As part of my “planning for the coming hiatus” operation, I started on my list of candidates to see which MMO might serve for a summer vacation spot. The first on the list, because it happened to be May 4th, was Star Wars: The Old Republic. Plus I happened to remember my account name and password. Also, due to EA’s usual ability to keep a tight rain on their data, my account was flagged as preferred despite my having never given EA or BioWare a nickel for the game.
I am not sure what that gets me beyond an additional crew slot. BioWare was more interested in telling me what I would get if I subscribed. The up sell started immediately upon logging in after downloading the client.
Not that I want them to pop up more alerts, but throwing this in front of my face in the first minute after logging in was something of a wasted effort. The game would, of course, go on to remind me to subscribe in various ways, but this chart was no longer part of the pitch.
And, while we’re here and staring at that blurry screen shot… it gets better if you click on it to view it full size… I have to ask if I missed a memo somewhere that said that science fiction MMOs must have a blue user interface? Star Trek Online was blue. Blue was a significant color in some parts of the the UI for Star Wars Galaxies. I think WildStar trends blue doesn’t it? And if I recall right, Clone War Adventures trended to blue as well.
Anyway, the SWTOR UI is in blue by default, which made me feel they were trying to tell me “hey, it is a space game!” But then, I guess it is a space game of sorts, so why not?
More after the cut.
So I was in the game.
The first question was, of course, how to go about approaching a game. Once I got through the opening cinematic, which still seems almost like a clone of the SWG opening, I had to decide what sort of character to create. Since my last run with a smuggler lead me to cancel my pre-order and not play the game at launch, I figured I had best try something as far from that as possible. So I went with a Sith Warrior.
You might have guessed that from the title.
I ended up with a human Sith Warrior that looked remarkably like my recollection of Anakin Skywalker in The Clone Wars animated series. I am not sure why. I didn’t actually set out to do that. Anyway, I got him into the game and started down the tutorial a bit before having to log off for a while. When I came back I had to go through some odd activation to transfer my character to one of the new mega servers or some such, which was rather confusing because as far as I could tell I was on the same server I selected before.
But once I was through that (and you can see a bit of surly Sith Anakin there) I was into the game and on Korriban to get through the trials of a budding Sith.
I also had mail immediately upon my arrival. A few more goodies I am sure I do not deserve and which, honestly, are just taking up room in my inventory at this point.
The Sith Warrior story line teaches you to be cruel and without mercy. You are obliged to kill the weak and step on anybody to go ahead. You should only be as loyal as you have to be. So the Sith Empire is pretty much the outsiders view of Goonswarm Federation, only with lightsabers.
Only you don’t even get a lightsaber to start with, just some sort of medieval shock rod thing. Also, I was very bad at being a Sith.
There is a point where you are sent to decide the fate of three prisoners. You can kill them, let them go, or just let them rot in their cage some more. I did one of each, and chose wrong on all three. I was sternly rebuked by my master who, none the less, let me carry on with my training. I was the chosen one and his special protege, so he couldn’t dump me without losing face and getting dumped into tank with the sharks and the lasers.
Meanwhile, I also had a rival who was there at every turn vying with me for who would… um… I forget now. But whatever I was trying to be, he wanted to be that too. If you’ve played Pokemon, you know that a staple of the series is your rival in every game. He is sort of like that. Only, he doesn’t want to battle you with Pokemon, he just wants to kill you. So that is going to have to play out.
Eventually I was sent off to meet my mentor’s boss, somebody higher up the Sith chain, to prove myself… because nobody will take anybody’s word for anything in the Sith Empire. Proving myself involved going back to kill my mentor because, Sith. How do they even keep their empire staffed?
So I went back to my mentor to have the Sith version of the “we’re going to have to let you go” talk, which is more like, “Policy dictates we duel to the death. I wish it could be some other way, but rules are rules.” And just as I clicked on my answer to the, “So, this is how it is?” part of the conversation, one of the cats knocked something over in the other room. Unfortunately, that was the last dialog in the conversation, so while I put him on hold, he jumped me. Damn Sith.
So I came back to find myself dead on the floor. (Also, isn’t that the same hooded figure in his office that used to be in the vanilla WoW login screen? Things you notice while you’re dead on the floor.)
Well, death rarely holds you back in any MMO. Time to summon the medical probe.
This time I went through the conversation again and was totally ready to start the fight. This time it would be different.
Okay, maybe I wasn’t ready. I tried again and died again. It wasn’t even a close fight. I was dying while he wasn’t even down to half health. I went off to find a health potion or the local equivalent, thinking that might give me a leg up. I bought a couple of those and repaired my gear and went back for another run, only to die again.
I started to wonder if my skills needed to be upgraded. I was sent to a trainer at one point early on, but I had leveled up a few times since then. Did I need to train skills? I couldn’t recall seeing anything prodding me to go do so when I hit new levels, but I am probably so used to skills just upgrading automatically in WoW at this point that I am sure I now have a blind spot in that regard.
I went off to find a trainer and, sure enough, I had a pile of skills to train and upgrade. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough cash to get them all.
Still, that was enough. I was finally able to climb another rung up the Sith corporate ladder by slaying my boss. While I admire the 360 degree review process, they do take it to extremes. Then it was off to fulfill my destiny… because star of the show here!
