A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…
The NDA has been lifted and I’m finally having week with more free time available, so it’s a good chance to write about SW:TOR.
BioWare has been doing a great job with Star Wars: The Old Republic’s development. The game’s current state is a lot more polished than other MMOs I tried, even after they’d gone live.There are of course glitches and bugs, but nothing terrible. BioWare is known for their great RPGs and for being careful about what they publish, but this is their first MMO.
The storytelling system is incredibly well made, and the complete voice-over of the dialogues actually makes a difference. When I rolled a Trooper I noticed that her voice was the voice of Mass Effect’s female Sheppard, which was a great surprise. I hope the plot quality is kept in higher levels. I remember the disappointment with Age of Conan after leaving the initial area too well.
Anyway, the classes seemed well balanced, and after having tried most of them I’ve given up completely on having a Jedi or Sith as a main character. I preferred the Bounty Hunter/Trooper.
I liked the character customization, even though they didn’t include some races I thought were obvious choices. I guess they’re saving them for future expansions. I didn’t see many people with the same look, which means there are enough options available.
The graphics are not state of the art, but their cartoon-ish look will age better than more detailed models and textures would. I re-visited Galaxies when SOE gave everyone free playtime and what looked nice years ago, looks and feels weird nowadays. The simpler graphics also mean that they’re easier to be supported by PCs with lower specs. Not everyone’s going to upgrade their computer to play a new MMO. BioWare was probably considering that more PCs with requirements already reached equals more potential customers for the game.
I did an instance, Black Talon, a couple of times with guildies I hadn’t played with in months. The instance was very easy with 1 Jedi tank, 2 Bounty Hunter DPS and 1 companion healing us, and it also easy when we didn’t have a healer with us, the second time around – 1 Jedi tank, 2 BH DPS, and 1 Imperial Agent DPS.
It was nice to see that you could run the same instance twice and, because of the player’s dialogue choices, get a different story and even different bosses. The group dialogue system is pretty cool, with each character choosing a line, and then the highest roll winning the chance to say it and make the story go a certain way.
I was left wondering if they’ll keep the instances this easy further ahead. I’m guessing the answer for that is ‘no’, otherwise they’d get boring very fast.
The only issue in the instance was that our group had a weird, long latency/graphics lag spike a couple of times.
Aside from that, the only other problem I had was a graphical glitch which lasted for a few seconds every time I changed my graphics preferences, and the screenshots bug, which caused me to ‘lose’ a lot of screenshots; unless you changed the graphics preferences, your screenshots would be saved as a completely black image. I’m sure they’ll fix that one easily before the game goes live.
Now, for an inevitable comparison: Eight years ago, I beta tested Star Wars Galaxies, and a couple of weeks before it went live on the US, it still had a ton of serious bugs. Characters were lost and the game would crash to desktop, the char would become out of sync with the rest of the server, only to be returned to normal when the servers were restarted, there were some weird graphical issues and so on.
With SW:TOR it’s obvious that they waited until the game had what could be a launch quality before sending out beta invites to a ton of people. Considering how Galaxies failed despite the hype that a Star Wars MMO got, and considering all the supposed ‘WoW-killers’ that have failed at keeping even 1 million subscriptions, it’s a smart move by BioWare.
I don’t think it’s going to be a WoW-killer. But I’m almost certain that it will make a big dent on WoW’s subscription numbers. Most of the people I’ve played WoW with, and who – like me – had played since the week the EU servers opened, haven’t subscribed in months and are only re-subscribing when the next expansion, Mists of Pandaria is launched to try it out. Also, everyone I’ve talked to has had a very positive opinion on SW:TOR after the beta test.
It’s the smoothest MMO beta test I’ve participated in. I’m looking forward to exploring that galaxy far far away when the game launches.