There's already one important birth celebrated in December, now we have two. Early this morning, at 12:01 A.M., the servers for Star Wars: The Old Republic went live. Thousands of gamers scrambled to their various PvE, PvP, and RP servers to create the characters they plan on using for months, and for many, years. I've been playing the game since the first day of early access (Dec. 13th), and have already poured countless hours into my first character.
So, is the MMORPG people have been branding as the "WoW-Killer", "Next step in the MMO evolutionary ladder", and "fanboy wet dream", living up to the hype? Up to this point, the answer is mostly yes.
I should note that this is an "early review". For those who have played a MMO, it takes a long time to give a complete review as there are a plethora of features, updates, and fixes which will come in the weeks and months ahead. I simply wanted to share my first impressions, and provide potential players a glimpse into the world they'll be adventuring through.
Now, on to the review!
Your first task upon selecting a server to play on is creating your character; which is probably the most disappointing aspect of the game I've experienced. There's very few options and sliders to adjust when trying to create your unique character compared to what a lot of other RPG's, MMO's or otherwise have provided. There's really no detail adjustment as you have 4 or 5 body types to choose from, with no individual sliders for separate body parts. If you wanted a character with a huge shoulder line, but a small waist, you'll be left in the cold unless BioWare enhances the character creation in the future.
When creating your character, you can decide whether to join the Republic or the Empire. Your choice will then open up your class selection, and each side has different races as well.
Republic (Races) - Human, Zabraks, Miraluka, Mirialan, Twi'lek, Cyborg
Republic (Classes) - Trooper, Smuggler, Jedi Knight, Jedi Consular
Empire (Races) - Human, Zabraks, Sith, Chiss, Rattaki, Twi'lek, Cyborg
Empire (Classes) - Imperial Agent, Bounty Hunter, Sith Inquisitor, Sith Warrior
Each class has two specializations you unlock later, so the system gets deeper than what's initially presented during character creation. There's quite a few less selections when comparing this game to other MMO's, however, once you load up the game you begin to understand why.
While character creation is a letdown, the beginner's area and first world within the game is quite possibly one of the best first impressions I've seen in a MMO. Generally, you're just trying to get through prologue and tutorial areas when you play a game of this type; not so with SWTOR. The moment your game loads, you're provided with a story and a reason to enjoy this initial area. I should probably go ahead and mention that even during the first portion of the game, each individual class has their own personal story to play through. So, you could theoretically play through the starter area with each class and have a unique experience each time. Doing so would already provide you up to 16-20 hours of gameplay time depending on how much you explore each storyline and world.
There's no soulless NPC handing you a "Kill 10 rats, and bring me their hides" quest, to which you go complete the task and simply move on. Each quest has its own insular story, which you communicate with the NPC and your character reacts to him/her as you see fit. The dialogue in this game is astounding, as having everything voice-acted really gives the experience a level of presentation I've never seen in a game of this type, or even most single-player RPG's.
One major problem with most MMO's is that they have very little emotional depth, and characters you use generally have no personality. This problem is fixed in SWTOR, where even in the beginning of the game you start to shape your character and make decisions which will have an impact as you continue playing. If you want to use a Han Solo like character who's simply in it for the credits, you can do so. Coincidentally, this is the type of character I'm using. His name's Aranas; a level 24 Smuggler Scoundrel who's just wanting to make money and will generally take the easy way out when fixing a problem.
(Bounty Hunter dialogue, *spoilers)
The game keeps track of your moral decisions with a light/dark side meter, which will fluctuate as you decide to do the right or wrong thing. I haven't really unlocked the full use of this meter, though later in the game you unlock exclusive equipment depending on your alignment.
Once you leave the first world, the game begins to really open up and it can be a bit intimidating at first. One of the first options presented to you is an instanced "Flashpoint". These are self-contained areas which require you to group up with others to utilize teamwork. One of the concerns many people had, myself included is whether or not BioWare would be able to provide the 'multi-player' aspect which is required for MMO's. My journey through level 24 has already had me pair up with many groups as you'll come across standard quests which require 4-man groups to complete. There are already three flashpoints to play through as well, so there's plenty of group content to enjoy.
