Star Wars: The Old Republic first look

Star Wars: The Old Republic coverage kicks off with impressions of the first 10 levels of gameplay for the Jedi Consular player class.

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Star Wars: The Old Republic finally opens its virtual doors to everyone this week. I've already made my way through the first ten levels of gameplay as a Jedi Consular, though, for some early impressions. Given the pedigree of the developer, muscle of the publisher, and a stupendous IP, The Old Republic might be the first MMO that stands a chance of being truly competitive with World of Warcraft. It's far too early to give anything resembling a final verdict on such a massive game, but my initial experiences with it yielded some positive surprises.

Character creation and customization options are good, but with a universe as rich and well-known as Star Wars, some folks are bound to be a little disappointed when they can't play as that Jedi Wookie they always dreamed of. For my Republic-allied Jedi Consular I chose the Miraluka race, an eyeless, humanoid people that see using the Force.

Beginning his journey as a Padawan, armed with little more than a training saber and a few Force powers, I had my character Bukowski explore Tython, one of the Alliance Jedi training grounds. Though home to several friendly encampments and the Jedi Temple, the planet's wilderness was infested with a violent race of creatures known as the Flesh Raiders. Bukowski became tasked with finding the source of the Raider's hostility, clearly agitated by an outside entity.

The degree to which SWTOR's implementation of fully-voiced in-game cinematics for every quest improves player engagement cannot be overstated. The game's cinematic treatment of dialog sequences--complete with light and dark-side dialog choices--add a significant level of immersion, dramatic tension, and emotion that would have been extraordinarily difficult to achieve had the story been told through traditional walls of text. I actually cared about many of the NPCs I met--a first for me in a massively-multiplayer title--due in no small part to some great voice acting. I suspect a significant number of WoW players might have a hard time going back to the text-based missions in Azeroth.

Perhaps the one down-side of conversations is that dialog choices will visually telegraph whether or not they're "light" or "dark" in nature, as in the Mass Effect series. I appreciate that some players just can't abide making the "wrong" dialog choices, but effectively telling the player what selection to choose seems to undercut some of the role-playing aspect. At least interested players can turn off these light-side and dark-side hints, should they so choose.

Groups also accommodate the cinematic conversation bits. During general story quests, each player in the group is given the opportunity to choose dialog responses, and then the game determines which of those players' avatars actually gets to respond during the cinematic. It works quite well, and adds another interesting layer of engagement to cooperative questing. Class-specific missions, on the other hand, can still be played in groups; however, the quest owner is the sole driver of the dialog in these instances, with the other players taking on spectator roles.

Furthermore, quests that are labeled "Heroic" are really best played in a group, and--even fairly early-on--there are also optional quests where grouping is a requirement.

The mechanics of questing and combat aren't markedly different from other successful MMOs, and long-time World of Warcraft players will feel mostly at home with the interface and options. Those less familiar, however, will find a bit of a learning curve. Massively-multiplayer online RPGs aren't typically known for their hand-holding with regard to features and functionality, and SWTOR isn't much different, though there are brief instructions that pop up whenever a new interface option is used.

On the battlefield, Star Wars: The Old Republic is also one of the best looking MMOs I've seen. Mechanically, it's still a matter of simply targeting an enemy and using a thoughtful combination of abilities from the character's toolbar, but the battles are pretty flashy, and a heck of a lot of fun to watch. Jedi will deflect blaster shots and incoming melee attacks while gracefully slicing and dicing with their lightsabre. One of the first powers my Consular achieved allowed him to telekinetically rip objects and debris from the ground and send them hurtling toward his targets. When grouping with other players (a very easy process, in practice), battles are even more visually varied and fun to participate in.

A minor (but perhaps expected) downside is that even during the first 10 levels of gameplay, I noticed a few examples of modular level design, wherein a certain section of a caves or other interior mission areas are reused across different quests. It's a minor quibble, and didn't really significantly detract from my enjoyment, but is worth noting.

