Visual Style and Atmosphere
You’re in the Star Wars galaxy, make no mistake. What I like about it is, though, that it doesn’t necessarily feel like it if you didn’t already know it was. I’ve been wanting a real, modern, tradition sci-fi MMO for quite some time. While the BioWare fanboy in me wanted it to be a Mass Effect MMO, this is a great substitution and certainly fills that need.
The atmosphere of all the areas I’ve visited so far really envelope you in the Star Wars universe – from the hustle and bustle of Coruscant to the mild serenety of your own vessel traveling between planetary locations. It all fits, and fits very well.
The main issue I have here is the visuals are not necessarily up to the standard I would expect from an MMO released at the end of 2011. MMOs with much less of a budget and not as big of names behind it have much better visual appeal, if we’re strictly talking graphical prowess. I hope BioWare upgrades textures in a high-res release, like some recent MMOs have done to improve their graphical impact. Keep the scaling there, so still those with low-end machines can run the game, but give something to those with higher end cards, as well.
Now, I will say that anti-aliasing is not turned on in the beta, but other than that I had all other settings maxed, running on my Intel i5 750 with a GTX 560 card. It did run beautifully (other than some very horrible texture pop-in after you tab back in from being tabbed out). As I noted in my Skyrim review, I wonder the same thing here – why is it still an issue for game developers to make a game that smoothly puts itself in a full screen window, to make tabbing in and out a breeze? I don’t know, but it is an issue. Other than that, however, the atmosphere is awesome. The graphical prowess of the game could use some work, as many of the textures are almost painful to look at. But, this game is not about the graphics at all, and if that hangs you up, you have bigger issues than which MMO to play.
Caveats, There Has to be a Few
I’ve lavished Star Wars: The Old Republic with praise so far. Honestly, it is a great entry into the MMO landscape overall. There are some caveats, however, and depending who you ask or what your vision is for this game and the genre in particular, they may be some pretty sizable ones.
It is very much a themepark MMO. You’re basically there for the ride. At times it feels linear, at other times you might have freedom. The story is very linear, as a matter of fact, regardless of class. The big clash here is between the current juggernaut, World of Warcraft, and the new kid in town, Star Wars: The Old Republic. The latter is actually the first game I can see even having a chance at ousting the king. However, if you’re thinking of jumping from one to the other, keep this in mind – if you are tired of the themepark atmosphere of WoW, you might as well just keep playing it, because you’ll get the exact same thing in SWTOR. However, if you just want a change of scenery and all your friends are coming over, you’ll likely find an overall better themepark experience in SWTOR.
Sometimes it’s almost too linear. The questing in the first 20 levels or so goes like this: You hit a quest hub, pick up quests (including one story quest), go to a location, do all the quests, return to the hub, turn them in, pick up follow-ups/more quests, go to another location and repeat this process over and over…and over and over…and over and over again. There is room for exploration, but sometimes it seems too shoehorned into going on one path and sticking to it. This is somewhat offset by the many dialog and morality options you have, however.
Choice in destination isn’t what I expected. This is a BioWare MMO. Once I got my ship at level 17 or so, I hopped on board to go to my next destination…and there was only one in my level range. After that, there was only one in the next level range. Color me disappointed. I would have assumed that something like what was included in Mass Effect 2 would happen here – you would have your choice of three or four areas to go into. They could all be part of the story, but you can do them in any order you wish. This is certainly not the case, so if you expect complete, non-linear freedom, you’ll be barking up the wrong tree.
Flashpoints. I’m a bit on the fence here. I absolutely love that you delve into an awesome story each time you enter a flashpoint. But, at the same time, going through that dialog takes a lot of time, perhaps time that some people don’t have. I’ve gotten accustomed to short dungeon romps of 30 minutes or so – certainly less than an hour. Flashpoints can take nearly two hours to complete. If you’re the type of gamer who doesn’t have much time to stay put for that amount of time, minimum, in a sitting, you might want to think twice, as WoW’s dungeons lately are much faster if you need them to be.
These things may sound like a lot of negatives – and it’s likely my friend Giuseppe will not consider these to be so – but in reality, if you’re looking for a new experience in a new world with new classes and a sci-fi atmosphere, there is probably no better MMO to jump into than SWTOR. What I played of it was, for the most part, absolutely amazing. Some things bother me, but more because of the fact that I expected certain things from a BioWare MMO. I want this game to be great. Sales and pre-orders don’t make it great. The setting doesn’t make it great. What makes it great is how it defines itself within the genre. There are some absolutely amazing things about this game, enough to make it a must-play title for any MMO gamer, in my opinion. Just consider your options carefully, because if you’re looking for a completely different experience, you may come away disappointed.