So I was actually able to get into the current friends and family beta for Star Wars: The Old Republic. It wasn’t too hard since technically I do have a friend over there. The tricky part is that Bioware, like a lot of places thinks of PA as “media” and they don’t want media playing it yet. I explained that we aren’t media, we prefer to think of ourselves as “enthusiasts”. They let me in but I had to pinkie swear that I wouldn’t talk about the game here on the site, or anywhere else for that matter. I’ve been playing it for a little over a month now and last week I asked if I could share some of my impressions with you all. It took some begging but finally they agreed and to their credit they didn’t ask to see what I was going to write first. Honestly they had no idea what I was going to say which must have been a little scary considering this is PA, but lucky for them I actually really like their game. So this isn’t a review or anything even close. What I’m playing is the beta and honestly changing all the time. I just wanted to share some of my impressions.
First of all, a lot has been made about the new “fourth pillar” of story telling. Is it really all they are making it out to be? In my personal opinion, yes, it really is a big deal and let me tell you why. In the short time I’ve been playing SW:TOR I have already given more thought to my character than I ever did in all the years I played WOW. I’ve had to make hard choices with my Bounty Hunter that have made me honestly think about who he is and what he’s like. At first I intended to play him as a real asshole but some of the moral quagmires these quests put you in just aren’t that black and white. Do I do what gets me the most credits? Do I stay loyal to the person who gave me the job even it means hurting Innocent people? As a result of all this I have a character that is a hard ass bounty hunter who has a soft spot for people in trouble and children. The only thing I could tell you about my WOW character Dudefella is that he was a mage and a hell of a good dancer.
Of course all MMO’s now are going to have you taking quests but I think the big difference here is that I tend to care more about these quests. I will admit I am not a quest reader when I play an MMO. I click and click until it’s accepted and then read the breakdown on my way out to wherever the wolf bladders are. Playing a class in SW:TOR is like playing a single player Bioware game. People are talking to you and you’re deciding how to respond and making dialog choices. Turning the quests into an interactive experience makes me care a lot more about them. A quest is still a chance to get XP, money and loot but it’s also an opportunity to advance your character towards the dark or light side based on your decisions. In most MMO’s taking quests is what you do so that you can go play. In SW:TOR, taking quests is playing.
Obviously the setting is a big draw for me but I played the last Star Wars MMO and hated it. So just setting a game in the Star Wars universe isn’t enough for me. With that said I was curious if the Old Republic would be “Star Warsy” enough. I mean, we’re talking about 4000 years before the movies. Would that world look anything like the three films we all love? The reality is that I think it’s almost too much like the movies. It turns out that 4000 years before Jabba, the Hutts were still crime lords surrounded by Twi’lek dancers and had a habit of feeding people to exotic beasts. For the most part everything you expect to see in Star Wars is there and it hasn’t changed much if at all. I guess the idea is that the Star Wars universe has sort of plateaued. I could hazard a guess that the constant battle between the Jedi and the Sith have kept the universe in a perpetual state of either war or re-building…but if I said that I would be a huge nerd.
Anyway I can understand why they did it from a design stand point. They want people who are fans of Star Wars to feel at home here. The result is that it’s easy to forget that all this is taking place thousands of years before Luke Skywalker kissed his sister.
I’m hesitant to talk too much about the mechanics since like I said they really are changing all the time. I can say that coming over from WOW, it feels very familiar and I don’t mean that in a bad way. I’ve checked out the basics of most of the classes and they each feel unique. Dropping into cover with the smuggler gives you a whole new action bar similar to popping stealth with a rogue. At level 1 a Jedi Consular can tear a chunk of debris from the earth and hurl it at an enemy. Zapping the shit out of someone with force lightning is just as fun as you think. Firing up into the air with your jet pack and then raining missiles down on enemies does not get old. I will never get tired of slicing a guy in half with my lightsaber and then watching as my character lifts the blade over his head to block a blaster shot from behind without looking.
I don’t want to drill down into too much little stuff about the game but there is one feature I have to tell you about because I think it is really cool. If someone in your party is off grabbing quests while you’re selling junk at a vendor you would have to wait for them to share the quest with you later in any other game. In SW:TOR you get a little message that someone in your party is taking a quest and do you want to join via holoprojector. The first time I saw this I actually said out loud “Shit yeah I want to join via holoprojector!” and sure enough your character appears there in all his or her shimmering blue glory. You can interact with the NPC right alongside your partner. It’s a little touch but believe me when I tell you the game is full of smart little bits like this.
I honestly think they are making something unique and fun here. I’ve enjoyed my time in the beta even more than I expected and it just continues to improve. I’m excited to see what the final product ends up looking like and how people respond to some of its ideas.