Companion characters are also introduced early-on. My Consular's first companion was earned through main-story progress, and was story-specific. However, players soon get some say into who their traveling companion will be. Accruing the right crafting skills, for example, would later allow me to fashion my very own droid companion. Furthermore, companions can be trained to go out on a number of different mission-types on their own to find special items and resources, from diplomatic assignments to archaeological digs. I've barely scratched the surface, in this regard.

There's only one other point of concern about my the early-goings in SWTOR that's worth mentioning. So far, I've only ever had to queue about 10 minutes or so to get onto my server, but at certain times of the day I've seen a number of servers with 30+ minute queue times, and even some that ask players to wait over an hour to login. Keep in mind, these are early-access server populations. I can only imagine that BioWare is planning to roll out another batch of fresh servers for the game's official public launch.

All in all, I'm fairly shocked at how much I'm enjoying my time with Star Wars: The Old Republic, especially because I'm not typically much of a MMO player. I'm still early enough in the game where I haven't been able to dabble in major things like space combat or PvP, but based on my early experience, I'm very much looking forward to doing so.

From The Chatty
  • reply
    December 19, 2011 1:15 PM

    Jeff Mattas posted a new article, Star Wars: The Old Republic first look.

    Star Wars: The Old Republic coverage kicks off with impressions of the first 10 levels of gameplay for the Jedi Consular player class.

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      December 19, 2011 1:48 PM

      interesting

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      December 19, 2011 2:43 PM

      One semi-unexpected side effect of the group dialog method is if there is a branch option to be made, say a dark side that kills the captain of a ship and a light side that spares him, even if you select the dark side but the winning roll was light - you still get your dark side points but the mission branch will go with the light side version. This ok for flash points that are repeatable, but I couldn't help wonder if it might have unexpected consequences on other non-repeatable group missions. But, I guess it's also possible they just don't include those kinds of branches for non-class missions.

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        December 19, 2011 3:03 PM

        if you have party members with you on your class missions, you are the only one allowed to speak. They just watch

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        December 19, 2011 4:22 PM

        This isn't unexpected at all, this is the way they always said it works.

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      December 19, 2011 3:22 PM

      I didn't pay any attention to this one except for the occasional negative tidbit. Oneshot lent me a pre-order account and I gave it a try. Ended up buying it and spent most of today playing.

      Honestly, the voice overs are awesome. They really give it a feel that no other mmo I've played has, except maybe eq2 because of the same reason (It had limited voice-overs, but more than most other MMO's.) In a nutshell, for me at least, it's more like a single player StarWars game at the moment that lets me interact with others when I want to. I like that. Only level 7 though, so can't say what the long term re-playability is, etc. And the game is fucking stupid expensive, from $60-$64. It was my Christmas present to myself.

      Love the branching decision tree's as well.

      My kids are of course insane over it. So good times there..

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        December 19, 2011 4:31 PM

        By level 20 you'll be hammering the spacebar to skip all of the voice stuff.

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          December 20, 2011 5:37 AM

          I really kinda doubt it...I never played MMOs before and really didnt like WoW the little I played it because it just seemed like the characters had no personality etc. I like the dialogue so far, but then again I"ll report back at level 20

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          December 20, 2011 8:39 AM

          I haven't, so...you're wrong.

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        December 20, 2011 3:31 AM

        The VO really does make a huge difference. From my time in the beta I was really impressed at how much more immersive even the addition of recorded dialogue made. I'm sure the WoW fanatics will still dismiss the game simply because it's not WoW, but if they tried it I think they'd be surprised at how much more entertaining even the most early quests are when it has more of a single-player "feel".

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      December 19, 2011 4:11 PM

      "The degree to which SWTOR's implementation of fully-voiced in-game cinematics for every quest improves player engagement cannot be understated." Do you you mean "overstated"?

