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SW:TOR -- An Early Review


Xcore's Avatar


Xcore
12.23.2011 , 04:45 PM | #1
SW:TOR Early Review



1) There is no tl;dr
2) This is not meant to offend
3) This is not meant to troll
4) All Scores are 1-10, 1 being the worst possible and 10 being the best possible


Having played SW:TOR since December 13th (Early Access) it has been exactly 10 Days of Playtime now. During this time I have leveled a Smuggler to lvl21, a Jedi Knight to lvl23 and again, A Smuggler to lvl18. Of course this is not much time to evaluate a game at full BUT it is a “perfect” playing experience for an “Early” Review. I will write a “Full Review” in March (March 30th to be exact) and I am planning to do an in depth review of “Endgame” in August 2012. I should also mention that I play mostly with my fiancée and our class composition is (Me) Smuggler – Gunslinger and (Her) Consular – Sage.


You may ask yourself:

A) Why should I care?
B) Why do you care so much?

The answer to both is rather simple. Firstly, you don’t have to care, this is merely an attempt to convey my experiences with SW:TOR, a discussion piece perhaps? I would love to read all of your replies, regardless of your opinion (Agree with points or Disagree). Why do I care so much? Simple as well, I have followed SW:TOR’s progress since 2008. I recall reading the SWG Forums (Rumor Section) that Bioware opened an Austin Studio etc. I am simply very invested in SW:TOR and thus also opinionated.


Reviewers Experience:

**Before I begin, here is a little background on my experience in MMOs specifically: (I realize that many believe this to be an e-peen thing and are quite offended, please simply skip this section)

I have started my MMO experience in SWG (Star Wars Galaxies), having played it since release I was able to acquire an original (Pre-CU) Jedi. Sparing you the details of this feat., it was a decent accomplishment at the time. I was fortunate enough to be a Mayor (<3) of a nicely sized City (forget the level but not max). When the CU (Combat Upgrade) hit SWG, I nearly quit the game but stayed around and worked to get a second Jedi Character on my second account through the “Village Grind” which made it significantly easier. However, when the NGE (New Game Enhancements) hit SWG, I quit for good and still remember the last night of PvP before the NGE…

I then switched to WoW and began my adventures in this amazing new world. My highlights in WoW include Field Marshal Rank in Vanilla WoW PvP. I have also been very fortunate to be part of Top100 Raiding World placements with the guilds <Templar Knights> and <Damage Networks> on the Mug’thol Server during T5 and T6. After a short hiatus before WotLK, I was accepted to Top100 U.S. Guild <Tasty Beverage> for T8 Progression. My WoW career has been winding down since the ending of ICC and the Lich King and having felt nothing but disappointment with Cataclysm, I am now saddened to say that WoW is history for me.

I hope the above is not too offensive, I am not attempting to brag about pseudo accomplishments but rather would like you to get know me better before reading my perspective/opinion/early review of SW:TOR.



General Review


Presentation: (8.9/10)

I believe that the vast amount of Production Quality really shows, the presentation for SW:TOR is largely superb. EA, LucasArts as well as Bioware have seemingly invested “a lot” of meticulous dedication, effort and attention to detail… as well as boatloads of money in order to polish up SW:TORs initial impressions. From the Trailers through the Server Selection and Character Creation Menus to the Crawl Text Introduction, everything is superb and it’s a joy to go through (Perhaps especially after waiting 3+ years!).

I find it very hard to really critique the Presentation and Production Quality of SW:TOR, they really did a marvelous job. Thus, I won’t waste more time praising it


Graphics/Visuals: (7.4/10)

This is of course very much subject to your system specifications but I will say this, if you are able to run SW:TOR at or near its highest settings with AA and Shadows maximized, it is simply beautiful. Of course it is no Skyrim, the art style doesn’t even attempt this direction… it would be silly to compare Apples to Oranges. However, fairly comparing it to a World of Warcraft, it is a “far” superior visual experience.

While the world and environments look great, it is not difficult to find negatives. Even at highest detail, the armor and clothing seems “smudgy” and “not so detailed”. Another graphical issue that I’ve had is in conversation cut-scenes, faces would at times “Bug Out” and look quite hilarious… or frightening but this is not unusual for a Bioware Game.


