(Yes, yes, I’d promised more on Daggerfall and how cheating makes it better. I’ll get to that.)
So I got one of those “try our game free for seven days!” things from EA/Bioware for Star Wars: The Old Republic. (“SWTOR” to its friends.) Immediately interested by that. Unlike pretty much every massive-multi game under the sun these days, there’s no option to play SWTOR for free. World of Warcraft and Rift are both free up to 20, and pretty much everybody else is completely free-to-play. Not SWTOR. This was as “free” as it was going to get.
Okay, yes. It’s restricted. But the restrictions are interesting: you can only go to the first few areas, you can only go up to level 15, and you can apparently roll as many characters as you see fit. Put those together, and you have a demo encouraging you to see a good broad cross-section of the early game. Not a bad idea. In a modern MMO, that’s often the best bit.
So after ensuring I had enough space and download data free for that groaningly huge client, I downloaded it, fired it up, and selected my first class: in this case, a female Republic Soldier. Had to be that: I found out that that character’s voiced by Jennifer “Femshep” Hale, and I’m always up for hearing her growl at people.
Then I set out to recreate my Shep, and that’s when I found out the first thing about SWTOR, which is that playing other Bioware games is not a good indicator for SWTOR’s graphics. Yes, they’re better than WoW, but I was expecting something on the same level as your Dragon Ages or Mass Effects. This wasn’t even in the same ballpark. I’m pretty sure the faces in DCUO were more detailed, and that one was a console port!
Doesn’t matter, though. Minor detail. And after making a “good enough Shep”, I started up the game proper, and discovered three things:
- It’s a Bioware Game;
- It’s an Everquest/WoW-style MMO; and
- Those two things are really weird together.
Not “bad”, mind you. But weird. The game is the oddest hybrid. You do some classic Bioware conversation stuff, and then go do some WoW-style exploration and combat, and then go back to turn in the quest and do MORE Bioware-ing, and it’s seriously a bit jarring after a while. It feels like I’m playing two different games that kinda-sorta have something to do with each other, but not quite.
The conversation bits are definitely the high point. They really do flesh out your character and make you feel special, and the idea of having ”locked off” areas that are focused on telling the particular classes’ stories was an excellent notion that other companies should definitely emulate. You’re invested in the story from the get-go. The Republic Soldier story felt a little generic, but still decent.
After playing with her for a while, I rolled an Imperial. Two, actually: A Sith Inquisitor, which seems to be a popular class, and an Imperial Agent, which is getting rave responses. WOW. I now understand why there’s a huge faction imbalance. The Republic soldier story was fine, but is simply outclassed by the Imperials. The Imperial stories started off engaging pretty much from the get-go and have just been getting better. THAT’S the Bioware that I remember and used to love.
The MMO bits, though…just not quite sold yet. Yes, it’s early. MMO combat is notoriously simplistic at low levels. Maybe it gets a lot better. But it’s still the old “go here, kill a thing, collect another thing, bring it back, enjoy your loot” experience that everybody’s familiar with. It’s odd, too, because Blizzard has been working really, really hard to get away from that sort of thing. Ever since Wrath of the Lich King, Blizzard’s been using their “vehicle” mechanics and environmental phasing and a whole lot of other tricks to try to mix things up a bit. Other companies have been trying to mix it up, too, with the standout being Trion with their various dynamic gameplay elements in Rift. Not Bioware. They’re bringing circa-2007 gameplay to the table in 2012. That’s surprising. They know things have changed.
So, yeah, odd hybrid. Neat storytelling (though the morality system’s kind of suspect) married to the sort of traditional theme-park MMOing that we all kinda got sick of at least three years ago. It’s not obnoxious, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of it.
I doubt I’ll buy the game, but I am appreciating the experience. I’m going to make a point of rolling every class, if only to see how they all start out. I won’t necessarily finish the first “planet” on each, but I do want to see what they’re about.
Then it’s back to Daggerfall and Skyrim.