Saturday, November 19, 2011

Star Wars The Old Republic SWTOR Preview

Before we start, let's make it very clear that this preview is based on the Beta and not on a finished product. The second thing you need to be aware of is that I am a massive Star Wars fan boy, so I may be biased. Whilst I won't sugar-coat any negatives I've found, I am of course immediately engrossed in just the very idea of playing in a Star Wars universe. Hell, I survived five years in Star Wars Galaxies (a Sony MMO game that in the end had a lot of gameplay issues).

Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) is set three thousand years before the Star Wars time line that most of us know from the six George Lucas movies. It is set three hundred years after the BioWare game called Knights of the Old Republic. There is a lot of expanded universe content based around this time including comics and novels.

Opening scenes
Starting the game, you are presented with the gorgeous cinematic videos that we've all grown to love; and depending on the faction you choose, you are presented with either the Sith invading the Jedi Temple or the Troopers fighting the Sith on Alderaan. 

Character creation
When you choose your faction (either Sith or Republic) you are then presented with four class choices (four choices for Sith and four for Republic). To see the class choices go here. As I've touched on in previous posts, choosing Sith does not mean you have chosen to develop a dark side of the force character and choosing Republic doesn't mean you have to be a goody two shoes. The choice of Sith or Republic is just a faction. The light side and dark side affiliation is based on choices you make as you play. You can be a dark side Jedi Knight or a light side Sith Warrior. But regardless of your choices, your faction is fixed at the beginning. I think this is a good move by BioWare. The class choices in both factions are very similar and this will allow players to be good or evil and still be able to play with their friends of choice. I know I have got people in my guild who want to play the bad boy, dark side Jedi and I am happy that they'll be able to do so in our Republic guild.

Character creation is no where near as in depth as some other MMOs have been. The characters are stylised and you get a selection of 10-15 face variances like hair, tatoo, beards, etc etc. Depending on what class you have chosen you get a choice of about 4 different races. Over the next week I will upload videos of the character creation process for each class, to show you what options are available and allow you to prepare for the upcoming Beta opportunity next weekend.

There was a lot of excitement when news of a cybernetic race was leaked and then confirmed by BioWare. Cybernetic is a choice you get as a Trooper or Smuggler and it's really just face decorations for humans. Just like all race choices, it's purely cosmetic. Your race choice does not affect any ability ingame, apart from appearance. This allows BioWare to keep a variety of different races viable, unlike other MMOs where picking a certain race for a certain class is required if you want to maximize a certain skill (like DPS).

Advanced Classes
Even though you pick your class when you first start the game, it does not finish there. You get introduced to your class on a world set up for that class introduction called an Origin world. On that world you get to play through the first ten levels. This will give you a fairly good idea of what your character is capable of and what the gameplay style is like. You finish your quests on that world on around level ten and at that stage you get to make your true choices on what class you want to play. The advanced class system is introduced at this stage. 

Every advanced class has three separate talent trees (like a lot of other games). So if you choose to be a Shadow Jedi Counselor, you can play as a Balanced Shadow Jedi Counselor, a Tank Shadow Jedi Counselor, or a DPS Shadow Jedi Counselor. If you choose Sage as your Advanced Class, you can be Ranged DPS, Healer, or Balanced. To see all these options, check out our Class pages which have full listings and breakdowns of all the Advanced Classes.

You can re-spec your talent trees within your advanced class and at higher levels you'll be able to pick up a re-spec option, allowing you to swap between two separate talent tree specs on the fly.So, for example, you can be DPS while questing and swap to Tank when entering a flashpoint.

Story and Voice Acting
I've had in excess of 100 hours of gameplay in SWTOR now. I've played through three separate class lines, to levels between 20-30 for each. I must say that BioWare can sit back and be relaxed because they have created a worthy successor to their role playing series. I have no doubt that what I have seen so far will impress MMO players. Every major story line is the game is completely voiced. Not only are the MPCs speaking in a cinematic style interface, but your characters reply. It is like a movie choose your won adventure.

Warning: this screenshot may contain story line spoilers ...

