Thursday, March 1, 2012

If I Were the Emperor: Thoughts on The Old Republic

Some of you may think I've gotten into a rut.  I used to write articles on books that I've read, but now I just write articles on this game.  Well, it's true: I'm in a guild that runs group events several times a week, and is working through several hard-mode operations.  I've been playing Star Wars: The Old Republic for two and a half months now, and primarily been very impressed, making it easy to play quite a bit.  The planets in the game are beautifully rendered, and gameplay primarily is clean and fun.  There is quite a bit of content for end-game players as well, much more than other MMO games have that are only a few months past launch.

I do have a few complaints though; here are some of the top changes I'd make if I ran the show.

Voice Acting
This was one of the selling features of this game: no need to read quest scripts!  Every quest is given to you by a voice-acted 'person' who tells you of a particular need, and you can go act on it.  This is a very original approach in MMOs, but unfortunately it doesn't merge well with the concept of a daily quest, or a flashpoint that a player may repeat 20 times.  In exchange for this voice-acting, a player is forced to watch the same script time after time.  Sections of script may be skipped by pressing the spacebar, but it turns each quest into a spacebar race where you try to blast through them as fast as possible.  I'm really looking forward to a 'skip voice acting after 1 repetition' button in one of the UI menus.

This game seems to take itself very seriously.  I played World of Warcraft for quite a while, and I found it very light-hearted.  'Easter Eggs' were hidden throughout the game, and goofy festivals were added regularly.  Male dwarves dance like Russians and female dwarves dance like Irish stepdancers.  It was relaxed.  SWTOR is the complete opposite: quests are serious affairs, generally intended (on the Empire side, in which I play) to further some dark agenda.  There are few hidden jokes, and the ones that I've seen are all Star Wars related.  I suspect that there are other people who agree - when we play computer games, it'd be nice to include SOME levity.

Light Armor Penalty
When a person first starts playing SWTOR, he or she selects a 'class' which determines the type of role they'd like to have.  Each class has different traits, which I won't get in to, but each also has the ability to wear different types of armor, either light, medium, or heavy armor.  Each item of armor that you acquire also has a 'durability' assigned to it, with more durability assigned to heavy armor than medium, and more for medium than light.  For example, light armor gloves might have 40 durability units, where medium armor might have 80 durability.  When a character takes damage or dies some durability is lost, and eventually a player must pay to have it repaired.  Unfortunately, and counter-intuitively to me, players who wear light armor have to pay more to repair it.  My theory is that durability loss is a fixed amount per death (11 seems to be the loss I take when I die) but repairs are based upon percentage of durability, so an item with lower total durability would cost more to repair.  I'm not sure why BioWare would have implemented it like this, but it seems like it must have been an intentional choice. 

There are bugs too--lots of them.  Don't get me wrong.  Video games (and MMOs in particular) are intensely complicated, and I suspect that many of the bugs are not simple and are being corrected.  In spite of this, they're frustrating.  I'm very much looking forward to an Eternity Vault pylon event where the consoles don't disappear when everyone dies, for example, or the ability to loot [Alien Data Cubes] when looting is set to Master Looter.  Hopefully BioWare will have it all polished up soon, though, so I don't have to be frustrated in my rut for long.