For those of you that played the beta, post your thoughts your own review about the game!
I might be inclined to give a Dark Cross or something if its good enough.
Here is my experience:
Star Wars: The Old Republic has been a great success in my opinion, having previously played it on two separate weekends. It is no doubt similar to Biowareís other title, Warhammer Online, although it has many new features that it brings to the MMO genre. The story being the biggest of these, so far no MMO has gone more in-depth into storytelling as The Old Republic. Full voice acting is also a welcome addition. Voice acting adds a whole new level of immersion to this upcoming title, and allows you to make important choices for your character from a storytelling standpoint.
Combat is also unique to this MMO, being that it is faster paced than other MMOs. Enemies that you might come across in your travels will rarely be seen travelling alone, as most groups that you come to fight end up being in groups of 3-5. Certain enemies will also be much harder to fight, as well as having additional skills at their disposal. As I ventured into some old ruin known as the Forge on Tython, I had noticed that many of the harder enemies had employed flamethrowers and charged shots as the battle went on. The cover system was also helpful as I engaged many enemies as a smuggler. The cover system allows smugglers and imperial agents to take cover during a firefight, taking minimal damage unless one enemy got too close. Even one this had happened, the smuggler had many skills available to gain some distance between himself and the enemy. The Sith Assassin, in my opinion had been the most enjoyable of these classes to play as. As a Sith Assassin, I found myself able to deal massive amounts of Ďspikeí damage to any given enemy. The Sith Assassin has many lightning based skills at his disposal, as well as a variety of interesting melee skills. Using my companion, Khem Val to tank the enemy, I found myself able to sneak around to the back of an opponent and able to spam a special lunging attack that would deal massive amounts of positional damage, often killing enemies in one swift blow. The tanking tree was also interesting for this Advanced Class, as instead of wearing heavy armour to tank opponents, the Sith Assassin was able to employ the force to bolster his defence as he tanked waves of enemies.
Companions were an interesting addition to the game, but they did have their downfalls. Companions allow you to bring along an NPC to journey with you in your adventures. These NPCs can be customized with different sets of armour, cosmetic kits, and class kits to suit them to a much needed role. Tanking Companions will often make every encounter half as hard as they gain aggro on every enemy attacking you, allowing you to pick off enemies one by one or focus on healing your companion as he chews away at their health bars. As a Sith Assassin, I often found myself switching between both Khem Val for tanking and a droid for healing. Khem Val allowed me to execute positional damage on many enemies by getting behind them and dealing mass amounts of damage, while the droid was able to keep me healed while I fulfilled the Sith Assassinís primary role as a tank. Companions also have a wide story arc as well for each one as they gain affection points to your character. Many times, you can enter your personal ship and talk to your companions as their story unfolds, thus hastening your demise to be eaten by Khem if you decide to be a light-sided Sith Inquisitor. Although companions are often helpful, the game becomes increasingly impossible should you decide to not be in a group. For example, as I was fighting a rather difficult beast after recruiting Khem Val, Khem had ended up being ironically digested by the creature, as I circled the room waiting for my health bar to refill. Also, while Khem Val can try to sneak while you turn on your sneaking skill as a Sith Inquisitor, he isnít very successful, as he will often pull every mob that you manage to sneak by.
Crafting has been a more than welcome improvement to this game, as it gives you the ability to be away doing more important things as you send Companions to do your bidding for you. As you train Crew Skills, certain crafts and missions become available to your companions, allowing you to send orders for them to listen to a dying crime lordís words or investigate a cavern containing lightsaber crystals. As your character levels up, rewards for sending your companions away will yield better items, and more missions become available to them. As your companions finish creating your latest lightsaber modification, it immediately appears in your inventory, allowing you to equip it on your adventures.
Space Combat is more of a mini game within The Old Republic than a main aspect, but is no doubt entertaining. Space combat allows you to fly straight into different missions for your given faction as you engage into dogfights with various ship models. Upgrades are available to you at given locations, allowing you to add torpedoes and armour to your ride to tackle the harder missions. While you have some level of control of your ship, space combat is mostly a rail-shooter.