Music/SFX: (9.7/10)

I don’t believe that I have “ever” played a game in which the sound was so “key” and so noticeably, overwhelmingly “amazing” as SW:TOR. Perhaps large part of the credit should go to LucasArts, the Star Wars Music is amazing. If you are a Star Wars Fan and have just created your character, the Opening Crawl Text should succeed in sending shivers down your spine. The musical elements from zone to zone are distinct and very successful at setting the right mood.

It is also the little things, when entering combat you hear a pacey Star Wars soundtrack but when health gets lower and the fight intensifies (or perhaps engage a stronger elite mob or you pop your cooldown) it changes to sound even more dramatic. These features have really helped to set the mood and make one feel truly in the Star Wars universe.

As far as SFX are concerned, as expected they are superb. Lightsaber humming and clashing, speeders flying through Coruscant’s busy Skyways, Imperial Starship Gun Turrets, Shuttles entering a planet’s atmosphere and landing, blasters, explosions… its too much to list, you have to experience it to truly understand the masterpiece that SW:TOR has achieved in terms of “Sound”. I should give a simple and special example of this genius, it is incredible how many different and distinct “Weapon Sounds” there are. Play a Smuggler or a Trooper or an Imperial Agent, essentially they all shoot blasters (energy weapons) but the sounds are so distinctly different that you really feel it.

As you walk through Coruscant or a Settlement on Taris, you may hear NPCs chatting about, your companion chimes in with a remark here or there. This is all staple Bioware design and the Musical Cues and effect timing is key to the overall success of “Sound”, some credit definitely has to go to Bioware here. At the risk of continuing to froth at the mouth thinking about the sound in SW:TOR, I will simply say it is near completely flawless and add to that, just because I seriously cannot come up with a flaw, that does not mean it isn’t there (Nothing is in fact flawless… not even an FL Diamond).


Missions/Leveling: (7.2/10)

Missions essentially are “Quests”, you get one from an NPC (Non-Playable Character) and you do whatever mission he gives you, once completed you return to him and turn it in for a reward. There is almost no deviation from the standard quest system. Of course instead of a little pop-up window with a bunch of quest text you get a fully voiced cinematic and make your own choices in conversation, gaining light side/dark side points, social points and gaining or losing affection with your companion. Once again, this shows the production value is very high here.

One can say that you are essentially killing 10 Rats, picking up their tail and bringing it back to Farmer Joe who has a Rat problem. However, firstly you can show displeasure at this task before even undertaking it by saying “Farmer Joe, you imbecile… I expect a reward for this or else…” (You lose Affection Points with your companion for this response and gain Dark Side Points!) this is deeply gratifying at a psychological level. Secondly, you now know that this isn’t just any Farmer, Farmer Joe is in fact an old Civil War Veteran who has lost everything in the war, his wife, his kids and his honor… perhaps it isn’t “so bad” to help this poor fellow out. Thirdly, I have yet to encounter a mission that “makes no sense”, all these rats will in fact have tails… And lastly, upon turning in the completed mission, you may be able kill him and take his wallet…

Heroic Missions are a very great part of the leveling experience, as mentioned I am playing through with my Fiancée and we “2man” the Heroic +4 Missions, this is great fun and a little challenge. We find ourselves having to use CC, heal properly, focus target, control companions etc.

In the end yes, Bioware did not re-invent the wheel with the leveling process, perhaps Guild Wars 2 will. What Bioware very successfully did is make it “more enjoyable”, if you allow it to be. If however you really, really don’t care about any form of storyline or don’t at all enjoy the dialogues then yes, leveling and missions will be a pain in the butt.

I should note that the missions can be quite hit or miss, there are instances when it feels like a grind. When you accept many missions and go about completing them, you may start losing track of what they are all really for, perhaps story-sensory overload? At times, the travelling between objective and mission giver is nonsensical and not very well thought out (this can be fixed).


