Friday, December 2, 2011

My SWTOR Beta Experience

So, among the many distractions I faced during my November writing were not one but two open beta weekends for the forthcoming MMORPG Star Wars The Old Republic (SWTOR). The game launches on December 20, with early access being granted to anyone who pre-ordered it. To stress test their servers and try to find any last minute glitches or bugs, Bioware opened up their beta testing to everyone who had signed up to be a beta tester for two different weekends last month. They also gave out a bunch of codes for people who hadn't signed up already to be able to get in.

If you have been paying attention to this blog over the last year or so, it should be quite obvious to you that of course I had signed up to be a beta tester as soon as I learned that was an option. Then I sat on my thumbs for a year and a half kind of sad that I was never invited. Then I got my first invite at the start of November. After that initial rush of "hell yes!!" faded, I started cursing the bejeezus out of Bioware because, well, you know, November is kind of a no-video game month for me. BUT. I have a wonderful husband and he helped to make it work for me to participate in both weekends by keeping an eye on the kiddo so I could play during times I wouldn't normally be on the computer (so as to not detract from my designated writing time). As of this past weekend's beta, Bioware also lifted the non-disclosure part of the beta policy, which means I am free to share with you my thoughts on the game so far! Yay!

Meet Vakarian (named for Mass Effect's Garrus), Jedi Knight.

I have to say, there were certainly some frustrating moments, just getting into the game (stress test on the servers, yo) and then with the actual gameplay.

All servers full all the time. There was much waiting in queues. Let's hope that isn't normal.

Here is my laundry-list of complaints after two weekends of playing:

  • Cool down periods on items and abilities. Okay, I do expect there to be some cool down period after using an item before you can use another like item, or before you can use an ability again after using it once. That being said, the cool down period on med packs (which is how you heal yourself in battle) is way too long. It just is, especially considering that the only med packs I ever tried to use were crazy low-level anyway. The other thing I didn't particularly care for is that if you use any ability or item at all, every item and ability becomes unavailable for you to use for several seconds. That is NOT COOL. 
  • Your equipment takes on damage over time. This means you either have to find/buy something to replace it with, or you have to pay to repair it (which really isn't that cheap). I understand that this may be a nice little touch for those players who really crave a challenge. This is not the kind of thing that enhances my personal gaming experience, however. Especially when loot is so scarce in this game to start with, and the credits don't really flow for a Jedi who follows the code. It took me forever to realize that I even could repair my items, so I was prepared to get really pissed off about the fact that I would have to be constantly switching out my gear (which doesn't do good things for your inventory if you always have to have replacements on hand). I would love to see more loot in the final release of the game. That would mitigate this annoyance a lot.
  • Leveling up your character is completely unsatisfying. When you get enough experience to gain a level, you do get a nifty little fanfare and a flashing neon display around your character, yay, hooray. But you can't click on your character as soon as you are out of combat and choose your new skills and attributes. Nope. Your attributes (strength, dexterity, etc.) as far as I can tell are automatically leveled up for you based on your class and specialization. You get a few automatic passive skills with each new level, but to get a new active skill (such as a new lightsaber attack or force ability) you have stop what you're doing, go find a "trainer" and actually pay him credits so you can have that new ability that you freaking earned with your experience. DO NOT LIKE. Grrr. Once you hit level ten and choose your class specialization (for a Jedi knight you become either a Sentinel or a Guardian), you get a skill tree and with each level you get to pick a new ability from the tree.
Skill Tree for the Jedi Sentinel

  • Everything is just so darn expensive. Points two and three really all add up to this. Every time I started to save up enough credits to stock up on med packs, I had to use them all to purchase new skills, or vice versa. My poor Vakarian was always freaking broke. I can't imagine that the Jedi Order really wants to send their people out into the galaxy unable to actually afford to be able to do their jobs, but there you have it. I find myself wondering if Bioware has some scheme in mind where you can pay real world money for in-game credits. It would explain a lot.

All of that being said, please don't mistake me, this game is AWESOME from what I have seen of it so far. I made my way up to level ten through the Jedi Knight origin story (or prologue). I got one companion (my droid, T7) and made it to Coruscant before the test ended. For the most part I had a blast playing it. Yes, there were a few times early on when I was so frustrated I contemplated canceling my pre-order of the game altogether and just firing up Dragon Age again, but those moments were fleeting. I fully acknowledge my noob status at MMOs. I know a big chunk of my frustration can easily be attributed to the overwhelming feelings of starting an entirely new game for the first time and figuring out just what the heck is going on. I suspect a lot of the other frustration can be chalked up to my unfamiliarity with online gaming (as well as my hermity nature). 

The graphics in the game are absolutely GORGEOUS. It is the Star Wars universe come to life in an amazingly beautiful way. See for yourself.

Lovely day for a hike in the mountains, don't you think?

I had to harvest meat from these guys to feed a baby Flesh Eater. Note the quest title in the upper right corner.

Pretty Jedi Temple is pretty.

The Jedi definitely have style when it comes to buildings.

The light fixture's a bit over the top, but it sure is nice to look at.

I really felt like these glowing mushrooms should have been lootable.

Squee! Assembling my lightsaber!

Another day, another temple.

T7 likes to ride the banister. He's crazy like that.


You know, I bet if a dude equipped that same vest, it would reach his belt. Just saying.

The story is also pretty darn engaging from what I got to play of it. I guess it helps that I have been reading all of the comics for the game's back story, and I am also familiar with the events of the two Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic games, which set the table for this one. But the game gives you plenty of opportunity to delve into the rich mythology of the universe. The codex entries are very detailed and interesting. 

Interesting and informative.

You also get the typical Star Wars scroll-screen setting up each "chapter" of your story. It updates as your game progresses.

I am not sure if this is a game I will play multiple times. I might play it through once and keep my character on hand for when new expansion packs come out, and leave it at that. Who knows? I might get absolutely sucked into the whole MMO experience. It's always possible. Though at the moment it just really reminds me that even my geekiest of friends are not the same kind of geeky I am--I only have one friend who is also planning to play this game. He lives in St. Louis and keeps a very different schedule than I do, we couldn't ever manage to meet up in-game to play together during the beta weekends. So I am definitely very nervous about the "social" aspect of this game. But here's hoping I end up pleasantly surprised by that. (Hey, if any of you are playing and want to meet up in-game, let me know!)

All in all, at the end of two beta weekends, I am really excited for this game to come out and to get to play it through. I think that, as much fun as the character creator is, if my beta character is still available to me when the game launches, I will probably continue her story. But if not, I can start over and play through Tython again. At least I will be a little bit better prepared to play through that area. 

Once the game does officially start, I will launch a new blog to run concurrent with my playthrough called Jedi's Journal. There's not much there at the moment, but please feel free to bookmark the site if you're interested. My plan with that blog will be to write a short form entry each day I play (or maybe after each major story quest is completed) from my character's point of view. Her perspective on the events of the game and the people that she will come across in her journey. It should be a fun experiment, and I'll remind you about it when I start posting there. I will still talk about the game on this blog, but that will be my thoughts on the game play or its effect on my life (or lack thereof) in general, I think. 

Eighteen days and counting, folks. Is anyone else as excited about this as I am?