Flashpoints are also a great experience I would recommend to anyone. They allow you to go into very cinematic-like instances where your group makes decisions together. During conversations a die is rolled dictating who will choose which path the group takes. Often, these will yield dark and lightside points based on which each person had chosen, regardless of who actually got the highest number. In these flashpoints, there are many bosses with unique skills, as there is in many MMOs.
First I have played mmos since ultima online. I played Everquest for 6 years reaching max levels on every class and help various epics on many of them. I have also ventured into many others including Galaxies and Lord of the rings online as well as World of Warcraft. I have never had as much fun as I did with the beta tests that I was in. Here is my run down of what I did and what I enjoyed.
The first weekend I mainly played a sith warrior. The storyline is great it really draws you in. I wonít post about it because well you need to experience it. The first weekend I tested was kind of hit and miss with it being the first batch of stress testing so load times for servers and such was huge. Once I got in though I thought I was going to get divorced.
I messed around with various classes and loved the advanced class you get at level 10. It takes four classes and turns them into 8. Unlike a lot of mmos the advanced classes actually change your characters play style.
This past weekend I played a Bounty Hunter and enjoyed it every bit as much as the sith Warrior. Most of the time in MMos I play the ranger class. Itís always been my favourite and while I did play Tanks and Caster types I didnít enjoy them as much. I tried out ever class up to about level 10 except the Agent because Iím going to have that as my main on launch. I enjoyed every one of them and had a blast with them.
Questing. Oh my god Bioware has made this fun again. Gone are the days of kill this and turn it in over and over again. Nearly every quest fit in with a storyline or the war between the republic and sith. Most importantly all of them were voiced with you able to respond ala menu like in the Kotor games. While you can skip ahead the dialog by pushing the spacebar I donít see why you would.
Companions are a great addition. They add another level of depth to the game as well as allow you to craft and such without staring at a forge or workbench for hours on end clicking combine. Many had dual roles and could be dps or healers as well as some able to tank. I never saw if you could change their names which would be a nice touch however you can change their appearance and gear.
I didnít do any groups simply because I never have cared for them. However I wish I had simply because if everything else was as well thought out as it was Iím sure the flashpoints would be as well. the graphics were great. a nice mix between the cartoony WoW and the realistic Rift.
There are some serious WOW moments in this game which once again due to Spoiler reasons I wonít get into. There were some things that are still iffy and it was apparent that the naming policy wasnít being enforced due to the sheer number of people named Darthblahblah but all the testing did was assure me that the 800 year wait has been well worth it.
Beta Experience: I played during the early November Beta weekend, alot may have changed since that time. I was not able to be online for the Thanksgiving Weekend Beta. During my time in Beta I was able to level a Bounty Hunter (Merc) and Sith Inquisitor (Sorc) to 11, and a Smuggler (Gunslinger) to 10. I ran the initial Flashpoint for each of these classes at least 1 time, and played several Warzones with the Merc and Sorc. If you played in the SWTOR Beta, you probably won't find anything in this review that you hadn't already experienced.
Intro - My Gaming Background (you can skip this if you want to)
1 - Character Creation
2 - Storyline/Quests (no spoilers included)
3 - Gameplay
4 - Flashpoints and Warzones
5 - Graphics and Sound
6 - Computer Tech Specs and Performance
7 - Conclusion and Misc
So I wanted to set a baseline for everyone so they knew the perspective and expectations I had about SWTOR as I write this review. I have been playing MMOs since 1999, primarily Everquest (99-04) and World of Warcraft (04-SWTOR release). I dabbled in Dark Age of Camelot, Star Wars Galaxies, and Warhammer Age of Reckoning for a few months each. I typically will only play 1 game at a time and rarely play Single Player or Console games, KOTOR 1 was an exception to this however. I have done end game raiding in both EQ and WoW, but haven't been able to find the time for that level of play within the last year. Most of my enjoyment recently has been from running small group Dungeons/Flashpoints and PvP with friends.
