Star Wars the Old Republic Beta Impressions
I should start this off by admitting that I'm not the hardest of hardcore MMO players. In comparison to those players, I would almost seem like a very casual MMO player. I tend to hop from one MMO to another, only playing a couple weeks a month, and then usually taking a break for a few months before I jump back in. This is where Star Wars the Old Republic threw me for a loop. I literally could not tear myself away from the Press Beta.
During the limited time of the beta, I wanted to ensure that I was able to experience the most out of the class choices, but also try to focus on one so I can level it much as I can. I ended up playing four of the eight available classes.
I won't get into specifics when it comes to the storylines of each charecter class, but rest assured that they're all drastically different. Upon entering the game, you'll be introduced to the very "Mass Effect" like conversations right away. You'll first think to yourself that this fully voiced sequence is tied to just the main storyline, until you stumble upon the first side quest and realize 'Holy sh*t, this whole game is voiced!'. It's a realization that will make you stop and simply look upon the game in awe when you consider just how much work went into crafting the game.
The four classes I played were the Jedi Knight, Sith Inquisitor, Smuggler and Bounty Hunter. I wanted to get a good dose of gameplay for each class, and see how they differ in combat mechanics. Jedi Knights are very nimble, up-close warriors that close their distance quickly and then dispose of their opponents with flourishes of their lightsabers. The Sith Inquisitor plays more like a mage, though he's still able to get in the middle of a fight with a lightsaber. I was able to mostly hold off my opponents with Force Lightning, while also stunning them with a Force Whirlwind attack. I definitely had to be more conscious of my surroundings as an Inquisitor, but it was still a fairly powerful class.
The two ranged classes I played were also quite different from each other. The Smuggler has a special move which sends him into a roll to any nearby cover. This also enables him to gain some extra abilities that aren't open to him when not in cover. This mechanic turns an otherwise straightforward shootout into an intense cover-to-cover battle. Further down the line, you're also able to deploy your own cover, just in case there is nothing close by to hide behind. The Bounty Hunter is a little bit different, as he just focuses on pure firepower with some high-powered missile attacks. Using these missiles frequently will overheat his blasters, however. That requires them to be vented. This system of balancing laser blasts with more powerful missile barrages makes the battles feel more thought out, rather than straight button spamming.
If you haven't heard yet (though I doubt that's possible), there is no auto attack in SWTOR. That's right, every single attack requires a button press, even a shot from your blaster or a swing of your lightsaber. This was something I was initially worried about, but once I actually started playing, I found it to be far more engaging than any other MMO I've played. No longer can you right click on an enemy and just wait till you duke it out, pressing the occasional skill--this time it's all about action, and choosing each and every move you want to make. In a way, it's kind of like Knights of the Old Republic, but instead of setting up a queue of attacks, you execute them as they become available.
There are a few things that I discovered while playing the beta. I was always curious how group conversations worked, specifically when you decided to answer as either light or dark side, while your group mate answered the opposite. I was afraid that it would potentially ruin my opportunity on being the most wholesome Jedi in the Universe, never committing a dark deed in my life. The way it works is that while you pick your answer, a behind the scenes dice roll figured out which one of you actually answers. When the time comes on picking either a light side or dark side answer, you still get the points for the one you picked. However, if your party member wins the dice roll, you'll see his choice play out in the cutscene rather than yours. It's a neat system still, even if I do foresee it raising some problems further down the line.
I really can't stress how having a coherent storyline is such an immense game changer. No longer are you walking up to NPC's and automatically skipping the quest description to go collect five wolf pelts, just to return them to that same NPC and have no idea why you just did any of that. Every single NPC that offers a quest is voiced and has some sort of important issue that you can choose to help with, or completely ignore. Sure you still might have to go and kill a few animals to collect their hearts, but it turns out one of the native Twi'lek's son is dying of a horrible disease that can only be cured by the blood from those specific hearts. In the middle of the questline you find out that the Twi'lek mother is also a thief, and you can either choose that local troops apprehend her and leave her son to die, or help her son survive while telling her that she should leave if she doesn't want to be arrested. I'm just paraphrasing the questline of course, but these types of quests are what you'll be encountering very frequently, and they make what would normally be a mindless grind for levels, an extremely enjoyable story that just keeps pushing you to keep playing.
While these sidequests are optional, I found that rushing through the main story quests left me mostly underleveled and had a tough time completing them. So as "optional" as they might be, they are mandatory if you want to be a high enough level to actually progress in the story. That's not to say you can't team up with other people to make fights easier, but you'll find that as you keep progressing, you'll constantly be halted by not being able to accept certain quests until you hit a specific level.
Main story sequences are reserved for each player specifically, and turn into an instance, as to ensure that there arent 10 other Jedi Knights crowding a single story-based NPC. These sections are always blocked off by a green force field, indicating you're allowed to step through it and further the storyline. Red force fields indicate that you're either not eligible to walk through to that area yet, or that story location belongs to a different class entirely.
I, along with everyone else at GZ, are amazed at how much of a game changer Star Wars the Old Republic is. Fans won't have to wait much longer to finally jump into the world of The Old Republic since the game launches in little over a month now.