Flashpoints: (8.2/10)

Flashpoints are SW:TOR’s instanced group missions, the equivalent of WoW’s Dungeons. Once again, one could say its just an Instance with trash mobs and bosses to kill but that statement would be far too generalizing and not grasp the true evolution of Dungeons -> Flashpoints in the MMO Genre. I have played through: The Esseles, Hammer Station and Athiss.

The intertwined story, the epic feeling of defending your ship from an Imperial Boarding Party and then counter attacking as a small task force (onto the Imperial Ship) to destroy the power core to release the tractor beam and escape! I see SW:TOR’s Flashpoints as a huge success, they are incredibly fun and rewarding to play through. They are not too short (which is becoming an issue with WoW’s Dungeons) and thus feel very epic.

My only concern is the difficulty level, the few Flashpoints that I have played through seemed very easy in both Trash Mobs as well as Bosses, there were no real challenges in mechanics or throughput requirements (DPS, Healing, Tanking). I will not necessarily hold this against the overall score because it makes sense for the lower level Flashpoints not to be too difficult as many players may still be learning and may be new to this genre. It is also possible that my MMO experience is too advanced to be able to truly appreciate these lower level Flashpoints.

I do believe that they are very well designed, the flow of Trash Mobs and the Maps and paths are very, very well designed. The visuals as well the storytelling only add to the overall very positive experience.


PvP: (7.0/10)

I am currently Valor Rank 9 I believe, I have played my share of Warzones but not as a primary gameplay. I realize there is controversy within the PvP community regarding the map designs (Especially of Huttball) and I will go into detail with each of the three. However, to generalize PvP… I found it to be quite fun on the whole. I like the rewards following a match (XP – Valor – Commendations etc.), I love the fact that players are forced to sit and analyze the scoreboard as well as vote MVP instead of just exiting, perhaps this will force higher average skill levels. It is very hard to delve into the details of “balance” etc. at this low level so I will not even attempt it. However, I do feel the need to say that “CC” (Crowd Control) is a little bit overpowered in the sense that there are no diminishing returns what-so-ever. The “Bolster” system is another debate to be had, I am undecided if it is a good or bad thing in general… this requires further review and analysis.

There is also a fair amount of “lag” in Warzones, this may be the most negative aspect. I believe this is due to poor optimization on Bioware’s part and I hope that it is continued to be worked on and soon fixed. To be clear, I am not talking about “Graphical Lag” or “Bad Internet Connection” etc. Lastly, It was quite annoying that our group was always disbanded upon entering a Warzone so that when we exited the Warzone we had to re-group.


Crew Skills: (7.8/10)

I will preface this section by saying that I am generally not a crafting person, I don’t enjoy crafting or gathering what-so-ever. That said, I am pleasantly surprised by the Crew Skills, I am having a great time with this… perhaps its because I feel like I have a “Crew” doing it (when in fact its still me really micromanaging) or perhaps it’s the “way” the leveling of these professions is undertaken. For example, I love sending out my companion on a Diplomatic Mission, having him gone for 5-6minutes and return with a result. Its almost an RP element…

As for the gathering, (btw, I have Bioanalysis, Biochem and Diplomacy) its not much different than any other way of gathering in an MMO with one slight but awesome exception. If you travel with a companion, you can have him go and pick it up while you check your inventory, character sheet, equip stuff etc. The only thing I wish is that this would work while in combat so that I could have him start the pull and I go get the plant and join in afterwards. I’m not sure if this is not implemented because of potential exploitation (which makes sense) or simply an oversight.

I should note lastly that the crafting professions are quite easy to level and while you’re on your way to lvl50 the items available to craft are actually very useful and not too hard to make. Its very useful… thus its very fun.



Detailed Review

Movement & Animation Responsiveness: (6.3/10)

This category may just be the most important to many gamers, I would argue the most important to all those WoW Veterans. It is a very hard to define issue. WoW did one thing better than any other MMO to date and any other game has ever done at the time, its Character Response was near perfect.

This is something that all the failed MMOs of the past have sorely lacked and missed completely. I feel very divided about this one. On the one hand I am sure that SW:TOR is “far” better in Character Responsiveness than any other MMO of late (Warhammer, Aion, Rift, LotRO CoH/CoV etc. etc.). It is very good, I have no issues with it while I do missions or go leveling or walk around the Fleet Station.

