Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Star Wars: The Old Republic - First impressions

Although the beta weekend (Nov. 11th - 13th) seemed incredibly short due to a busy schedule I was still able to play every class on both factions and get a general grasp as to what to expect come launch in December. Here is a brief breakdown sharing my initial impressions on SWTOR. Alas, I realize this is breaking the NDA but SWTOR leak sites have existed for a few months so I do not feel that my silence is necessary. To add to that fact, my opinions are positive & this article will only go towards promoting the game in a positive light & therefore I feel just in my cause. Note: article contains spoilers.

 First off, even though anti-aliasing was disabled for this beta the graphics were still exceptional & they gave a relatively clear picture as to how they will look at launch once the edges are further smoothed with AA enabled. The only place the disabled AA was really noticeable was on the edges of shadows and on certain armor textures or NPC's.  Beyond that everything looked really great.  I believe that Bioware has really listened to the feedback from the community initially criticizing the stylized, child-like graphics that were shared in the initial development stages of SWTOR. Many (including myself) did not like the Clone Wars feel that the early graphics exhibited and it seems that although not fully realistic, they have changed drastically from the first images that I had seen.  There is certainly a larger sense of realism with the characters and NPC's than I had expected. The environments were lush & detailed, with great care taken in regards to plant-life and the overall settings.

The animations and particle effects were second to none. On all classes I really felt great control over my characters and everything seemed fluid. However, although a cool feature, it was quite awkward how your characters torso would rotate towards your target because in certain situations such as running away from your target your characters torso would rotate in an impossible fashion (envision turning a G.I. Joe action figures torso the opposite direction).  It just looked really odd and a bit too flexible in some situations.

As you can see though, I am knit-picking. There really wasn't much to complain about as overall I was blown away by everything that I witnessed.  Even the performance was really great on my rig (GTX 570, Quad-core PC with a measly 3gb of RAM).  I experienced no crashes and very little, if any lag at all. There was no rubber-banding or anything of the sorts for me.  Regarding my fps they fluctuated between 30-100 fps with the lowest I saw in an extremely populated area at a peak time dipping down to 15 fps. Overall the performance as a whole was really great. I intend boosting my RAM for launch as well so that may assist in tweaking it even a bit further during the most strenuous of times but that is yet to be seen.

As promised, SWTOR has a stronger focus on storyline than previous MMO's and it was evident from the beginning. SWTOR features the classic Bioware choice system allowing you to guide your characters future by choices you make.  I feel that they have executed this really well and I found myself actually reading and deciphering every word spoken to me because it wasn't simply a matter of just accepting quests and carrying out the tasks but rather it was fueled by important choices that directed my characters progression towards the Light Side or Dark Side. If you do not pay attention to what is said to you then you might make a wrong choice when selecting your response thus resulting in Dark or Light Side points.  From what I understand these points will be used for items that require certain levels of these points.  So if you want to be using a certain Light Side only device or weapon, etc. you will want to make Light Side choices as often as possible.  Sometimes this can be tricky but with a basic understanding of the Jedi or Sith code you should fair well in making the correct choices (they have since added which type of points you will be rewarded when making a choice).  Admittedly I was caught off-guard at times thinking that I was making a Light Side choice which would actually accrue Dark Side points. Upon reflection after the fact the distribution in these scenarios always made sense. After this happened a few times I began reading even more in-depth and really digesting what was presented to me to make the right choices to gain the points that my particular character was after.  My impression was that this meta-game is not only fun but an interesting change from previous MMO's.  This style of gameplay further engages players into their storylines and provides a bit of a challenge within even the simple task of accepting quests and making choices through dialogue.  I really think this system was implemented well and I commend Bioware for this innovative system.

 Coming into this beta I was certain that I had made my decision to roll with the Sith Empire at launch but mid-way through my opinions changed due to choices being made on the Dark Side.  I was playing on a Sith Warrior and I was attempting to be as sinister as possible to accrue Dark Side points.  As the story progressed I constantly found myself cringing at the decisions I was making to ensure that I could stay within character and rack up the Dark Side points.  This storyline will certainly not disappoint those that want to roleplay the epitome of evil. Of course one could also gain Light Side points even when on a Sith Empire character by not being as dirty as the character that I was playing, but my goal with this character was to truly embody the next "Darth Vader" and with that, choices had to be made as harshly as possible.  It was when I was faced with the choice of murdering a young child in front of his Father to turn the child to the Dark Side that I could no longer continue.  Of course I killed the Father and told the child that it was for his own good and I received a nice chunk of Dark Side points for this cruel act but it just didn't feel right. I felt dirty.  I felt evil.  I felt like Darth Vader.  This just goes to show that Bioware has really worked on these storylines.  To feel emotions from my actions in a video game is rare. Yet this situation really hit the mark.  At this time I decided that I could not carry on.  Even though I tried my hardest to deviate and be as evil as I could it just didn't sit right with me.  I knew right then that I would have to roll with the Republic faction aiming for the Light Side at launch.

The character creator was more expansive than I thought it would be. It gave the choice of multiple races, body types and various other features that I did not expect. Although it does not compete with the choices in a character creator like City of Heroes or Aion it still far exceeds most creators in other modern MMO's.  I felt there were enough choices to create quite a lot of variation in the community and I am glad that it does not allow such ridiculous creations as Aion's character creator. For all classes I was able to customize a character that suited my tastes and this is a good thing.  I was also surprised to see an option to create an overweight character.  I can't really think of any other character creators that allow this choice and surprisingly I saw quite a lot of "Fat Jedi's" due to this, which was quite amusing.

I could probably write forever about my experiences during this weekends beta test but I will sum it up by saying that the game was surprisingly good. Not only is the Star Wars universe something that already has a massive fan base but the story aspects of the game were executed extremely well.  I have still not participated in PvP and I have no clue what the endgame is like but I can say with certainty that regardless of those elements the solo, story-driven play itself will allow for countless hours of fun. If PvP and endgame is done as well then that is just icing on the cake.  If not, it should still be worth the price tag for the entertainment that it provides.

In closing, I have strong hopes for this game but I am still unsure whether or not it will be a massive success.  I think that will depend on PvP and endgame as well as performance on launch.  I eagerly await the release and I am thankful for the opportunity to have seen what is to come in December.  I will definitely be playing and hope that all other aspects of the game come out as nicely as what I experienced this weekend.

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