It’s been a little over a month since the launch of Star Wars: The Old Republic, I have multiple characters at level 50, have seen all 4 empire stories, and the string of colds and flu that have been kicking my ass since the holidays is finally on its last legs, so it’s time for me to blare my thoughts about this game. I had originally intended to leave it to Mike, since he’s already written up a few thoughts, and I wrote up a beta impression, but my views have changed slightly and are different than his, so I changed my mind. I’m a woman, I’m allowed to do that, right? :)
My overall impressions of this game do remain positive, although in many ways it’s a muddle. BioWare is new at the MMO genre, and it very much shows. I generally think ‘balanced classes’ is an MMO myth, but there is very little of it in SWTOR; classes just play unevenly in both skillsets and companion acquisition, crafting is… well, I’ll just say it’s bolluxed. Patches and updates aren’t staying long enough on the test server, BioWare isn’t listening to the testers’ feedback, and has now displayed a pattern of knee-jerk over-nerfs that have seriously hit my enthusiasm for playing. I really have to wonder if anyone at BioWare has ever played an MMO at endgame, or participated in serious pvp.
And yet, my overall impression remains positive. I’m treating this game like it’s single player, or rather, like it’s a LAN. As a single player or LAN, it is a great game.
But on to the specifics.
There is nothing new here since the beta. At first glance, character generation is pretty spiffy. There are multiple ways to customize your character; hair, eye color, different heads, skin colors, tattoos and jewelry, honestly I’ve yet to see a clone of any of my characters (I currently have 6), and I don’t see copies of other players as I run around the game either. There’s really a broad variety of looks you can achieve (unless you’re a Chiss. They’re all blue. But Chiss are cool so does it really matter?), so that’s pretty cool.
Once you get beyond the first glimpse, however, chargen pales a bit. While I’ve never seen someone else with a clone of any of my characters, all of my characters look very similar to each other because there are so few options that I actually like. The tattoos and makeup share the same slider, so if I want that cool looking tattoo over the left eye, I’m stuck with no lipstick. The races with horns have the same problem – horns and hairstyles are on the same slider.
I’ll admit I’m picky. I can, have, and do spend hours on chargen, making my characters look just exactly so. The more options there are, the more time I’ll spend in chargen – I have actually timed out of the game during chargen many times. I’m vain. I spend VAST amounts of time in game looking for just the right outfits, and these days, I’m not likely to even play a game that doesn’t have a cosmetic system. But still, personal preferences aside, there are certain things that lose massive points with me, and different types of features sharing the same sliders is one of them. Is it really that difficult to make it so I can have lipstick and a tattoo, or three horns with pigtails instead of 5 horns? You can’t even use clipping as an argument, because there are hairstyles that clip with the heads! The Sith race in particular is guilty of this, many of the hairstyles clip with most of the Sith heads. I’ve tried many times, but just can’t find a Sith look that I like, due to hairstyle clipping, and shiny mouths because of misaligned jaws. It seems like if the hairstyle doesn’t clip with the head, there’s a glaring white line across the mouth where the jaws don’t properly sync.
But take that last with whatever salt you like. It drives me absolutely insane (to the point that I never ever take long hair on video game characters because it’s almost a certainty that long hair will clip with armor), but I’ve been assured by several people that it looks fine and I’m just super picky.
Character progression in Star Wars is pretty easy. Leveling is lightning fast. I’d thought WoW leveling was quick, but Star Wars has WoW beat by a landslide. There are multiple ways you can level, too, which makes it rather fun. You can wander around the world following the story quests, PvP, blow things up in your spaceship, and group in flashpoints and operations. There’s very little that you need that can’t be provided by solo questing … ok, I can’t think of anything I needed while leveling that I couldn’t get from questing.
The story quests are, for the most part, pretty fun. One thing that everyone can agree on is that BioWare does story, and in Star Wars, they did story. In most MMOs I move on once I hit the level to start in a new zone, but in Star Wars most of the time I don’t even notice the pace of leveling. In the places I did skip, I went back to finish up after I hit 50. Many of the quests have multiple endings as well, so there is some variety to be had when leveling alts. Some of it is minor – do you force the girl who has been adopted by bugs to return to her family, or let her stay – but it is also possible to make choices that determine the outcome of planetary conflicts. Honestly I’d assumed that most of the choices mattered very little and you’d wind up in the same place no matter which route you take, but last night while playing another pair of alts, my fiance and I managed to lose a war and cost the Empire the acquisition of one of the major planets. The Darth in charge of the war efforts wasn’t very pleased, but we threatened to kill him if he kept complaining and then just walked out. Now he sends us pissy letters in the mail. Which I’ll admit are pretty funny. :) I do like getting mails from the various NPCs you interact with in the world.
When it comes to PvP, Mike has already said much of what I’d say. Ilum sucks. The only thing I will add is that the 10-49 queued warzone brackets are pretty fun. It’s world and endgame PvP that sucks. I do have one complaint with the game in regards to pvp however – I absolutely despise pve nerfs because of pvp balance, and BioWare has done just that to one of the main classes I play. One of the burst dps classes is (surprise) bursting people to death, so it’s just – as of patch 1.1.1 – been nerfed into oblivion. Stealth burst dps classes always seem to have this problem, but even so, BioWare has nerfed them above and beyond even my jaded expectations.