However!, and here is where I will lose many of you perhaps… once I started PvPing, I realized that SW:TOR is not there yet, it is not at the WoW Pinnacle of Character Response. I am not merely speaking of the famous Hunter: Run Jump 180 Degrees --> Turnaround Shoot at Pursuing Enemy --> Jump 180 Degrees again to face forward once more --> Continue running without ever missing a beat, all within one swift, silky smooth movement. No, I realize that jumping in SW:TOR causes a loss of momentum, and this I like! (it naturally punished bunnyhopping!).

Once again! However, if you have ever PvP’d at a serious level (or perhaps at all) in WoW, you will know of the difference. It is very hard to explain or define to someone who has not experienced this but I strictly believe it is an absolute “key” defining characteristic to get right.

So if you are not sure how SW:TOR stacks up in this category to WoW (as WoW is the pinnacle of this very category), I would say it is not far behind at all but it isn’t there yet. My hopes are that unlike Warhammer: Online which could never get this right as the issues were in the outdated engine and coding, SW:TOR will be able to improve on this and within the first year be on equal terms as WoW.


PvE Combat/Rotations: (7.9/10)

My perspective in this category will be a little limited as I have only played a Smuggler and a Jedi Knight myself to the low-mid 20s. However, I have watched my fiancée as well on her Sage, DPSing and Healing.

I believe the lack of a Combat Log, Damage Parser or any Addons makes it a little more challenging to really determine optimization in rotations. Having said that it is still possible to get a good feel for ones class’ rotation and optimize oneself. As a Smuggler, I loved the energy resource… it is very similar to Rogues in WoW with a very positive and interesting twist. As your energy gets lower, its regeneration slows down to a near crawl. I found it very fun to optimize my Energy Consumption/DPS Ratio and then time a “Burn Phase” to zero energy as the boss’ HP hits zero as well. Essentially then a Smuggler – Gunslinger feels a bit like a WoW Rogue with a mixed resource system between Rogue Energy and Arcane Mage Mana Consumption.

As a Jedi Knight, the standard “Rage” system was implemented, you hit things… you gain rage. As a Guardian, you gain rage upon getting hit as well. However, once again it feels as though the Development Team took several WoW like ideas and expanded upon them. A Jedi Knight’s resource system (Focus) is more like a mix between a Warrior’s Rage and a Death Knight’s Runic Power in the sense that certain abilities give a certain amount of focus.

My fiancée on her Consular had the “Force” resource, which essentially is Mana from WoW for those of you who are more familiar with WoW Terminology. On longer fights it did have the potential to run out so some Force Management is required but in general leveling and mission running there is no such issue.

I would say that PvE Combat is very successful in SW:TOR, I believe Bioware hit the right mixture of “Familiar enough to WoW standards” and “New and exciting enough to those bored of WoW”. However, one very big issue I have with the design is that “A LOT” of skills and abilities are carbon copies of WoW Abilities. Before someone retorts: “Its not like WoW invented Healing!” or “So, WoW stole from EQ” etc. I don’t simply mean that a Jedi Knight has the ability to reduce armor, that is fine. What is not fine is that the ability that reduces armor is EXACTLY the same as the one a Warrior has in WoW and by exactly I mean A) Same, exact name B) it stacks to 5 (Remember, stacking 5 sunders?... its back) C) It reduces the armor % by the exact same as in WoW… that for me, is too much.


Alderaan Warzone – The Civil War: (8.2/10)

The objective is to shoot down the enemy’s ship, this is accomplished through the control of three Turrets spaced evenly apart. This Warzone is essentially about controlling a “Node”, it is captured by simply right clicking on it begins to shoot the enemy ship. These nodes need to be defended and as the Warzone goes on you can see the Ship Health Meters at the top right of your screen go down, the ship that reaches zero first goes down.

I enjoy this Warzone very much, the Map Layout is very well engineered, the different pathways from Turret to Turret offer multiple strategic elements and choices even the control points themselves can be strategically exploited (most notably the middle Turret).

