Star Wars: The Old Republic – A look at Beta

I was fortunate enough to be chosen to BETA test SW:TOR by BioWare/EA this weekend, and I wanted to give some feedback about my first 12 levels in the game. This is not intended to be a full game review, just some comments on things that stood out to me or struck me as amusing. These observations are based on my personal experiences during the Thanksgiving weekend Beta tests.

Some technical things to note – my computer does not have a new graphics card (It’s an NVIDEA 9800) and I’m running Vista 64 with 4 GB of RAM and a Dual Core processor that’s not terribly impressive these days. I prefer to run in windowed mode.

My Sith and her companion (The blue Twi'lek) in The Sith Stronghold

Before I even really get into this review let me say a few important things –

  • I’m sort of a giant Star Wars dork
  • I played Star Wars Galaxies (Pre-CU) and loved it
  • I’ve played a decent number of MMOs
  • I intend to roll a Republic Character at Launch and only rolled Sith to try out the other side of the fence first. I’m really glad I made this choice.

I’ve been keeping an eye on this game since it was announced and was overjoyed to find this week that I had a beta invite in my email. I had intended to wait until the launch (likening it to knowing your xmas gift before you open it), but my curiosity got the better of me. I rolled a Sith Warrior on the Cosmic Turbine server with my guild, the Church of Alvis and set out for blood, guts, and glory (and drinking).

Some TL;DR thoughts if you don’t have time to read the whole post –

  1. Being on Ventrillo (VOIP team chat) while playing the game makes it have a very MST3K feel
  2. You seem to get a lot of pants as rewards early on
  3. Sith really DO have more fun, but are also kind of dicks (duh)
  4. You develop a legitimate investment to the story
  5. The world actually feels pretty big
  6. Every class story really is different
  7. The story is actually something to look forward to instead of just clicking through
  8. The world is filled with fun touches (like the customs droid that scans you on arrival at ports)
  9. The game was fun, immerse, hilarious, and I was shocked with how engaged I was with the story
  10. I really dig the companion system
  11. I recommend giving the game a try come Dec 20th!

Make the right choice... or your companion will judge you

Now I don’t normally play Melee DPS characters, but the allure of a light-saber combined with cinematic graceful combat couldn’t keep me away. I went with a human female toon, and was shocked how interested I was in the story. Something we’ve read a lot of (those of you who have also been fans of the game before it was even out) is that storytelling plays a huge part of the game. The questing system is engaging and makes you feel not only a part of the world, but pretty epic in the middle of it.

They really aren’t kidding when they say storytelling is centric to the game. Maybe it was the fact that it was star wars, maybe it’s the fact that it’s a modern looking world, but for whatever reason I actually cared about my characters choices and actions. Now I’m generally an RPG fan aready (Final Fantasy, etc) but in most MMOs I can’t be bothered to even read the NPC’s name. However I loved seeing what my character was gong to say. The Sith were snarky and spunky, and I loved it.

Every single conversation offers entertaining and clever comments that are clearly intended for a wide variety of audiences with a PG-13 slant. The characters you interact with are three dimensional and illicit emotional responses. Perhaps I was moved because of the good voice acting, or perhaps I just wanted to see what my toon was going to say based on my choice. Whatever the case, I dig the quest system which is a first for me.

However it’s not just questing that makes a game. Environment, UI, Combat, and “playability” factor in as well, making a whole experience. I took some shots of the various environments I encountered (around level 10) to try and show some of the flavor in the various environments.

More Light-sabers more often

A moment of peace watching the space traffic before I head back to evil--doing

This was while I was strolling along slaughtering rebel scum

Darth Baras loves twinkies

The game moves back and forth between on world assignments and on ship or more “base” oriented assignments offering a variety of colors, lighting, creatures, and situations that keep things moving. I was happy to see that I didn’t feel like I wasn’t stuck in a noobie shelter zone for too long. There was a sense of advancement that was fairly constant and despite what I’d consider slow XP progression, I still felt like I was making progress. In fact, I rarely looked at my XP bar. (Shocking!)

One of the other things I really appreciated about this game was the variety in costuming, body types and voices. (The Sith are from the UK and the folks on Hutta appear to be from New York). The variety really shines in group instances.

In particular, I was struck by Darth Baras (pictured right) and one of the other earlier NPCs (the old woman). So often in MMOs we see perfect specimens of humanity (and other made up races). It’s nice to see some characters who do not fit into the modern model of fitness and sex appeal. Darth Baras over there, clearly likes his Melons and Sugar Dumplings and Cu-pa stew. He also seems to have a whiskey flask on his belt, but that’s probably just my interpretation. You’ll also notice that he has a sort of steampunk mask on. His voice actor reflects that as well. I just really liked the attention to these sorts of details in the game – not everything is cookie cutter. The character himself is overconfident but still engaging.

