Tobold's Blog
Saturday, November 26, 2011
SWTOR beta impressions

Since yesterday evening I am in the SWTOR beta. Which isn't surprising, because this is the beta weekend where they basically let everybody in who ever applied for a beta key. My first impression is that I don't regret having pre-ordered the game, even if I am probably busy around Christmas and won't be able to play before the new year. Star Wars: The Old Republic is solid workmanship. I haven't encountered a single crash, bug, or occurrence of lag yet, and that on a beta weekend. The worst thing I can say about the game right now is that it I don't quite understand why they would do 4 hours of maintenance on a Saturday morning during the beta weekend.

Gameplay very much resembles World of Warcraft. While fans will certainly point out the differences between SWTOR and WoW, which certainly exist, life as an adventurer in SWTOR is very much like life as an adventurer in WoW. You take quests, kill 10 foozles, click on quest item locations, gain xp, level up, learn skills at the trainer. There is color coded loot with stats, NPC vendors that sell gear either for money or for some sort of token (think valor points), hotkey based combat, general chat, everything. Even the graphics aren't incredibly different from WoW, I bet someone could make 5 screenshots from WoW and 5 from SWTOR and put up a quiz, and not everybody would get it right which screenshots are from which game.

The point where SWTOR is arguably "better" than WoW is the cut-scenes and conversation with the quest giver NPCs. Although many of the conversation options are fake and don't make any difference, this interaction with the NPCs is way better than 511 characters of quest text. Another advantage over WoW is that at least some low-level quests are a bit more challenging than those in WoW. One elite quest mob took me three attempts (and a trip to the skill trainer) before I could kill it.

The open question, and it will remain open until next year, is how long SWTOR can hold my attention. Right now it is new and shiny, but I consider it inevitable that I get bored faster with a game which plays so similarly to many other MMORPGs.
SWOTR havent made any "WOW, this really got me surprised" on me yet.

Example: rifts in Rift, they really blow your mind when you suddenly see one opening on top of you.
Second or third time round, the 511 characters of text might start to look more attractive than the cut-scenes...
A very balanced view and much what I've been lead to expect - it won't be an anything killer, but might be a reasonably fun romp, like a sort of multiplayer Mass Effect with WoW style questing. Presumably the downside of the story based development might be that it's more linear than WoW, where at least you could usually level in more than one area.
Meh, you can skip the dialogue with the spacebar. I'll admit it's useful when running, for example, Esseles for the umpteenth time. It doesn't diminish the pleasure of knowing what Esseles is about and the characters' agendas and personalities. I don't think the value of cut-scenes is wasted.

The contrast is huge with, say, WoW's Deadmines, where the ogre boss, the goblin boss and the worgen boss actually do have interesting backgrounds, but they're presented in such a rush and poorly that you cannot possibly care.

It's not a risky prediction to say that this is more likely to be an explorer's/roleplayer's/aesthete's game than the endgame metagamer's, though. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. I'm reserving judgement on PvP because some of their solutions in this area are intriguing. This includes giving tanks options to 'defend' others or explicitly showing CC diminishing returns ("resolve") on players (unlike WoW which still requires addons for this in arena) which leads me to believe that there are some experienced MMO PvPers involved in the design.
After about 1 month of playing, you will find yourself hitting spacebar to quickly skip all the cutscenes. They get old quickly. Then your left with WOW with a star wars skin. I have said it before and I will say it again. Playing this game is like taking a bath in lukewarm dirty bathwater whilst drinking cold soup. It's just not fun.
ok, you mention what is better than WoW, so i'll have to point one thing it lacks severely in comparison to WoW: COMBAT

shooting someone in the face continuously from a crouched position right next to the target feels, looks and IS ridiculous :)

And swinging in front of an opponent with a sword, standing throughout your 1.5 second cooldown, then swinging again, all the while your opponent is doing the same thing, is NOT unrealistic? (i.e., WoW.)
I will say one thing. I was a warcraft fan for longer then I was star wars fan. I usually prefer fantasy games. I played WoW since BC, both on hardcore and casual terms.

when I first created my character in SWTOR, I was almost isntantly attached. I loved following her story, defining her personality, deciding which choices to make and how. quite a few quests don't have a linear turn in, instead - you can chose HOW to complete them and it affects your character's story. it took me untill almost level cap to start getting attached to my WoW characters and I was still never as attached as I am to my lowbie TOR ladies.

this game is not for everyone. neither is WoW. but in its own right, I think its wonderful and there are enough differences from WoW to give it that shiny new feeling, along with enough similarities to not feel completely lost (then again, its pretty newbie friendly as it is)
MMORPG's appeal to two different type of players and SWTOR has tried to add both.

While I'm enjoying the game, the max/min people, the people who don't want to bother with cut scenes and the people who don't want their gear based on light/dark side points (even if it just appearance) will eventually want to leave for something with less of these RPG elements (tiny as they are).

