Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Star Wars: The Old Republic release!

Happy Star Wars: The Old Republic release day everyone!  Lots of people (including me) have been waiting a long time for this--hopefully we won’t be disappointed!

I was one of the suckers diehards who pre-ordered SWTOR right away on release day, and so when EA/Bioware announced a pre-release for those who pre-ordered I was very excited.  I was able to log in for the first time last Tuesday and have really enjoyed myself for the last week.  For those of you who weren't able or willing to pre-order, but have been on the fence about buying this game, I wanted to write down some thoughts.  Take this with a grain of salt though -- I'm currently level 16, which is the early stages of the game, and so I'm still getting into it. 

Things I love about this game:

The companion system feels outstanding to me -- for those who are not yet familiar with it, in SWTOR each player gets companion characters as the game progresses.  The first one is just before level 10, and they become vital assets.  They're able to fight alongside you as well as do crafting and gathering missions independently from you.  Once you have more than one companion, each can be working independently as well!  I'm totally impressed by this concept, and it's already minimized the amount of time I've spent waiting for status bars to finish.  As I level up, it'll get even nicer.

Maps.  I played World of Warcraft for a very long time and was consistently frustrated by trying to find quest destinations on the map.  Eventually sites like wowhead.com helped a lot, but SWTOR includes a feature in its map interface with automatically highlights quest destinations, which I found to be crazily helpful.  You can also have a translucent version of the map overlay your screen as you run, which is invaluable for those of us who tend to run off in the wrong direction.  I also have noticed that this feature hasn't gotten much press, which I think is unfortunate.

Crafting.  In terms of crafting, my favorite game so far is EVE Online.  It's neat to have basically the entire economy based upon crafted items.  SWTOR doesn't go this far of course, but it introduces some very cool crafting rules.  My favorite so far is called "reverse engineering."  The way it works is this: let's say you make 40 of some starter item--let's call it a "Noob Widget" for this example.  They can be used to temporarily boost some stat that you like, but only minimally.  You, as the crafter, can then reverse engineer it back into its primitive parts, which gives you the chance to come up with a better version of it (for example, a "Prototype Noob Widget").  It's great in a couple of ways.  Once you've increased your skill past a certain amount, you'll get access to newer recipes, at which point it makes sense to reverse engineer your old ones and use the resulting materials to craft new things.  The other benefit it brings is that it's a place to use up those items that you make a huge number of in order to level up your crafting skills.

Things I hate about this game: 

So far, the hate list is pretty short.  The one that immediately jumps to mind is the queueing.  As of the writing of this article, the game has not even been released and I'm already waiting in hundreds-long queues EVERY TIME I LOG IN.  And these aren't 90-seconds-and-you're-in type of queues; they have been as long as 30 minutes for me!  It's not as if EA/Bioware isn't aware of the server populations - they've individually OK-ed every single player.  So why don't they have the capacity to let us all play?  Pretty infuriating.  I certainly do understand that every popular MMO has its share of capacity-related hurdles, and SWTOR has been surprisingly consistent in terms of release date and major snags, but this one really surprised me.

Things I'm not sure about:

Spells.  I'm really struck by the vast number of skills that each player has, and I'm getting the impression that that number is only going to grow!  My class (Bounty Hunter) has probably 15 spells that are commonly used in combat which is a bit overwhelming at the moment.  I really wish they had been introduced a bit slower so that I had a chance to learn how they work.

Extensive cutscenes with audio.  The way I like to play MMOs generally includes chatting with guild mates via skype or ventrilo.  SWTOR makes this very challenging, as each quest begins and is interspersed with extensive interactive videos that include audio.  I find that they're nice in certain situations, but I suspect that they'll become very distracting very soon.  I hope they don't, but we'll see

So far in spite of the few complaints I've really enjoying this game, and I'd recommend that you give it a try!

May the force be with you!