My post-NDA review of the Star Wars: The Old Republic Beta

Critiques so far:

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. 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.

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. 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)
KOTOR (November 19, 2003)
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 I was told I needed 30Gb free. No problem. Everything worked fine and patching went without a hitch. On the most recent patch, it is supposed to need 20Gb and even though I still had 11Gb, after installation, I couldn’t patch. 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.

Character creation:

- 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.
- Head: Styles are lackluster bordering on grotesque. Especially for the “humans.” Again, 11 characters have all used one of two heads.
- Complexion: This is a nice touch. Overall quite well done. I’ve never used it (and probably won’t) but I like that some of them even have “dirty” options with a clean goggle outline around your eyes.
- 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, 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.
- Facial hair: 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.
- Names: Spaces are not allowed in names but there is a field only for a personal name and no field for a surname.
- Hair styles are god-awful horrible.
- 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 is quite nice as long as you are wearing robes. My Inquisitor shall be wearing it for some time).

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.
- 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.
- 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 SWTOR it all seems to be made of cardboard.

Animations

- 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.
- I love that skill animations change as you level so that your character actually looks more proficient with the skills and weapons you are using.

Quickslots and Key-mapping:

- 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.”

Chat:

- Primitive and unsatisfactory. Limited interactivity, especially in regards to player names. Unable to left or right click, unable to interact with the chat box in any modern way.
- No user created channels.
- Highly limited range of channels.
- No good way of editing what channels or feeds a tab displays.

Mail:

- “Tab” doesn’t work for moving between fields? WTH? 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.

Quest tracking:

- 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.

Itemization:

- Sweet gods, it’s the attack of the clones! Seriously.By level 10 nearly every Jedi Consular looks the same, as do every Jedi Knight, and every Smuggler. The “colour 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.
- 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 armour upgrades to maintain my appearance. I will always choose looks over stats in a game.

“Companions”

In a word, retarded. I want to use so many better 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.

It’s not that it couldn’t have been better. As I write this, I’m leveling up a Jedi Consular, so we’ll use the Transdoshan as an example. They’re not unique, or rare, their 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. 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.

Companion Customization:

- 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.

Storage:

- Character storage is really limited and ridiculously expensive.
- Vault storage, on the other hand, is pretty nice, especially once you get your ship.

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.
- Movement: Laser swords and blaster rifles but really limited public transit so you walk almost everywhere.

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. 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.

Grouping and PvP:

I have no idea. I had no desire to interact with the other players, especially not once I had a companion. So I never grouped and haven’t tried PvP yet.

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