I’ve been playing SWTOR for about four months now – here’s both a review and a status update on how they’re doing:
I wasn’t excited about SWTOR; at no point in its development did anything about it really grab my attention. I’m not really a Star Wars fan, so the setting wasn’t a bonus. The only feature I heard hyped was the voice acting, which I was skeptical of – that’s for single player games! In MMOs we just want to get through quests quickly! So it sounded to me like WoW in space with some pointless single player style questing.
I was wrong. Very, very wrong.
The questing in SWTOR is far and away the best of any MMO I’ve played. It’s a lot like Mass Effect – voiced dialogue, and 3 (usually) options for you to choose from with a variety of niceness/meanness, light/dark, greedy/altruistic, etc. You get to choose how you want to deal with the quests, at least in a roleplay sense; sometimes it affects gameplay as well.
It’s led to something I never even realized was missing – my characters actually have identity, personality… character. My Shadow, Uria, prefers personal freedom and to avoid fighting if possible. Arie, the Scoundrel, is just all about the credits and killing things… and helping the victimized, especially women. Uriul, the Sentinel, is a model Jedi – except for the “there is no passion, there is serenity” part of the code, as he’s quite passionate with the ladies. Those aren’t the most complex characters ever. They don’t really have backstories, and certainly don’t have the depth to make for good reading. But what personality has developed – in a relatively short period of time – is more impressive when compared to WoW. I’ve been playing WoW for several years, and only one character for most of that time. But I couldn’t give him any attributes whatsoever. He’s… a Death Knight. That’s about it.
The individual quests of SWTOR thus often have interesting choices – that for the most part “don’t matter”, in that you won’t break your character whatever you do, yet have weight because of the story and how your character would deal with it. There were multiple times as I was leveling Uria that I stopped to ponder the moral and practical consequences of my options. That’s a pretty huge improvement over just clicking “Complete Quest”.
You’re also being force-fed story – which has led to me actually being interested in the game world. You CAN still just move through the quest dialogue without listening to it, but watching is so much easier than reading quest text…
And as you’re questing, the actual combat is fun. You’re almost always fighting multiple enemies, unless it’s a very strong one, which you have to fight for many quests – sort of like the Group Quest bosses of WoW, but soloable if you utilize your companion well. Having multiple mobs allows you to approach fights differently, rather than just going up to one and launching into your rotation (or a few attacks of it before the mob dies). Some of each fight tends to be similar – CC the strongest mob if you can, focus the others down one by one; but different group sizes, enemy types, and positioning mean that two fights in a row are rarely the same.
Having no auto attack is interesting – at first I intensely disliked it, because it feels wrong to have to use an ability to kill an enemy at 1% health. But because there’s no auto attack, the combat animations work much better. You feel connected to your character’s actions, because anytime they do something YOU told them to.
This does get old, eventually. Level too many alts too quickly, and having class-based dialogue options doesn’t help very much. Eventually you need to go do other things…
Luckily, there’s other stuff to do that’s also fun!
Space missions, for example. They’re often compared to Wing Commander – on rails shooters where you fly around in your spaceship, shooting other spaceships! They’re simple, but I enjoy them. There’s some challenge in going for bonus objectives. They’re also good experience and credits. (The experience is possibly too good – I outleveled quest content on Uria because I did my space mission dailies.) As far as minigames go, it’s the best I’ve seen.
Then there’s the PvP. It’s limited – there are only 4 Warzones (the equivalent of Battlegrounds) so far, but it’s extremely fun most of the time. BioWare having some Mythic (creators of Dark Age of Camelot, still the best world PvP MMO, and later Warhammer Online, where they did well with the instanced PvP) employees clearly shows – the warzones are designed around objectives and yet actually involve constant combat.
One big part of this is that the maps are simply smaller – which means you don’t have so much running from fight to fight. Imagine Arathi Basin with about half the distance between the two spawns removed – it’d be a far more interesting place, IMO. It also takes longer to kill a player, which is more interesting in general than dying in a few GCDs (it also gives tanks a strong role of protecting others via Guard and Taunt, in addition to node defense), and also allows reinforcements to come and help; so you have fights with an ebb and flow that can last for minutes.
