Firstly let’s get the bad out of the way….
It was a little buggier than I had hoped. Not like some horribad Funcom style bugfest and yes of course I do expect a MMO in beta to be buggy, but I have high expectations of Bioware and in reality last weekend wasn’t a beta test. The game will barely change between now and its launch in a few weeks and to rely on the usual “BUT ITS BETA!!!11” excuse would be a bit weak. It was however a genuine stress test and that may account for some of the problems, particularly with the regular crashes when logging out which I know many folks experienced.
There were some problems that felt like what we gamers (rightly or wrongly) call memory leaks, where the game starts hogging memory and chugs along painfully. This didn’t happen often but each time it did would eventually lead to a crash when starting a NPC conversation. It wasn’t regular enough to really annoy me, apart from where it crashed right at the end of the entire Esseles instance and lost all my progress…grrr! Though I’m fairly confident it will get dealt with around launch.
The other bugs were fairly minor; getting stuck on scenery, lots of sound problems in the Huttball PvP scenario (which appear to be related to the match commentary), the occasional NPC clutching an invisible weapon and a range of other little odds and sodds
My favourite bug was where for some reason a NPC (the Panthro like dude from the Trooper starting storyline) had been shrunk in size… Full of attitude he walked into the room and started ranting, to which my initial thought was roughly LOL LOL WTF?? since the poor dude was half the height of my shoes and through what must have been force levitation powers was standing directly over a hole in the grated floor (he was that small yes). This made for a bizarrely comical cut-scene as my character struggled to maintain eye contact with a 6 inch high and rather angry officer cat man Panthro beast cat man thing…
I must stress however that I’m not concerned about bugs at all; I saw these bugs over a serious amount of gametime and compared with most MMOs at this stage I think it’s safe to say SWTOR is in very good nick, it’s just not at the same glorious level that RIFT was. I suspect the quality of RIFT’s beta will remain unsurpassed for some time.
There were some lag issues and really they should be expected in a stress test, so are not something to complain about at all, but worth acknowledging. If the test does its job then these lag issues should be eliminated for launch.
The game oozes quality and attention to detail, which does have the side effect of any drops in quality stand out and are perhaps more noticeable than they should be. For example the first thing you’ll see when logging in with a Twilek Jedi is that the sword strapped to his back clips straight through his dangly head bits in a BIG way and I immediately questioned how this not noticed by Bioware when they've been so diligent elsewhere? Then there’s things like how the bind stone type devices didn’t appear to be explained and actually I didn’t even realise they existed until after I had left the first planet. They’re just not noticeable enough. Probably small things really, but well, you notice.
One thing that did annoy me no end is for some strange reason there are various keybinds related to sound that are set to use the CTRL key with one of the standard WASD movement keys, so if like many people you use CTRL for your vent push to talk or for ability binds, you’ll keep turning off your sound off. Unfortunately not all of those sound related keybinds are available in the command listing and as such can not be changed. Sure, I could just rebind my push to talk or whatever, but I’ve never had to before with any other MMO and to be honest there’s no reason why we even need to turn off ambient sound with a keybind…
And now the good stuff.
The game looks fantastic. I really didn't think I would be that sold on the cartoony style, but Bioware have really nailed it with the artwork. SWTOR is packed with true Star Wars atmosphere and the sense of scale is spot on. Some areas are of course more impressive than others, but there was nothing that I thought was poor and plenty that I thought was very impressive. I marked out totally when I walked my Bounty Hunter out of the building she first spawned in and witnessed the Hutt goodness. I only dabbled briefly with the Bounty Hunter as I wanted to save the Sith Empire stuff until launch, so most of my time was spent with the boy scout Jedi lickers, which worked out quite well as it meant I got to see Coruscant. It wasn't instantly as impressive as I hoped, but the more I explored the better and better it got. Huge potential for expansion there too.
Combat was standard MMO fare, nothing new here at all, though everything worked well and was quite fun to play. Obviously everyone has their preferred play styles and that makes any comments on the classes fairly subjective. I tried out the following classes into the teens:
- Jedi Knight (Guardian)
- Jedi Counselor (Shadow)
- Trooper (Vanguard)
The big sell for SWTOR has always been the voice overs and more storyline focused quests. And yes it does make for a huge improvement and I did actually pay attention to the quest stories for once. Also the roll off for who gets to answer dialogue when grouped made for much comedy on vent with some of us more psychotic than others. However don't be thinking your choices mean anything, because they most often don't. The quest storylines are regularly on rails (much like in Dragon Age) and really your choices only determine your light/dark side points (which effects your character, not the world iself). That said, it was still fun and better than what we normally get, you just need to accept and enjoy the roller coaster ride for what it is.
I do however wonder about replay-ability within the same faction, because aside from your main class storylines all the quests I saw were identical when played with a different class. On top of this I'm not convinced I'll want to go through all those voice overs again and again. That applies to repeating dungeons as well as leveling alts. It strikes me that I will have a really enjoyable time leveling my first Sith character, I'm just not entirely sure how great repeating things will be.
The UI needs a LOT more customisation options, scaling in particular, but aside from that I thought it was clean, efficient, easy to use and very Star Warsy. I liked it.
PvP... I did quite a lot of PvP, though this was all warzones (scenarios/battlegrounds/whateeeeeeever) and as result I have no idea how the open world stuff will work out. The warzones were variations on the standard capture the flag or control point systems we've seen elsewhere and I thought they looked great and worked very well. There was, as always, some people grumbling about CC (crowd control), however they to be frank are a bunch of whiney little bitches that just dont want anything stopping them spamming killy buttons. Most of each classes CC doesn't work at all in PvP (abilities flagged to stun lesser opponents, etc) and I didn't find the amount that did to be too much at all. Having no CC makes games mindless DPS spam, whereas too much makes it purely who CC firsts wins, personally I think SWTOR is looking promising on this front. However, remember I only played characters into the teens, so who knows if it goes to shite later on.
In general my viewpoint on the game hasn't changed. I'm really looking forward to it and will be playing it heavily. I still have little interest in dungeon farming and raiding, so once I hit the end game the question of how long term I continue to play depends entirely on how engaging the PvP is. I'm not expecting miracles there at all, but am open to having my mind changed and haven't ruled out the possibility. At present though I am still expecting a fun ride with SWTOR up to the point where I burn out, which should be perfectly timed to move on to Mechwarrior Online and Planetside 2.