For the few of you living on Tatooine who aren’t aware that Sci-Fi MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic (AKA Star Wars Online, or SWTOR) is prepping for release on December 20th this year, and haven’t placed a pre-order so that you could begin playing 5 days earlier on December 15th, I thought I’d prepare a few feature explanations and minor enlightenment to help you on the way to making your purchase.
You see, I just finished playing in the final SWTOR beta testing this weekend, and in the 20 levels I was able to see, I learned more than a few things which, had I not already organised a copy, would have helped me make my pre-order. So, in the spirit of helping you all find the right MMORPG for you, here is the Top 5 Things You Should Know About SWTOR:
5. It More Like KOTOR Than You Think
When SWTOR was originally announced as both a sequel to the previous KOTOR titles, and an MMO, there was more than a little confusion as to how this was going to pan out. I for one, as an avid consumer of both KOTOR titles and over 400 MMOs, felt that the combination would be very difficult to accomplish. That said, I have always had faith in Bioware. Good news, everyone. They made it happen.
This has been accomplished in multiple ways, many of which I’ll discuss at some point below, but the most obvious and effective is in the delivery of story, and its impact on your character and the world. Like the KOTOR titles before it, SWTOR utilises an active story delivery mechanism that prompts you to participate in dialog, and offers a wide variety of effects ranging from your alignment with the Force to your reputation with the world and its characters.
In the online world, this method (that was believed to be a ‘bad’ idea) has proven incredibly effective. Fully voiced, cinematic cutscenes replace the tired quest delivery system of modern MMORPGs, and the implementation of multi-person influence makes for some unexpected and highly welcome results. I won’t ruin the experience for you, but joining a group of other players for a dungeon run and having their actions and responses dictate your progress is a powerful experience. Characters you like will die. Revenge will be sweet.
4. Companions Are In, And They Rock
This was my biggest surprise in SWTOR, as it was clear to me that my avoidance of SWTOR related information until my chance to play had arrived was successful; companions have been, for the first time in MMORPG history, successfully implemented, and they rock.
I’m sure other MMORPGs have tried something like this before, but this time it genuine. Companions in SWTOR operate very much like they did in KOTOR; you can have them accompany you on quests to offer vital support in combat scenarios, you can have them head off on their own to complete crafting-based missions that award resources, or simply have them craft in your stead; you can have them run back to town to sell off the junk in your inventory; and best of all, you can have them participate in conversations with NPCs, once again altering your game experience based on your own decisions.
Additionally, your choices within conversation dialogue will have an impact on your companions affection for you, opening up a new array of opportunities, and too, the companions that join you initially are based on your class selection, offering yet another level of ‘unique’ customisation, making you feel more and more an individual part of the Star Wars universe. Companions can also be equipped with weapons and armour, and too, have their own unique personalities that will affect your story.
3. I Believe You Can Fly
Another of the more prominent surprises I experienced during my brief time with SWTOR was the implementation of travel, space combat and player housing — all within one core system mechanic: your starship.
During your class story, sometime around level 16, you’ll be given your very own starship that, among other things, will allow you to explore the stars and planets of SWTOR at your leisure, so long as you have the credits to pay for fuel. This ship, stored in an instanced hanger on a planet starport, will also act as your own player housing, offering a servant, storage space, and a private place for you to speak with your companions.
Additionally, special space-based missions will become available that will allow you to take your ship into specific combat areas alone or with friends to complete objective based missions that will award you experience and upgrades for your ship.
2. This Is The Interface You’re Looking For
A lot of the complaints I’ve been hearing regarding SWTOR seem to revolve mostly around it ‘World of Warcraft-esque’ interface design. I wanted to clear this up, as after playing with this interface a while and realising myself just how effective it is, I can’t imagine it operating any other way.
Yes, the MMORPG standard interface has made another appearance in SWTOR, but it a good thing. Not only is this interface easily navigated and familiar to all but the most unseasoned online gamers, but even when combined with the added functionality offered throughout SWTOR, it still proves hugely effective.
This is probably more to do with SWTOR using similar combat mechanics to the standard MMORPG in general, but for my money, feeling how well everything flowed as a result further confirmed how I’ll be spending the first few months of 2012.
1. Your Class, Your Story
Though it likely clear that I consider all of the implantations above to be magnificent, it the story that held my attention the most. Not only because it breaks the monotony of questing up like no other MMORPG has before, but because, in the simplest sense: it really good.
As a Sith Inquisitor turned Sith Assassin, my story began with me being selected from a group of slaves to become a Sith. Those around me did not believe that this would be possible, and seemingly stopped at nothing to prevent my ascension, but they were not successful. In the end, I turned their wicked plans against them and, eventually, was awarded my new title and double-bladed lightsaber.
What I’ve just described above is a severely diluted version of the first 10 levels as a Sith Inquisitor in SWTOR. I’m specific to mention my class here, as if I had chosen any other, regardless of faction, it would be nothing alike. I’m not simply talking about a few class-specific missions here, either; I’m talking about making a new character next month and experiencing an ENTIRELY different game experience, from quest and story to character and design.
The official statement is that each class tree will offer more than 100 unique hours of gameplay and story, giving SWTOR a barebones minimum play-time for me of 800 hours. Here hoping Guild Wars 2 is delayed a while longer”¦