While BioWare has provided a level of presentation that pushes the MMO-envelope, they really took the safe route when designing the gameplay. If you've played MMO's before, you'll be right at home with SWTOR. You have an insane amount of skills at your disposal, and I was surprised by the amount in the early levels. I don't want to know how many skills I'll have once I reach 50. If I had to describe the gameplay, it's a mix between World of Warcraft and DC: Universe Online. The timing, animations, and strategies have a very WoW-like feel to them. Unlike WoW, however, combat feels much more engaging as there's no auto-attack so battles require a bit more investment, which feels a lot like DCUO.
If I had to grade the gameplay, I'd give it a solid 'B'. While the system is solid, and the animations really have a great Star Wars feel to them, it just seems like BioWare didn't really go above and beyond like they did in so many other areas of the game.
While on-the-ground combat isn't amazing, I was pleasantly surprised with space combat. If you've ever played any of the Star Fox games, then you'll instantly fall in love with space combat. It's on-rails, the controls are tight, and the aiming is precise. The battles have an epic feel to them much like what you've seen in the movies. BioWare has said they plan to really expand on space combat, and has made general references to the X-Wing/Tie-Fighter space sims. If they open up the space combat, and add in more features, then they'll really have something.
Another key area for MMO games is PvP, which I haven't fully unlocked yet. Open-world PvP doesn't occur until much later into the game, so if you're someone who was looking forward to it early on, then you'll be disappointed. However, there are PvP Warzones which are instanced scenarios pitting Republic and Empire players against each other. There's Alderaan, Huttball, and Voidstar. All of which unlock at level 10.
All of which are PvP systems you've more than likely played through before. Alderaan is all about capturing nodes and protecting them from advancements, Voidstar is a offense/defense scenario based area, and Huttball is a capture-the-flag like map. Huttball has been my favorite map so far, as BioWare added elements which give a fresh lift to the traditional CTF setup. You can pass the ball, and there are obstacles in the way which require teams to really focus on layout and strategy.
I should note that my experience with PvP has been met with some technical problems. My PC rig is a behemoth, and I've been running Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and the PvE areas of SWTOR on full settings without a hitch. The second I'm drop in a PvP Warzone, my FPS falls through the floor. If I turn everything off, and lower my resolution then it fixes it a bit. I've been researching the problem and many other players seem to be experiencing this as well. Hopefully, BioWare can get to the root of the problem soon.
Since I've mentioned all the major features so far, I should mention you obtain XP for everything I've listed so far. If you want to do nothing but play PvP, you can level up that way. Space Combat provides experience points, and you actually get more XP for initial space combat quests than you do for most on-the-ground quests.
Finally, if you're someone who enjoys crafting and profession based work when they play a MMO then I think you'll be happy with the system BioWare has implemented. Theoretically, you can always be crafting no matter where you're at, because all of your profession work is handled by your companion character. These companion characters have a wide variety of functions; helping you in combat, crafting, and adding an occasional quip or two while adventuring. To be honest, I wish companions were a bit more involved as I found myself forgetting they were there unless they died or I was sending them off to complete a crafting task.
The crafting/professions system provides you with three different options; two gathering professions and a crafting option. I've never been much of a crafter, but I've found myself in the crafting menus and sending my companion out on jobs at a steady rate. BioWare definitely deserves an applause for their accomplishments here.
Verdict: Within the total package of SWTOR, BioWare has crafted one of the most ambitious and impressive MMO games I've played; judging from initial impressions. The minute you step into the universe, you get swept up in all the presentation and character building. If you're a Star Wars fan then this game is a must, if you like RPG's then I highly recommend the game as well.
For the more hardcore MMO crowd, I believe your tastes will be satiated as well. As I mentioned this is an early review, so many of the more important MMO elements are still off in the horizon. Such as end-game content, and open-world PvP. BioWare could have tried and changed up the traditional MMO gameplay recipe, but instead kept things a tad formulaic. When judging a game, this is the most important area and while everything is solid, nothing feels completely new either. So if you've been debating whether to drop the $60 and $15/month fee, this is something to consider.
Overall, I've been completely happy with my experience so far. This game really hit the trifecta with me, as I'm a huge Star Wars, BioWare, and RPG fan. So far, every fanboy bone has been tickled. Let's just hope they can keep it up, and my full review sounds even more positive than this one.