Well, I was granted early access to the new MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic yesterday. I spent about five hours playing a Sith Warrior up to 7th level.
The game is pretty cool. What really sells it for me is the fact that all quest text takes the form of fully voiced cutscenes where you are given the opportunity to make choices in your responses. That’s a lot of fun. Right now, I believe that’s the game’s biggest strength. The strong, interactive story mode is what sets the game apart from WoW. If they can keep this sort of thing up through to the end-game and beyond, then it will really have something going for it. Strip that away and the game is basically just a World of Warcraft clone.
This game has the potential to be good for levelling alts, if there are lots of branches in the story line. It’s too early to really tell something like that. For sure I’m going to be levelling a Jedi faction character, and I’ll likely level at least one other Sith faction character.
I’m a little concerned about the end-game. I don’t know how they can continue with their greatest strength — the interactive story mode — during the unavoidable repetitiveness that typical end-game play entails. There does not appear to be an Achievement System, which is crucial for providing goals beyond simply experiencing normal content.
Story-aside, the rest of the game is pretty much WoW in space. It’s considerably polished for an initial release, with a lot of smart options that some games seem to take forever to figure out that they should include. I particularly like the AoE looting option. There is no option to automatically vendor all grey items, but apparently that’s something you can do via a companion once you get one.
There are some distinct advantages to questing in groups, it seems. Apparently loot drops are better and/or more frequent if you’re in a group, you get “social points” — which can be spent on gear — when turning in quests as a group, and XP gains increase. “Rolling” on the ability to have your response be the one used during story mode encounters sounds like it’ll be fun.
As a Sith Warrior, the game play is similar to a Warrior in WoW. You start out with a basic three-swing attack — which generates Rage — and a powerful overhead strike — which requires three or four points of Rage to execute. A lunging strike attack (my favorite so far) is yours at second level, I think, and you get an AoE smash/stun a few levels later. So far, combat is interesting enough with those four attacks. It’s just so much fun to do a leaping strike into a group of mobs, smash the ground with a force attack, then bash the survivors, one-by-one, into dust.
The combat animation is nice to watch, too. It feels much more fluid than WoW’s “swing, stand there for three seconds, swing” combat. Your guy is regularly exhibiting situational awareness animations with random parries and blocks that I haven’t yet determined which are just for show or are the result of actual active defense against incoming attacks. One cool moment was when I was swordfighting this one mob when a second mob comes at my rear left flank and takes a swing at my back; my character flipped his sword over his head and blocked the attack against his back, then continued swinging toward the first mob in front of me. The sound effects in game are great as well, though I felt some of the sounds in the out-of-game menus to be a little off (you might notice it right away as you’re starting the game for the first time.
I was a little dismayed at the shitty attitude some players had in General Chat so early into the game. It feels like that has bled through from WoW. It’s a brand new game and you’re already criticizing how people are playing it “wrong”? Give me a break.
One thing I found a little confusing was the social aspect of the game. While it was relatively easy to start communicating in general chat, I found it difficult to figure out how to whisper to other players. Also, I was in a group for a short time, but there was no indication where my other part members were. I couldn’t find them in order to join up with them. Hopefully these shortcomings are just things I’ve overlooked, but it was a little frustrating that this aspect of the game was not as intuitive as much of the rest of the game.
Overall, my experience was very positive. While I think it’s going to be a lot of fun to play through, my initial impression was that this was definitely not a WoW-killer for several reasons:
- No player-generated content. This is THE big thing that the next-gen MMOs are going to have…but it’s not in SWTOR (at least, not yet).
- No support for UI add-ons yet, it seems. WoW’s support for third-party add-ons has shown the world that this is a must. User-customization is key.
- The same, played-out party formula. I’m not sure what sort of play-style will eventually de-throne the “tank/healer/dps” holy trinity of group gaming, but that’s definitely something that would be necessary to bring the freshness necessary to top WoW.
- What does set the game apart and above WoW — the interactive story mode — does not appear to be something that can be sustained through the end-game.
Still, it’s definitely a solid game and will, hopefully, light a fire under Blizzard’s britches that will result in improvements to both WoW and to Blizzard’s future MMO, Titan.