Good info and entertaining to boot!
SWTOR Beta Review #3 – Written by -X-
So, I write this review because I’ve spent dozens of hours lost in TOR, and feel confident enough in reviewing it with the amount I’ve played (past level 25, let’s say). However, this will be a PvE based review because I don’t want to praise or rag on PvP until I’ve experienced all facets of it, from the random open-world PvP, to the Warzones, to the big bang on Ilum. So, until then, this is for those of you who could give a rat’s ass about PvP, or are interested in both aspects of the game, and want to know about how the PvE plays out, and about the game’s general mechanics, ambience, etc. To give some background, I played World of Warcraft for several years, and raided quite consistently. I played Guild Wars and got really into that, playing it on and off for several years as well. Aion was a disappointment, but I played and hit level cap for a few months. Lastly, there was the ever wonderful Rift, which I played for about two weeks before throwing the CD out my window as I shamefully realized I blew $50 on that sack of shit.
Now, as a disclaimer, I will say that I am not level capped and this is the only one of a handful of characters that is high enough for me to give you a good enough review. I am a Sith Warrior, so this is a melee perspective review, and I am also a tank, so for those of you tired of the level 7 Jedi Knight reviews where Tython is the best planet ever, and the same screenshots of Satele Shan and the freaking Tython mountains over and over, then congratulations: I decided to include 3 shots of Alderaan this time around. I may send more depending on whether or not I feel like risking my account some more, but that’s for time to tell. So, with that said, I will begin my review by seperating each stage of the game into distinct categories, and rating them on a 1-10 scale. Please keep in mind, I have been looking forward to this game for 3 years, so it’s not like I’ll tell you Revan was a female Togruta set in Darth Vader’s time period or any inane horse shit like that; I’ll try and keep my information as accurate as possible, and I will be as honest as possible about the PvE, as well as being as candid as I can about the game’s mechanics, whether that’s music, the graphics, or the controls. Also, this review will be long and descriptive. If you’re hoping to squeeze this sucker in in about 4 minutes, then I suggest you wait to read this wall of text until you have a bit more time. I will also curse quite a bit, because it helps exacerbate my points, and allows me to (believe it or not) express things with a more personal, inflective approach to my review.
So, without further ado, let us begin with two of the most heavily criticized aspects of this game, the first of which is:
THE GRAPHICS: (Because the game looks 7 years old, right? – Environments: 10/10, Characters and NPC’s: 7.5-8/10)
So, I play the game on maximum settings. There’s no Anti-Aliasing implemented in my build, so I have to cope with that. I haven’t bothered fiddling with the NVidia panel because, quite frankly, I could give a shit about having some mediocre AA implemeneted; I’ll wait for it to be officially brought in. Also, there’s no Antisotropic Filtering or anything of the sort. Basic things for the most part. So, based on what I’ve played, I feel obliged to address a certain part of the community: for those of you who call these graphics 10 year old pieces of shit, you literally deserve to be drawn and quartered. The inane logic people use when measuring this game’s aesthetic and graphical capabilities when compared to something like Aion or Age of Conan is beyond me, and leaves me wanting to murder a large part of the internet at large. Let me be completely blunt here: when compared to World of Warcraft, Aion, Age of Conan, and Rift, this game takes a shit on their mothers and spits on their little brothers (in order of: Age of Conan, World of Warcraft, Aion, and Rift). The environments are absoloutley PHENOMENAL. Should Betacake manage to have my Alderaan screenshots posted, you’ll see screenshots I took with NO doctoring or modifying whatsoever – those are in game, UI removed shots of the game at large; while some opinion comes into play when determining a game’s aesthetic value, to say that the game looks like it’s a freaking PS2 game deserves a firm backhand across the face. The game’s environments are top notch, and make games like Aion, which was LAUDED for its graphics, look like shit. Yes, Aion, in my opinion looks like SHIT in comparison. I don’t care how pretty you thought Verteron or Poeta were, or if you thought Eltnen was the best looking thing since sliced bread, SWTOR makes that game’s world look like absolute garbage in comparison.
As for the characters, I’ll say this much: they’re not great, but they’re good. Certain faces are a tad underwhelmingly designed, but things like the eye detail and the facial expressions really make the characters feel alive. It all depends on how you make your character’s complexion, hair, and face look, in combination with his skin color, hair color, scars, etc. My character looked plasticy because of the choices I made while designing him. After returning to the character creator to recreate him into how I feel I’ll make him look at launch, shifting the sliders a few notches ended up with roughly the same looking character, but a much more human, fleshed-out looking character. It’s all based on perspective and how you choose to make them; sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re bad. In terms of male and female models, I’ll say that I’ve had no qualms with how they look. The last reviewer said the women look like men in drag; a bit of hyperbole, perhaps, given that you can make some pretty homoerotic looking males if you’re so inclined. I’ve seen plenty of femenine looking player characters and NPC’s, just like I’ve seen my share of Susan Boyles and Sloths, from the Goonies.
Overall, the game is impressive looking, and is ESPECIALLY nice to look at when played on a high enough resolution. Indeed, this is one of the strongest points of the game, and those who say it looks like shit (not that they don’t like the aesthetic decisions they made or something like that – the ones who say it looks like SHIT) either haven’t played it or are some vehement fanboy for another game. It is literally the embodiment of concept art in a game’s graphical style; it looks painted and hand-brushed – in summation, it’s beautiful.
THE COMBAT: (Pushin’ buttons never felt so good – Melee: 8-9.5/10)
I know, I know. You saw the 8-9.5 and are screaming biased and fanboy at the top of your lungs. Now, since a good 95% of you haven’t played shit, and those of you that claim you do are lying, let me be blunt here: this is about as good as hotkey MMO’s are going to get. The game runs on a 1.5 second GCD in order to make you watch the animations. “Bullshit,” I said, “that’s a long cooldown and nobody really cares about the animations after the 400th time.” At least, that was my mentality going into the game. So, alas, I found myself logging in for the very first time, and decided to play a Jedi. I went in there after watching the keyboard turning baddies online standing still for 3 seconds using no attacks and expecting the game’s story to have to be the crutch that the combat leaned on.
