2011-12-05

Star Wars: The Old Republic – Impressions From The Beta

by Yo Snyder

Star Wars: The Old
Republic
(Conveniently abbreviated to SW:TOR), is a game fans have been
waiting to play for a very long time. The basis of the game, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
(KOTOR), was one of the most celebrated Star Wars games ever created, and was
one of the best reasons to own an original Xbox. The origins of Bioware’s
excellent Mass Effect series began with classic KOTOR, marking it as a very influential
game. Therefore, we all have very high hopes for a massively multiplayer online
(MMO) game based on KOTOR. I was given the opportunity to play SW:TOR in two
separate beta weekends, and since Bioware removed the Non-Disclosure Agreement,
I can now talk about it! However, beware the abundance of acronyms.

Anyone who has played a MMO will be at home in SW:TOR. It
follows the very familiar questing and progression that is persistent in most
MMOs. However, you won’t find any “Kill 20 boars and bring me their feet so we
can make boar-foot stew” quests here. The quests all tie-in directly to your story
and each one feels important to the world around you and to the progression of
your character. When you reach level 10 you pick your class specialization, one
of two options, each with its own talent trees. This is not a reversible
decision, although I imagine it will become one later down the road through
patching if players request it. Each specialization has three talent trees to
pick from, making the game feel more diverse with eight class options in all
per faction instead of the standard four at the character creation screen. This
basic foundation gives you lots of really good options for character variety
and talent combinations. There will undoubtedly be lists of best performing
specs released over time, with changes to the trees, but my experience with
them was that they seem very solid and well rounded.

Bioware is primarily known for is making games that are incredibly
detailed and story based. They focus heavily on the development of characters
and delivering a story to the player that immerses them in the world. I’m happy
to say, SW:TOR is no different. Cutscenes are worked into your standard
questing. It actually feels fairly natural and I wasn’t surprised at this type
of quest delivery. They can occasionally be a little intrusive, but I mostly
found them a pleasant reprieve from questing and killing baddies. On group
quests and in group instances (Called Flashpoints), your group members each
select their reactions for questions and a roll happens. The player who wins
the roll answers the question and everyone gets social points. There are
numerous in game reasons to get social points, which really encourage group
participation. There are many MMOs out there which simply feel like a bunch of
people sharing the same game together, but each playing separate single player
games. It’s nice to see encouragement toward group questing in a way that
directly benefits the player. You’ll also get companion characters which are
included in your story and provide for even more variety in how to play. Your
companions are affected by your light side and dark side choices. Some of them
like you if you’re on the dark side, some like you when you’re on the light
side. Your decisions affect their affection points toward you. You’ll get your
companion somewhere around level 10, and will come along the lines of the
natural progression of your character’s story.

There are also moral choices which affect how your companion
characters see you and affect some of your gear choices later in the game.
Moral decisions come through the story and provide you with options to either
do the right thing or to, you know, not. They provide you with light side or
dark side points which have different ramifications to your character’s story
later in the game.

My first beta was spent with a Jedi Consular, and this was
by far my favorite of the three characters I played. The consular can be set up
into one of two specializations; Shadow – a stealth damage provider, or Sage –
a healing and ranged damage option. The force powers are nicely animated and
your inner Star Wars fan will squeal with glee the first time you see your
character use the force to rip a big rock out of the ground and chuck it at
your enemies. Why didn’t Luke ever try that? For the second beta weekend I
played an Imperial Agent. The story was also top-notch and the cover mechanic
was probably the most unique gameplay type I’ve seen in an MMO. At level 10 I
made the choice to spec into the stalth/healing specialization. I regretted this
decision as I gave up the cover and sniping mechanics for it. Still, it was
useful for grouping since most groups need a healer. The Imperial Agent was a
blast to play, and if I play an Empire faction character I will likely roll an
agent first. I also tried to start a Sith Inquisitor in the first beta weekend,
but I had a difficult time actually caring enough about the character and class
to continue past a couple levels especially in light of the fun I had with the
Consular. I tried again the second beta weekend I participated in and I was able
to get my assassin to level seven or so, but I didn’t really enjoy it any more.
To me, there’s just so much of the “Rawr, we’re going to shoot lightning at
everyone” storyline that the Sith tend towards that I can handle. The story was
still very well done, so if you like playing as a bad guy, you’ll have plenty
of fun here.

Your character will have story decisions to make, and many
of these decisions will have light side or dark side connotations to them.
Basically, you can choose to do the right thing or the wrong thing. In your
conversation pane you’ll be given the choices and it will show if it’s a light
side or dark side choice. I think it takes a little of the fun out of the decision
making process, but I totally understand why they decided to go this route.
There are going to be people who play the game and want to skip the story and
make their decisions quickly. I hope down the line they make it optional to
display the affiliation of moral choices. I have a difficulty with picking the
dark side choices, but with some of the missions, I wasn’t exactly sure what
the right choice was. Some are more obvious, such as venting a starship’s
engineering section into space and killing everyone inside to save the ship, or
finding another way. This option was presented in the first Flashpoint I played
on the Consular.

I was able to play the first Flashpoint on each faction’s
side. The Flashpoints are designed for four players and continue to give you
moral choices and cutscenes within them. The first Flashpoint for the Republic
side is called “Esseles”. Your starship, The
Esseles
, is attacked by an Empire cruiser and you must defend the ship. You
travel throughout the ship engaging enemies, fighting bosses and accomplishing
goals. There were a few moral choices for how to proceed within this mission,
providing group-wide light side or dark side points. In the moral decision I
mentioned before you come across a forcefield leading to the engineering deck,
with a deck crew who are working to restore power. In order to save the ship,
you are given the option to vent the section to space, or to find another way.
It didn’t seem to have much reason behind the decision, other than to send you
to the next boss one of two different ways, so you aren’t missing out on
anything choosing one or the other. My group ended up saving the engineers,
which I was actually relieved for.  In
the second Flashpoint, called “Black Talon”, your ship is ordered to attack a Republic
ship and capture a defector. It was pretty similar in structure to “Esseles”,
but the story elements were much different. Most Empire characters aim for dark
side points, but since I naturally picked the light side options in my group, I
received many comment variations of “LOL, Eew, light side!” Each of them turned
out to be pretty rewarding group experiences. The locations of the Flashpoint
missions tend to be in pretty populated places, so you don’t have to trek
across the universe with your group to start one, at least, at first.

You also have the ability to craft items, as well as learn a
wide variety of skills. You can send your companions to do your crafting and
gathering chores through companion specific missions. However, when you do
this, your companion isn’t around to fight with you anymore, so you must make
the decision if you need your companion at present.

You get your own starship somewhere around level 18-20
whenever you reach that part of the story for your class. This will differ for
each class, same as your companions, so don’t worry about missing out on a
starship. If you don’t have one, you just haven’t reached that point yet. Your
starship is like your base of operations and you’ll fill it with your own
collection of acquired companion characters.

In all, I expect SW:TOR to be one of the biggest and best game
releases this year, and certainly one of the most ambitious. It’s comfortable
to sink into immediately and has some unique gameplay elements that will make
it fun in the long-term. I’m sure there will be massive launch day issues, as
there are with most MMOs, with long wait times in queue to log in, server
crashes and bugs, but once the inevitable glitches are smoothed out over the
first couple weeks, I fully expect Star
Wars: The Old Republic
to get a very high rating. We’ll post an official review
of the game some time after it launches, so stay tuned to The Guide!