Like a great novel, I found myself wanting more and struggling to keep my eyes open some nights, just to get to the next part in the story. Not only are the major quest lines fully voiced, but the majority of the side quests are also fully voiced. This really blew my mind; there must be hundreds of hours of voice footage in this game. 

If story line isn't your thing, with a simple tap of your space bar you can skip through all the cinematic scenes and go straight through to start the quests.

Weapons and equipment
Unlike traditional MMOs, the way in which you interface with a lot of your weapons is a little different. Things like the lightsaber you see being crafted in the above screenshot, give you the ability to open them. Most weapons give you three upgrade options and by adding the three separate mods to the weapon you can upgrade its total DPS and stats, and keep it with you as you play through the story. The thought of throwing away your first lightsaber that you create is heart-renching, but with the latest patch this system has allowed me to keep my initial lightsaber which now features epic level components. 

This doesn't mean that you are limited to one particular look or style for your lightsaber or any other piece of equipment. Throughout the world, and on every planet, you are given options for weapons and armor that have socketed upgradability. Just like a lightsaber, if you find a cloak that you love, you can continuously upgrade its components to make it comparable to your current playing level. This doesn't mean that standard drops are not available. The world is full of green, blue and purple level items that might be better equipment for your character, at least for a time. 

During the initial stages of gameplay you are introduced to your first companion and throughout the story you will meet a variety of five companions that do DPS, tanking, healing and support. Every class' companions are different. Just like other BioWare games, you have to build a relationship with your companion. They will either like or dislike decisions you make in quests. Other ways to build up reputation are to give them gifts or spend quality time with them.

Just like your own equipment, your companions have a unique set of items. These items can also be upgraded with components. I personally made a crucial mistake of deleting one of my companions primary weapons, before I discovered the upgrade system. The poor guy was stuck with a green level vibro sword for a long time!

At around level 20 you get access to your first spaceship. The ship is given to you at the end of your class' story line on the second planet that you're sent to. Ships give you access to a bank and the ability to travel to new planets. It also unlocks space combat missions. 

To be honest, I was a bit disappointed with the space combat. I've played every Star Wars space sim since X-Wing was released on the PC 15 years ago. Space combat in SWTOR is nothing more than an arcade click and shoot. If you're expecting any more from it you will be severely disappointed. 

Like your own, and your companion's inventory, your ship also has the ability to be upgraded and I'll put a video online in the next couple of days that shows both space combat and how to upgrade your ship. 

Over time I have found that space is actually a relaxing break from the ground world. I usually do a couple of space missions while I have my coffee in the morning. You can do a space mission using just one hand on the mouse.

Adventuring through the different planets, you'll be presented with lots of familiar places and sights. Cantinas on some of the worlds have exotic holographic dancers.

 Other have the real thing (although some of their poses might seems a little strange)!

At level 25 you get to spend 40 000 credits on your speeder ability. This will allow you to purchase 90% speed speeders for around 8000 credits each. If you're lucky enough to have purchased the Collector's Edition of the game, you will get your speeder for free, but you'll still need to fork out the 40 000 credits for speeder training.

To say that overall I am impressed with Star Wars: The Old Republic, is an understatement; but at this stage I haven't seen end game. If the quality of the story and gameplay and the quality of the immersive Star Wars experience is anything to go by, I know we will all be in for a treat at level fifty.

I just want to make it clear that you understand that every single class has a completely unique story line. This is going to encourage me to want to play all eight classes. It's like being able to read a novel from eight different perspectives.

For MMO gamers who are not big Star Wars fans, you will find that the gameplay and the voice acting makes this MMO a cut above those that have come before it, setting a new benchmark for immersion. Flashpoints (or Dungeons as they are known in WoW) are also available throughout the world, but I'll talk about them in another post.

We'll leave you with a Video and a tonne of screenshots of some items, characters, creatures and places you haven't seen as yet.

I've got 6+ videos from the Beta that I'll be uploading to YouTube in the coming days and tonnes more footage to prepare, so stay tuned!

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