1. Character Creation
There has been alot of criticism over the amount of customization available for character models. I honestly don't understand why. As far as MMOs go TOR has the most customization available that I have seen in any previous games I've played. There are 4 different choices for Body Type for males (I think 3 for females?) and multiple other choices for other aspects of your character including Face, Hair Style, Hair Color, Eye Color, Scars, Beard/Cybernetics (for the Cyborg class), and Skin Tone. Some of these items have over 20 different options. The options are all pre-set, you can't slide between Body Type 2 (thin/athletic) and Body Type 3 (ripped dude) to find the perfect size for your character. You also can't get so specific as to decide things like "I'd like my nose to be slightly wider" or "My ears need to be lower on my head".
I'm fine with the options as they are. Remember that your character will be displayed on a regular basis in Voice Over conversations during Quests, and other peoples characters will also be displayed with the same detail if they are grouped during that conversation. Increasing the amount of options (by adding a slider setting) also increases the demand placed on your system to render the models and just isn't practical from a playability or business perspective, most customers aren't going to go buy a $2,000 gaming computer just to be able to play SWTOR.
Epic. The Story actually provides a "reason" for you to level up, rather than previous games where you would randomly accept a quest to "Kill 23 white puppies and 19 grey kittens then come back for your reward" with no reason why your goodie-goodie Paladin would ever do such a horrid thing. As a Bounty Hunter your initial quests are about you gaining entry to the Great Hunt, all of these lead to you increasing your reputation with locals to reach that goal and you never forget it as your progressing through your initial planet.
There are some random side quests that you can pick up which are not tied directly to your story, but they are typically located along the routes you'll already be traveling and its to your advantage to grab them anyway. Some of these may be "Heroic" quests which encourage you to group with 1 or 2 other players to complete. As advertised all of the Quest conversations are fully Voiced Over. When you enter a conversation with a Quest Giver all other players not in your group basically disappear, its just you, your group and the quest giver.
Each player will get a few options at several places in the dialog and a random roll determines who gets to be the player who actually speaks for the group. When I played Beta it seemed these rolls were "rigged" as the same person would end up talking ALOT. I'm told this has been corrected and there is a bonus to your roll if you haven't won recently. On a regular basis you will end up talking with alien characters who will speak in their native tongue (Hutts and Rodians as examples), at these times subtitles appear on the bottom of the screen as a translation. There seemed to be a decent amount of sound clips available for these alien languages, I wasn't hearing the same clip over and over. Sometimes the amount of time the alien would talk didn't seem to match how much they were actually saying, but I don't speak Huttese so maybe they get to the point faster than basic.
The Voiceover options are a blast, but can be misleading sometimes. The full writeup of what you are going to say isn't listed as your option, but a short description is. There were several times where I selected something which I expected to be a sarcastic remark and ended up with it being a flat out insult or when I thought I was reluctantly accepting a quest only see my character be ever so grateful for being chosen for this task. Lightside/Darkside dialogue options are clearly marked, in these conversation. As long as you don't look too deeply into the Voiceover options you'll like them, but ultimately if its part of your class story no matter what you choose it will still progress on, with a slight change to the quest givers next dialogue with you. I compare the Voiceovers to a meal with alot of flavor, but that leaves you hungry a few hours after you eat it (or start thinking back on the options you chose).
On occasion you will get a "Bonus Quest" which will appear when you enter a certain area of the map, these quests are your basic "Kill x number of Jawas". Just like they're name they're only there as an Experience bonus, after you complete the bonus quest you automatically receive experience for it, no travel to a quest hub required.
There are several Class Quest Phases that you will enter as part of your storyline, shown by a green transparent "wall". If you and another Bounty Hunter run into the Hutt's throne room as you pass through the "wall" the other player disappears and you're the only player in that area. This also applies in some combat areas as you progress your story. Class Quest Phases for a class other than your own are shown as a red wall, as are Phases which are part of your story that you're not able to enter yet.