Then my balls exploded…
…Well, they exploded at level 2.
You see, the first level starts you off with your basic strike, and your resource dump as a Jedi Knight. You use your basic attack, build up enough of your resource, and then get rid of it with your “power attack”. This lasts all of about 10 minutes. So, I leveled up and realized I could train in new abilities. Off I scampered to the trainer and picked up Force Charge, or whatever it’s called on the Jedi Knight, and promptly set it up on my skillbar. “Big deal,” thought I, “WoW and Rift: Wrath of the WoW Clone both had charges at early levels. This isn’t gonna make anything more exciting.” So, I pressed the button I had Force Charge bound to once I had approached a group of Flesh Raiders…
…and then my balls exploded.
One of the complaints I see are that the animations are stiff, unappealing, and down right horrible. To this, I say: Bioware, your marketing department sucks at making your game look good. Indeed, the game’s official trailers and videos make it look like you’re fighting with rigor mortis or with a colossal stick lodged up your rectal cavity. However, in game, the combat is fast, fluid, and down right beautiful to watch. 25+ levels into the game on my Sith Warrior, I STILL love charging into a group of four as he jauntily flips with a heavy feel to it, crashing down into that group and unleashing hell. Interestinly enough, the Jedi’s combat felt far more liquified and agile, whereas the Sith Warrior’s felt more powerful and brutal. It’s aesthetic, for sure, as they both serve the same purpose, but even that small contrast between something as simple as the animations between the two is enough to tell and feel the difference.
And as you level, the abilities get better and better. At level 6, as I recall, you get an ability that allows you to jump up and crash down, unleashing a telekenetic wave that sends your enemies flying back in an audacious display of visceral glory. The Sith Warrior calls this ability Smash, and crashes down with a heavy wave of energy and lightning that stuns your enemies right where they stand. 6 levels in and I did shit that World of Warcraft made me believe was impossible in a hotkey game. Indeed, you’re not DOING much more than you would in WoW, but the animations really balance out the fact that it’s a hotkey MMO. The combat is damn good, it’s fast, and satisfying (as a Sith Warrior, anyways).
One ability, Force Roar, has your character hunch his spine over in a foreboding pose as he unleashes a harsh growl, which sounds like a mix of a lion and a wind-storm, which kills your enemies. “What, you yell at them and they die?” you ask. Yes. That’s exactly what happens. And, much as the plot-twist to KOTOR sucks ass if you read about it out of context, so too does this ability seem like garbage unless you watch it in action.
Suffice it to say, the melee combat is phenomenal. However, I won’t rate the ranged fighting because, quite frankly, I haven’t bothered testing that for more than a few levels, and it’d be quite lame of me to tell you all, “HURRR, RAENGD SUCKS,” (I’M NOT SAYING IT DOES, BEFORE ONE OF YOU GENIUS READERS TAKES THIS OUT OF CONTEXT – IT’S MERELY AN EXAMPLE OF WHAT I COULD DO) when I only played through 4 levels of content. So, is the combat good? Yes. Is it great? I sure as hell think so. I honestly think it’s the best hotkey combat I’ve ever played. It does sometimes slow down (especially in the longer boss fights), but I have yet to get bored of it, and I’ve easily put in 100+ hours at this point. However, you say, there are other games that rival SWTOR in combat! Why, Tera and Guild Wars 2 are PRIME examples!
To that note, I will explain something: I haven’t had the privilege of playing Tera, so I won’t comment on it. However, I will comment on how Guild Wars 2 plays in comparison, as I HAVE played it at Gamescom before, and will tell you this: they both play similarly. The difference being, Guild Wars 2 emphasizes you using the abilities whenever the hell you want. In other words, I could run down a street and be using by attacks and such, but unless I’m near the other player or near an enemy, it’s not gonna matter; in other words, it’s emphasis is less on dice rolls and more on hitbox contact. In comparison, TOR is the traditional “secret dice-roll when you press 1″ style of combat. Nothing wrong with either of them, and I don’t prefer one over the other, it’s simply a matter of playstyle. TOR feels visceral through its animations and sound. Guild Wars 2 felt good because you felt like YOU were the one hitting the enemies, not a man playing craps in the sky. That said, they’re hardly different, and this phenomenon with dodge rolling and hitboxes is overrated in my opinion; suffice it to say, TOR’s combat didn’t disappoint AT ALL, and I still get chills watching some of my abilities play out.
Now, there’s also no auto attack. Honestly? After 5 minutes playing the game, you won’t notice it’s gone. I really don’t notice a big difference, except you feel a bit more involved than usual, but it’s not revolutionary by any standards. I’m not going to laude no auto attack as the second coming of Christ; the only complaint I have is it’s virtually impossible to chat in combat – you stop attacking until you close the chat window, click your skill (lololololol), send your message and then return to combat, or use voodoo magic.
Cry Bioware fanboy or Guild Wars 2 hater all you want, that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. Will some people disagree? Sure. Some people hate hotkey MMO’s. I played WoW for like ~5 years. I didn’t get bored of it. I love TOR’s combat. Maybe you hate hotkey combat and despise all facets of it; even then I think this game will at least make it tolerable for you – no less tolerable than Guild Wars 2 or, from what I’ve seen of Tera (albeit, at this point, this is just conjecture) will make it for you.
QUESTING: (Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi; you’re my only hope! – 10/10)
Now, see, some people say V/O in TOR is overrated and gimmicky.
Some people deserve to be shot in the temple. Those people come to mind.
TOR does to questing what Avatar did to cinematography. Now, before some degenerate cock goes “HURRR, AVATAR STORY SUCKED POCAHAUNTUS DERP DERP *Mouthbreathing*,” I’m not comparing the STORY between the two. I’m saying, notice something: before Avatar released? 3D movies were a gimmick and a piece of shit. Spy Kids 3-D was like the only movie outside of those weather documentaries in imax theaters that had 3D. Post Avatar? Every movie, from freaking Green Lantern to Harold & Kumar have 3D. In other words: TOR, if it is successful enough, will have a bunch of unoriginal cocks copying the full V/O. Indeed, the way Avatar was shot, from a technical standpoint, is impeccable (James Cameron’s attempt at writing a script for years ending up being a freaking Disney movie aside). The same could be said about how TOR presents quests: it is impeccably done, and, like those BETA testers and convention atendees used to say as I enviously awaited my chance to play: once you’ve played TOR with it’s full V/O, it’s hard, if not impossible, to go back to any other game (I tried going back to WoW. I flew around Stormwind for 10 minutes, had ZA queue, killed Akil’zon, and then logged out and cancelled my subscription).