First though I had to get my first companion, a female Twi’lek prisoner complete with shock collar to keep her inline. Up to this point I had only been expected to juggle the whole light side versus dark side point, but then I noticed my responses to various dialog encounters could also influence her. There is a whole companion meter that measures her attitude towards me, though it was not exactly clear to me how that would impact things. Does she get better or more effective as a combat companion as that number climbs, or is this just another BioWare “how soon until I can sex up this NPC” meter? Should I tailor my responses to suit her? Because she seems awfully down on dark side responses, though she seems to enjoy something of the “up yours Sith!” responses.
Once I had my companion, I was off to fetch a one-of-a-kind, prove-you-are-THE-sith ancient lightsaber of wonder. This involved wandering through some caves where my companion was able to unlock access. She also helped me fight the trash in the caves along with my rival, who I defeated. My companion died too… damn DPS pulling aggro… but was suddenly back at my side again before I had a chance to figure out what to do about that. Nothing I guess.
We made it to the final chamber where I got the lightsaber, which I immediately equipped because tradition dictates that picking up such a treasure must trigger a trap or an ambush. And I was right.
The lightsaber is cool and improves combat by at least 37% on looks alone.
Then it was back to my current mentor, who I did not have to kill. Lucky me, though I suppose that is only because I didn’t need to be promoted yet. He directed me to a shuttle that would take me off to the place beyond the starter zone… I forget the name of the place at this point. But first I had a couple more quests to turn in, which got me to level 10. And then I had to fall down an elevator shaft because I am bad at being a Sith.
Then it was off on the shuttle to a series of O’Hare airport-like experiences where your arriving flight is never anywhere close to your connecting flight, so time was spent running around from shuttle bay to shuttle bay in order to get to your final destination. Fortunately, I had all my stuff in carry-on, so they couldn’t lose my luggage.
Eventually I arrived at the next planet where I had to take my companion to a bar because she wanted to talk to me in private and… and I had to Google how to accomplish that, and the response was to take her to a bar… because bars are private I guess. She wanted me to take off her shock collar before I had time to think about whether I just wanted to shock her at every possible moment or let her go on the off chance she might perform better and not run away or shoot me in the back and run away or sell me out and run away. I took the shock collar off, which gained me companion rep and she has yet to shoot me in the back… or perform better, so I am not sure what I got out of the deal, aside from being bad at being a Sith.
And that is where I stand. The game is not bad. It does remind that you could… you know… give them money… hint hint… now and again. Things denied non-subscribers are plain to see.
But given the bar the industry has been setting of late… popping up “please subscribe” alerts during combat, filling my inventory with lockboxes, or otherwise constantly reminding me that this whole place doesn’t run for free you know… it isn’t that bad. But I am only level 10. I am sure there are opportunities and lockouts which await.
The game looks good enough. Character models can be a bit awkward, but uncanny valley is still a thing, so the less cartoon-y avatars are the more awkward they tend to feel.
I am not sure I am all that keen on the achievements, which come complete with lens flare straight from the bridge of the USS Enterprise (J.J. Abrams version. A harbinger for Star Wars Episode VII?).
I don’t feel like I know enough about the game to care about achievements at this point. And the first few are sort of gimmes anyway, so are hard to care about. But, for me at least, achievements are mostly a WoW thing now. I really like them there and they are really a part of the game for me. I also liked them in Rift, though since Rift was pretty much a WoW surrogate for us during Cataclysm, I suppose that is no surprise. But I have never really found them all that compelling in other games, especially when they were bolted on so awkwardly in games like EverQuest. We’ll see.
I am a bit ambivalent about the whole instanced area thing. It is always clear where to go, green is go and red is no.
But that does leave a world with a lot of red and green doors around. Not a deal killer, but a constant “here is a point of interest” flag that crushes some distant corner of immersion.
The client did not crash, I did not get dropped from the game, and things ran relatively smoothly. There were only a couple of glitches I ran into repeatedly. The first was an invisible zone line issue.
SWTOR is theoretically a seamless world. However, I could tell I was moving from one zone to another because I would hit a point and run in place for 3 to 30 seconds until something loaded up and I was able to proceed. I do not know if this was actually a zone line, but the points where this happened were consistent enough that it wasn’t just an accident or some momentary packet loss that was causing it. There were points in the game where I had to run in place for a bit until I could pass.
And then there was an annoying key stuck bug. This happens in WoW too, where you will hit a key to move and do some other thing at the same time, and this will cause the software to miss the key-up event or something and you will get stuck running or turning left as though you are still holding down the movement key. I saw that sort of thing a lot in SWTOR. In WoW it is something that happens maybe once in a six month window. There were points in SWTOR where I was running into this a few times an hour.
Fortunately, I learned that crossing those little zone line running in place points would reset the movement key, and since it was always pretty clear where those were, I had a work around. It was still annoying… I got stuck walking backwards at one point, talk about awkward… but problems I can resolve are better than ones I am stuck with.
So there I am, finished with the tutorial and ready to launch myself into a galaxy far, far away to see just what sort of Sith I am. I have jacked up my lightsaber with all the accessories I had to hand.
Because I will never have to replace that, right? A Sith has his lightsaber for life, and this is an especially good one that I stole from a dead guy. Hrmm… I wonder what he died of?
Now to see what happens in the wider world.