The game plays very similar to the KOTOR games, however there are other players running around in the world with you. I expect there will be people who will play SWTOR as if it were basically a single player game, and I think they will still be able to enjoy it. The origin planets seemed to have a more linear questline than most other MMOs, I was ok with this as the Story kept me entertained enough that it didn't matter to me. I'm not sure if that trend will continue as we progress farther into the game, but I expect that there will be more options available at later levels. I hope that after receiving your ship the "game world" opens more and provides much more of an option to explore the galaxy. Obviously Bioware has plenty of room to expand the game into new world or add more areas to existing ones.
Overall game mechanics is similar to most MMOs. Targeting, attacking, looting will be very familiar to most players. The biggest difference is that there is no Auto-Attack. This scared me at first, but ended up not being a significant issue to me. It really did add a level to the gameplay that made me feel like I was truly controlling my character instead of just picking when to do a special move. If I made no choice my character would simply stand there and get beat on (unless your companion kills the enemy for you).
I had been pretty excited about the cover system (used by Smugglers and Imperial Agents), but ended up not being a huge fan of it. It seemed like alot of times I wanted to take cover on a specific side of the box, however the cover system would often place me on one of the other sides. I'm not sure if I lost my defensive bonus in this "wrong" position, but it felt off to me. I'm sure there are plenty of other players who won't mind this and I expect that Bioware will continue to improve the Cover system mechanics. While in cover I did like the new attacks which were available and the significant defensive bonus.
The heat mechanic (Bounty Hunters) and ammo mechanic (Trooper) did throw me off initially. I expected it to work similar to an inverse of energy in most other MMOs, where I could max out my Heat at 100 and it would have a linear regeneration rate. I first started noticing this wasn't the case in Flashpoints, it felt like my Heat took forever to decrease after I capped it out. Later I learned that your regen rate decreases as your total Heat increases. This makes sense, and allows for some flexibility by the player. Do you want a quick burst of damage to finish off that Ball Carrier before they score? Burn all your heat! Are you applying constant pressure to defend a turret from the enemy and need to have some options in case more show up? Keep moderate Heat with good regen! In hindsight I did mouse over the Heat Bar when I started playing the Bounty Hunter and it said "Heat Regen: Fast", but there was no further explanation of what would change that rate in game. I don't know if the energy bars of Smugglers and Imperial Agents function similar to Heat/Ammo, but would be something to watch for and manage as needed if you're playing one of those classes.
4. Flashpoints / Warzones
Flashpoints (or instances/dungeons/whatever your last game called them) are your typical small group challenges. You can bring up to 3 other players along, or a combination of players and companions which totals to 4. It is always to your advantage to bring all players instead of companions. I'm not aware of a tool to use to find groups for Flashpoints other than asking in General Chat or Guild Chat. This can make finding a group difficult at times, the typical MMO guidelines of tanks and healers getting groups easier still apply. You also need to travel to the Flashpoint entrance you aren't just teleported to it like in some other games. I like this aspect, even though it creates a bit more work for players. It would be pretty boring if I was able to just sit in a city and que repeatedly for Flashpoints and Warzones. I want the game to make me get out there and explore the galaxy! I'm also a huge advocate of keeping Flashpoints and Warzones populations within the server you play on and it seems Bioware is as well. The decision in WoW to merge the ques for Instances and Battlegrounds across all servers basically gave the community a free pass to act like total pricks to each other, that's something you generally don't see if you know you'll likely end up interacting with a person or friends of theirs again in the future.