However, to say the game JUST has V/O is garbage. It has cinematic V/O. This means it isn’t just one NPC speaking at your character in a tremendously bad accent (AGE OF CONAN!!!), or two still cutouts of the NPC and your character on screen as subtitles flash up on top (Tsk, tsk, Guild Wars 2); this is top-notch, heavy duty shit. I mean, I’m talkin’ killing people’s families so you can draw them out of a hiding with a double force choke, or stabbing a failed Sith Lord through the skull with your lightsaber. And the choices you get to make? Some of them are so satisfying, I will literally cancel the conversation just so I can watch it again. It’s that good.
I read a few months ago one review saying (on this site) that MOST of the V/O was alien dialogue, because Bioware was a bunch of pussies and didn’t want to put effort into REAL people speaking in English, German, or French. Now, see, that guy’s a freaking idiot. Why? I’d say 80% (if not more) of the dialogue is spoken by humans – very RARELY is the dialogue spoken in an alien dialect; even then, most of them end up being minor characters, so you don’t have to hear them for more than those few minutes when you pick up the quest. And I mean, I’m well past level 25 at this point. I’ve gone through like 6 and a half planets. That’s at least 100+ quests and thousands upon THOUSANDS of spoke words of dialogue. Additionally, this game’s not pussyfooting around when it comes to the quality of the V/O: you’re not going to end up with some mellodramatic Sargeant talking like he’s constipated before boarding the ship that eventually takes you to Vashj’ir (World of Warcraft on the Alliance side), and you won’t have some uninteresting archetypical general guy saying you were chosen, “NOT FOR YOUR VIRTUE…BUT FOR YOUR MIGHT!!!” at the start of the game (a la Rift), but will have quality dialogue spoken by quality actors. I can only recall ONE voice actress who I thought did a shitty job, and you only hear her speak for like 15 seconds in one minor quest.
But, V/O isn’t questing. Still, I felt obliged to tell you: V/O is freaking awesome. Now, the quests in this game are seperated into 3 categories:
1) Heroic Quests – 2-4 player quests that challenge you with multiple strong, elite, and boss mobs to take on as you approach your objective, whether it’s killing a high-ranking official, bombing the hell out of a comm-relay center, or deactivating force fields to allow strike teams to go in and kidnap a Prince. They’re fun to do, and I’ve done every single one on every planet at least once (Yes! They’re repeatable! An ingenius solution to making Heroic Quests impossible for 2 guys to want to do because one completed it yesterday: you can both do it the next day – You see Blizzard? THIS is how you solve the Elite Quest problem; make them REPEATABLE – Not my getting rid of EVERY SINGLE ONE UP UNTIL LEVEL 85). Getting a group is easy (/1 Tank LFG for _______). You’ll be in a party with someone, assuming it’s not like 5:30 in the morning, in about 5 minutes. That said, the only challenging one which really gave us a run for our money were the ones on Nar Shaddaa. The rest of them are easy enough with a decent healer and a good enough tank – Nar Shaddaa, on the other hand, rapes your mother. Still, fun quests overall, which give damn good rewards (prototype pieces or commendations, and a ton of credits and experience), and can be done the next day for the same rewards.
2) Standard Quests/World Quests – These vary anywhere from your “gather these artifacts” kind of quests, to “find this missing Sith Lord” kind of quests. Now, each planet after the starter worlds has a world arc story. This is the main story for the PLANET, but is shared by everybody. These are fun, and are often very indulging, whether you’re – MINOR SPOILERS MINOR SPOILERS MINOR SPOILERS MINOR SPOILERS – DO NOT READ IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO BE SPOILED – defeating a millenia-old Rakata imprisoned on Tatooine, or helping overthrow the resistance movement on Balmorra in order to solidify the Empire’s grip on the planet – SPOILERS ENDED SPOILERS ENDED SPOILERS ENDED. These quests typically end in a nice reward, a good story, and a ton of credits. Then there’s the rabble quests, which are essentially: kill these guys because of X, gather Y, or go investigate Z. Your typical MMO quests. However, this is typically balanced by the fact that the V/O does a good enough job of making you, for lack of a better phrase, actually give a rat’s ass about why Billy Maclure needs me to kill some damn boars (Do half of you even know who the hell he was in WoW)? Yes, they’re kill and collect quests. There’s no hiding that. You’re not going to LOVE them, and they won’t be a treasure trove of story, but they’re balanced by the world quests, heroic quests, and story quests, which are more than plentiful enough to make you accept that you’re going to kill these Jedi because they’re healing escaped Imperial prisoners out in the Sand Dunes of Tatooine, even if it’s just a kill because of X quest.
3) Class Quests – THESE are TOR. THESE are the big boys. These are the tough choice makers. This is where the conversation system REALLY kicks ass. I won’t go into depth, because Bioware’s marketed this well enough themselves, but let me just say: Holy Frigging Jesus Christ in Heaven Almighty. I love these. These are incredible. There are 8 classes worth of these. I love them.
Now, the last facet of questing in SWTOR is the conversation system, which, to my knowledge, has never been attempted in any other MMO for the entirety of the game. To that end, I love it. The choices they give you, whether you do it intentionally or not, eventually allow you to imprint what sort of Sith or Jedi or Smuggler or Trooper or whatever you want to be. Do you want to be a credits whore with a mean disposition and a lust for pretty women? Do you want to be a loyalist with a strict honor code but a malicious sense of conviction? The conversation system is fantastic, and really adds another dimension to the way you play out quests – especially in the World Arc and Class Story quests. Combine that with 1 to 3 other people, and you have yourself one hell of a good time. The first time I used it in a party, I was as jittery as a school girl: you’re praying you get to say that badass line, and you listen intently to what the Bounty Hunter in the group threatens to do. You moan in dismay when YOU didn’t shoot the captain, and jump for joy when YOU got to say the final words to that prick faced Imperial or Republic soldier. Overall, it’s a fantastic system which, compounded with the full V/O, makes for a questing experience that immerses you in the world quite unlike any other.
