I count myself among the lucky people who were able to play in the beta for an extended period of time. I played through the origin world of all but two classes, and three times I leveled my characters past level 20. (I usually stopped about level 28 so that I would not ruin the ending of the story.) I wanted to get a good feel for all the class stories, so most of my characters got to about about level 15. Once I found out that the beta would end well before early access began, I decided to take in all the classes I could so that I could give you a well-rounded opinion.
Follow me beyond the break as I navigate the asteroid field of SWTOR.
I'm not really going to spoil anything, but if you're interested in knowing absolutely nothing about the stories I've played, then you'll want to skip down to the gameplay section.
Those who watch Gamebreaker know that Justin Lowe of Darth Hater says he skips over the dialogue parts now in the Bounty Hunter story, and one of the writers for the show, Pyrofox, said that SWTOR really becomes just like any other MMO when you skip over the dialogue parts. Generally, I agree. During my third time playing through the Sith Inquisitor starter world, I skipped the cutscenes so I could level with a friend.
Two weekends ago, I played through Tython with Gary Gannon and another producer at Gamebreaker, which prompted Gary to exclaim multiple times, "How can anyone even compare this game to WoW?" He believes it is so far removed from World of Warcraft that it's not even comparable. Of course, he played through every cutscene and dialogue choice. I could almost see the wheels in his head turning as the conversation choices came up: "Is this what I would say, or would my character say this?" He was thoroughly enjoying it.
Every day during beta testing, I have been surprised by the story. BioWare has told us from day one that this MMO would have story, the "fourth pillar," but few of us understood how deep and intriguing the story would be. Sure, some of the plot is predictable. We knew that Skavak was ultimately going to be working for the Empire and that the Jedi Consular's driving mission would be tracking down all those infected by the Dark-Side sickness.
Interestingly enough, it's not the plot that makes the stories so interesting. It's the characters who really envelop you in this game. On Tatooine, I ran into a Jedi character whose ignorance of my character's advances prompted her to reply, "Nothing you say makes any sense." Other people in my house wondered what movie I was watching that was making me laugh so hard. It's not often that a story in a game prompts such varied emotion, and it's never happened to me in an MMO.
After having spent about 100 hours in the game total over this last beta and the previous one, I must still admit that there are weaknesses in the some of the core game designs. The most common issue most MMOs suffer from is class balance. Thanks to SWTOR mirroring its classes, this is not a problem for this game, which is very satisfying. Hopefully, that means this game will not suffer from constant jumps in class design for future patches. However, that doesn't mean there are no problems with combat at all.
I watched gameplay and livestream videos from various blogs and fans. Most suffered from the same issue I had. I was certainly relieved to find out that I was not the only person who mashes on a specific key repeatedly until the action is performed. Even though I'm watching my cooldowns less and less, I still find myself waiting for them in the form of slamming on a key and finding nothing happening. In fact, in certain areas -- mostly PvP warzones -- by the time I actually saw the animation, I was behind hitting my next key. Two issues cause this: the animation system and latency. Nearly everyone complained about the lag in warzones. Many times, it would take me several times of smashing F before I even rolled into cover, let alone rolled into cover and immediately firing off a shot. On top of that, when there was no lag, I still felt that my character was slightly behind my clicks.
Think about this: If my biggest complaint is that I have to smash buttons and there is lag, then this game must be pretty awesome. And it is. If you don't like this game, you don't like video games. I'm not ignorant enough to believe that all players are going to fall head-over-heels in love with this game as soon as they first log in. In fact, I believe that I mentioned that this game feels very much like any other MMO. But I'm willing to bet that anyone who sticks out the first 16 levels will be totally wrapped up in the game.
I speak my opinion on this column all the time, but I want to hear what you have to say. Send me an email with your beta experience. What worked best? What struggled? Next week, since I won't be able to do endgame as planned, I'd like to feature some of your opinions of Star Wars: The Old Republic.
The Hyperspace Beacon by Larry Everett is your weekly guide to the vast galaxy of Star Wars: The Old Republic, currently in production by BioWare. If you have comments or suggestions for the column, send a transmission to firstname.lastname@example.org. Now strap yourself in, kid -- we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!