As I’ve mentioned several times already, my current plans regarding Star Wars: The Old Republic are to not buy it, although I’ve also expressed a mild interest in trying the thing. After all, almost everybody else will be playing it at launch. I’ve also stated a willingness to change my mind, but that would take an invite to the beta to try the game out, something EA has heretofore declined to present me.
However, I happen to have a very good friend with beta access. My very good friend is under an NDA, I’m sure, and therefore bound not to discuss the game until such time as the NDA gets lifted. I, however, am under no NDA, since I haven’t received an invite. Hence I’m free to post my very good friend’s thoughts on the game.
A month and a half (give or take) from release Star Wars: The Old Republic is highly polished. Not issue-free, but there’s nothing my very good friend would flip his lid over even after launch. It is slightly less conventional than one might expect, but only slightly – don’t go into it expecting anything World of Warcraft doesn’t already offer, although there are some mild refinements here and there which are fairly welcome.
Character customization is relatively powerful for the kind of game that SWTOR is, the graphics are well-done and nicely detailed, if cartoony. Movement and combat are fluid and animations are excellent, and the latter are some of the best around without having the whiz-bang console action feel of many Asian games or, for that matter, DC Universe Online. Movement within the world is nice and open, and loading screens are few, although there’s sometimes chunking when one enters a “story area.”
How well the “open world” is done… well, it’s hard to say without spending a lot more time in it. My impression is that it compares generally to WoW in this regard, but given that WoW’s open world is mostly illusory (note that I don’t really consider this a bad thing,) it’ll take a lot of exploring and doing to really grasp how well it fulfills the promise of an MMO. But certainly what we have here does not appear to veer into outright pseudo-MMO territory of games like Guild Wars or DDO. The world feels to me a lot like that of Tabula Rasa, probably because it’s kind of outdoorsy in the early levels but with tech… but frankly it doesn’t try nearly as hard to be different.
Thus far SWTOR appears to be very good at making you feel like a badass Jedi or Sith without actually making failure nigh-impossible as WoW has done in the early levels. This may well be illusory too, or it may get ground down in the relentless process of polishing.
The questing and storylines, at least in the early levels, seem very well-developed, which isn’t very surprising. My very good friend reports that he found the Republic Trooper storyline clever but dull and the Jedi Knight starter stuff pretty engaging. I await word on other early class experiences. Dialogue seems generally tighter than it is in the Mass Effect games, though the mechanism is almost exactly the same. This is probably an inevitable consequence of the vast amount of voice work that went into the game.
So far SWTOR seems like a solid game. It reminds me of Rift; well-done but insufficiently interesting to actually buy. It took me maybe 15-20 hours to make that decision for Rift, though, and I… uh, I mean my very good friend has not yet spent anything close to that much time in SWTOR. So the jury is still out, although I’m still steering along my current trajectory.