FLASHPOINTS: (It’s Party Time – 7.5/10)
Now, flashpoints are SWTOR’s instances, dungeons, or whatever else you want to call them. With 15 at launch, the game’s looking to have plenty for you to do with your buddies. However, there’s 2 classifications of flashpoint: Major story flashpoints, and Minor story flashpoints. In this perspective, things like The Esseles, White Nova, Black Talon, Taral V, and others are Major story flashpoints. They deal with major plot characters and devices that are centrifugal to the story at large. The Minor story flashpoints are more your traditional dungeons, with a lemon twist of dialogue and V/O to help streamline the experience. These are still fun, but they pale in comparison (presentation-wise) to the Major story flashpoints.
With that respect, I really like flashpoints, but there’s two things about them that made me give them the 7.5. The first is the fact that people have piece of shit computers, and piece of shit ISP’s. This is not Bioware’s problem, per se, but it affects the experience negatively. In a flashpoint, you can’t solo a conversation, nor would I want to. That defeats the entire purpose. However, it REALLY sucks having to wait like 20 seconds after the NPC finishes his introductory piece, and you finally get to choose what you want to say, only you can’t because John Doe has dial up running at 58 kb/second, so you’re stuck with the NPC staring at you blankly for half a minute while it “Waits on Party Members”. This blows. It also sucks when John Doe goes AFK mid conversation, or is one of those people who reads the dialogue options with such precise delicacy, that he ends up running out the timer on the conversation wheel before he finally says what he wants to say. This sounds pretentious, and I know some of you are like, “Oh, just let the guy play how he wants,” but it breaks the flow of the flashpoint, which is otherwise fantastic. When you have the dramatic choice of whether or not you want to kill or spare a man, it blows to have him stare blankly at you for half a minute because someone’s internet is a sloth or it’s one of the people who can’t decide how “evil” he wants to be when killing the NPC. See, this isn’t a direct problem of Bioware’s, but it’s a drawback to the dialogue wheel, and as it negatively impacted several of my flashpoint runs by really destroying all sense of urgency the dialogue was supposed to have, it made the experience less dramatic – not bad, they’re still fantastic; just less dramatic, urgent, etc. etc. It won’t happen to everyone, obviously. Your mileage may vary. Still, it happened enough that it became noticeable (and irritating) enough to mark off as a problem.
My second gripe with the flashpoints is that they’re largely irrelevant. What do I mean by this? I mean that I picked up the quests for 2 flashpoints after The Black Talon: Bring Down the Hammer and The Tomb Opens, which take you to two respective flashpoints: Hammer Station and The Tomb. The thing is, you don’t need to do these at all. You’re not really missing out on gear that’s VASTLY superior to questing gear (Hammer Station was bugged anyways – only the first boss dropped loot; that said, it was a freaking HARD flashpoint that almost wiped us even with a Bounty Hunter 7 levels above the recommended level), and since these are Minor flashpoints, you get some story, but for the most part it’s the more traditional type of “dungeon” runs. Hell, I’m well over the recommendation for running The Tomb and I still haven’t bothered running it – I plan to double man it with my companion eventually, but there’s no rush.
This isn’t a bad thing – indeed, I actually like it this way, as you can get somewhat better gear from flashpoints than you could from questing, but you don’t HAVE to (hell, Heroic Quests themselves could qualify as mini-flashpoints, given that some take upwards of 1 hour or longer to complete). It’s just, there’s no urgency to run them, so they feel largely irrelevant in the grand scheme of things (the Minor flashpoints anyways).
As an aside, as a general observation, I’ve noticed a trend that some people don’t notice or comment on: Major story flashpoints are easy. Black Talon is a faceroll. Why? Because it’s important, so Bioware WANTS you to beat it no problem. Minor story flashpoints? They’ll kick your ass. They’re tough, and they offer plenty of challenge. Why? Because they’re not PIVOTAL to the story, so they can make them a run for your money (as they often do) which I think is great – make the IMPORTANT content doable by everyone with a pulse, but make the other content challenging, so people who want to clear it will have to be decent (it’s not they’re missing out on a major plot point anyways).
Flashpoints are fun and rewarding but, like I said, the drawback of the conversation wheel and the fact that a majority of them feel largely irrelevant leads to them getting them a 7.5.
SPACE COMBAT: (Do a Barrel-Roll – 3/10)
I don’t care for full space flight. Honestly, I think implementing a full space game would have either delayed this game another year and a half, or would have robbed from the ground experience which, I don’t care how badly you want to sit on your ass and mine asteroids for cortosis deposits, is not worth the price. That said, I’ve no qualms with them implementing that as an expansion (yes, some of you vehement mouthbreathers forget JtLS was an expansion pack and did not ship with vanilla SWG – nor should TOR spend another 2 years developing because you like a 3D flight simulator in space). However, for now we have “Space Combat”. What is there to say about space combat? It’s mediocre? It’s unappealing? It’s a mini-game. It’s just a mini-game. So why the 3 if it’s so irrelevant? Because it’s like the Gummi Ship routes in Kingdom Hearts, only they’re not mandatory. It’s just not fun to do after the first 3 or 4 times you do it, and is boring.
Is it pretty? Yes, space combat actually looks gorgeous. And there’s all those sound effects, and the pew pewing of the lasers, and things appearing out of light speed mid flight and asteroids to dodge and such, but it’s really not all too fun in the grand scheme of things. The sound was glitched too, so youre sitting there, in silence, left clicking and right clicking 90% of the time, and using spacebar to DO A BARREL ROLL. And this is the general sentiment from just about everyone who plays it, save for the 2 extremists: the THIS IS GOING TO MAKE ME CANCEL MY PRE-ORDER!!!1!! crowd, and the THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER BIOWARE!!!1!!! crowd.
