowd Control if you got it. There is a basic self-heal for when you got a companion but it is rarely used because it has a very long cooldown. All your other skills reset fast enough (and there aren't enough challenging mobs close to each other) that you basically got all your abailities available for every fight. None of them very intresting. You rarely have to adjust your style of fighting to a mob. There are three types of fights. All enemies ranged, all enemies melee, and mixed. Sometimes it is a mix of though and lighter enemies and once you managed to get your mind around the fact the the smallest dies first (believe it or not, some players actually think that it is normal to only discover this after a month of playing) you got things sorted.
Compared to Lotro where each class had their own style and distinct weaknesses and strengths against certain enemies, it soon becomes a bit of a grind. As a sniper, snipe the smallest while setting your companion tank on strongest, then take them down one by one. Rince and repeat, 1 million times.
As a Jedi Knight/Sith Warrior (exactly same skill set), jump in on the closest grouping of weak enemies, stunning them, kill target of jump with single attack, restun next one finish off with special condition attack, wipe up the rest).
Bounty Hunter, Death from above. Collect loot, wait for cooldown, attack next mob.
In theory there should be tactics but in reality it is just hit hard and fast and that is it.
Result: Bioware never made games with great combat and this is no exception. Forget strategy or tactics, this is a hack&slash and not the good kind.
For the young ones, that box with text from other players and a small box you can type in allowing you to communicate with other people? It is called IRC. It war created in 1988 and the very first client was a thousand times more capable then ANY MMO chat EVER int he entire history of MMO's.
MMO's have one big advantage over regular IRC, they got your account identified. On IRC it is hard to ignore/ban someone because they can easily change their identity. No so on a MMO where your ID is tied to your payed for account. So why in 2012 does Bioware not support ignoring players on their account rather then character and having those ignores work accross all my characters?
Why is there no global LFG channel (hint you can make one but this requires a lot of effort to get a substantial player base to join /cjoin lfg)
The LFG mechanic is broken as it does not allow you to actually search for people that have the LFG flag turned on. The tool allows people to enter a long text that cannot actually be displayed in the overview.
Mail, in a game set in the future where you have holocom communication can only be read at certain points... it is hard to escape the label "WoW with lightsabers" when you got mailboxes and fast travel with flying critters.
You can't attach labels to friends or ignored players and as said, they are not shared by your other characters on the same server.
Privacy you shout? AHA, low level I retort because once you get your first legacy, you get a lastname, that is shared (with no option to opt-out) between ALL your other chars... so why not ignore on lastname then?
None of this is really worse then how other MMO's do it but is it okay that because nobody else took any effort to improve communications it is okay for a 100 million dollar budget game not to more then the bare minimum either?
Result: Bog standard implementation.
Bioware states on the server selection screen that it will not enforce naming on any server even RP servers. Now that is just plain lazy. It is basically stating that it is going to do nothing to stop the worsed of the internet to troll their game. Their forums are patrolled, the games are not. Smart.
But there are other, old and tired mechanics that could have been improved upon that Bioware just didn't do. Node stealing is an ancient grievance and trivial to fix. Just tie the mob to the node, he who fights the mob, gets the node. The person who is fighting the node can't harvest the node? Node is open to all.
Same with quest objectives, tie the quest objective to the mob guarding it.
Speeders on the space station, who thought that was a good idea?
If all this sounds trivial, remember the number one reason people do not play WoW: The community. A social game is going to have to rely on its sense of community, wanting to be around the other players sharing the server with you.
Result: Zero effort to improve on what has come before.
Did they even try? Surely they should have known that a non-adjustable, often ugly, awful to get to "player housing" would be considered sub-par by anyone's standards?
Again, remember that this game was in developement for 5 years with a budget of 100 million dollars by two giant gaming companies. Surely they could have done something more?
Some classes even share the same ship and the Imperial Agent ship belong in another universe ending in Trek.
Again, if this was being reviewed by a teacher the only rating left open would be "lazy, did not make an effort, put in the least amount of work to get a passing grade". The ship does what it has to do but where as some old MMO's have people fondly remember elements of the game no matter how bugged, I doubt anyoe in 5 years time will look back fondly on their spaceship/home in SWTOR.
Result: Must have realized at the eleventh hour that they forgot interplanet travel/player housing and rushed it.
What can you possibly say about this? Totally disconnected from the game, entirely solo. An on rails space shooter and a bad one at that, nonetheless pays out an insane amount of money and XP and repeatedly so. You could level throughout the entire game with just this but you would cut open your own throath halfway through.
Result: Bioware always had bad mini-games, so result as expected. Bad minigame.
This includes how the world looks but most importantly you. Bioware has lately released a LOT of single player games in which you could spend a lot of time adjusting how your character looked. They know this and even released a character editor ahead of Dragon Age: Origins for people to play with. Granted, the first mods for those games were also done to make the characters at least look like they didn't just come from a "ugliest" contest but still... wtf is up with the character creation AND clothing AND texture options?
Character creation is closer to WoW with just a handful of presets and ugly hair. Come on Bioware, I can understand a budget company has to cut down on the number of faces at launch but you ain't a budget company.
Textures are also an issue, there are lengthy threads on the official forums with screenshots showing just how bad character textures are compared to other games, even games years older. Yeah yeah, some people can't play with those textures but other games allow optional high-texture packs INCLUDING Biowares own games.
But most fatal are the outfites. No coloring options... same basic model re-used again and again and again. No option to hide gloves, even while the game has a LOT of heavy armor that looks like a sports bra with welding gloves...
Result: Sub-par by Biowares own standards. No coloring options in a MMO in 2012 is beyond lazy and beyond "had to get the game out".
This is supposed to be the biggest budget MMO by a longshot by two companies that have a long history in gaming but neither has done a MMO. I always had the feeling that Bioware would screw up and forget that a MMO has fundemental differences to a Single Player game... and I feel I have been proven right.
At its core, SWTOR is not a bad game. Had it launched a few years ago, it would have been spectacular. The only reason it still impresses is that every other MMO developer hasn't made any progress either. Be honest, compared to WoW, which MMO company has really managed to create a product that did to WoW (in terms of improving the player experience) what WoW did to Everquest and Everquest did to Meridian 59?
During the beta, the Jedi starter area felt to me a LOT like the starter area for The Rift. And in many ways, I think the game will share the same fate. A nice new shiny until the next thing comes a long. That is okay for a single player game but a MMO has to be able to survive for year after year. Other MMO'shave done it. I doubt SWTOR will.
Not because it is a bad game. It is WoW light (as in diet) with lightsabers. How can that be bad?
I will play it for say half a year. Maybe SWTOR will be lucky and Guild Wars 2 will not be able to deliver on what was promised. Maybe The Secret World will be the third failure by Funcom.
Maybe I am hoping for to much when I want my MMO to be more then just a lightweight rehash of decade old games.
If you are thinking of buying this game... it is not a bad MMO but if you except to leave your old MMO to find a superior game... then this ain't it.
Kotor1 was partially reviewed as being so good because if you like single player RPG's you really don't have to much choice. Even a one legged horse can win in a one horse race. But there are TONS of MMO's out and compared to the rest, SWTOR just doesn't standout. Especially when other equall or even superior games are now F2P.
The ultimate review comes to this:
100 million dollars, 5 year of development, the combined efforts of Bioware, EA and Lucasarts and this is it?