SWTOR First Impressions

Warning: Excessive geekery inside. Continue at your own risk.

So a few weeks ago, I picked up Star Wars: The Old Republic after constant poking and prodding from several of my friends to come play it. Having now hit 50 on my Jedi Knight, and having created a couple of alts as played the early levels, I’ll go ahead and submit my thoughts on the game so far.

TOR was hailed, as so many MMO’s are, as a WoW-killer. That’s simply not true. There is no WoW-killer, and there will be no WoW-killer, at least not until Blizzard comes out with WoW 2. It is simply far too good at what it does and has far too established a subscriber base and IP for it to fall to an upstart of the same genre – at least anytime real soon. Now, that said, TOR has what it takes to match WoW’s numbers, if they fix the bugs they have and – here’s the important part – churn out good content at a breakneck pace for the forseeable future. It looks like they have the next few big content patches already mapped out, which is good news, so hopefully they don’t slack on that any time soon.

TOR is, as any new MMO, buggy and far from perfect – but overall, I think it’s the best out of the box MMO I’ve played yet, except perhaps WoW. The reason I give that caveat is that WoW released with the general idea of giving players more freedom, and then reigning in what they needed to – TOR comes out with a deathgrip on the experience. I think WoW had the better philosophy, though both have merits. Let’s explore a little deeper.

What TOR did right

Single player. Oh my goodness, single player. Leveling felt like playing KOTOR, or Mass Effect, or Dragon Age, or any other great Bioware RPG. The story for Jedi Knight was great, and so far it’s been excellent for Sith Inquisitor as well. The morality choices are a brilliant touch in an MMO, as is the companion system and the subplots there. Quest rewards are always relevant and often provide many attractive options, so you never feel like you wasted your time. Also, every quest is voice acted. I’m blown away thinking of how many hours of audio must have been recorded to achieve what they did – and it’s very well done, too, for the most part. I am happy with the purchase for the experience of just playing through the story up to the level cap, which is something I have never said before about any MMO, not even WoW. They really knocked this one out of the park.

Crafting. I was apprehensive about this at first, but the companion-based crafting system is actually really nice. The missions system takes the “grind” out of it while still keeping the element of time in place, and the ease of crafting combines the casual crafting environment of WoW with the procs and random bonuses of older MMOs, Everquest being the one that immediately comes to mind. Crafting is easy, but still an investment of time and resources, and there is an element of luck involved that is rewarding enough to be fun, but not crippling if you find yourself unlucky.

Companion system. Another thing I was apprehensive about. But it really does make it feel like you’re less alone in the story, and gives you more options as to how you play through the game and see the world. I can play a tank with a pocket healer, or go full DPS and grab a tanking companion to take the beating for me. Whatever I find fun at the time, I can do. Additionally, each has their own personality that plays into the storyline and each interact in their own way with the various quests.

Gear System. In addition to the normal gear system of light, medium, heavy armor and green, blue, purple quality, they added a gear tier called “custom,” which sports an orange classification color. This gear has no base stats and gets all its properties from upgradable modifications, which means if you find a really good looking robe that you don’t want to lose, you can just buy a new mod for it. You can also change the stat weights – switching from tanking to DPS? Just buy a might mod to replace that guardian mod.

Flashpoints. Like instanced dungeons in WoW, but better in every way. This feels like what WoW was trying to do with the lore-based instances at the end of Wrath and in Cataclysm, but is taken to a whole new level. Each flashpoint has a story that you work your way through and it often takes you to multiple environments as a result. I’ve loved every one of the flashpoints I’ve done so far, so great work on these.

Space Combat. Star Wars meets Starfox. Enough said.

What TOR did poorly

The UI. You know it’s bad when there’s a tip on the loading screen that explains how to reset your UI via hotkey in the event it freezes. You’ll use that hotkey a lot. Additionally, the inability to move any UI elements or change scale, hide elements, etc, feels extremely dated. WoW was already ahead in this regard during it’s beta phase almost eight years ago, and every MMO since then has at least offered some options here – but TOR doesn’t budge. Additionally, they’ve thus far refused to allow addons, and while they say it might happen eventually, I wouldn’t count on them being nearly as powerful as the ones in WoW. Now, to be fair, BioWare has said a lot of these options will be coming – I just don’t see what reason they had for not making it a day one feature.

Fine-tuning. Bugs, bugs, bugs. Falling through the world is not an uncommon occurrence, nor are quests you can’t abandon, story events that don’t properly trigger, resource nodes you can’t mine, invisible walls that trap your character, or the game just crashing. It’s not terrible to the point of being unable to play, but it seems like a studio like Bioware could have done a much better job with the polish given the funding they had from EA on this one. Additionally, some of the individual encounters seem a bit … problematic. The last Jedi Knight story quest, for instance, has been generally agreed upon to be not soloable, despite it being designed to be so. A poor move on the part of the designer, and one that should have been discovered in the QA or beta process.

MMO Amenities. No guild banks? No achievement system? No sorting at vendors or the auction house? No dual spec or easy respec? It feels like there are a lot of things that are just inexplicably missing, though hopefully many will be added as they continue to fill in the gaps.

Republic Gear. Why do Jedi Knights get forced into looking like clownish space samurais? Kira was right, all the fashion designers joined the dark side.

Other thoughts

PVP has been mostly enjoyable so far, though I was sad to see that there is a “PVP” stat, like resilience in WoW, that is featured on gear you buy with PVP rewards. I much prefer a system that allows any gear to be useful, such as Aion’s, where you simply had a flat rule that decreased all damage and healing by a flat amount in PVP. This seems simpler and more elegant to me than having a specialized PVP stat that is only on some gear, and has the additional advantage of making PVP more accessible. The warzones (battlegrounds) are well-designed, though Huttball is often a nightmare with the sheer number of knockbacks that this game has. Still, it wouldn’t be Star Wars if I couldn’t force push you off a cliff or force choke you over a fire trap.

I also feel like at this point in the game, melee is a bit undertuned for the most part – ranged classes all have strong CC and high damage but aren’t really any less tough than their brawler adversaries, which makes getting to them an exercise in frustration quite often.

There is no “honor” or ranking system in place yet, just commendations you win from participating in battle which you can use to buy gear. I’m hoping this is something that comes in a patch soon, because this existing system will get old quickly.

I haven’t gotten a chance to try much endgame content, but I’ve heard good things. My friends who play are mostly not level capped yet, and the server I’m on has a fairly limited population of level 50’s. This is to be expected with such a young MMO, though, so I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve had a chance to interact with it more.

Overall, I’ve really enjoyed TOR so far. If you like Star Wars or are looking for a good MMO, I highly recommend it. Look for me on the Kinrath Spider server!

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