I know I will enjoy an MMORPG with even just a little more RPG, but I also know I'm probably in the minority.
"shooting someone in the face continuously from a crouched position right next to the target feels, looks and IS ridiculous"

Take a look at combay in any MMO and you'll see how they are equally ridiculous and break immersion. How is it that a rogue can walk right up up on me in broad daylight, with no obstacles to hide behind and I can't see him until he decides to unstealth right next to me?

And then, here I am wearing only some cloth robes being cut up numerous times, and its only a small inconvenience since it doesnt matter how large or sharp the weapon is that destroying me since it takes 20+ hits before I am close to dying.

Not to mention the whole ridiculousness that someone as powerful as say Ragnaros or the Lick King is supposed to be "threatened" by the one dude doing the least amount of damage to him and ignored all the fireball throwing, arrow shooting guys trying to keep their distance.

Anyone who points to combat as immersion breaking being a fault in SWTOR or any game for that matter is just being silly and nitpicking becasue they have are desperate to find a fault with something.

As we play these games we accept all the "immersion breaking" features because we are smart enough to know that it makes sense for the game.
shooting someone in the face continuously from a crouched position right next to the target feels, looks and IS ridiculous :)

Not nearly as ludicrous as healing someone by shooting them with your healing gun and launching healing grenades to do AOE heals.
From just a day or two in beta, they've accomplished the not unimpressive feat of making me remember a character from an MMO story. And not just because it was some amazingly incompetent ranger who sent me to do all the things he should have been able to.

I've played hundreds of hours of Lotro, EQ2, Aion, WoW, Rift and I'd be hard pressed to describe in detail more than, say, one character. And I like story and lore and reading pointless bits of text.

Whether that will keep me attached in the end, I don't know. But I'm confident I'll get my purchase price's worth out of it, at least.
"shooting someone in the face continuously from a crouched position right next to the target feels, looks and IS ridiculous :)"

True, but ... when the cover system works well, it feels pretty cool. I think I actually prefer it to the mmo-standard light-saber melee combat. And you do invariably have short-range responses for when some melee enemy runs up to you.
guys, i don;t want to be offensive or to troll, BUT... :)

... but even though standard MMO combat is pretty raw and clumsy approximation of real sword fight (which is spreadsheet-combat, debased of almost any timing, positioning and aiming), it is way less awkward and ludicrous than SWTOR shooter classes gameplay.

The matter is not binary, it's shades of gray, and be honest - SWTOR is on the losing side here.

The 4 jedi clasess have the standard MMO fare treatment, but the other 4... just play Imperial Agent for a while. :)
Although medieval combat in MMOs is hardly an accurate simulation it's not so far away that it can't be immersive. But, guns that take 20 head shots to do any damage just don't *feel* like guns.

Of course in the films they have a much better solution - You just don't get hit, since imperial troopers are such rotten shots.
firefox: just play Imperial Agent for a while. :)

It's funny, because that's what I've been playing yesterday, to avoid burning out on the Jedi I intend to play when the game comes out.

The IA comes equipped with shiv, debilitate (electrified knife thingy) and a shotgun-style (you know, that whole category of guns designed for close range work?) overload shot. The very useful multistun grenade is also a short-range move. If you stand there rapid shotting a mob's head, you could usually be doing something more useful with your close-quarters abilities.

And that's before getting into advanced classes. I chose operative instead of sniper, because (and here's a legitimate gripe) the Cover system is, frankly, a little wonky at the moment, and needs tweaking to accomodate smooth play. As the operative flavour of IA, it's frequently to my advantage to move into melee range and work with my blade after tossing my grenades. My acid blade and backstab hit like a truck.

There are plenty of things in the game deserving of skepticism and criticism, but its sense of internal logic and style ain't one of them.
While I'm enjoying the game, the max/min people, the people who don't want to bother with cut scenes and the people who don't want their gear based on light/dark side points

I have debated about this problem since SWTOR went to beta.

How will Min/Maxers feel about this game?

Here is my take. Ultimately, it does not matter at all what the Mim/Max player thinks. Because Min/Max is a smaller subset of players YOU CAN'T make a game pay on Hardcore players. (example Darkfall)

But... one segment of Min/Max just LUV to lord their skills over lesser players in PvP. So... if the game is popular enough, and the game is populated by Star Wars FanNoobs.... believe me the PvP predators WILL show up like feeding time at the Zoo.

And there are enough Hardcore that luv to show off their PVE leetness to a large FanNoob audience that those Hardcore players will show up as well.

In the end don't be too sure you won't be playing this game. Because this will be a VERY popular game where ALL THE ACTION will be happening.

After all it's either Use The Force or Panda Time!!!

