Now that the beta is done, the servers are down and the characters are wiped, here’s my final thoughts on the release client for SWTOR.
Post-beta Critiques of Star Wars: The Old Republic
So far, I do like the game. Which is why I refer to the later part as a “critique,” I want to see this game get better. It’s Bioware and LucasArts so it has that perfect mix of good fantasy/sci-fi writing and cheesy dialog. As a game, it’s good, solid, stable, and fun. It just has a few things that betray a bumpy transition for Bioware from making single-player games to making MMOs. The missions are fun, and while still full of “kill N of X” and “fetch Y and Z” missions, I do like that many of them get turned in or updated in the field. And then there are the ones that you have a choice of who to turn the objective in to which I particularly enjoy. As a game, The Old Republic is a top-notch successor to Knights of the Old Republic.
There is a really big “But” with this though. Character creation really blows. It’s marginally improved upon from KOTOR but that’s about all I can say for it. There are a few good heads but most are OMFG KILL IT WITH FIRE ugly while the body types are really limited and cartoonishly out of proportion.
Note: I’ve only played human male characters. I tried creating a Chiss Imperial Agent, a Pure-blood Sith Warrior, and a Cyborg Trooper but couldn’t get into them so I when the build was updated and the servers wiped I only created humans. As a frame of reference, here are the other MMOs and Bioware games I am most familiar with (including release date and common acronym):
- Anarchy Online (June 27, 2001) (AO)
- Star Wars Galaxies (26 June 2003) (SWG)
- Knights of the Old Republic (November 19, 2003) (KOTOR)
- World of Warcraft (November 23, 2004) (WoW)
- Dungeons and Dragons Online (February 28, 2006) (DDO)
- Lord of the Rings Online (April 24, 2007) (LOTRO)
- Age of Conan (May 20, 2008) (AoC)
Will I subscribe at launch? Doubtful.
If SWTOR had a hybrid model like LOTRO or AoC I could see SWTOR replacing AO as my go-to Sci-Fi MMO. But right now there is too much missing or poorly implemented for me to find it worth subscribing without knowing the costs. If it were $5-10/mo I’d pay for a year up front. But if they go with the industry standard $14.99/mo. then, no, I’ll not be subscribing.
On to the point-by-point critique.
Installation and Patching:
- Frequently a pain. When I first installed the beta client I was told I needed 30Gb free. No problem. Everything worked fine and patching went without a hitch. On the second-to-last patch of the launch-client build, it was supposed to need 20Gb for a clean install yet I couldn’t patch even though I still had 11 Gb free. I then uninstalled another big game to get it up to 17Gb free, still no luck. Finally got it working by uninstalling pretty much everything I’m not currently playing which got me up to 32Gb free, then uninstalling SWTOR, 53Gb free, and then reinstalling and patching. This process took so long that it took the entirety of my one day off this week. So I spent the afternoon playing Age of Conan instead.
- Beta-specific complaints regarding patching and maintenance. Every Saturday of the Beta Weekends they had scheduled maintenance from midnight until around 10am or noon CST (which is 8-10pm Moscow time). This meant that I (and other EU players) had very little chance to play on the days they were trying to stress-test the servers. It seems poorly thought out to have scheduled maintenance that eats up nearly half the day of your three-day stress-test weekend when fully half your servers are dedicated to EU timezones.
- Very fast. Even on beta weekends I was getting 1Mbps/sec. connection speeds.
- No negatives.
- Wonderfully well-done. Other MMOs (like LOTRO) could do well to copy SWTOR. When you log into the game, you are taken to your server-selection screen (one tab for North America, one tab for EU for now), choose your server (timezone and PvE, RP-PvE, PvP, or RP-PvP), then go to your character creation/selection screen. From this screen you can go back to the server selection without logging out or exiting the client.
(Based on human males. I had no interest in playing any of the other alien races which were all just the less-interesting “humans-with-bumpy-heads” varieties. I looked at them all and wasn’t interested in actually playing any of them.)