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      December 19, 2011 4:16 PM

      +1 for taking down the servers for 5h at 6pm

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        December 19, 2011 4:20 PM

        They have to do that for quick maintenance, bringing more servers online, and updating for Launch at midnight.

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          December 19, 2011 4:25 PM

          Do you think they are going to have a new patch tomorrow to go along with the release?

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            December 19, 2011 7:11 PM

            Launch is midnight EST so no patch tomorrow morning. There is another downtime early morning of the 22nd to turn off grace period. Public test should be back on the 21st with the first real patch, 1.01 which will hit Live servers soon.

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      December 19, 2011 4:18 PM

      Also, for clarification, the video in the article is from the Esseles flashpoint as a Jedi Knight.

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      December 19, 2011 4:35 PM

      I greatly enjoyed my time as a Consular in the closed beta, at least until I got to Nar Shaddaa.

      Friend of mine is trying to convince me to play with him but I know that I'll lose interest in a couple of weeks and I really don't need an MMO right now, and I'm still not convinced that the higher level stuff is any good.

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        December 19, 2011 7:21 PM

        I was upset that the two "ranged" attacked weren't very ranged. And that damn AoE knockback attack would throw them out of the range, on top of losing my target.

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          December 20, 2011 5:20 AM

          if you are fast enough, you can knock them back and throw the rocks at them in the air before they hit the ground out of range and it will continue hitting them after they went out of range.

          And if all else fails, knock back + 1 step forward. Real hard...

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        December 20, 2011 5:21 AM

        Nar Shaddaa can be skipped, but it's not that bad. Traveling in the place is a bit of a pain that is all. The story is still top notch in this area.

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      December 19, 2011 5:50 PM

      If you liked KOTOR, give this a go.

      It's designed like an MMO, but if solo is your thing, it looks like you could just play through the story solo as well.

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      December 19, 2011 6:59 PM

      My wife, who has never played any other video game besides solitaire and Mario Kart on the Wii, sat down and played this game for 13 1/2 hours straight. No jokes - her character is a higher level than mine.

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      December 19, 2011 7:05 PM

      PvP is a little irritating with everyone sharing the same bracket. A level 11 may be scaled to a level 50's stats.. but there is a universe of difference between a level 11 boosted to 50 and a true level 50.

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        December 19, 2011 7:06 PM

        are you sure level 50's don't have their own bracket and the other bracket is 10-49?

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          December 19, 2011 7:08 PM

          yep 50s share the same bracket. Everyone's HP & damage is scaled up to lvl 50 though. lower levels just have less skills

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        December 19, 2011 7:20 PM

        Yeah I always thought this was a terrible design decision, even going back to City of Heroes.

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          December 19, 2011 7:42 PM

          CoH had at least 3 differently leveled zones, tho'... I think 25, 30 and 50. Maybe a L40, too.

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        December 20, 2011 3:29 AM

        Seriously?! I haven't queued up yet, been more interested in the single player. Thats a titanic load of suckage.

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      December 20, 2011 2:59 AM

      I agree with everything you've said. After having played a couple days on the republic side with all 4 classes I think it's safe to say while the story isn't the best or most original ever it is the best I've seen in any kind of MMO.

      While playing with friends I actually felt more like I was playing NWN again. Other dudes running around weren't adding anything for me or at a couple quests just barriers because of spawn camping for unique "monsters".

      It's a fun single player star wars game so far and a great coop game for up to 4 players. I wonder why people still want hundreds of other people on the same server if all they do is creating 2-3 hour queues on sunday night.

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      December 20, 2011 5:51 AM

      It doesn't feel like wow at all. yes it's an MMO, but its like the greatest co-op star wars game ever made, since like playing with my wife has been nothing but GREAT

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        December 20, 2011 9:40 AM

        This, it's a weird hybrid kind of thing, not like a mmo unless you want it to be. Interesting to see how it turns out.