Firstly, Happy New Year! I hope you had a good holiday season.
I have been playing SWTOR, after something of a struggle to get my videocard drivers to stay installed correctly. Warcraft is also installed, but it feels like I’m still a tad burned out with that game. The next target to download is Rift, and then LOTRO to complete my MMO stable. Although when I will get time to play them all, I have no idea. Pewter has moved from the world of Apple to the world of Windows 7, and wow has it changed since I last gamed on a PC. After approximately 6 years as a mac user, the level of pretty is extremely impressive in it’s own right.
Before I begin my long ramble on SWTOR, I must own up to not really being a Star Wars fan. I enjoyed the movies, I appreciate how embedded they are in general scifi culture (and general pop culture) and that’s about it. Yet Bioware continue, time and time again, to draw me into the worlds and the lore that I have been dumped in. Moments feel epic and iconic, such as the forging of a lightsaber, or the first time my Bounty Hunter uses her off-hand explodey thing.
George Lucas could learn a thing or two about dialogue and storytelling from Bioware. Seriously.
Each planet so far has been visually distinct. It would be very easy for each spacey-urban city to feel very similar, but even when using shared art assets, each area that I have had the chance to run through has been breath-taking in both detail and scope. Extremely linear, in many ways, but the feeling of space through the use of far-distance and painted sky domes has lead to some truly stunning vistas. Other details include the snatches of conversation from local NPCs, the variety of fauna, the way a cloak ripples differently when you strafe, and a hundred other animated details.
Sacrifices must be made
There has been a lot of talk in the MMO-sphere about whether Bioware has bitten off more than it can chew with the class quests/dialogue. With the appeal of the game apparently resting so heavily on this aspect – what happens when even the slowpokes like me have hit 50? Will the raiding be good enough to keep interest? With story being so important, the addition of new ‘dailies’ and a couple of new Flashpoints is unlikely to keep players interested in that story interested. That said, Bioware have a pretty good record with interesting DLC in their single player games, but what remains to be seen is whether they can keep that up a pace.
So what is sacrificed? Any innovation in the talent trees. My two characters that have made it to Advanced class status are my Sith Warrior, now a marauder, and my Jedi Consular who went the route of sage. It was rather awesome to make it to the fleet, newly equipped with my shiny new lightsaber, but then such a let down to look at the talent trees for the first time. While the rest of the game had been relatively ‘mmo-noob’ friendly, the talent trees gave me flashbacks to 2007. They’re big, unweildy, and uninspiring. After the improved newbie experience that World of Warcraft has laid on, and the flexibility of Rift, the introductions to the talents and talent trees feel like the designers are making a lot of assumptions about the knowledge level of their players. It’s nice not to be patronised, but the trees feel both unfocused and set in stone. I’m sure it is possible to respec, but I felt almost scared to commit to talent choices in case I made the wrong choice. Yes, I’m a whining whiner.
Combat is a funny beast. Damage feels inconsistent. One minute I’m slicing through mobs at a great rate of knots, the next I’m flailing uselessly at the same mob type, whittling it’s health down slowly. I think this is because of my dreaded rural broadband rather than any specific failure on balancing. The global cooldown system feels a bit odd, frankly, and results in combat feeling slow and distant. This is odd, because you’d expect the lack of auto-attack to make combat feel more immediate. That said I’m still low level, so I need more time to work out the best spell priorities for each character, which will probably help.
Primed for a future patch?
My friends over at The Drunk Tank made a comment that space combat feels unfinished. Could we see Bioware spending more resources on it during a future major patch? I would like to think so, but I’m not sure they should have put it in at all in the meantime if it was just a stop gap.
I like the UI, but more customisability should be in the pipeline or things could get very irritating. The maps are pretty excellent and clear, with quest tracking handled well. Things like Lightsaber Forms (e.g. Marauder) should be switched to stance/form style buttons like Warcraft druids. I find the stylistic look of the UI lovely overall and most necessary information is well presented. I have not ventured into the AH yet, and by all accounts that is rather horrific. After the auction house mods in Warcraft, the primitive Auction houses of SWTOR and Rift are extremely tiring and backwards. Unfortunately the developers are competing against addon creators for other games, not just their professional competitors. Warcraft is incredibly good at learning from addon developers, if occasionally a tad slow. Bioware would do well to study not only the UIs of competitors, but the player created UIs for those competitors.
In my next post I plan to explore Jedi and Sith philosophy and sexuality. As you do.