- Body: Very limited body shapes and sizes. The pipsqueak, the bean-pole, the meat-head, and the lard-bucket. I have created 11 characters so far and they’ve all been “Body 3″ (the meat-head) because it is the least ridiculous-looking body. Option 1 looks like a scawny 11-year-old boy. Option 2 looks like a unbelievably-scrawny 15-year-old boy. Option 3 looks like David Prowse with 0% body fat. Option 4 looks like a “stocky” office-drone whose diet has had too many donuts and not enough roughage. Regardless of which model you choose, the proportions are wrong. Your avatar resembles medieval styles where people were made to look infantile by enlarging their heads, hands, and feet.
- Head: Styles are lackluster bordering on grotesque. Especially for the “humans.” Again, 11 characters have all used one of two heads.
- Hair: Styles for men are horrible. Bald, balding, short, collar-length, and stupid are all there is. Not a single long-haired style. I’ll not complain about the shortage of decent-looking hairstyles in AoC, DDO, LOTRO, and WoW as much after creating characters in TOR. In the first build of the Beta I experimented with three of the collar-length hair styles. When I rerolled after the wipe I have just used the same slicked-back, collar-length style for all my characters. And I’ve heard from other players that the female styles are just as bad. You can make your character look like Justin Bieber, emo-douche-bag Anakin (ep. II-III), or just about anyone from Mad Max but NOT Qui-Gon Jinn, Leia (ep V-VI), or Padme. Star Wars Galaxies had five long hairstyles that I could use on characters (I just went back and checked) but SWTOR has one slicked-back collar-length style and that’s it.
- Names: Spaces are not allowed in names but there is a field only for a personal name and no field for a surname.
- Eyes: There’s only a handful of colors and shades but then, it’s just eyes and they are done very well even if there are only a few options.
- Complexion: This is a nice touch. Overall quite well done. It mostly controls the shape of your eyebrows and whether you are clean-shaven or have a bit of stubble. Or freckles. I like that some of them even have “dirty” options with a clean goggle outline around your eyes. I won’t ever use them but they do flesh out your options nicely.
- Facial hair: Not bad but styles leave a lot to be desired. Most seem to be rather cartoonishly exaggerated. But there’s at least more bearded options than long-haired options. I can have two decent beards and two decent goatees across my various characters. That does mean that at least each of my four characters per faction would have a different beard.
- SILVER LINING: With all my characters looking more like clones than brothers, it’ll be easy for my friends to recognize me. Also, I am looking forward to getting some outfits with hoods (The Korriban commendation bartered light armour was quite nice in earlier builds. My Inquisitor was wearing it for some time in the beta but then they changed it to a hoodless, Star Trek security special ops look and I discarded it for a downgraded quest reward).
- Hair styles are god-awful horrible.
Overall Visual style:
- Avatars are nice, for a WoW-contemporary MMO, circa 2005. Not looking so hot compared to games like Age of Conan and Lord of the Rings Online, or even DDO. All of which are considerably older yet have superior character customization and outfitting options.
- The world building in nice enough. It does look like an updated KOTOR. I’m just not sure it looks like a KOTOR 2011. The draw distance is really nice and the detail at maximum range is really nice but there is a lot of pixelation on distance impostors at the horizon. Smooth textures within weapon-range but then getting down to 8-bit textures at the horizon.
- Have I mentioned how bad the hairstyles look? Every MMO that I have tried since Anarchy Online (2001) has better hair-style options than SWTOR. It is an improvement on the rather poor hairstyles of KOTOR but that is to be expected. I was expecting a lot more from Bioware though.
- Shadows need work. When shadows fall across an avatar they leave a weird, large, jagged line across the avatar.
- The world is weirdly static. In AoC the foliage moves as you move through it. In LOTRO the trees and grass blow in the wind as dandelion fluff floats across your monitor. In SWTOR the worlds all seems to be made of cardboard.
- Otherwise, very polished and consistent.
- No problems.
- This is actually just straight up good. In combat, when you hit someone, your character connects (wonderfully utilized on the Smuggler’s kick). When you block, you are shown blocking. When you dodge, you actually get out of the way.
- As you level so that your character actually looks more proficient with the skills and weapons you are using. I love this.
Quickslots and Keymapping:
- All three of the quickslot bars are unmapped. This is a horrible. At least the extra center quickslot bar should be automatically mapped to “shift+X” and “alt+X” should have a quickslot too. At least the companion’s quickslot is already mapped to “ctrl+X.”
- No user created channels.
- Highly limited range of channels.
