Star Wars – The Old Republic Impressions

So the NDA lifted last week and I said I’d put up my thoughts on the game, here we are.

First impressions are simple enough, it’s a themepark.  If you’ve played WoW or Rift, then the game will be intimately familiar.  If you like either of those, there really isn’t a valid reason to swap over.  If you’re tired of the setting but not the mechanics, then a swap makes sense.

From a core mechanics perspective – combat, equipment, groups – the game is as you expect.  Decently balanced with variety across all classes.  There is a significant hindrance to all melee characters (of which 3 of the 8 advanced classes belong) since the majority of the game is played at a distance and against multiple enemies.  Each character, due to the good story and diverse skill set, plays somewhat uniquely and as you would expect from Star Wars canon.  Sith Sorcerers shoot lightning, Troopers use big guns, Smugglers dual wield blasters.  Each advanced class (except 2) offer dual roles.  They all DPS but some can tank or heal.  This makes it a lot easier to play through the game without having to create a new character.  The single role characters are a thing of the past and I expect those 2 other classes to swap to something else in short order – especially the pure DPS melee one.

The planets and visuals are spot on.  You feel like you’re in a Star Wars setting.  Enemies are cool looking but there are about 10 types total through the game and 95% of your combat is against humans or droids.  That does dull it up somewhat.  Groups work well together and there are a lot of group quests.  You can also get into dungeons, of which there should be 15 at launch and all of them available again at 50 at an expert difficulty.  Some of the more basic group UI elements are missing though, such as Target of Target, Focus, Mouseover (for heals) and an Assist option.  This isn’t such an issue at first but on harder difficulty, where control is important, it begins to show.  Still no Looking for Group tool, which is a bummer.  All but 2 of the dungeons are accessible from the same location – away from the planets – making it for an odd choice to actually find a group to do them.  Your only option now is to sit in that zone, twiddle your thumbs and hopefully find a group.

Crafting, as the system currently stands, is for lack of a better term, broken.  Nearly nothing you create has any practical use since your quest rewards will always be better.  One particular skill, Slicing, it essentially an ATM skill providing money out of thin air.  All characters will be using this to supplement their income.  Speaking of which, money means next to nothing aside from paying for skill upgrades and a mount.  Unless you’re giving it away by the bucketfull, you’ll reach max level with close to a million credits and nothing to do with it.  I’m sure that will change with time.

Finally, the story.  A  lot has been said about this aspect and Bioware does it well – better than Dragon Age 2, that’s for sure.  Every mission has a voice over and some options, though some of those options aren’t clear cut.  Personal missions (for your class) provide a unique backdrop to your progress and make you develop an interest in what’s going on around you.  You can replay as a different class and see different class quests but the zone quests (per planet) will always remain the same.  And those account for 80% of all quests, so replayability is questionable unless you play the opposing faction.  Still, better than other games out there.

Overall, the game is simple and fun and will keep people playing to see through the entire story at least once, so perhaps 2 months total of play.  There are some serious questions about advanced systems and mechanics but those don’t begin to apply until you’re at level 50 and there has been a total of 1 week of testing at that level – lots of missing details.  Since this is the first MMO for Bioware, and the experience thusfar as been mixed, I won’t hold my breath that launch + 2 months will be smooth.  I do expect the game to be a flash in the pan with spiked sales and under 1 million subs for the long run.  Still, if you can play with some friends, it’s not a bad way to spend 2 months.