Really, I could care less if space is ever in this game, but this is something I’ll do at 50 when I decide to be a full completionist and am bored out of my tits. Leveling up, this feels like a pure waste of time that could be spent doing flashpoints or quests. While you can upgrade your ship’s weapons and stuff, it’s really a side-game, and feels completely arbitrary in the grand scheme of things. Some people will love it, and I went in there with an open mind. Once again, it’s no terribad – just mediocre. You don’t WANT to run it, it’s just THERE. If I had my choice, I would much rather they implement about 1000 more datacrons instead.
Which leads me to my next point…
DATACRONS: (The best things EVER – 10/10)
I freaking love datacrons.
The thing about datacrons is, you want to find them. They’re not even hard to find, really. It’s just getting to them that’s difficult…and absolutely fun. See, datacrons are hidden little cubes of goodness that give you one of two things: a boost to your stats, which starts off as low as +4 and ends up as high as +10, and Matrix Shards. I’ll go into more detail about those further along.
Suffice it to say, there was a huge outcry over the inclusion of datacrons because people thought min/maxers would FORCE you to farm them if you wanted to raid. Well, you people are whipped little girls if you let ANYONE force you into doing something in a freaking video game, but that’s besides the point: even if you’re one of those naysayer types who think datacrons are Satan, if you ever played Jak & Daxter, Mario, or any other platformer whatsoever, you’ll fall in love. See, datacrons aren’t as simple as Go off path + Up steep hill = Datacron. Some are much more visible…and much more difficult to find. Others are difficult to find but have easy solutions once you find them. Some are hidden like hell and, even when you find them, are hard to get to.
One such datacron saw me jump up a pair of crates on Nar Shaddaa, up to a second pair, across onto some steel scaffolding, across another beam on the scaffolding, up onto a catwalk, over to a stretched cavas roof where, after running up and across, I dropped onto another catwalk, which lead to an unmarked elevator. After taking the elevator, I had to jump on a pipe hugging the wall and had to run along the pipe. After that, I saw the datacron on the tip of another stretched piece of cavas which was high above several boss and elite mobs, where one slip would spell death and doom for me…and I’d have to do all this all over again.
That’s just one of the dozens of datacrons found throughout the game. While some people complain about the linearity of the planets up until Tatooine, datacrons, in my opinion, offer a non-sequitor type of exploration, where it’s not just, “Tralalala…I’m running through the forest. Ohhh! I found a cave! Oh, the cave’s empty, but it’s not on my map! Exploration!” Datacrons force you to think outside the box for some solutions, make you look where you otherwise wouldn’t, and force you to jump and maneuver yourself in a natural, but challenging, way in order to reach your wonderful datacron.
Now, the stat boosts in the current build don’t actually apply to your character. Can’t tell you the reason, I just know they don’t. That said, they won’t make or break any character. Besides, TOR is less about “I pull 32K DPS on Mandokir or Al’akir” and more about, “Hey guys, let’s work as a team to take on obstacle X,Y,Z.” At least, that’s my impression so far from the BETA. Still, there’s no reason to fear the datacrons – they’re there both for the fun of exploration, the reward of the find, to boost your character for being able to figure out the path (or for looking up a guide you lazy asshat), and you could even make a pretty penny charging people for a tour to the datacron. It’s all about entrepreneurship.
The second thing datacrons give are matrix shards. Matrix shards come in four colors: Red, Yellow, Green, and Blue. You combine three of these shards on Dromund Kaas or Coruscant. The order in which you use them, and the amount of a certain color you use, determines what sort of RELIC is made. Relics are 3 empty slots on your character that serve as giant stat sponges. You can handcraft relics to give you tailor-made stat boosts, whether it’s an Endurance relic, which primarily boosts your HP, while still giving you, say, Presence and Strength, or maybe an Aim relic, with minor stats in Cunning and Willpower. It’s all about the color combination and the amplifiers you use – just another way explorers are rewarded in TOR: with very potent stat boosters.
Once again, it’s not GAMEBREAKING stuff, but it’s worth doing. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and the pay off is tremendous.
And, once again, my compliments to Bioware for having platforming in an MMO. It really made me incredibly happy.
PLAYER SHIPS: (Cruisin’ in style – 4/10)
Ships are supposed to be player housing. Once again, I’m not big on sandbox things, so this is good enough for me. That said, there’s nothing SPECTACULAR about your ship. Bioware claimed it’d be used to craft. Alas, I was crafting with Vette long before I had a ship, so that’s been changed (for the better, I wager). They also said it could be a cool hangout for your friends. Yes, I love hanging out in cramped boxes.
Look, the ships are nothing special. You talk to your companions there, you choose what planet you want to fly to, you pick up Space Combat missions from there, and my Master contacts me through a Holocommunicator on my ship. Otherwise, it’s just a means of getting from planet to planet with its own bank space on it.
Do they look nice? Sure. Could you potentially RP in them? Yeah, that’s possible. Is it a big deal? No. They’re just your 80 ton beasts of burden, and nothing more, nothing less. There’s no customization, no interior decorating – nada. You get your pre-furbished space horse and fly amongst the stars. Take it for what it is: a ship. Not a Barbie Doll House.
CRAFTING: (Because Darth Vader didn’t watch progress bars – 6.5-9/10)
You may be wondering why there’s such a big gap between the two potential scores. To this I say: I try to address everyone’s concerns in a review while still making sure I give the game my score. With that said, I give the crafting a 9. For the sandbox crafting people, it’ll probably be a 6.5 (if they can stop telling you Pre-CU was the best thing since sex). Let me explain:
You get three crew skills to choose from: a gathering skill, a crafting skill, and a mission skill. For example, you can get Archaeology, Artifice, and Underworld Trading in order to craft modifications for gear, lightsber crystals, boots and bracers for Force users (of all armor classes – from Light to Heavy), and can even craft shields (Not real shields, you dunces – energy shields; y’know, like KOTOR had? That nobody bitched about?) and focii (Off-hand DPS boosters or defensive items; not necessarily shields).
