Monday, November 21, 2011

SWTOR Beta Weekend Impressions

I plan on rolling on the Republic side at Launch, so I rolled on the Sith side for my Weekend Beta. This way I got to experience the classes, but not spoil any of the story. The classes in SWTOR are exact mirrors, so when I play my Sith Warrior, I’m playing the same class as a Jedi Knight. Some of the names and animations of the spells are different, but mechanically they are identical.
Over the weekend, I played a Bounty Hunter, an Imperial Agent and a Sith Warrior. I spent the least amount of time on the Agent. I don’t know if my graphics card wasn’t working right, or I just didn’t understand how cover worked, but I never saw any of the cover icons I had seen in the videos. When I hit cover, my agent simply knelt down. and my action bar changed. The powers available in cover were far more powerful than those available outside of cover, but by the time I had gotten in cover and was ready to attack, some Bounty Hunter came by and shot the guy I was targeting.
The next class I tried was the Bounty Hunter. I had just watched the Trooper versus Agent video and I loved the toolkit the Trooper had. Bounty Hunter is the Trooper's mirror. It took me a while to get used to the Bounty Hunters resource system, called Heat. It’s sort of like Rage in reverse. Most of your attacks generate heat, and once you have filled your heat bar, you can’t use any attack that generates heat until you cool down enough. Heat slowly dissipates over time if you don’t use any heat generating attacks. The bounty hunter combat was fun, but the most impressive thing about the class was the story. The bounty hunter had the best story of any class i played.
I spent most of my playtime with the Sith Warrior and he did not disappoint. The combat system was fun and the most intuitive. The Sith Warrior works on Rage points (Jedi Knights call them Focus points). You have a basic attack that generates Rage points, and stronger attacks that use Rage points. I don’t think you get any rage points for being hit. Rage points carry over from battle to battle but they do slowly dissipate if you aren’t in combat for a while.
The Warrior was the only class that I got far enough in the weekend to get my first companion on, and it was a game changing experience. My companion was very well written. She was at the level of Jaheria, or Imoen, or Bastilla. As you make choices you can see her affection going up or down. I would make a choice and see her affection go down and regret it, and try to make a different choice the next time around. She also provided a Ranged DPS character and helped out with combat.
Companions, story and faithfulness to the IP were definite strengths of SWTOR. Another refreshing change from my recent WoW leveling was that I could over pull and actually die. Taking on mobs of my level was fairly easy, but even one level more than me proved very difficult. I never was in danger of out leveling an area, if anything I almost needed more experience, and grinding random mobs to keep up with where the quests were sending me. The experience point curve feels very tightly balanced.
Of course, not everything was perfect, this is still beta after all. There were  a couple of graphical bugs, and I’m hoping they get fixed before launch, although it was suggested to me that I should update my video card drives. I have an old ATI 4800 series, and for the most part it handled the game well. There was one quest that didn’t trigger, but reloading solved that.
The major design flaw I saw was that Bounty Hunters and Agents both start on the same world, Hutta, while Sith Warriors and Sith Inquisitors both start on Korriban. This could be a problem because if you and friend start the game, and he wants to be a force class and you want a tech class, you won’t be able to adventure together until the early teens. Imagine there was no way to get from Teldrasil to Goldshire, and you rolled a human and wanted to play with a friend who rolled a Night Elf. There wasn’t any way I could find to get from Korriban to Hutta before you get your ship and to do that you have to progress through your class story to at least level 10.
The other issue I was was that because of the load on the servers, they broke into shards, or instances similar to what I saw in Champions Online. So I might be in Korriban-1 while my friend was in Korriban-6. Getting together was a little tricky to figure out at first, but we managed. There is a ridiculously long cool down on changing shards that i really hope gets reduced by the time we go live.
I didn’t get far enough to get my advanced class or try a Flashpoint (SWTOR equivalent of a dungeon). I’m hoping I”ll be able to do that in the upcoming weekend. (Stephen Reid, community manager for SWTOR confirmed our characters from the last weekend will carry over!)
I think @Linedan from my Twitter followers said it best, It’s a good game, but do not try to compare it to the insane excessive hype that’s flying around. That’s unrealistic.
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