All My Thoughts On SW:TOR

Bounty Hunter

Even evil Bounty Hunters feel the need to chill out in bars

I don’t like doing reviews because I don’t really feel qualified to write them – not as a gamer that is, but as a journalist. I’m far too opinionated and biased to be comfortable scoring games plus MMOs are a huge endeavour and I don’t think reviewing one within a few weeks of release does them justice. Still, I can’t get SW:TOR out of my head (which probably says a lot about how strong a hold it has on me and how good it is) and strangely feel the need to blab my thoughts about it, detailing its many aspects, good and bad. So anyway, I guess this is my so sort of ‘non-review’ review:

Story

First and foremost I guess I have to talk about the story element in the game as it’s the thing that’s being touted as an incredible revolution in the industry. It’s not. But it is very, very good. Basically imagine Tortage in Age of Conan but for 50 levels instead of 20 and on a much bigger and more elaborate scale.

Essentially, every class has their own story, a tale of treachery, revenge, deceit and/or love and it forms a backbone to your entire adventures which is really nice and helps give your progression a lot of meaning and purpose. I would love to see this being implemented in a lot more MMOs although the downside if that it does give the game a distinct single player feeling, perhaps either because we’re just so used to not having any story in our MMORPGs or because you get so caught up in it you forget that you’re playing online with thousands of other people.

The story aspect does raise a few issues though like how BioWare will continue with it in expansion and does form a bit of a dead albatross around the games neck as it’s a huge burden to maintain. How this will impact ongoing content creation is anyone’s guess.

Although not strictly related to the main stories, the voice acting, cutscenes and ability to select answers in conversations are all very cool and do help immerse you, even if ultimately they do just cover up some pretty basic questlines and make facing the same content again a bit of a disparaging chore. I can’t help but feel that we could’ve done without 100% voice acting in order to get a bit more variety and content in there.

Graphics & Sound

I have to say that I’m actually quite fond of the graphical style BioWare used and it manages to walk a very fine line between being slightly cartoony yet also ‘real’ enough to take seriously. They’ve managed to make the whole aesthetic fit the Star Wars theme and imbue the right vibe. You’ll find no complaints from me here about the graphics.

Although some people disagree, I also find the sound, music and voice acting to be of a really high standard even if some of the character voices sound a little out of place (my Jedi Knight sounds about 12 years old). Personally, I would’ve loved for the voices to either be selectable or tied to races instead of classes.

Races, Classes & Skill Trees

I need to be totally honest here and get this out or I’m going to choke on my own bile of hatred – the racial and class selection in SW:TOR absolutely stinks and skill trees are all utterly boring and predictable. There, I said it.

To elaborate, if you don’t know, the game follows a mirrored class concept meaning that essentially the Republic and Imperial classes are exact copies of each other but only with differently animated abilities. Not only is this rather annoying but, when combined with the archaic archetypal Advanced Class system (where ACs share the same core abilities and don’t really differ much until high level), effectively the game only feels like you’ve got four classes to pick from. Not to mention that some of the abilities don’t even make much sense when mirrored over and whilst giving a Bounty Hunter a flamethrower is perfectly logicial, shooting people with some silly ion cannon thingy with your Trooper feels ridiculous. Frankly the whole system just seems quite lazy and cheap.

Slightly less annoying, although still irritating, is the very poor selection of races available. Basically you get to pick from humans that either alter in colour or have varying degrees of facial disfigurement. This isn’t Star Trek. Give me Wookies, Ewoks, Trandoshans and Mon Calamari over Blind Human, Green Human, Blue Human any day. Again, this is unfortunately just another concession made to facilitate the voice acting in the game and I’m not sure if it pays off.

Zabrak Sith Warrior

An evil Sith Zabrak. Who would've thought it?

Combat

A few people have complained that the combat in SW:TOR feels unresponsive and a bit disjointed and, whilst it doesn’t bother me personally that much, I can see what they mean. It definitely is a bit of an odd experience pressing a number on your keyboard and then watching for two seconds as your Jedi waves his lightsaber about. Other than that, the combat mechanics themselves are exactly as you would expect from any MMO if on the simplistic and basic side. Every class has a resource which either goes up or down (depending on whether or not it’s accumulated by actions or spent) and then you basically pick from the attacks available, starting with your most damaging first and saving your smattering of high powered abilities on long cool downs for the ‘big’ fights.

Overall the system works fine but (I’m going to no doubt say something very unpopular here) it does make you appreciate the complexity of combat (and healing) mechanics in a game like WoW – The Old Republic is quite simple in comparison.