- Editing which channels or feeds a tab displays is cumbersome.
- Option to fade chat when the panel is inactive is very nice for increasing screen real-estate.
- “Tab” doesn’t work for moving between fields? How did that get missed? Such a pain. My memory may be a bit hazy but isn’t the ability to tab between fields in mail and chat something that was already common in the early-to-mid 90s? I remember it was pretty common in every related program Win 3.1.1, MS DOS, and PC DOS so I’m really not sure why this isn’t working in SWTOR.
- If you are sending an item and haven’t manually filled in a subject line, it will auto-fill the item’s name. And then not let you send it until you have replaced the item name with your own subject.
- Very nice that you can attach multiple items to a single mail.
- Many quest bestowal dialogs and quest journal entries are so vague on the location that they are meaningless for finding your target. You are forced to just look at your map and follow the arrow. This would be a mildly disappointing sign of lazy quest design if the NPCs at any point said something to the effect of, “I’ve marked the target on your map” but they don’t which makes it all the more disappointing.
- Most (all?) MMOs I’ve played show you the quest reward in your log so you can prioritize quests if you’re short on time or needing to improve some particular item. This standard feature is missing from the TOR mission log. The mission log gives you no indication what the reward will be. Credits? Armour? Weapons? A commendation badge?
- Sweet gods, it’s the attack of the clones! Seriously.By level 10 nearly every Jedi Consular looks the same, as does every Jedi Knight, and every Smuggler. The “color matching” for the chest piece just helps to reenforce the cloning effect. I compare this to other games I’ve created new characters in lately (AoC and LOTRO). Even in the “newbie island” areas where itemization is much more limited, I almost never run into another character that looks the same as mine does. But in TOR every single character looks like a clone of me (at least for the first planet or three).
- I expect this will improve as I level because I have already been finding that items are often stat upgrades but visual downgrades so I’ve been vendoring armor upgrades to maintain my appearance. I will always choose looks over stats in a game.
- At higher levels you start getting Orange quality weapons and armor. They usually have four slots for modification parts. The item itself is for looks only. It often comes with level-appropriate mods but those can be continuously upgraded so that the piece can be kept indefinitely. These items can be gotten from quests, world drops, and even crafting. At higher levels, you might get an item that you don’t like the look of but has better stats due to its mods. You can pop those mods out (for a price based on their quality) then apply them to your item to have the stats of the “higher level” item then vendor the husk of the item (keeping both sets of mods).
In a word, retarded. I want to use so many better, more PC, adjectives but that’s just what comes to mind whenever I think of “Companions.” Ill-advised, poorly implemented, not thought out, forgot to run the idea by your five-year-old-nephew for logical flaws… something like this.
With the Companion system, TOR isn’t an MMO, it’s a very crowded single-player RPG where you see thousands of clones of both yourself and your companions running arround doing the same things over and over and over. Lord of the Rings Online is Lord of the Rings. Age of Conan is Conan. The Old Republic is Groundhog Day and we’re all Bill Murray. The Companion system takes the MMO convention of repeatable boss-fights to a ludicrous extreme. And the whole system jumped the shark when I got to the Sith Inquisitor companion quest. (Trust me.)
As a nearly life-long roleplayer, and someone who approaches MMOs from a light-RP+ standpoint, companions just rub me the wrong way. Companions could have been an awesome addition to the game, but they are horribly implemented for being an MMO. In LOTRO my companions, whether they are pets, heralds, soldiers, or horses are highly customizable and fairly unique. You can rename them and most can have their appearance changed. They are your companion and just as unique as your character. But with the SWTOR companions, they are not unique. Your smuggler has Corso Riggs tagging along, just like every other smuggler in the game. Your sith inquisitor has Kem Val (an ancient, powerful, and singularly unique creature) as his minion, and so does every other sith inquisitor in the game. If they wanted the system and wanted it to be good, there were ways of doing it that a company that understands MMOs could have looked at.