I haven’t completed my time as his apprentice, but I’m looking forward to see what other horrible things he will ask my Sith to do.

Either way – I applaud the fact that Bioware was willing to use more realistic body types, even if it means tubby villains. At least I know I can have a toon model that’s got “a little junk in the trunk”. (Can’t take credit for that quote, my guildie noted that first).

One of the other things that struck me is how damn useful my companion is. You get your first companion around level 10 or so (give or take, each class is different). She’s pictured above (the blue Twi’lek). Companions serve a variety of functions –

  • Comic Relief
  • Making me feel less alone at night
  • Crafting
  • Gathering things
  • Doing my bidding
  • Having someone else to be my Barbie doll.
  • Apparently doing more damage then me in combat..

The holo-trees were a nice touch

When you get your first companion through the story you may be struck with how mouthy they are (which makes me smile) but I loved how useful they are as well. They will sell your useless (gray) gear as well as do your crafting for you. This really speaks to my micro-management needs in an MMO. You can have up to 5 companions all filling various functions in combat – but you can only bring one of them with you at a time. The others remain on your ship (which I haven’t gotten yet) to fulfill “crew” duties (Like making me rum and cokes). They can be geared individually, and you can have relationships with them beyond just making them suffer occasionally. Though that really is it’s own reward.

You can train up your crafting skills just like any other MMO, but you don’t have to slave in front of a console for hours, instead you have crew to do that for you! They wander off when sent on missions and come back to you after an allotted amount of time. Just don’t send them off before you get into combat…

Some of the other features I’ve enjoyed are the instanced dungeons. I got to do what they call a “Flashpoint” today, and was pleased to find that depending on what your group chooses to do will determine the course of the event. This makes instances interesting and replayable. We did ours twice, and there was some different loot for both choices. The flashpoint was actually a lot of fun and the story was interesting both times.

Add a friend (as long as they didn't wipe your party)

One of the other neat features was the ability to add group members as friends at the end of the instance. I thought this was a really smart touch. Sometimes you meet good people in PUGs (Pick up groups) that you may want to group with later. This feature is just plain handy.

I love thoughtful implementations like this. It’s smart in a world where PUGs are a reality for most group events.

One of the other features I found handy included the map that became see through as soon as you moved, and the fact that the map would tell you if your quest hand-in was upstairs or on that level. In a modern world, stairs are a huge part of the layout… so this was a thoughtful touch. (This is not pictured in this post.)

I also liked the binding system. Instead of binding in one place you are bound at all of the locations that you have clicked in that zone. Quick Transportation is available (on a cool down) to any of them in that zone. There are also Taxis that will move you from one point to another which was similar to most of the other transpo systems common in MMOs.

OMG, where am I going?

One of the other things I enjoyed was the helpful mini map which not only told me my local time, but it also let me know how bad the lag was, and where my quest objectives were. This just made things a little less painful for me. Plus it was again – just convenient and smart. Now don’t get me wrong the UI is not perfect – I want to be able to customize my bars and move things around till my hearts content, but for a beta I was pretty satisfied with the additions they had put in. I’m really hoping that there are opportunities for add ons (via curse) because I have really had a hard time determining what my DPS is.

There’s also a lot of room for macros and things like that (for instance when I send off my companion on an errand). The game is still clearly in BETA but it seems like the amount of feedback bioware has gathered through the course of the betas will be valuable. Overall though, it’s probably the most polished pre=launch games I’ve played.

Joun and Clam helping with the the Flashpoint

While I tried to take some videos of combat, I wasn’t really happy with how my computer rendered it – but what I can say is that it feels epic, and that the moves (for the Sith at least) are fluid and graceful, and everything feels exciting. It was however, pretty hard to keep track of the 4 characters in the Flashpoint, but that may have more to do with my graphics card then anything else. It’s clear I need to learn more about my class and how to effectively dish out the damage.

Yes, there's a guy in carbonite back there

For those looking at playing the game come launch – there are things in the game that some seasoned MMO fans will question at first, but my advice isto give it 5-10 levels at least, the game has a lot to offer both old and new players to the genre. Bioware has clearly made some strides that I think will make a difference for MMOs to come. All in all I’m really excited to play the actual game, as well as get to see the stories for the light side. Plus it helps that I have an awesome guild to look forward to playing with!

I’m really glad I got my two days of PTO off for launch (Which is December 20th). Special thanks to – The Church of Alvis, Jounville, Gandalfini, HappyClam, Furiel, and the rest of the Cosmic Turbine server!

This post is thanks to the lifted NDA from Star Wars: The Old Republic.