There isn’t much to say except, job well done. I enjoy this Warzone very much and appreciate the design of the map. If this Warzone was in WoW it would be on par with WSG in terms of popular fun (even though the objective is that of AB). However I believe the respawn location and the travel back to the Warzone to be terrible.


The Voidstar: (7.8/10)

The objective here is to recover a Data Core and to get to it several “Blockades” (Doors) have to be broken through via explosive devices. Essentially, once again this is Strands of the Ancients from WoW without the Vehicles (Thank the Maker). There are 3 checkpoints until the Core Terminal can be accessed. To place the explosive device simply click on the center (Yellow) field of the door and once planted it turns to purple. The exciting part is that it can be disarmed so the entire Warzone is essentially about Offense/Defense shifting, you have to Defend even when on Offense at times and play Offensively even on Defense.

Once again, the ultimately negative part of this Warzone is the vehicle ride before it starts and some of the respawn locations are dubious but overall, well designed once again and hats off to Bioware’s PvP Engineering. This isn’t perfect but far more fun than WoW’s equivalents (WoW compared as market leader).


Huttball: (8.7/10)

This is a hot subject, some “love” Huttball and have great fun with it and others completely “Hate” it, I’d argue Imperial Players hate it a bit more as they get more often since it appears that on average, The Empire has more players and Huttball allows the same faction to play against each other. Thus, the queue times for Huttball are much lower for Imperials than Republic Players.

As for Huttball itself, I…. love it. I just enjoy the “Sport like” aspect of it, the movement of the Ball Carrier is far more important than the Flag Carrier in WSG for example. There simply is more “emphasis” on the goal, the objective. The Map, though many hate it due to the dangers of being knocked off etc. I find amazing! And not in a “noob” way of looking at the PvP Scene. I absolutely love “Leg Shotting” someone who is pursuing me across the fire that is about to activate.

Perhaps I simply enjoy higher risk PvP, perhaps I am not attuned to the real competitive attitude that frowns upon the RNG of Huttball but agree with me or not, I love Huttball because it is unique. In a Genre where really nothing is unique anymore, Bioware was able to introduce a Warzone/Battleground that is fresh, new and to me… fun.


Space Combat: (n/a)

I have done two missions in space, not nearly enough to even begin to review. Apologies…


Companions: (9.5/10)

Companions are another key aspect of SW:TOR that Bioware pushes as “the difference” between SW:TOR and anything else you’ll play out there. Companions are a very complex subject to touch on as there are many layers of “Gameplay Elements” from Crafting , Storytelling, Missions and Leveling to Open World PvP. My general verdict is that not only are Companions a “benefit” and a credit to the game but rather SW:TOR would not work without them.

Are companions just another pet and thus essentially make everyone a Pet Class? That is a fair argument and a case can be made for it but I would offer a resounding “NO”. They are more than that, they are not necessarily more intelligent than a WoW Cat or Bear but they do add so much more. I am by far not an RPer but I cannot help but get attached to Corso Riggs, Bioware has really succeeded in making me feel for my companions. This is a mere psychological effect but a profound one.

As far as functionality, they are essentially combat pets but the ability to outfit them, gear them out as if they are a player character really adds to the experience. Not only do I have my own character progression but I have 5-6 character progressions… what a genius timesink! And at the same time, the feeling of “reward” when I see my Corso die to a Gundark or whatever beast and return with him to tank the same Gundark after getting some gear upgrades and survive far better is nearly the same as visibly bettering my own character.

I would argue that the companion system really accomplishes what Bioware set out to do, it distinguishes SW:TOR from WoW enough to be meaningful in nearly every aspect of the game. Sure, the AI may be frustrating at times (Corso… you need to KEEP HARPOON SHOT OFF!) but this is just the beginning of this gameplay style. In two-three years from now, who knows how far Bioware will take Companion Gameplay?

Companions, a resounding “yes” from me. However! The decision to keep them out of competitive aspects of gameplay (Operations, Warzones) is a good one and I hope they do not revert on that decision.



There are many more aspects to touch upon with SW:TOR, there are many more details. I feel as though this is the beginning of a very great future MMO and I am glad to be part of it. I hope that you agree with some of my points but I would love to hear your disagreements as well.