It’s not that it couldn’t have been better. As an example, I’ll look at the Jedi Counselor’s Transdoshan companion. In game, your companion is the personal (and both controversial and infamous) friend of your master. But Transdoshans are not unique, or rare, they’re an entire blasted species! A better route could have been to have our master’s friend be a Transdoshan elder that oversees young hunters on this planet, perhaps they are also here as a right-of-passage. He sends a random young hunter with you and that becomes your companion. The companion could even have a unique, server-assigned name and appearance when they’re generated. For another example using Corso (the Smuggler companion) as an example, once you get to the point of gaining your own companion, Corso comes back, but instead of coming with you, he takes over his boss’s operation and sends one of his minions with you. Your actually personal, unique companion could then be procedurally generated however Bioware liked in terms of gender, appearance, and name and send you on your way.
But as it stands, if you are playing during peak times it just feels conspicuously stupid and unlikely to have your character and companion standing and talking to an NPC then having more identically-equipped characters run up to you with their identical clone companions. It breaks you out of the Story.Maybe it will feel less stupid at higher levels but I only once made it to 20 before a server wipe for a new build. (Still an alt-a-holic).
And then there’s…
- Creepy. Really, really creepy.- It’s been said that we can’t rename our companions because that would be weird. (No one gives their friends and colleagues nick names after all).
- But we get to choose how they dress and wear their hair. We can even force them to undergo drastic cosmetic surgery to change their skin color.
- There’s no need for you to be able to control your companions name and appearance. Being able to upgrade their equipment is enough. It’s also justifiable in-character, after all, if loot is an upgrade for them, of course they’d take it, you’re not forcing them to wear it.
- Character storage is really limited and ridiculously expensive. Five-thousand credits to expand your character from thirty to forty slots. twenty-thousand to expand from forty to fifty slots.
- Vault storage, on the other hand, is pretty nice, especially once you get your ship.
- Nice but tedious. On the first tier of crafting, most items take one to two minutes to craft and you can’t queue them up. You have to select the item, select the companion, hit craft, they make one, place it in your inventory, then you repeat (and it’s best to just reverse-engineer the piece as it’s a way of unlocking more recipes/schematics). I thought the idea was that the epic heroes weren’t going to be the ones doing the crafting since we’d be busy adventuring? It’s hard to do that when you are micro-managing your minions who need to be reminded what to do once every minute.
- To learn new basic recipes/schematics you visit your trainer and buy them. To learn the advanced ones you can loot them, find them on the Galactic Trade Market (GTM, the Auction House), or discover them by reverse engineering anything you craft and some things you loot.
- I recommend everyone take Slicing as their second gathering crew skill. You need a lot of money at early levels (even Jedi are nickel-and-dimed for training, 5,000 for storage, 5,000 for your first speeder-bike, 40,000 for your driver-training so you can use your speeder-bike). From level 10 (when you get crew skills) until level 25 you will want to keep slicing. After that you can switch to a gathering profession that supports your crafting skill.
Light Side vs. Dark Side:
- The rewards and “consequences” are disappointing.
- From earlier interviews about the Light/Grey/Dark issue the Devs had been talking about having specific rewards depending on your play-style (in-game it mostly seems to be identical-save-the-skin armour and weapons) and players remaining grey/neutral (that is, having neither Light I-V nor Dark I-V) would also have particular rewards. I haven’t found any yet.(But who I am kidding, I’m too much of a Good Man, in the Discworld sense, and even my Sith Inquisitor is as something like 1750 Light/150 Dark and wielding a green-bladed light saber.)
- There are cosmetic rewards for attaining Light or Dark tiers AND your avatar shows signs of your force-attunement.
Movement and immersion:
- Laser swords and blaster rifles but really limited public transit so you walk almost everywhere.
- Your “fast travel” is a shuttle beacon that takes you from your current location to ANY unlocked terminal on your current world. Very nice.
Out of Combat Recovery:
- No negatives.
- Every class has a channeled skill to restore your health and energy at an increased rate with an animation unique to that class. A very nice touch.
- If you are defeated, a medical droid is dispatched by your faction to fetch you. It can revive you on the spot once every thirty minuets or take you to the nearest medical facility if that is still recharging and you don’t want to wait.
- Being in the aftermath of a Galaxy-wide war, there are lots of medical camps in the field.
- My one complaint is that to disembark, you go down to your airlock and click on it. While you are in space. And you are the pilot. So while you are nowhere near the cockpit, your ship makes planet-fall and lands itself while you wait to exit the airlock.
- Nice overall.