PvP

I’m quite an avid PvPer and I find the Warzones in the game to be a lot of fun. The developers took an odd decision and, instead of having cross server PvP in five or ten level brackets, opted for single server PvP with no level ranges, instead boosting all players effectively to level 50 when you join the Warzone. Although it does cause some issues in that obviously higher level players have access to more abilities, it actually works surprisingly well and is quite liberating in the fact that it lets you team up with your friends of any level. Now they just need to add more Warzones because having only three is really too limited.

Flashpoints

Flashpoints (aka dungeons) are very enjoyable but deceptive in that the higher level ones (or at least the mid level ones) are pretty straightforward dungeon crawls compared to the epic – and truly fantastic – initial flashpoint you get access to after leaving the first planet. I was blown away by how much fun the Black Talon flashpoint was, for example, and enjoyed itx interwoven story tremendously. In comparison the other flashpoints felt a bit basic and less epic.

A fat Jedi with a beard

Jedi can be fat too

Light Side/Dark Side

I must confess I absolutely love the ability to either follow either the Light or Dark Side and make quest selections with (slightly) varying outcomes based on each. It’s a ton of fun and draws you into the game very deeply, helping up to build up a sense of characterisation and immersion. For instance, roleplaying a ‘good’ Bounty Hunter who only kills when necessary is very rewarding plus really annoys all of the Sith I group with when I pick Light Side outcomes in groups. I also would’ve loved the ability to change sides by following either the Light or Dark path (i.e. switch from being a Jedi to a Sith) á la EQ2’s betrayal system but maybe that’s something that will come in the future.

Companions

I wasn’t expecting to like the companion system as much as I did and I actually think it’s pretty cool. Aside from having a buddy to hang around with and call upon to help out without tougher opponents, it ties in with the crafting system nicely. Not only does it mean that you can craft whilst you do missions and PvP but it also makes you deal with the decision of whether or not you want to send your companion off and risk fighting on your own for a while.

The selection of companions available is also pretty good although whether or not you get an initial one that you click with is pretty hit or miss. For instance I really like Mako, my Bounty Hunter companion, and her healing is a fantastic addition to my tank spec yet I found my Trooper companion, Aric Jorgan, to be highly annoying and a bit limited in only offering additional DPS.

Space Combat

I’ve barely bothered with space combat because, frankly, the few times I tried it the whole experience felt out of place and utterly superfluous. I’m sure it will appeal to some people but, honestly, I’m at a loss as to why BioWare even bothered to include it and can’t help but feel they would’ve been better off allocating their resources somewhere else.

Itemisation & Customisation

I’m one of those vain people who likes his character in MMOs to look cool and, perhaps more importantly, unique and interesting. SW:TOR certainly has a lot of itemisation and variety of costume design which is great but, unfortunately, you do notice that there’s a tendency to end up looking pretty much identical to everyone else of the same class. It also doesn’t help that weapon selection is linked to Advanced Classes meaning that, for instance, every Commando will always use an Assault Cannon and every Bounty Hunter will always use pistols. I think it’s a bit of a shame that weapons selection isn’t a bit more freeform and, if anything, linked to Skill Trees instead of Advanced Classes.

Performance, Polish & Bugs

Generally the level of polish in SW:TOR is very, very high and it performs well on my two year old PC. There are some annoying bugs, however, such as getting trapped behind the gate in Warzones and then eventually being booted and a graphical glitch where fat Jedi can’t grip their lightsaber properly when they run but generally these issues don’t distract from the core game and are easy to live with. No doubt they will probably be fixed soon anyway.

The Little Things

It’s worth pointing out that The Old Republic is filled with lots of small subtleties, little nuances and nods that are barely noticeable yet all add up to elevate the game into a stratosphere of high quality and perfection. It’s the little touches like the datacrons scattered around the planets, the way your face changes if you venture down the Dark Side and how the Bounty Hunter’s jetpack ignites when he’s flying in the air if your armour has a backpack (otherwise little jets fire out of your boots) that all combine to make that extra bit of a difference.

Two Troopers with moustaches

Sporting a moustache immediately imbues an air of confidence

Conclusion

No doubt there’s a ton of stuff I missed out but there you have a pretty long winded low down on my thoughts about SW:TOR anyway. Sheesh, it was good to get it all out of my system.

Anyway, to summarise, The Old Republic is a fine game and it’s giving me a lot of pleasure right now (that sounded a little weird) but I stand by my initial assertion that it’s essentially Mass Effect combined with a MMO from 2007. It really is. The class driven stories, the voice acting and cutscenes, the ability to select dialogue responses, choosing Light or Dark Side options that alter outcomes may not be completely original to the MMO genre but the degree and polish that SW:TOR implements them is very welcome and refreshing. You will get sucked into the story, you will get attached to your character and you will certainly have a huge amount of fun.