Your character, personally, can gather. You’re not above getting down and dirty lootin’ crystal formations or artifacts or computers or animal corpses or whatever the hell you want. That said, only your companions can be sent to craft an item (which, as they go up in rarity and level, go up in the amount of time it takes to craft them – you’ll start at 1 minute and end up at 20+ minutes later on), and only your companion can be sent on a mission skill, which will reward you with things like companion gifts (to boost their affection), rare materials (like metals, silks, poisons, etc.). The system is streamlined so you can spend all your time doing whatever else it is you want to do, instead of having to run back and forth between an Auction House and an anvil for the next 20 minutes to make Thorium Widgets, only to end up 1 point away from that new recipee that has materials that aren’t a bitch to find.
This system, in my opinion, is incredibly streamlined and enjoyable. In the middle of quests, fights, or travel, I can send my companions off to get me some of this or that (for a nominal fee), and can then use the materials I’ve gathered or had them retrieve for me in order to craft an item for free (the only thing it costs you to CRAFT an item is time; mission skills and gathering missions cost credits AND time, but return with materials). The ability to send your companions off to get materials that you just don’t feel like going to another planet to get is also genius. If you manage to keep your crafting skills relatively in line with one another, it’s incredibly easy to level up consistently, without breaking the bank in the process.
Leveling it up is also very easy. You’ll earn 2 points for every orange recipee crafted, 1-2 points (depending on how recently it turned yellow) for yellow recipees, 1 point to a fraction of a point for green recipees, and 0 points for grey recipees. Not very hard to get the handle of brochacho. However, most people seem to hit a roadblock in the early to mid 100′s because the game requires (for every crafting profession as far as I’ve heard) a rare material from your mission skill (the one that comes to mind is Desh, which everyone complained about not having on Balmorra). The thing is, this isn’t so much a problem with the crafting as it is with the mission skills. It takes 10 minutes for one mission skill to complete on average. 10 minutes for 2 points in that mission skill. It sucks to wait 10 minutes just for half of what you might need, so I hope the mission skills get a boost to the materials they bring you; the pace at which it levels is fine. It just blows to have to wait for 10 minutes to get 1/4th of what you need.
However, there is a large drawback to the crafting: you can screw yourself over. Let’s say you spent a ton of credits sending your companions out on gathering missions, where they keep getting you +2 to Archaeology. Well, suddenly your Archaeology is 200, while your Artifice is 124. The problem is, now your Archaeology mission list will only have materials for level ~200 Artifice items, not level 124 items. You can potentially screw yourself over by over leveling your gathering skill, forcing you to farm the planets with those items on foot. Given that you can only choose from a list that scales in the Grade of materials with you as a level (Ex. The list will say: Grade 3 Power Crystals, Grade 3 Color Crystals, Grade 2 Artifact Fragments, etc.), there’s no way at the moment of saying, “Hey, list, how about giving me missions for level 100/Grade X materials?” I hope that’s implemented as, while I had the forethought to see that coming, many haven’t, and while it’s not a gamebreaker, it wouldn’t kill anyone to be able to choose what grade of item you want, even if by that point you’ll get no points.
Another facet of crafting is that things proc. You can reverse engineer almost every piece of armor or weapon you make to get back some of the materials (great for when you have a ton of mats for leveling, but none of the stuff you’re making is useful for you). Sometimes, reverse engineering results in your proccing a new recipee which is an advanced version of the reverse engineered recipe. Assume you make Bracers of Power, which have +5 Endurance and +5 Strength. You reverse engineer them and BAM, now you have Mighty Bracers of Power, which give +10 Endurance and +12 strength, and instead of being green, are blue instead. This rarely happens (I once reverse engineered 7+ pairs of blue boots and didn’t get a purple recipee), but when it does, it feels great, as the new item is vastly superior, and can last you for several levels. The system is exquisite, letting you receive potentially hundreds of additional procc’d recipees. However, I don’t know if you can have a proc on a proc. In other words, I don’t know if you can reverse engineer those Mighty Bracers, which are blue, and now end up with a purple pair of Supreme Bracers of Power with +15 Endurance and +25 Strength. It hasn’t happened to me, but I’m not ruling out the possibility.
Nextly, sometimes your companions craft something with “great success”. This means they’ll make something with a modification slot (typically a modulator slot), which allows you to add an extra doohickey that can boost your stats even more, allowing you to make a superior piece of what is otherwise the same armor.
Two things I was incredibly fond of when it came to TOR’s crafting were: A) The fact that the gear you make is USEFUL and can last for several levels, and often sells in the GTN for a nice chunk of change, and that B) You never feel like you’re wasting your time crafting an item, or grinding out levels on crafting; if you use all three crew skills appropriately, you can quest efficiently, have your companions stockpile materials, and have things made for you all while leveling at a steady pace. It is an incredibly potent system that is VASTLY superior to World of Warcraft’s or Rift’s crafting. However, if you’re looking for something akin to SWG, I hate to tell you you’re not in luck, my friend. That’s Sandbox territory; that said, for a themepark MMO, SWTOR’s is the best crafting I’ve ever seen. I’ve read about Guild Wars 2′s crafting, and am interested in it (albeit it sounds like it’ll be moot once an online guide comes out with all the ingredient combos), so SWTOR may very well lose that distinction once GW2 comes out. Still, as of today, I will say SWTOR has some damn good themepark crafting – the best I’ve seen to date. Take that for what you will.
Now, how about we take a look at modifications?
MODIFICATIONS: (Appearance tabs are so 2005 – 10/10)
The heavily modified modification system has been the subject of debate lately. I’ll start off by saying: the only modification system I’ve had the chance to play around with is this current build’s, so I can’t tell you how much better or worse it was before this incredibly bare-bones version of the modification system was implemented. “Wait a minute, he said it’s a bare-bones version; that has a negative connotation! Why is he giving it a 10?” you might wonder to yourself. Well, fear no more, as I will tell you why it is I gave this modification system a perfect score despite the criticism:
Modifying armor makes gemming, enchanting, etc. look like a pair of pussies in comparison.