- Space combat is fun if limited. It’s nowhere near as good as any of the X-wing series of games but SWG didn’t even have space combat in any form at launch. It is at least far better than the horribly designed train-wrecks that were Rebel Assault and its sequel.
The Legacy System:
I have no first-hand experience with this, only what the devs had said. This is how your character gets a last name. You get this sometime around (or after) level thirty-two at the conclusion of Chapter 1 of your Class Quest. I don’t know how long it takes, but I never got higher than level 21 before a build would get updated and the servers wiped. Ask my wife how much I was playing, it was not an inconsiderable amount.
Your legacy is both your last name (so it has to be unique to your account) and shared across all your characters on the server, on both factions. So your Human Smuggler, Twi’lek Jedi Warrior, Miraluka Jedi Counselor, Rattataki Trooper, Chiss Agent, Cyborg Bounty Hunter, Sabrak Sith Inquisitor, and Sith Pureblood Warrior will all have the same last name. There were conflicting reports whether this is account wide and all servers or per-server. If it’s per-server, you could play Republic on one and Empire on another and at least let each faction have its own last name. The system sounds cool in its own right. It gives you “Legacy experience” that all your alts contribute to.
Like Companions, the Legacy system sounds like a cool idea where Bioware fumbled the execution. Surnames and Titles are two different things. Restricting characters to one Surname across all characters on a server and restricting that to level 32 doesn’t sit well with the RP folks in SWTOR and as a way of giving your characters last names, it’s just flat-out stupid. Luke Skywalker was just as much Luke Skywalker when he was a baby on Tatooine as he was when he was a whiny teenager and eventually hero of the Rebellion after the destruction of the Death Star. Luke didn’t become ”Luke Skywalker” when he blew up the Death Star, he became “The Hero of the Rebellion.” He was born Luke Skywalker.
In game, levels 1-10
- Armour styles are unimpressive and uninspired. Which is made clear when everyone looks like clones. I can appreciate some classes looking alike, Jedi and Sith are students, Troopers are (in theory) uniform. But it should be obvious that Smugglers, Bounty Hunters, and Agents should not all look the same.
- I haven’t seen a single good hairstyle in game yet.
- Smuggler Quest “Deadly Delivery” Said to “pay enough to buy some nice upgrades for that ship of yours.” But then your quest-giver is murdered and you instead get “two tickets to Coruscant.” On the way there, if you stop by the station and check out the vendor, you will see that the cheapest ship mods cost 1000+ credits, well beyond even the most rewarding mission to date.
In game, levels 11-20
- Still seeing mostly clones of PCs and clones of Companions running around.
- Smuggler class quest where you get your ship back was (at first) surprising in a bad way. I recaptured my ship, boarded it, and it immediately lifted off while I was still in the airlock. What?! Eventually I understood that you needed to move if from Skavak’s hangar to your own hangar but it was a bit of a shock and I had no idea where I was going.
- I really want a speeder- or swoop-bike. Or a land-speeder. Or a sky-hopper. Or an air-speeder. Just something to get around when I’m planet-side. I do not want one of those ridiculous seat-less contraptions that looks uncomfortably like a wind-surfing board that you have to hold onto facing into the wind and hope not to get blown off by. If your feet are on the rudder-pedals, and your hands are holding onto the handle-bar, and there’s no belt, there’s nothing holding you on but the strength of your grip.
(Go try this. Stand with your feet at a 45-degree angle against a wall, toes on the wall, heels on the floor. Hold onto the hand-rail and lean back with your arms extended to mimic this posture. Now imagine you are trying to control a flying crotch-rocket like this. With no seat-belt and no windshield. Someone needs to make a Machinima of a character getting their new speeder, hopping on, firing up the engine, then being blown off the speeder as soon as they open the throttle, the speeder flying away into the distance while they lie there on their back. Though I suppose being limited to Segway speeds would limit speeding.)
Grouping and PvP
- I have no idea. I had no desire to interact with the other players, especially not once I had a companion. The companion simultaneously made me uncomfortable grouping with (or even being around) other players and made it largely unnecessary since I could solo anything up to the Heroic 4-man missions while they were still close-enough to my level to be green (one level above grey, that is, insignificant). So I never grouped (unless I and another player were clearly waiting for the same boss to spawn) and I never tried PvP.
- To restate that point, companions made me not want to interact with other players in an MMO.