Initial Impressions of Star Wars: The Old Republic

Well, this past weekend was the stress test for Star Wars: The Old Republic. They let an apparent 1.5 to 2 million people download a near finished version of the game and play for free for the weekend. The purpose of the weekend is to test their servers, to see what issues they will have under the heavy loads they expect at launch. It also serves as a motivator to get people to buy the game after trying it and seeing that yes, they do want to play it. I am sure their pre-orders went up a lot as a result of the test since people who pre-order can get into the game up to 5 days early, though I think people ordering now are getting 4 days.

For those who don’t know, Star Wars: The Old Republic (ST:TOR or SWTOR), is a massively multiplayer online game, or MMO for short, taking place in the Star Wars universe and made by BioWare, who have made a number of great RPGs like the Star Wars:Knights of the Old Republic games, Dragon Age games and the Mass Effect games to name their most well known outings. In an MMO you create a character and explore and play in a universe online with thousands if not millions of people around the world. The most publicly well known MMO, at least in the US, is undoubtedly World of Warcaft (the game and first expansion available as World of Warcraft Battle Chest) a game I played for some time and I had the other expansions like World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King Expansion Pack and World of Warcraft: Cataclysm as well and played them a great deal. However, I probably won’t be playing their new expansion World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria because I am more or less done with WoW. It was a great deal of fun while it lasted, but I want to move on. I may drop in on occasion and play a sub-level 20 character since those are free, but for the most part I am done with WoW now. WoW has about 10.3 Million subscribers, spread across many servers.
The story of SW:TOR takes place 3,500 years before the events of the Star Wars movies, and about 300 years after the events of the Knights of the Old Republic games. The Jedi had abandoned Coruscant and relocated to Tython to seek guidance from the Force, which causes the Republic to fall into some disorder and raise some grudges. The Jedi are now starting to make returns to the Republic. Meanwhile the Sith have established a Sith Academy and trying to gain more power as usual.

At the start of the game you pick one of two factions, the Republic or the Empire, and you are locked in. No joining the Republic and then becoming a Dark Jedi and joining the Sith, or being among the Sith and joining the light side of the Force and becoming part of the Republic. You can gain light or dark side points as the game progresses depending on choices you make, but at present basically only effect what weapons you can use, and how your companions will react to you. I would guess that a future expansion will allow for more dramatic changes, and perhaps even side switching, though that may create complications.

You then go to the main character creation process. You pick from one of four classes which gain a specialization at level 10:

Republic

  • Smuggler: Gunslinger (ranged DPS) and Scoundrel (medium/short DPS, healing) – Human, Cyborg, Zabrak, Mirialan, Twilek
  • Trooper: Commando (ranged DPS, healing) and Vanguard (short DPS, tank) – Human, Cyborg, Zabrak, Mirialan
  • Jedi Knight: Guardian (melee DPS, tank) and Sentinel (melee DPS – dual wield) – Human, Miraluka, Twilek, Zabrak, Mirialan
  • Jedi Consular: Sage (ranged DPS, healing) and Shadow (melee DPS, tank) – Human, Miraluka, Twilek, Zabrak, Mirialan

Empire

  • Bounty Hunter: Powertech (short DPS, tank) and Mercenary (ranged DPS, healing) – Human, Chiss, Cyborg, Rattataki, Zabrak
  • Imperial Agent: Operative (medium/short DPS, healing) and Sniper (ranged DPS) – Human, Chiss, Cyborg, Rattataki, Zabrak
  • Sith Warrior: Juggernaut (melee DPS, tank) and Marauder (melee DPS – dual wield) – Human, Sith Pureblood, Cyborg, Zabrak
  • Sith Inquisitor: Sorcerer (ranged DPS, healing) and Assassin (melee DPS, tank) – Human, Sith Pureblood, Twilek, Rattataki, Zabrak

Each class then has several species to pick from. It total all the species are: Chiss, Cyborg, Human, Miraluka, Mirialan, Rattataki, Sith Pureblood, Twi’lek and Zabrak. Not all classes have access to all species and not all species can access all classes, the exceptions being Human and Zabrak. After picking class and race, you then pick gender and get to a character customization screen. Within the confines of an MMO you can’t have the degree of customization as you can in an RPG, but it is semi-robust enough to satisfy most. There are some races that are notably absent, like Rodian, and one would guess they will be added with an expansion at a later date. Other content we know they will add at a later date is same-sex relationships, but it isn’t clear if that is just a post-release content patch or will be included with an expansion, I would guess the former, but their wording wasn’t clear on that.

There are presently 4 starting zone, 2 for each side. I briefly played a Human male smuggler, but abandoned that character for a female Miraluka Jedi Knight Sentinel who I eventually got to level 12 before the test ended. I also had a male Zabrak Sith, but only played him to level 2 as I was focusing on my main character during the test. So in all I saw small bits of two starting areas, and the full starting area and a bit of the Republic Fleet and Coruscant for the Jedi.
Each class gains a companion eventually and as the game goes on you gain more. You use your companions to help you with quests, but also can send them do do the farming/crafting stuff that takes up time in other MMOs. Your professions in SW:TOR are called Crew Skills, and you are entitled to 3 at present (another thing to look forward to an expansion to add more Crew Skills both in the number you can have at a time and more profession/skills to pick from). You can have any 3 you want, but only 1 crafting skill at a time. I picked my Crew Skills, but didn’t have a chance to have my companion do anything with them, and I myself only found a couple items. Again, my focus was more on getting through content and testing things out, reporting as much as I could to the developers than how I would normally play. I personally love exploring, but didn’t do nearly as much of that as I will when the game comes out.

