The Fansite Summit was the first time I got to play an origin world. We were given the choice of playing either a Bounty Hunter or an Imperial Agent. Since Carla picked the Agent, I went with the BH.
In a nutshell, I really enjoyed the game. Playing Star Wars: The Old Republic feels like playing a major MMO, but with a much more enjoyable and engaging leveling experience. It’s hard to convey how much that does change the whole gameplay experience.
A Word of Explanation
Before I continue, a little personal background is in order. Here are things you need to know about me so that you can judge my comments in the correct context:
- My major MMO experience is Word of Warcraft.
- I did PvE raiding content and took my job seriously, but was not in an elite guild.
- I like solo play. A lot. I like questing.
- I’m not a PvPer.
- I understand it has problems, but I still think World of Warcraft is a good game overall. From what I see, RIFT is a good game because it is like World of Warcraft, with significant improvements.
Bounty Hunter, Combat
My Bounty Hunter was a female Rattataki named Khurya. The Rattataki is one of my least favorite playable species so far, but I found myself liking Khurya’s look right from the beginning – in game, the Rattataki are pretty bad-ass. This particular class/gender/species combo has improved since the first time we saw it in the Cinematic Design Developer Blog back in March. The female character VO was solid and I found myself chuckling often at Khurya’s sardonic responses (“You need me to kill someone?” “My soft spot is credits.”)
I ran about, picking up opening quests, seeing if I could interact with anything in the building (I couldn’t). In this build the minimap is in the lower right corner. It has the usual markers that you can toggle if you want trainers, vendors, mailboxes, etc. to appear. I actually found it a little tricky to navigate inside buildings using the minimap, because I had a hard time distinguishing doorways from walls, but that might have been a matter of me needing new reading glasses. Eventually I escaped to the outside and began my first kills.
The Bounty Hunter starts on Nal Hutta. The town is the usual assortment of buildings and roads with hostile mobs in clusters. In general, it was possible to avoid many of the mobs if I stuck to the road. In the starter zone most of the mobs are humanoids in groups of three. I almost never saw a lone humanoid that wasn’t tied to a larger group, so most of the combat was against multiple mobs. Sometimes when I came across a group I needed to kill, I saw only two mobs at first, but when I looked closer, I could make out a third figure, perhaps sitting against a wall. When I engaged the group, it was fun to watch them react in different ways. Some ran up, some dashed behind a wall. I never had to deal with one that tried to run away.
As a Bounty Hunter with some nice ranged and close abilities, plus a couple crowd control abilities, I felt comfortable taking on groups of three, even if they were a level or two above me. I fell into a general pattern of starting with a long-range missile that took a couple seconds to charge up. This did some AOE damage to those nearby and a lot of damage to the target. It also usually knocked the target on his butt. Another one of these missiles and the target was almost dead. I finished him off with a less powerful and faster Rigid Shot. By this time the other two mobs were on top of me. The flame thrower was a nice crowd control ability if I thought I needed it. Sometimes I just used it because I liked watching the mobs half crouch and hold their hands up to their faces as if screaming, “AHHHHH IT BURRRRRNNNNNS.” The Electro Dart was another cc choice, when necessary.
It was fun to have such an array of abilities at such a low level (I made it only to level 6).
Combat is a little more challenging in SWTOR than in World of Warcraft or RIFT, based on the number of times I died. In WoW, if you know what you’re doing, you can go through several levels at a time without dying once. RIFT is a little more challenging because the zones tend to be densely populated with hostile targets and the chance of aggroing extra mobs is higher, which feels annoying, not like an intentional design decision. Questing in SWTOR never felt mindless. I had to pay attention to my surroundings. I had to be more careful in combat. It felt good when you survived because it wasn’t a foregone conclusion from the moment you took your first shot.
Side note: I hardly used my Vent Heat ability. Bounty Hunter abilites heat up your gear to the point where you supposedly have to vent off the heat buildup or you won’t be able to use key abilities. In solo play I hardly ever needed it. Perhaps they’ve tweaked that mechanic so it is less important?
One of the major complaints about Nal Hutta was the lack of med centers. When you are defeated (never killed), you respawn at a med center somewhere else on the map. Because the med centers were not conveniently located, I had a very irritating twenty minutes or so of being repeatedly killed in the same spot, being thrown halfway across the map to the med center, and then having to fight my way back to the beginning because the mobs had respawned. After that happened three times, I finally figured out I didn’t have to go the route I had chosen. Still, I turned to Allison Bridge, one of the BioWare reps hanging about, and asked if anyone had complained about the death system. Was it perhaps tougher being alive and trying to get back to your original spot than simply ghosting to your corpse? She said they were definitely aware that Hutta needs more med centers. She even went so far as to say they are looking at the death system itself and might consider changing it.
Remember how I said I liked questing? Well in SWTOR, I loved it. Talking to different NPCs felt like watching a movie. Giving me choices about how I wanted to complete the quests made me care about what I was doing. And to have the story change things up on me – going into a quest thinking the situation was one way, and then finding out it was something different – kept me on my toes and forced me to consider my actions.
