Star Wars: The Old Republic — GameFront Impressions (Part I)
The biggest new mechanic in ToR is the full voice acting. During the beta, I found myself thinking that this would turn out to be a bit of a waste, as I just wanted to read the quests and move on. However, now that I’m playing launch and actually paying atention, I find myself interested in the story, as I mentioned above. Furthermore, I think the voice acting is actually enhancing the attachment to the story, as each character has a voice; a personality. They’re not just faceless NPCs anymore, and that’s a good thing.
One negative I should mention here. On visiting the Imperial Fleet Station for the first time, I found that I couldn’t just wander around and purchase things from vendors. Every gear vendor wanted a special sort of commendation badge, each of which is gained by completing quest on various planets. That’s all well and good, but the impression that gives is that to get all this nice gear they’re peddling, a lot of grinding is in order. This is just a first impression. Once I’ve spent a little time on each world and seen the rate of acquisition for these commendations, I’ll be sure to update this thought.
The tutorials are fairly comprehensive, and the Codex (which serves a a player’s journal) collects all the information you gather so you can access it again if needed. ALl in all, it’s an easy game to pick up if you’ve never played MMOs before, and for a player with experience in the genre, it will all feel very familiar.
That’s about what ToR is. It’s Star Wars in a MMO, but it feels very familiar. It’s not a carbon copy of other games, but they do share some DNA. That’s not a negative thing at all; in fact, if ToR wants to pull in and retain players from other games, making them feel at home is a good way to start.
Veteran MMO players will pick up TOR swiftly, and new players to the genre should have little trouble learning the ropes, as new mechanics are introduced sequentially, allowing players to learn one step at a time. BioWare’s signature conversation mechanic makes its way into the game, complete with Dark and Light Side options that will allow your character to progress down either side of the morality scale, unlocking access to certain items.
Before you hit level 10, you’ll pick up your first companion character, an NPC sidekick that complements your combat style and can run missions for you, such as gathering resources and crafting items. I love everything about companion characters — the fact that they have a personality, the boon of effectively having a party member while remaining an anti-social curmudgeon, and the free time saved by having a helper monkey carry out my crafting business for me.
C.J.’s dead right when it comes to companion characters. Having them around to perform MMO busywork is very convenient. Having a heal-bot to bail you out during a tough mission is downright indispensable.
Like my colleagues said, I don’t expect MMO veterans to have trouble learning TOR, though I wouldn’t be surprised if some newbies had more trouble. The game’s interface is not the greatest, and it often squirrels useful information away in unexpected places. There are also plenty of mechanics the game doesn’t really to bother to explain in detail, and some commands are unnecessarily hard to find (I’m still not 100% sure how to leave a group once our business is concluded). If EA/LucasArts/BioWare are smart, they’ll open up the UI to modding, which should take care of most of the problems.
Special mention, in this catch-all category, is due to the transportation options. The game favors scout speeder-style “taxis,” which move between Point A and Point B at an agonizingly slow pace. They also clip horribly through the ground upon departure and arrival, suggesting that they were added at a late stage of development. Hutta, the starting area for two Imperial classes, has an odd arrangement of taxi stands — three quite close together, one distant, some locations bypassed entirely.
When the scale of the areas opens up, and when personal speeders become available, transportation in the game will change. TOR also features a “Quick Travel” ability (on a 30 minute cooldown). Still, as in any MMO, much of your time spent playing TOR is going to be spent travelling from place to place. The transportation mechanics in the game’s starting areas are lackluster — hopefully they improve as the game goes on.