SW:TOR is one of the most expensive games ever produced, and that comes through with the quests and story line. Typical of BioWare games, the story is very deep and fleshed out. The voice acting is top notch on almost everything. Pretty much every quest given is voiced, not just a text box. I do wish on the quest tracker that they had the text of what they said just for review, and that is perhaps my only complaint about the quest system… well that and the icons over character’s heads tends to be a bit too small and you don’t always get one over their head upon completing a quest. The maps, both mini and world maps seem to be good and aid in quest tracking a good deal. On two occasions the mini map showed there was a quest to pick up when there was none in the area at all (upon further review though, I am fairly sure, at least in the second case, that was where a bonus mission was added to my que, but for some reason the icon stuck on the mini map).

While talking to the characters in the game you are typically given 2 or 3 responses to choose from. I was initially just pressing the corresponding numbers, but after making a choice that gave me dark side points, I noticed that hovering over them will tell you which leads to dark or light side points when it applies. Sometimes two choices might give points to one side, in which case I would guess one might give more points than the other, or they could be the same… I didn’t have time to test that out. The point tracker seemed to lag behind, which is perhaps a bug in the beta, or they just didn’t turn it on yet. Logging back in normally fixed it though.

Speaking of lag. For how heavy the servers were being hit, I had very little lag until late Monday, and I didn’t actually look at the lag counter to see if it was a lag issue or a frame rate issue in an area that may not have been optimized yet. Graphically the game is very good. Some of the graphical features such as AA were not turned on yet, so I am guessing it will look better upon release. My computer is only an i3 with a GTS 450 video card, which is a semi-low end card (it was closer to the low end of the mid range cards when I got it last tax return), but graphical detail was up fairly high and it was still very playable. However, Sara’s Toshiba laptop with an AMD Turion dual core processor and AMD graphics had to be turned way down to be playable. It still looked good, but wasn’t as nice as lots of shadow detail was missing, and the shadow detail seems to be what was really stressing systems based on General Chat, so perhaps they need to optimize their shadow code. Some upcoming MMOs like Guild Wars 2 might look a tad better, but it was still good. The graphical style isn’t for everyone, but I liked it a good deal. There doesn’t seem to be a day/night cycle, which is about the only turn off for me as I enjoy that in a game.

I didn’t do any Flashpoints or Dungeons in WoW speak. So I can’t comment on those.

And obviously I didn’t do any Operations, or Raids in WoW speak, so again no comment… heck I never did Raids in WoW…

I did do one Warzone, or Battleground in WoW speak, and that seems to have some balance issues. I was in it at level 12, and there were some level 22 characters in it. In WoW the level spread seems to be narrower, which makes things a bit more fair. However, this was only one test and will require more testing to make any conclusions about the system overall. I know it is more instance/mini-game based than in WoW, and I didn’t get to see that yet.

The UI was fairly good for a base UI. I still hope that they open their GUI API for some innovative Lua developers, but for a stock UI it was good. It might not work for a hardcore raider, but for most players it will function well.

They need additional channels for grouping and the like as they apparently don’t have a que system yet, as I said, I didn’t have a chance to see anything about the Flashpoints at all during my test.

I hope they add content patches and don’t just hold everything for expansions. One of the things WoW does right is content patches. And hopefully there will be some in game holidays, which was another one of the really fun parts of WoW.

I didn’t notice if there were achievements or not.

I didn’t have time to see how the game’s economy works, and I haven’t read up on that yet either. I know the Auction House is called the Global Trade Network, but I didn’t use it and beyond the name I don’t know much about how buying and selling will work on it and if you can sell items your crew crafted or not, or if those are just for you.

There were a few bugs here and there. After killing the boss after getting my light saber, my character was stuck cowering in fear and I couldn’t move, and it wasn’t a lingering effect or debuff, just bugged out. I fast traveled and she still was stuck cowering. I had to logout and back in to fix it. It dropped to the dekstop a few times and I had to Alt-Tab to get back to the game, but no other major game crashes (Skyrim has the same issue, so it may be something on my computer making the dekstop take system priority). A couple times I could see where some zones must have been mated together to make one big area, and there would be a green line going across the bottom of it, but it was a fairly minor graphical glitch. Overall, I don’t expect any major bugs in the final release as it was very stable for me.

All characters created during the test this weekend will be deleted, so sadly I won’t be able to play my character when the final comes out, though I can see the logic in that, it makes things a bit more fair. The pre-order people may have a few extra days, but imagine if those people also had their characters from the test… they would be near the cap in no time at all… I didn’t see what the level cap is yet, but I would guess 50 or so (I could Google it now, but I need to get ready for work, lol).

Overall I really enjoyed the game and look forward to the full release. I hope to pre-order the game as when you do you get a code that allows you to get on the game up to 5 days earlier than December 20th, which is the release date. I saw somebody say they got their email from BioWare saying they start on the 16th, so the codes may be down to 4 days now… then again, my email for the test said I would be on Saturday at 11am, but was able to get on Friday night, so perhaps they may let some of those people on the 15th after all. So great game and be sure to pick it up.

EDIT: A recent tweet noted that those who played this weekend won’t need to uninstall and reinstall, saving a huge download. They will patch this client to the final.

 Posted by: Stephen Reid
FAQ: if you played this weekend you do NOT need to uninstall the #SWTOR client. We are planning to patch it to Early Game Access / Live.

EDIT 2: Followups can be found in my SWTOR tag area.

EDIT 3: I have posted my Post Launch Thoughts on SWTOR to address the state of the game as of December 27, 2011.