Spaceship missions … you’ll either love these or hate them. They remind me of the good old days, when I blew up asterisks and other ascii-styled enemies on my atari 2600. It’s like Missile Command or Defender, or that old arcade sit-in Star Wars game, only the spaceships actually look like spaceships and the missiles aren’t just distorted lines!
I do all of my daily space ship missions most every day, and have an absolute blast. Many people complain that the ship flies on rails, but I’m just here to blow stuff up so that’s fine by me. My biggest complaint here is once I enter the mission I might as well have left the game. You can’t see the chat anymore, so it’s easy to miss messages that come in while you’re playing. But it’s fun, and a great way to make some quickie chump change. I also get gear for my companions; a run through my daily missions will net me enough commendations to buy a blue level 50 lockbox that will provide pretty decent stuff for the sidekicks.
I hate the UI. I abhor the UI. I loathe and despise the UI. Seriously folks, I don’t think there’s any way to do justice to just how bad the Star Wars UI really is. It sucked in beta, and it still sucks. There’s no way to resize it, no way to move windows around, the windows you can have open are limited to 2 (in some cases, to 1!), you don’t get nearly enough hotbars, and it clips with itself!
The Galactic Trade Network (SWTOR’s auction house) is particularly onerous. It’s one of the windows that won’t allow other windows to open. And many of the things you’ll be looking for the most, like mods and enhancements for armor and weapons, and crafting schematics, don’t have an item compare. So if you’re crafting and looking for new recipes, you’ll either have to write down every one that you have and manually compare, have an eidetic memory, or suffer through a very lengthy process of opening the GTN window, closing it down so you can look at your crafting window, then opening the GTN again. The same goes with item modification; you can’t see what you’ve already got without closing down the GTN window and opening up your item window. There’s also no way to search the GTN for specific armor slots. Just want a belt? Sorry, you have to look at every chest, glove, helmet, wrist and leg piece as well.
Just bad, bad, bad design. I know, I know, they’ve promised modification in future patches, but until that magical unspecified day, the UI sucks so badly there’s just nothing more to really say about it.
On the positive side, you can craft without having to actually craft. I wonder if the BioWare crafting motto was if you can’t make it fun, then make it painless? You send your crew members out to do your crafting, so once you get more than one of them, it’s easy to play the game and get your crafting done in the background. Heck, you can even craft while offline!
But that’s the only positive thing I have to say about SWTOR’s crafting. Which saddens me, because I generally love crafting.
There are three types of crew skills: crafting, missions, and gathering. Crafting makes things. All you need are the materials and the recipe. Then you send out your companion and wait. When using a mission skill, you pay a start up fee, then your minion goes out and collects rare materials. Gathering skills are exactly as they sound, they allow you to collect nodes throughout the world as you adventure, although you can also pay to send your companions out as though they’re mission skills. Two of them also allow you to harvest from the bodies of enemies that you kill.
It’s a great premise. You can craft and gather materials while doing other things, and even offline. Bioware wanted a system that rewarded crafters for the amount of time they sink into their crafts, and they by and large succeeded. In order to get the very best crafting recipes, crafters have to spend a fortune in both time and money creating items and deconstructing them, hoping for that magical success that will teach them an improved recipe.
It fails in execution, however, as very few of the crafts have any actual end game value. I will admit that this is very heavily debated by the playerbase, however. There are people who make millions selling crafted gear. I, however, see no benefit to it. During the leveling phase of the game, I level so quickly that it’s pointless for me to make anything for myself as I’ll be leveled beyond it by the time I make it. And on the same coin, I level so quickly I can’t be bothered to buy things crafted by other people. At the endgame – it’s easier to just use the commendations I get from dailies and drops from instances instead of craft. There is money to be made with crafting as not everyone is content with ‘good enough for now’, so long as you’re willing to sink vast quantities of time and money deconstructing hundreds of items to get the recipes you need.
Every time I make a new alt, I tell myself, ok this time I’m going to make what I need in advance, so I’ll have it. But thus far, each time, I just couldn’t be bothered to take the time collecting the rare materials needed for the gear that’s any good. At no point do I ever feel like I need gear upgrades beyond what I can pick up in instances and questing. Crafting is also a giant money sink, even beyond the normal.
If you want to have the very best gear at all times, or don’t mind putting in heavy hours evaluating the market and player trends in order to make money, then crafting might be for you. Normally, this is me. I love playing the market, and amassing a fortune in the games I play. In Star Wars, however, the ‘click and wait’ system makes me want to crawl into a hole and die.
Remember what I said in my beta preview? That opinion hasn’t changed much: ultimately, I am having fun playing Star Wars and will continue playing it for a while. It’s got a few more months of fun left, possibly more if they continue to add content and patch. Massive multiplayer content is where BioWare has largely dropped the ball, so if you’re looking for a standard BioWare single player game, with the added bonus of being able to play it with friends, then you’ll probably enjoy this game. Taken casually, this game is pretty solid.
If you’re a focused player, who likes to excel at what you do; whether it’s PvP, crafting, or raiding, you may want to give this game a pass, or at least wait another 6 months. BioWare is in its infancy in regards to MMOs, and I suspect it’s going to take a while before they learn enough to satisfy the hardcore crowds. I’m having fun playing it like a LAN game, but I’m already casting my eyes toward my next game. After 6 alts, there’s very little left for me to do.