Ye Olde Republica
After spending roughly 15-20 hours with the Star Wars beta this weekend, I am telling my financial advisers to upgrade The Old Republic from “junk status” to “maybe after the first few patches.” There have no doubt been hundreds of beta impressions out there, so allow me to skip the foreplay and write the impression that I wanted to read on Friday.
Actually, let’s have some foreplay first, so we all start on the same “lights on or off” page.
Preface: Lights On
I am not that much of a Star Wars “fan.” I very much enjoy the setting and general zeitgeist, but I feel its true conflict and drama potential is irreparably crippled by the inane, one-dimensional Good vs Evil aspects of the mythology. As someone commented in SWTOR General Chat on Saturday, “Jedi strive to be as Data in all things.” Perhaps the monastic order bit makes Jedi less of the Lawful Good cliche hero, but in many ways this is worse because they do not go far enough. Going all dojo as the only means of controlling an inherently corrupting Force… now that would interesting. What is orders of magnitude less interesting are do-gooders who strive to have no relationship with any they save, and otherwise go out of their way to be as forgettable as possible. Makes for some compelling stories, let me tell you. Oh wait, you probably already know since none of the movies involved Jedi actually behaving Jedi-ish.
The above is important to know precisely because, having played KOTOR previously, I believed the talent at Bioware was criminally underutilized in making yet another Star Wars game. I was more than fine with having “good or evil” consequences for certain dialog options, but when “good” is being defined so… brainlessly, it snaps my suspension of disbelief. And on this front, I want to report two things: A) the Light side is indeed being as inanely adjudicated as ever, and B) Bioware is doing the best they can anyway.
For example (I wouldn’t consider these spoilers, but whatever):
I numbered those pictures so I could provide additional context into how monstrously dumb they are, but you know what? They speak for themselves. Well, except for #5, which still boggles my mind. In what universe does it make sense for an Imperial Agent to get Light Side points for sleeping with a guy threatening to blow her cover? And to get Dark Side points for refusing?! Now, I did [Flirt] with the guy a few times, but does that somehow justify what would amount to rape in several States (since coercion was involved)? And keep in mind that this is the same game where Jedi kissing is the inevitable path to the Dark Side.
Clearly the Light Side is in favor of prostitution and no-strings-attached casual sex.
In which case… Light Side it is.
Jedi Knight, Level 7.
This is probably everyone’s default choice, so I figured it would be as good a place as any. I did not get a chance to play every class’s starting area, but out of the ones I did, this one was the absolute worst. I almost uninstalled by the time level 5 rolled around.
It has been said by others before, but you never quite realize how unbelievably polished and solid WoW’s combat system feels until you try other games. I played in both Warhammer Online’s and Aion’s beta, and all of them (SWTOR included) feel ever so slightly off. This game is a lot closer than the others however. Indeed, by the end of my total experience I could probably accept this sort of combat as a new Normal.
There is no auto-attack, and you don’t miss it. As a melee, the time inbetween the 1.5 second GCD is filled with parries and sparks and other exciting things. Some people have pooh-poohed the fact that you will be taking point-blank blaster fire and lightsaber hits until your HP reaches zero, as if 30 years of RPGs with exactly the same goddamn thing never happened. In fact, I remember whacking on a droid in KOTOR for 5 solid minutes, because my dual-bladed lightsaber had trouble with his 20/– DR.
Combat is exciting as a Jedi Knight, and in general, for several reasons. One, you get Force Leap early, which means you are constantly flying towards mobs ala warriors in WoW. Two, and in somewhat of an innovation on the MMO formula, mobs actually hang out in logical groups, typically in 3s and 4s. Since you get cool AoE moves early as well, my Jedi was flying into groups of Flesh Raiders, stunning the weak ones with a spin attack, using a reactive off-the-GCD move when I parried something, and then working a rotation otherwise. Not as solid as WoW, but close. Then again, Force Leap (aka Charge) does actually work off/up ledges, across obstacles, and otherwise doesn’t fail because a pebble or twig was in the way.
Storywise though, I am not a fan of the Jedi Knight. No hooks to keep me interested, no interesting choices; basically a snooze-fest.
Sith Inquisitor, level 11
Now here we go. Beginning area is basically cut & paste from the Korriban area of KOTOR, including plumbing the depths of the tombs. I wouldn’t be surprised if the layouts are the exact same. Story is a lot more interesting, good dialog choices, nice conflict options. The Inquisitor plays a lot like an old-school Shadow priest, what with the 10-yard channeled snare spell and such. It felt nice shooting Lightning, but I cannot help but wonder how fun it will be doing it ad infinitum. The last two levels before I got my tank companion were brutal though, like playing a mage without Frost Nova.
One thing I haven’t mentioned is that each class has a channeled ability to recharge health/mana (etc). Jedi Knight has Introspection or whatever, while the Inquisitor has Seethe. Seethe. You literally pace with your hands behind your back, back and forth, as darkness falls around you. Way better than pushing a stein with a bread roll stuff in the top through your face ala WoW.
Also, there was a section where I could use a knockback to knock mobs off the ledge and into the abyss. They died, and I got full XP.
Trooper, level 10
This was the class experience that immediately gripped me by the balls, and threatened to never let go. You barely have time for 2-3 dialog choices before your ship gets blown up, and you stumble out into a heavy fighting zone with blasters and explosions going off every which way. My two buttons at level 1 is a stream of blaster rifle fire (i.e. Strike in WoW) and a Concussive Grenade (i.e. lol level 1); both are instant-cast, and the latter knocks mobs every which way. I’m running around, helping people under fire, getting additional objectives in the field, and suddenly realize… I want this as a game. Not as an MMO, but as a game.
True, some of the Light/Dark side choices break the immersion (recovering stolen medicine for hurt soldiers = Dark, giving medicine to the thieves = Light), but there is a lot of drama potential here. Plot hooks are planted, primed, and fired. And as a Trooper, I feel a lot more freedom to make decisions the way I would want them to be made. Hey, the ends sometimes justify the means, know what I’m saying?
Also, I feel kinda bad for having the prior impression that the Trooper was going to be like those faceless Rebel mooks in the dumb helmets from the original trilogy. I sometimes wonder if Bioware spent a lot more developer resources making them extra badass to dispel that very notion. You’ve seen the cinematic, right? When a trooper tries to take out a Sith with a goddamn knife? That’s how badass playing a Trooper feels like.
Imperial Agent, level 5
Time was running out on the beta, so I didn’t get as far as I liked. Much like the Trooper experience though, the Imperial Agent felt like it was, is, and should be its own separate game. I basically randomized the character and name, but my lithe, biracial cyborg may almost be my favorite character. It is just too bad that I don’t think the Imperial Agent playstyle – cover mechanics are kinda lame when you get accidental aggro – is going to be my cup of tea. What little of the story I have seen, I like. A lot.
In any event, this is running long. Further musings will need to wait.