There are plenty of dialogue options which you can choose from during Flashpoints with your group, including Lightside/Darkside choices. You will get Lightside/Darkside points based off your dialogue choice, even if the player who wins the roll chose the opposite. I replayed a Flashpoint a few times just to see the different options that other classes had at the critical points of it (kill NPC A or spare them? capture NPC B or kill them?) I found that pretty interesting, but still haven't seen a certain NPC not killed... one day I'll win that roll and bring him in on my Bounty Hunter. Eventually I can see the Voiceovers getting boring and players who just want to gear up trying to skip through most of them to complete the Flashpoint faster. Not sure what kind of options could cure that.
Warzones were very laggy when I was playing them, I'm hoping this has been corrected. Huttball is basically a "capture the flag (or ball)" game where you can throw the ball to other friendly targets. I think the passes can also be intercepted by opposing team members as well. I enjoyed the many random traps and the situational awareness you needed when navigating them. A good player can terrorize the other team by stunning someone while they are on a fire trap or knocking someone backwards into an acid pool. Teamwork is also highlighted in this Warzone, any team that is able to effectively pass the ball will totally decimate the other unorganized team. Passing the ball is a bit cumbersome, you can't just target the teammate you want to pass it to, you have to target a place on the ground and hope your teammate stays while you pass the ball to them.
I also played the Voidstar Warzone a few times. You were either trying to defend walls from the other team which wanted to gain access to a computer mainframe or trying to get to the computer mainframe. There were 2 or 3 sets of blast doors you needed to get through by placing an explosive charge on the door. If you were attacked while placing the charge you got interrupted. After a charge was placed the defending team had some time to disarm it before it detonated and opened the map to the next set of blast doors. I didn't play this Warzone as much as Huttball, and I kind of enjoyed Huttball more.
I did not have the opportunity to play the Alderan Warzone. My only complaint (other than Warzone lag) about the Warzone system is that which Warzone you get is totally random. It would be nice if you could choose which Warzones you'd like to que for, but I can deal with a few Void Star matches once in a while. Seems like Huttball ques most often, or maybe that was just my luck.
5. Graphics / Sound
I liked the graphics for the game, although I did have every setting turned all the way up. There were some conversations where player or NPCs mouths did not move (probably a Beta thing that has been fixed). The environments all seemed to fit the story. Korriban felt like I was playing KOTOR again, Hutta seemed like it was a gangster's playground with a toxic waste dump on the side.
The music I thought was fantastic. It was used with moderation and at first I didn't even notice it. The music that start in the background while you are in combat is great and not overbearing. The same for music in other areas of the game, it has a definite Star Wars feel to it. Sound effects (light sabers, blasters, etc) fit pretty well, and weren't over the top. Companion characters can get a bit chatty at times, but I've heard some of the random comments they make have had their frequency decreased.
6. Computer Tech Specs and Performance
I played Beta on an Asus G74SX-BBK8 laptop (available from Best Buy) with a Time Warner Cable Internet connection. All settings were turned up to max and I had no significant lag. Note that this laptop's video card is a 2GB GTX 560M, which runs slower than either the 1.5GB or 3GB versions of the same card. I'm told it performs closer to a GTX540 card. If this is a deal breaker for you then you won't be able to buy this from Best Buy, check out Newegg.com for some other options (may cost slightly more). Here's an abbreviated list of Tech Specs, if you're looking for all the info just Google the laptop info earlier in this paragraph:
Processor: 2nd Gen Intel i7-2670QM
Memory: 8GM DDR3 @ 1333mhz
Hard Drive: 1TB @ 7200rpm
Video Card: Nvidia GTX 560m 2GB (see note above)
7. Conclusion and Misc
Overall I'm pretty excited about this game (why else would I write this huge review?!). I'm looking forward to the Storyline and expect I'll end up trying out most of the classes just to experience the stories. The combat system is familiar to me, but the UI isn't quite as customizable as I'd like. Hopefully that will be changed shortly after release. Voiceover is fantastic, and music adds to gameplay without becoming overbearing. Bioware was successful in designing graphics that make you feel that you really are immersed in the Star Wars universe.
Hopefully this provides a glimpse of the game for those who weren't able to play Beta.