I like to think of the current form of modification as a “Build-An-Armor” sort’ve deal. You’re given 3 slots on most pieces of ORANGE equipment (which is currently the only heavily modifiable equipment type in the game), which consist of Materials, Modifications, and Enhancements (and, occasionally, your companion will craft something EXCEPTIONALLY well and give you a piece of armor with a Modulator slot – but that’s for later). Each of these has stat boosts which you can socket into one of the 3 slots on the armor. Materials are the most potent of the 3, giving you the largest stat boosts – they’re also incredibly expensive or rare. Not OVERLY rare – you’ll find a few purples on the GTN here and there – but for the most part, if you find a REALLY good purple quality material, you’re going to drop a good chunk of credits on it. The other two give stat boosts as well, with Enhancements giving you secondary stats in addition to the primary stat boosts in later levels (Surge – Crit Damage % Boost; Alacrity – Haste; Power – Base Damage % Boost, etc.).
The summation of all this is, when implemented into a piece of ORANGE quality armor (which, if it’s a chestpiece let’s say, comes with all 3 pieces), a piece of armor that YOU put the stats into. This allows you to keep one piece of armor or a weapon for multiple levels (you can – and should – keep your first lightsaber, as it is an orange quality lightsaber with 3 mod slots; it can last you well into 50 if you mod it appropriately), focusing less on the gear grind at this point, and more on just finding a nice set of oranges that work for you so you can have your character look badass the entire way through without be gimped on his performance.
There really are no drawbacks to the modification system, save for the fact that it’s tied, at the moment, to orange quality items, and these can be rare to find. That said, almost all Social Items (like the Leia bikini outfit or the Dark Honor Guard outfit) can be purchased if you have the appropriate Social Rank (so team up, soloers, or be left in the dust), and, if modded appropriately, are overpowered as hell. I mean, these things are essentially Omega Armor.
That said, this build is NOT the final one being implemented. I have it on good authority that this was simply a test to see what would happen if they went to one EXTREME end of the spectrum (AKA: Only ONE type of moddable armor in the entire game), so if you don’t like what you’ve read, then don’t worry: it won’t be like this at launch. Even then, the system is so potent and so absolutely powerful that it can only get better from this otherwise bare-bones version. Screw appearance tabs at this point: TOR does it the right way – letting you MOD shit that looks good, not just wearing it over your real outfit like a Halloween costume.
Really, the modification system being revamped (given how much I like it, albeit I haven’t seen any other iterations of it – I may have hated this version if I played earlier on in the BETA), was music to my ears! And, while we’re on the subject…
MUSIC: (Quality: 10/10, Presentation: 5/10)
So, before you furiously type away about how stupid I am for giving the music a 5, notice there’s also a 10 in that score as well. See, when reviewing the music, I decided I’d have to give it two scores, because on the one hand, it’s phenomenal, but on the other hand, it’s very finnicky. What do I mean? Let’s explain.
Quality wise, the music is incredible. The pieces you hear have hints of Star Wars in them everywhere; whether from the old KOTOR games or the movies themselves, you’ll hear Star Wars just about every second you have the music blasting. Additionally, the music is absoloutley tied to the locale. For instance, if you watch the musical commentary video by Bioware, you’ll have a scene where Will Roget II is talking about how “…everyone knows what the beginning of Tatooine sounded like,” and such. You’ll then hear the music in the background: a soft, melodic peace. That’s music on Alderaan, ladies and gentlemen.
I remember leavint Palace Thul and walking out into the open landscape in front of the palace, with the trees swaying (literally swaying) in the wind, when I first heard that song begin to play softly in the background. At that point, with that vista before my eyes – the misty mountains, the Killik nests in the background, with a large expanse of field before me – I felt a sudden shiver crawl up my spine. The music in this game is beautiful, intense, and definitely Star Wars. When you listen to it, you won’t go, “Oh man, that’s just noise.” If you have an ear for music, you’ll listen and, hopefully, appreciate the immense amount of work that obviously went into this game – from the battle cues to the background music. It’s like an auditory painting, and is absolutely breathtaking.
At least, it’s breathtaking when the music actually PLAYS.
See, it may just be the BETA, but for some inane reason, whenever I load up the game, the music will play for a few minutes. I’ll hear the music on the planet and it’s always great. Then, for some strange reason, ALL the world music just cuts out. Only big boss combat cues play on a semi-consistent basis (sometimes even they don’t play), and only the quest music plays consistently. This absolutely sucks, since the music compounds the beauty the game’s vistas present upon your eyes. And I’m not the only one who’s had this problem – others have commented in chat and on the forums about the music not playing. So, I give the presentation a 5 simply because, personally, I can’t enjoy it, and if this were happen to someone on launch day, it would deprive them of the full experience. Really, music plays a HUGE role in this game’s ambience.
So, in terms of quality, the game’s music is downright impeccable. The character selection screen plays the song with the strong chorus that you heard in last Friday’s Signs of War trailer (albeit it’s a different version – more ambient and string instrument dependent; the one in-game at the moment relies more on brass instruments to make the song really profound and effective), and it’s downright freaking awesome. The music is absolutely awe-inspiring…when it plays.
Were they to polish the music and fix whatever bug it may have when it comes to playing consistently, I’d give the music an 11/10 – it’s that incredible; and honestly, without letting you think it’s hyperbole, the music serves as an incredible companion to the general game – it’s absolutely PHENOMENAL.
Speaking of companions…
COMPANIONS: (Cyber sex just got more intense: 8/10)
Companions have been the subject of much debate on the forums for as long as they’ve been known to exist in TOR. They’ve gone from being pets, to murderable playthings, to profound plot elements, to full-blown secondary characters, and just about everything in between. So, what the hell are companions now and how effective are they?
Well, as a Sith Warrior, I’ll tell you this: companions have NEVER been a hindrance. They’ve NEVER been something I wish I didn’t have. They’ve NEVER made me hate questing. Quite the contrary, companions are, if used appropriately, a potent self-managing tool that can help you overcome obstacles that would otherwise be impossible to solo unless you outleveled that obstacle by quite a bit. The micro-managing involved in all this can vary from intensely selecting and manually activating primary skills on their skill bars in order for you to take on an obstacle with little no effort, or have them run on auto-pilot, with just about every possible combination in between.