Which brings me to my next point: if you play this game properly, you will find yourself role-playing with yourself. As I was presented with conversational choices, I really did try to figure out who my character was, and what she might say. I was trying to explore my Dark Side and often chose the “mean” answer, but I was not very consistent here because it just made me feel guilty, so if anyone was looking at my conversations, I probably seemed extremely erratic. And sometimes there would be a conversational choice that was way too tempting, and even though it seemed as if it might turn out bad for me, I couldn’t help myself.
The main thing is, I really threw myself into defining my character’s personality. None of my WoW toons have personalities; they’re just extensions of me. And even if any of them had personalities, it would have made not one whit of difference to my questing experience.
Questing! The quests are story-related fetch and kill objectives. If you space through the VO set-up, the quests are going to feel exactly like WoW quests. Indicators on your map tell you where your quest objectives are. You have class quests and regular quests. Your class quests lead you into separate class areas at the questing hub, which is a inconvenient if you’re trying to quest with a friend of a different class because he will not be able to follow you. You probably won’t be hanging around that restricted area that long, but still.
I grouped with Carla only briefly when we happened to share several quests, so I did not get a chance to experience this, but I did want to mention a brilliant group questing feature: the Join Via Holocron option. If party members are not physically in the same spot, and one member of the party encounters an NPC who wants to initiate a conversation, the other members can also participate in the conversation via Holocron. The distant party members will appear in the conversation as holo images and may participate in the conversational choices as if they were actually in the room. Wonderful!
Does it Feel Like an MMO?
This is tough to judge. There weren’t that many people around, but that’s because there were only about thirty of us and I think we were in our own little fansite realm. I never talked to anyone that wasn’t Carla, and that’s only because she was sitting right next to me. I remember seeing a person here and there, but the zone felt empty except for mobs.
I grouped with Carla and SWTOR Life’s Serge to tackle the first Imperial flashpoint. We got started late and ended a bit early, so we unfortunately did not complete the flashpoint, but we saw enough to appreciate what a great design it is. Our party was a Bounty Hunter, two Imperial Agents, and my healing companion, Mako. I essentially ignored Mako after telling her it was her responsibility to heal. That’s not optimal management of your companion in a flashpoint, but I was too busy having fun with Death from Above, slowly rising above everyone else and then blasting bad stuff down. You target a spot on the floor, not a specific mob, to trigger that ability, so I was also doing it a lot when we were hanging around at the beginning, doing nothing.
Multi-dialog conversation was quite fun. I found myself getting irritated that Carla seemed to be winning all the rolls because I really wanted my character to get more on-screen time. I noticed that I was winning and losing Affection Rating with my companion, Mako, for my dialog choices, which turned conversation into yet another minigame. For the record, that Mako does inscrutable Asian really well. It was really hard to please her with my multi-dialog choices.
We wiped right out of the gate (!), but then developed a rhythm that pushed us through the trash and Jedi and big robots. Mako kept up well, doing her heals, shooting, and chasing behind us. A couple times she didn’t want to go in the elevator, but those were the times we weren’t supposed to go in the elevator, so it was fine. Overall, we had a great time making people cower in fear, smashing through enemies, killing giant droids. What we saw was a really well-tuned group experience with a lot of dynamic combat – perfect for a first flashpoint.
Oh, and Carla killed the captain.
This is the class I intend to play first, so it made me nervous that every single person I spoke to who had played the Imperial Agent on Monday said they didn’t really like the cover mechanic. I thought I had better try it out on Tuesday when I got another couple hours on the origin worlds.
My Smuggler was a female Twi’lek. Don’t ask me anything else about her, I really do not remember. I was too intent on playing the game with what little time I had left.
Cover was definitely something new to me, but I found that as I kept plowing through, it got easier and easier, and I started to like it. Target mob, hold down Shift to see cover points, pick one that looks good, move forward and maybe tap the strafe to position a little better, and hit R. Bam, I rolled into cover. From there, I had some nice power shots that dispatched the enemy very, very quickly. By this time the other mobs might have come around the side, which eliminated my offensive bonus (if there is no green icon floating above the mob’s head, you may as well stand up and start whalin’). In general, for solo play, it doesn’t make sense to try to find another cover point. Just be a man and finish them off.
Side note: the Smuggler has what must be the best Recharge animation. When I wanted to replenish my health, the character flipped a coin in the air once, then did it again and drew on it, shooting the coin to oblivion.
- I had one bag for my stuff, an entirely separate bag for quest items.
- I saw upgrade stations for armor, lightsabers, etc. in towns.
- /surrender was my favorite emote. My toon threw her hands up in the air and held them there as if a victim of a bank robbery.
- The taxi system on Nal Hutta is not laid out conveniently. I was happy to see three taxi stations during my questing time there, but it never seemed helpful to use them because they were so weirdly placed.
- Quest rewards are satisfying. My gear and weapon upgrades came early and often.
- It was mildly frustrating to be exploring a complex and run all the way over to the other side to check out a space you hadn’t seen yet, only to be stopped by a red phased door. Wrong class.