There are many suggestions that I have for SW:TOR and the game is not perfect. However, I would be lying if I didn’t say that I am thoroughly happy with SW:TOR’s launch and initial impressions.

I hope that Bioware do not lose direction with SW:TOR and that we evolve this game over the coming years in a similar that other great MMO evolved.


Overall Score – Early Review


8.0/10




Ty for reading

Jhonen's Avatar


Jhonen
12.23.2011 , 04:51 PM | #2
Eh.

Ok review... out of 5.
SWG Veteran - (Eclipse) - Launch to NGE
World of Warcraft Veteran - (Magtheridon) - Launch to Cataclysm
The Old Republic Player - (Anchorhead) - Launch to Present.

Xcore's Avatar


Xcore
12.23.2011 , 05:24 PM | #3
Quote: Originally Posted by Jhonen View Post
Eh.

Ok review... out of 5.
Is that a 3 out of 5? or what out of 5?

Boesmith's Avatar


Boesmith
12.23.2011 , 05:26 PM | #4
I stopped reading about here "Graphics/Visuals: (7.4/10)" WTFBBQ?!? I would give it a 3, maybe a 4 at BEST.
SW:ToR needs so much fixes that they can make an expansion out of it. <Jedi guardian - chuundar>

Xcore's Avatar


Xcore
12.23.2011 , 05:34 PM | #5
Quote: Originally Posted by Boesmith View Post
I stopped reading about here "Graphics/Visuals: (7.4/10)" WTFBBQ?!? I would give it a 3, maybe a 4 at BEST.
What is your issue with the graphics/visuals? Do you have it max'd out? Are you expecting Skyrim?

MNSniper's Avatar


MNSniper
12.23.2011 , 05:42 PM | #6
This is one of the better reviews i've seen, that includes the big gaming website reviews. Honestly i'd give the game a 9/10 instead of the 8/10 you did. The reason being is that i think you have to take into account that this is an MMO for graphics. a 7.4 is about what i'd give the game if it was a regular, single player game. As far as MMO's go i would give it a 9/10 because they had to take into account a larger range of hardware.

There are a few other areas i would rate slightly higher and a few slightly lower, but when i calculated what i would give (off of your definitions/review) my average came out to be an 8.9/10 (Rounded up to 9/10.)

Great early review! Thank you for taking the time to do this!
.

Chiznak's Avatar


Chiznak
12.23.2011 , 05:42 PM | #7
I fully support this review. The game deserves around an 8.

I really hope they can fix the responsiveness. Combat feels too slugish.

My only other complaint is the sharding; I don't like the smaller feel it creates.

Chiznak's Avatar


Chiznak
12.23.2011 , 05:47 PM | #8
Why do people think Skyrim graphics are so great? They are good, but Skyrim faces are quite plain.

Imagine if Skyrim wasn't a DX9 port from the Xbox360.

lycrates's Avatar


lycrates
12.23.2011 , 05:53 PM | #9
I agree with most of the review. Personally, I could give PvE combat a 7, I dont think it should higher than that. Its not terrible but its not that great or interesting either.

Overall I would review SWOT for 7.7/10 (As a game, it is between 7 and 8. Definitely not a 9 and definitely not a 6.)

Xcore's Avatar


Xcore
12.23.2011 , 06:03 PM | #10
Quote: Originally Posted by MNSniper View Post
This is one of the better reviews i've seen, that includes the big gaming website reviews. Honestly i'd give the game a 9/10 instead of the 8/10 you did. The reason being is that i think you have to take into account that this is an MMO for graphics. a 7.4 is about what i'd give the game if it was a regular, single player game. As far as MMO's go i would give it a 9/10 because they had to take into account a larger range of hardware.

There are a few other areas i would rate slightly higher and a few slightly lower, but when i calculated what i would give (off of your definitions/review) my average came out to be an 8.9/10 (Rounded up to 9/10.)

Great early review! Thank you for taking the time to do this!
Thanks for the compliment! Its very encouraging.

I agree with your point on the graphics but at the same time I am comfortable with the score I gave it. Having said that, you and I weren't off by much!


Thanks Again!