However, underlying the whole game is very tried and tested gameplay that is now a little dated and predictable, perhaps even a bit boring. BioWare certainly opted to play it safe and pretty much carbon copied mechanics from themepark MMOs from a few years ago, mechanics that now feel kinda old fashioned. Class archetypes, limited paths of progression, weapon restrictions, uninspiring skill trees, and monotonous combat are all aspects of gameplay that MMOs like EQ2 and WoW have been trying to distance themselves from for years.

The Old Republic is a lot of fun and well worth buying however I do have concerns that the replayability is fairly limited and that BioWare made a lot of concessions in gameplay in order to accommodate their class driven stories and the ridiculous amount of voice acting required overall. As a result, for me to still be playing SW:TOR in a couple of months time seems quite unlikely.

(Now hands up everyone who skipped straight down to the conclusion?)

-Gordon

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22 Comments

  1. “Now hands up everyone who skipped straight down to the conclusion?”, yup, but then I went back and read why. Great summary.
    I’ve been thinking of playing for a while, and am waiting until the aussie servers are released before spending the money. Perhaps I’ll just view it as a single player RPG where the AI is very rude and random. Play to max level a few times and then shelve it.

  2. AFK says:

    Great review. I agree with most of what you say. I think I’m enjoying the Warzones a bit less than you though. I’ve been getting a lot of lag in Warzones, so that doesn’t help. But even without the lag, they seem pretty tame to me. I just haven’t been drawn into them.

    I think the initial buzz is starting to wear off. I have been enjoying SWTOR. Very much in fact, but I think you hit the nail right on the head when you questioned the game’s replayability. I haven’t rolled an alt yet. At first it was because I was so immersed in my character. I didn’t want an alt because I didn’t want to play anything else. Now though… just the thought of running through the Coruscant and Taris missons again with an alt makes me wonder if I’ll ever roll a second character.

    And no… I didn’t skip straight to the conclusion. Read the whole darn thing.

    • Gordon says:

      I just think it’s a shame that MMO developers overlook innovative gameplay in favour of style and gimicks. The story element in SW:TOR, for instance, whilst a lot of fun grows tiring and then exposes some pretty bland and predictable gameplay mechanics.

  3. the Greygamer says:

    I have had the game for 10 days now, just playing casually. Fortunately you can level quite well using mainly the class quests. But I am not sure I am encouraged to level any class more than once. Whereas I am happy to do so in WoW.

    There has been a degree of negativity within the community, this is largely to some vague threats of action against accounts if you do not play the game the way they want you to play it. All of this suggests either it was not ready for a Dec 2011 release, or those running the project do not really understand MMOs. I am not talking about bugs but a crafting system that is simply a money pit, gathering that is too easy that the bottleneck is actually selling the stuff thanks to a limit of 50 active auctions. Having a gathering system that gives you money without having to trade is also a questionable decision in a MMO. It was also exploited by some players, a warning to all MMO designers that it only takes a few people to wreck what might seem like a cool concept.

    My first character had 3 gathering professions and just collected from nodes while questing (and ignoring any that were out of visual range) even playing casually I cannot get rid of everything. Because of the T&C surrounding ‘front loading’ it is questionable if bank alts are allowed and even playing the auction house may get players a warning (flipping may also be against the T&C) which means gathering may also suffer.

    To me this suggests a lot less options for players to pursue which could lead to a rapid decline in subscriptions sooner rather than later. Too many single player elements and not enough multiplayer ones?

    A shame because some of the quest chains are very enjoyable.

    It seemed that equipment upgrades are very necessary when levelling you can’t simply rely on quest rewards. If the game does suffer declining subscriptions in a few months it will make matters worse.

    • Gordon says:

      “Too many single player elements and not enough multiplayer ones?”

      Quite possibly. For me though, as someone who isn’t overly interested in the end game content, the lack of variety in the leveling process is the thing that will ultimately seem me unsubscribe sooner rather than later.

  4. pkudude99 says:

    I’m actually working up 2 Consulars right now becuz the 2 AC’s play so very differently — I’ve got a Sage Healer and a Shadow Tank. I’ll admit to spacebarring through all the conversations on the lower level one, simply as a time saving device, not becuz I’m not interested in the story. I really don’t mind seeing it the 2nd time, but…. my wife’s not real big on letting me have computer time, so I try to optimize ;-)

    I also have a Trooper Combat Medic in the same level range, and since the story quests are less than 10% of the actual quests, there’s a lot of overlap, but since the Trooper’s got different conversation wheel options, it actually still feels different, even though I’m running the same KTR quests as the Consulars.

    IOW, for me, I find it to be just fine on replayability, even with 2 toons having identical everything, except how they play.

  5. Ogrebear says:

    I skipped to the bottom… I’m guilty.

    But i agree with you.

  6. hordemaster says:

    I read the whole thing. I cannot say whether I agree or not, since I have yet to play the game since release, I may get around to it at some point, but if the replayability factor is a concern, then should I even bother? I am having fun running old DAoC b.g.s and I may go back to wow before the pandas take over Azeroth.

