So Bioware was nice enough to grant me beta access to their biggest game ever; Star Wars MMO The Old Republic. And by grant me access I mean I could play the game for three days. I was hoping for more, but I managed to get a few hours in over thanksgiving weekend while working retail. Last I checked there are already over 2.5 million pre orders for this game, with many calling it the MMO that will finally beat World of Warcraft. The power of the Star Wars license is strong and will draw many to the game, but the real question is whether or not it has the staying power to keep people playing once the allure of having playing around in the Star Wars universe starts to fade. Obviously, I can’t answer that question based off my limited play time. However I can say that the game truly impressed me in some ways…and had me greatly concerned in others.
Character creation starts things off of course, but I was expecting a bit more. There are only nine races to choose from and one of those is cyborg, which look exactly like humans but have bits of electronics on their face. This is Star Wars, there are more races than I can count that have been seen in various movies/books/comics/games. I’m not saying they needed Ewoks, but Wookies seem like an obvious missing choice to me. It seems like a missed opportunity not to have an abundance of races. I spent my time playing as a pure blood Sith, who appear to be red skinned humans.
Character classes are interesting in the sense that while initially there appear to only be four choices (Jedi Knight, Jedi Consular, Smuggler, Trooper for the Republic and Sith Warrior, Sith Inquisitor, Agent, Bounty Hunter for the Empire) the specializations learned at level 10 effectively doubles this number. My Sith warrior for example chose the path of Juggernaut. This unlocked his three talent trees, two of which were not available to the other choice: Maurader. This included a tanking skill set, which to you MMO veterans out there, know is the key to getting in groups quickly. Mousing over a player will reflect your specialization class, so basically the more important choice of class occurs at level 10 and not at character creation. I like the approach of getting your feet wet with a general play style then choosing something more specific.
My worry is how new players will deal with choosing their specializations. Given that it’s Star Wars I expect that many people who end up getting the game are not going to be familiar with MMO’s in a general sense. The trinity of tank, healing, and damage may seem second nature to me and some of you, but it’s not something that all the players will be considering. Choosing the Maurader specialization will grant you the ability to dual wield lightsabers. I can see many people gravitating toward that class since Juggernaut only gets one lightsaber. However, Maurader has ONLY damage trees. I worry that some players will only later realize that their choice locked them in to one role. I hope the game makes the gravity of the choice more obvious in final release, as beta it was just a small text that noted the roles each class could perform.
The talent trees in general are another area I’m concerned about. The Cataclysm expansion to World of Warcraft CUT the number of talents, and the upcoming Mists of Pandaria revamps the system and reduces the number even more. Blizzard realized that many of their talents were boring in the sense that they just made X do more damage, or boring in that if you wanted to maximize your effectiveness as a character, there was a specific build that was THE BEST and everything else just made you a noob. Looking over Swtor’s talent trees very much reminds me early WoW, with many talents doing nothing more than reducing cooldowns or increasing numbers. Those kinds of talents lend themselves to cookie cutter builds, something Blizzard I think is wisely moving away from. I sense they will be prevalent in The Old Republic.
I absolutely love what little I’ve seen of professions thus far. It seems Bioware has done away with players having to traverse the universe looking for spawned nodes of things to mine or harvest and replaced it with a system that still costs something but frees you up to actually PLAY THE GAME while working on crafting. Characters acquire companions as they level up, NPC’s who fill fight with you and have their own abilities and gear. Bioware wisely tied professions to them. For example, once I learned Treasure Hunting, I merely sent my companion on a quest to get me some treasure. Doing so costs credits and the companion will be gone for a specific amount of time (the early quests were 3 minutes). So while sending companions off while in the heat of battle isn’t a great idea, I love the idea of sending off on crafting/gathering missions while I run around towns picking up or turning in quests. Heck, if I need a bathroom break, send my companion off on a quick mission while I’m away. It’s a system that brings the crafting goods to you and it’s probably the part of the game that impressed me the most.
I’m torn about my feelings for this game. The game being almost fully voice acted is very cool. The near limitless possible settings that are built-in to the Star Wars universe makes me excited for what the game could contain. But once the combat starts and I get in to the flow of things, I’m not doing anything NEW. I almost feel bad saying it, but playing The Old Republic feels like playing World of Warcraft in space. I think the game will be hugely successful for precisely that reason. But for me, I was hoping for something MORE. I believe WoW is the pinnacle of what an MMO using the tank/heal/dps system can achieve, unless the final release of Old Republic does some stuff we’re just not aware of yet. I love Bioware and wish the best for this game, but I can’t see myself playing for more than a few months before I fall into a game system that’s copying what World of Warcraft is doing….or was doing two years ago. I guess the force is not with me on this one.