There are some issues with PvP, that have worsened since patch 1.2.
- The time to kill has decreased dramatically; Expertise, the PvP stat, now also scales faster for damage than for defense, so time-to-kill decreases faster as people get more geared than it really should.
- This has led to dual-wielding melee classes, in particular, being overpowered – there’s no longer a real counter to them.
- There are no cross-server queues or rated Warzones, so you frequently end up against teams that are simply far better than yours, and unless you’re on a big server you’re likely to see them over and over.
- The PvP daily can feel like a grind – completing the daily is worth 3-5 Warzones, so it’s worth it, but it makes you “have” to log in. World PvP is nonexistent (although I don’t personally think that’s a problem; I find world PvP mostly an excuse for griefers).
Overall, I feel that SWTOR PvP is superior to WoW’s, although there are times when it’s incredibly frustrating. It could be spectacular if they change the Expertise scaling to favor defense and add cross-server queues.
PvP is great fun but not really revolutionary – the crafting system isn’t fun, exactly, but is unlike anything seen before. It isn’t exactly even something you really… do.
Instead of crafting anything yourself, you have your ship crew do it. You pick 3 skills – gathering, crafting (limited to one crafting skill per character), or mission and then you can assign companions to do them.
- Gathering works pretty much as you’d expect. There are nodes out in the world, you can gather from them. (You can actually do this one thing yourself, though by default your companion does it.)
- The point of Mission skills is generally to get rare items. You can get rare mats for crafting skills, find companion gifts, schematics for orange items (more on those later!), ‘maps’ of sorts that let you unlock one-time (per discovery) missions that give much better rewards than usual. When you send a companion out on a mission (which last from a few minutes up to two hours) they disappear and can’t go out questing with you.
- Crafting also works mostly as normal – except that each item takes longer to make than in WoW. The shortest take a couple minutes, the longest, so far, about 50 minutes. Since your crew are doing it while you’re off doing whatever you want, that’s not nearly as bad as it sounds. The crafting skills are set up so that they each need one gathering and one mission skill to support them.
Items also work pretty much as in WoW. The only noteworthy thing is the item modifications. High quality items usually have a slot or two you can drop a modification in – a hilt for a light sabre, blaster for a pistol, armoring for armor, and so on. You can also remove these, if you want, to reuse on other items, though it costs some credits. The coolest mod-related thing, though, is orange items. These are sort of SWTOR’s initial answer to being able to choose how you look. They’re items that have NO base stats at all, and inherit all their stats from mods you put in. Using these, you can find a cool look for your character and replace the mods in it as you level up. I’ve done so with Uria since… level 25 or so, I think.
You obviously don’t have nearly as much choice as you do in WoW with transmog, but you have more choice than you did in WoW for the first 6 years, and some of the armor looks really cool.
I don’t have any more transitions, so just some more stuff:
- Companions, as you would expect if you’ve ever played a BioWare game, are a big deal – not just for crafting. There are quests involving them (though mostly pure dialogue), you can earn their affection (or lose it) based on your choices as you quest, you can even romance them (though only opposite gender at the moment, a restriction that’s extra dumb when you consider they’re willing to go cross species). The companions aren’t as well fleshed out as in Dragon Age or NWN2, but they’re on par with Mass Effect. You can micromanage them in combat if you want to, or you can let them do their own thing; they’re mostly smart, but you can turn off AE attacks if you need to.
- Glowing corpses – instead of just sparkling as in WoW, SWTOR has a ray of light (sort of like WoW raid markers) on corpses with loot, colored based on the type of loot it has. So if you don’t want to bother picking up trash loot and credits, you can skip those.
- Excellent sound and music – lightsaber noises are cool! So is the John Williams score, and other music.
- There are interesting class options – my Jedi Shadow is a lot like a rogue, for example, but has a tanking tree. Smugglers can become Scoundrels, which can either be a short range/melee DPS class or a healer.