Who woulda thought Blizz could screw up 2 expansions with Themematic blunders???
SW:TOR doesnt bring anything new to mmo genre. Graphics, textures and animations are not that impressive at all. Quests with voiced cut-scenes were done before in Age of Conan. It is of course better than wall of text. The game itself in general is WoW clone and probably will go free-to-play after like a year.
The starter areas in SW:ToR are uniformly unimpressive.

Once you get your lightsaber, companion, and starship the game suddenly becomes quite remarkable.

It does take 6-8 hours though :)
The term "WoW clone" is banded around far too liberally, but SWTOR really is. Or more accurately, WoW circa 2006, which I imagine is when SWTOR's core design was laid down. As such is feels distinctly average, in a slightly retrograde way.

Perhaps that's inevitable with so much money invested - why take risks when you can throw lightsabers into a certified winning mix? Why? Well, because you can't blueprint creativity - the result is soulless.

There are moments when the game drags you in. I enjoyed the opening on Korriban, when I got to feel properly evil. Or the Jedi lightsaber sequence, which genuinely felt like an achievement. And the "Scorekeeper" left me quietly giggling for hours. But just when the storyline has got you, the immersion breaks.

For example, by level 5 my Sith Warrior was getting pumelled into the dust by anything more than a standard combat encounter: Past challenging and into "go and make a cup of tea" frustration. I must be missing some critical class mechanic - but how could I, there only seemed to be 2 or 3 buttons worth pressing? In classic MMO tradition, player education and instruction is minimal. "Obviously you know how to play, you're the choosen one." "[Bluff] Yes, master..."

Post level 10, the whole experience really started to grind. The perfectly laid out, but utterly soulless hub orbital stations. The bewilderingly complex talent trees, that I felt safer ignoring, lest I make a poor choice. And the walking - oh the walking! Quests in the cities of Kaas and Coruscant force one to walk back and forth across expansive, open, and (consequently) boring urban landscapes, often to achieve almost nothing. Kaas even seems to have had a link in the Landspeeder network removed, just to ensure one has to walk across the city every time one wants to check in with the master. Timesinks, obviously - the problem is that they felt like a waste of time - and a good timesink shouldn't leave players checking their watch.

I'm sure I'll be criticised for "not playing it till level 30, when the game gets better", but after a weekend at lowish level, I'm struggling to find the motivation to login and find out. And ultimately that's a rather critical benchmark of enjoyment.
I played a Jedi Consular Sage to level 13 over the weekend. I'm left undecided on it. The story is very enjoyable. As others have mentioned, at times I felt more engaged with my character than I have in any game since Baldurs Gate & Planescape Torment.

I found the running around a bit lengthy in quite a few quests, and from the chat it was obvious I wasnt alone in struggling to find basic staples like Trainers.

If I was comparing this to any game it would be AOC rather than WoW. It looks more like AOC, is much more mature in its dialogue and story than WoW and like AOC, lacks that constant dripfeed of reward that hooks people into WoW.

I like it, I'm just not sure I want to invest my time in an MMO that I suspect, similarly to AOC, might leave me cold in 3 months time.
I've played the beta up to lvl 11 now and while leveling feels alot more rewarding with each level compared to wow now which is ezpz it's a nice addition, but the text is too small, cluttered interface, imo it doesnt bring much new to the table, yes the dialogues might be more interesting but i find myself pressing spacebar countless of times after lvl 3 because it just gets boring. Summed up i couldn't agree more with @Master Hawn ..
"Tim Howgego said...For example, by level 5 my Sith Warrior was getting pumelled into the dust by anything more than a standard combat encounter: Past challenging and into "go and make a cup of tea" frustration. I must be missing some critical class mechanic"

A few people were saying this on the general chat I was on. The most common responce was 'you have interupts and CC. Use it'
My impressions from the weekend:

1. The minimum hardware reqs should be considered an absolute minimum. It will work but you won't like it.

2. Still very buggy in areas. I got stuck in the terrain four times.

3. Storytelling is engaging, but do I really want to pay $15 a month for it?

4. Phasing works nicely.

5. It may not be a WoW clone but the similarities are more obvious than the differences.

6. My Imperial Agent is stuck at level 7 because she's too low level to complete the next quest, but there aren't enough quests in the starter area to gain...
I don't really like people calling TOR a WoW clone because it's not really fair.

WoW ripped off every single game that came before and after it. It's a combination of games.

TOR is also these things but I find that it resembles ME:2 more than WoW, and I never heard anyone say ME:2 was a WoW clone... It was just a Bioware RPG that they've been making since before WoW came out.

That's never going to change. In a few years something will be called a SWTOR Clone and people who played WoW will point out WoW came first, just like I point out that EQ came first.

I will be preordering Star Wars. I'm deploying early next year though so I'm sure I'll leave before I get bored of it.
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