Now that the NDA is officially lifted I am going to give the previous beta weekend a proper review. I will try not to give too many spoilers in the process, but there may be one or two that slips in. The history of me and Star Wars the Old Republic has been at times a love/hate relationship. When it was announced I formed a guild for the folks that were going to be playing it from my wow guild. However over time the hype surrounding the game just got to me.
For multiple reasons, mostly that I didn’t want to split folks up, and that I felt we needed someone truly excited about the game leading up the effort, I urged people to join the guild lead by another guild member. I did so as well, knowing that ultimately I would play the game if for no reason other than the fact that we had waited so long for it. At this point I was really skeptical about all the buzz surrounding it, and in general pretty damned dark on the MMO industry. As a result I have said some negative things about the game at several points, generally due to the grass roots hype machine. But all that said, I have been one to freely admit my mistakes… and I said I would gladly eat my words if the game lived up to the hype. So I went into this beta weekend expecting disappointment.
This is me formally eating everything bad I said about the game.
I have to say, I had more fun this weekend than I have had playing a game since the original days of WoW. The power of the game is in Biowares storytelling. From the moment you start you are wrapped into a unique storyline for your quest. Everything you do factors into that storyline. So while you are technically doing a Fed Ex or Kill 10 rats quest, you actually care about the outcome of your quest because it factors into a larger arc. Each step along the way makes sense from the perspective of who your character is and what your character is doing.
I think this primarily is what has been missing for me from games. Nothing you do in most MMOs has a real lasting effect on the storyline. While you may really matter to an NPC that asks you to go save his family, he suddenly gets amnesia as soon as you turn that ! into a ?. While you may spend countless hours of your life grinding up that faction to the max, it really has little effect on the world other than essentially giving you acces to the company store. Your decisions in TOR matter, and will determine what unlocks to your character and the paths you take.
Over the course of the weekend I purposefully set out to play several different flavors of character to level 10, which is the point you transition from the "newbie zone" experience to the next area. I played a Jedi Knight, Sith Inquisitor, Smuggler, and Bounty Hunter all the way, and then also spent a bit of time on a Republic Trooper and a Sith Warrior. Getting through the initial story arc on each area took me roughly 6 hours or so, so that is a good deal of playtime for getting to level 10. In other games i could get to 25-30 or so within the same block of time.
What impressed me by far the most was the fact that playing two classes on the same planet was a completely different experience. For example, while a Sith Warrior and Sith Inquisitor both start on Korriban, and you are essentially playing on the same planet, killing the same mobs, in the same dungeons…. the game play experience could not be more different. Since the storyline is wholy unique for each, by the time you get to each area it feels fresh and new even though you may have tread the same territory as another class.
On top of this another very impressive thing to me was how two mirror classes felt completely different. The Jedi Knight and Sith Warrior for example and perfect mirrors. You attain the same abilities at the same levels, so the are functional copies of each other. However each class has a unique style and feel. Everything in the Jedi Knight screams calm focus and skill, and your attacks are graceful lightsaber flourishes. Whereas with the Sith Warrior everything about the class screams hatred and raw brutal fury as your attacks are powerful slashes and hate filled strikes. While the two classes are perfect equals of each other, the animation and style leads to completely different gameplay.
The “Dungeon” Experience
For my Jedi Knight I leveled it in tandem with a friends Jedi Consular. I am the first to say that in most games I hate questing as a group with a passion. I find it a thoroughly frustrating experience, however playing together in this game was fun in that we each got equal say in what choices we made in the dialog trees. In a longer conversation it would flip back and forth between the multiple players involved making statements, so it gave a natural conversation feel to it. The biggest bonus was that we could participate in each others quests, seeing the storyline involved.
When we hit 10 and picked our advanced classes we set out to do the first Flashpoint. Now up to this point I had just figured Flashpoint was simply a rebranding of the dungeon concept. That really couldn’t be further from the truth. If you remember in WoW, the first time you did the original Deadmines, how dynamic moving through the heavily scripted zone felt as your interactions felt like they changed the flow of the dungeon story. This is the closest facsimile I can think of to how a Flashpoint feels.
Essentially you and your group participate in a segment of gameplay that feels like you are walking through a movie. While heavily scripted, everything you do feels very dynamic as you move through it. Each step in the dungeon, each boss you fight makes sense in the storyline. Every action you take fits into the larger story arc. Not really sure how I can go into more detail without giving blatant spoilers.
A Story that Matters
The biggest thing is that the story matters. When you get betrayed you feel it, you actually care about the characters and your interactions with them. When someone dies, it sucks, because over the course of a story arc, you have come to be attached to them. Lord of the Rings Online is a similar game where story matters, but when you mix it with Biowares superb voice acting and story telling it is a truly amazing experience.
All this said, I have gone from being deeply skeptical about the game, to being completely pumped about it and anxiously awaiting the launch. I am looking forward to having fun with you all again, and looking forward to recapturing some of that magic that WoW sucked out of me. All in all for me, it was worth every bit of hype that I had heard leading into beta weekend.