  7. bhagpuss says:

    I read from top to bottom in the usual manner.

    Very interesting overview. As a non-player I’m already feeling pretty burned-out on SW:tOR blogging and yours might well be the last long piece on it I read. I’m at the stage of not even opening blogs, even those where I normally read every post, if I see it’s another Star Wars piece. Since I was already at that stage with EVE posts (with just a couple of exceptions) and since everyone who isn’t playing Star Wars seems to have decided to play EVE instead, my blog reading is taking a fraction of the time it was a month ago!

    My non-player overview on SW:tOR is that the more detailed analysis and commentary I read, the less interest in playing I have. Almost all the things people praise about it are things I already have a dislike of in other games that do something similar, and the things people complain about sound like they’d be things I’d complain about too.

    I’ll be selfishly pleased when the shine wears off and people whose blogs I was enjoying drift back to their old games or move on to something new!

  8. Simon Jones who is blogless says:

    That comes pretty close to my take on it.

    The Bioware-y parts are great. It’s Kotor 3 for all intents.

    The actual mmo part is a bit ordinary and the higher you level, the more creaky it seems get. I’m wondering how player retention is going to go when you move past the initial storyline.

    I also could’ve done without the return of spending an hour trying to find a group for a dungeon.

  9. Darraxus says:

    I must say that I completely agree with you. Due to my computer being a couple of years older, I can basically only quest or do Flashpoints. PvP is far too laggy and Illum is unplayable for me at the moment. I was considering a new video card (which I may still get), but it will not likely be for Star Wars. I played through my Bounty Hunter story line and really really enjoyed it. I am now left with that feeling of…..now what.

    I may end up just continuing to play WoW as I feel it has more replay value even after the seven years it has been out.

    This is a good game, but I do not see myself paying for many months of game time. Not going to happen.

    • Gordon says:

      There is definitely something funky going on in Warzones that makes the PVP quite laggy.

      As for replay value, yeah, I feel the same. I’m kinda getting the itch to go back to WoW or check our RIFT again already.

  10. Ash says:

    Here we go:
    I think the game doesn’t feel epic enough. You are fighting the same things from level 1 to level 50. You don’t really feel like you are advancing in power. The combat is clunky, yeah everyone has said it and now me.
    The voice acting was fun, ‘was fun’; till level 20. It got boring pretty fast. The advanced class system is a joke. The flashpoints wtf kinda name is flashpoints any way? Well yeah the flashpoints I haven’t really experienced but when I did people were having a go at me for not skipping the dialogue.
    I can’t even construct a proper post here, there are so many points and problems I have picked up on whilst playing this game.
    How will the make an expansion? I’m guessing they won’t be adding any more classes to the game.. how could they? They would have to write a new story from 1 to the max level AND with full voice acting every time they add a new class. People will want new classes if this game is to survive 4 per side is far from enough.
    Meh and my best friend has quit the game already so I have no one to play with.

    • Gordon says:

      It will be really interesting to see how they expand SW:TOR. My guess is that although there’s a huge amount of potential, the cost and time to add new content is going to be a gigantic overhead. I mean, even increasing the level cap by 5 or 10 levels is going to required several hours of new voice overs. I do worry BioWare have trapped themselves in here a little. I guess only time will tell.

  11. [...] All My Thoughts On SW:TOR (weflyspitfires.com) [...]

  12. pvans says:

    The point that sticks out for me is the gameplay and interface – bland.

    This game feels almost identical to when I first booted up WoW, classes which are very basic and have many of the same underlying abilities (cooldowns, channels, instant casts, etc). Exact same angle you view your characters with, basically WoW with lightsabers.

    I was hoping for some innovation when I first heard about TOR – instead, I get a very similar product to what I’ve already played (and quit) in WoW.

    Instead of establishing a new MMO standard and trying to hit a home run, Bioware / EA (I firmly believe it was more EA than Bioware, the killer of MMOs) decided to play it safe for the most part, offering a very familiar product and almost identical gameplay system, so those who weren’t happy with WoW could switch with ease…

    ..To a Vanilla product.

    How this MMO develops over the next couple months will determine its fate.

    I’ve got my first character to 50 and I find I’m entering the same lvl grind for gear (PvM and PvP), there is already an imbalance in PvP because certain players exploited a valor bug to get to 100 valor in a day (which is a requirement for certain PvP rewards). Things like these are what gets under the skin of the player base and ultimately costs subs.

    I don’t see myself playing more than 3 months unless things change.

    • Gordon says:

      I’ve already unsubbed and am checking out RIFT again. It’s actually quite amazing (and exciting) and how much more interesting the classes in RIFT are compared to SW:TOR. I love exploring all of the different souls and combinations.

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