Companions also serve as a strong story telling tool and, from the one’s I’ve gotten so far, they each have an archetypical personality that, dependent upon your choices, will negatively or positively effect your affection with them. For instance, Vette is a credits loving good girl who likes her master with a sense on independence. If you’re a conformist or an ass-kisser, you’ll lose points with her. If you’re an absolute prick when it comes to slaves, she’ll hate you forever. If you murder without reason, or kill defenseless innocents, you and her REALLY won’t get along. Still, Mission Vao’s thrice removed cousin in a galaxy far far away (they’re not actually related) is a fun companion to have, but is a stark character for many people. Personally, I like Vette, both for her utility/damage capabilities, and as a companion. Some people hate her and hope she dies. It happens.
Then you get people like Malavai Quinn, who, after a series of events on Balmorra, is unlocked as the 3rd Sith Warrior companion (in case you didn’t know, your ship comes with a piece of shit healer droid that is TECHNICALLY your 2nd companion – I’ve relegated him to the duty of crafting bitch). Quinn is pretty much the exact OPPOSITE of Vette. He is a loyal Imperial soldier, who hopes to see in his Lord a respect an adherence to the Imperial way of life: loyalty, honor, and conviction in order to further the goals of the Empire. He loves all sorts of Imperial propaganda, and is much akin to a brainwashed INGSOC member from 1984; he just can’t get enough Empire. However, if you’re a left-wing, free spirited Sith Lord who loves to frollick with children and pet kittens in your spare time, you and Quinn ain’t gonna get along.
Mind you, it’s still entirely possible to be a good guy Sith and have Quinn love you, or be a bad guy Sith and have Vette all over your genitals. You’ll just have to work harder to achieve this, or you’ll have to dispose of numerous credits in order to keep your affection. Even then, it’s still entirely possible to play however the hell you want, not spend a dime on gifts, and still have a high affection with your companions. I’m at a very high affection rating with Vette, and I’ve spent next to nothing on gifts; you just have to play your cards right. For instance, I’ll play the part of a Sith Lord who’s not above EXTORTION, but doesn’t like being bought out for his silence or reluctance to act. In other words, I’ll blackmail you for cash, but you can’t pay me off like some little bitch. I’ll also murder entire families, such as I’ve done so far twice in the Sith Warrior story.
Lastly, the companion’s role in crafting, my design, is pivotal. Even then, the alternative (the WoW way) is like choosing between a cake or a bowl of rust. They make your life just so much easier with everything they do, and there’s virtually no intense micro-managing required. Obviously, they’re not perfect, but with someone like Quinn healing me while I tank away, you can be virtually unstoppable against a slew of enemies. It’s all about utilizing their utility; if done so with any sense of skill, you can pretty much leave them on auto-pilot and still get PLENTY out of your companions. They really aren’t pets. They don’t feel like this useless sack of shit that follows you around. They feel like companions; perhaps, fundamentally, they function like a pet, but it’s all about perception – and they give off the perception of a real person/alien, not some useless cat that dies on most pulls that you end up dismissing in raids and dungeons anyways unless you’re a baddy and go Beast Mastery…err…sorry I went off on a tangent. Where was I?
Ahh, right. Companions. They’re great. Not perfect, but damn good.
OVERALL: (Because in the end, all anybody gives a shit about is a number, not their own opinions. – 8-10/10)
So, in the end, The Old Republic is a fantastic game. I’m not gonna bullshit you here: it is a solid, fantastic entry into the Bioware line of games, and feels like Old School Bioware. The story is impeccable, the animations and graphics are fluid and beautiful respectively, the combat is fast-paced and satisfying, the crafting is remarkably complex, the mod syste, is spectacular, and the music is down-right beautiful. The game has it’s bugs and flaws, and while 2 months of polish may not iron out every single problem this game has (which aren’t exactly huge problems – mostly pathing and getting stuck are the big two at this point, albeit Force Charging into a sea of textureless air under the map as you plummet to your death sucks), I would buy the game as is and happily spend my $15 a month.
Personally, in it’s current state, I’d give it an 8.5, but it has all this potential that with just one patch could boost it up the last 1.5. Honestly, just a bit more polish and you’ll have what you’ve always wanted: Endless. Motherfreaking. KOTOR. + Friends. The formula is a success no matter how you look at it.
So the big question: WILL THIS GAME KILL WORLD OF WARCRAFT?
My answer is: piss off you unoriginal children and play the games you want to play, not what people say are the best. This game could, or it could not. Quite frankly, I don’t give a shit, and neither should you. You should play it for it’s merits as a game, not as a contender. If you don’t like it, then don’t play it. Nobody’s forcing you. Also, nobody said you had to have the #1 box sales to be the best game out there; God knows KOTOR hasn’t sold more copies than MW2, but we can pretty much assert which is a better freaking game.
So, I’ll keep my Collector’s Edition pre-order. Mr. XCore and his *** fuffery when it comes to PvP can go to hell. I’ll give you my sentiments on PvP at, potentially, a later date. If not, then at least you have a crap ton of every facet of TOR reviewed, and you know now that the PvE is incredible – the best leveling experience in a game I’ve EVER had. Period.
I’ll simply say one thing, though: Whether or not a game’s review is negative is irrelevant. XCore guy had his concerns, and wrote them as he thought best appropriate. Did he go about it in a lame manner? Yes. Does that invalidate his concerns? No. Don’t be blind to criticism, and don’t wildly accept praise as absolute fact. This game is great, but it’s not perfect, and don’t downplay one guy’s opinion, ESPECIALLY if all you have to go on is assumptions, hopes, and footage, and no actual game experience for longer than like a day. I love this game. You may not. Don’t be afraid to criticize it, just be even-handed with your observations and, when the day comes that you go on metacritic or Amazon or Gamestop, or wherever it is you type up your useless review, know that you should grade the game on it’s merits, not on it’s potential.
Potentially, SWTOR is a 10 – a realistic 10, not a “potentially” that could only be reached by another year or so in development. In 2 months of polish, it could potentially come out a 10.
As it stands, SWTOR is an 8.5. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Lastly, it does not play EXACTLY to a T like World of Warcraft. If someone writes that in the comments, that it plays EXACTLY like WoW (not similarly or something like that – if they say EXACTLY like WoW) call them a freaking idiot.
With much love,