- The new Legacy system in 1.2 allows you to unlock cool things either with credits or by leveling characters.
- They have a live events team – they were able to launch a week-long live event (the outbreak of a zombie-like plague, unfortunately similar to the WoW event) with no advance warning or leaks.
really like the core of SWTOR – it has good combat, it has good questing, it has good PvP. But it’s the other things that it lacks. The game isn’t 7 years old – it hasn’t had time to accumulate all the things that WoW has for you to do when you don’t want to play the core parts of the game. There’s very little collection – there are only a couple minipets and a dozen or so speeders, no achievements, and not very many titles. (Oddly there used to be a lot more titles, but BioWare removed them just before launch.) They do have Datacrons, which are small permanent stat boosts that you can go collect (they usually involve some difficulty getting to them – jumping, hidden doors, that sort of thing). And they have the Codex, which is like Warhammer Online’s Tome of Knowledge – it stores the little pieces of lore you discover. (If Mythic’s ToK team is working on SWTOR, you can expect it to get much bigger and tied in with their achievements.) They certainly don’t have pet battles.
Another issue is that BioWare is new to this, and is still making dumb mistakes. For example, in Ilum (a zone that’s basically 50+, although the game first tells you about it at 40) they had these chests spawning along the road. The chests were unguarded by mobs, had a set respawn timer of five minutes, and contained high level items (healing kits, credits, crafting mats, armor, etc). So, some people realized that you could get these regardless of your level – and started, basically, farming them. BioWare then warned these people to stop or they would be banned. There was nothing in the game to prevent lower levels from getting to Ilum; BioWare simply said that players should know they “weren’t supposed to be there”, and if they went anyway they were exploiting. BioWare basically threatened players for being smart and hardcore. (They said they were worried about the impact on the economy – but if people actually looting the chests is bad for the economy, the chests are a horrible idea to begin with.) I believe they still haven’t added a level restriction to the planet…
There are no addons. There will be eventually, but there aren’t now, and I miss them. The UI isn’t horrible, but it’s no better than the default WoW UI. 1.2 did add the ability to customize the UI to a degree, but a lot is still missing.
The economy is fairly weak. There aren’t a lot of BOE items, and a downside of orange gear means that the BiS item for you is very obvious. The Global Trade Network (their AH; though there’s actually no bidding, just buyouts, so there’s no ‘auction’ per se) is troublesome without addons, and there is a limit of 50 listings per character.
But probably the biggest issues are the lack of population and of a way to find groups, which tie together into people not being able to do things.
You have to get groups the way you did in WoW pre-LFD – go into the city and spam general chat (people use general chat in SWTOR, and leave Trade for trading! It’s amazing). This means that people out questing who want to do a dungeon aren’t going to see you looking. You can set yourself as LFG so it’ll show in /who if someone searches a zone, but it’s no substitute for LFD.
This compounds with a low-ish population – the game as a whole is fine, but there are too many servers by far. I’ve heard they opened dozens of new ones shortly after launch to ease login queues – that was a mistake. There are anywhere from 50-150 players per planet (counting Empire as well), usually, but only during primetime. The rest of the time, things are dead. Which is fine if you’re leveling or, like me, just sitting about on the Fleet while sending crew out on missions – but for those who want to do a dungeon in the middle of the day, it can be tough.
THE CONCLUSION TO THIS EPIC TALE
Overall, I think SWTOR’s definitely the best MMO to come out since WoW (though I didn’t play all of them, like Rift and AoC). WoW offers far more things to do – SWTOR can’t match all those systems that have been added over the years, and will be further behind when MoP is out. But two of the three core systems, leveling/questing and PvP, are very strong – much better than WoW. Which leaves only the end-game raiding and dungeons, which I haven’t seen yet. If those are as good (or even close to) as WoW, SWTOR will end up being better overall in time.
Questing far better than other MMOs (and I care!)
Strategic & fun combat
PvP that involves LOTS of fighting, centered around objectives
Not much non-core stuff to do
(Pending Raids/dungeons; this is assuming they’re at least decent. Revised downward from my original score of 9, as PvP has become worse.)