Monday, December 19, 2011

Star Wars - The Old Republic: A New Hope

By now, if you're reading this, it's quite likely that you've already played more of Star Wars - The Old Repubic, than I have.  But having played now for a few days, and having taken two characters to level 13, and a third to level 7, I've at least gathered up enough play time to have an impression.  And so I wanted to share some of my own impressions of the game thus far, while recognizing that the challenge here is to try to share something that hasn't already been said in far greater quantity and with far more eloquance in dozens of MMO blogs elsewhere.

Let me start by cutting right to the chase and say that I am quite enjoying my time in SWTOR.  But I'm enjoying my time because I love the gameplay of traditional MMOs.  And the things that I love in MMOs are things that, from reading many of my peers blogs, I know that many of you do not like, or at least are sick to death of.  That is, I like level based systems.  I like distinct classes, rather than skill based advancement.  I enjoy a directed experience, and I've never much cared for so-called sandbox MMO's for more than a few weeks, where the notion find your own fun always falls flat with me after a few weeks, in which I quickly find myself bored and looking for things to do.  And while many people yearn for user-created content, I prefer my content and my stories to be created by professionals.  And Star Wars has all of these things in spades.  So while I'm enjoying my time in Star Wars, and its clear that many of you are too, because it is so similar to the experience we have already had in MMO's, I suspect that once the charm of the player story has worn off, people will leave in the same droves that they abandoned Rift.

Because like Rift, SWTOR is essentially a big, wonderfully polished, full fledged well built and familiar MMO with a single distinguishing feature.  And that feature is the presentation of the quests -- erm, missions.  But the quests themselves, at least from my perspective thus far, aren't much different than anything you've played so far.  Peer beneath the shiny wrapping paper, and you still have to get those medical supplies for the refugees, or thin out those Separatists, do this dangerous job for the wounded soldier who can't do it for himself, or rescue someone that's gotten themselves in over their head.  Their are choices to be made, but there seems to be very little consequence to the choices, at least as I've seen so far.  And I certainly allow that their may be more repercussions further along in the story.  And while the class quests themselves are unique for each base class, the majority of the filler quests, which you have to do in order to level up enough to get through your class quests, are the same in each area.  So if you create alts you'll be hearing many of the same sad stories for the nth time, and now that you know the story, and how it turns out, you might find yourself, like me, space-barring your way through the conversation just so you can get on with taking out those scavengers without all the drama.

There was one extraordinarily refreshing mechanic that quite surprised me, and made me sit up and say okay, now that was fun, and that was new. And that was the group discussion dynamic.  I had the good fortune to do the Esselles instance (this is the first instance you do on the republic side, around level 10 to 12), with some good long time MMO friends.  Our toons each had three distinct ways of approaching discussions, so at each pause in the dialogue when there was a choice to be made, well, we rarely chose the same option.  So I found myself waiting with baited breath to see which choice won the highest roll, cheering like a madman when my toon got her chance to speak, and cursing like crazy when she was relegated to the back.  Winning the dialog choice granted you social points, which you can use to purchase perks from vendors, just as you could for any other kind of currency in  an MMO.  After the instance I was completely taken aback by how much fun that dynamic was, and it was the first dynamic in a long time that made me want to group more - at least for instances. I suspect though your own enjoyment of that mechanic might be tempered by how well you're willing to handle the case where things don't go your way.

Overall, as I said at the beginning, I'm actually quite enjoying myself in SWTOR, and its clear many of you are as well.  But I worry greatly for  the long-term appeal of the game, over other, well established franchises.  I hear an extraordinarily large number of people proclaiming proudly that they have, at last, found their new MMO home.  And I would perhaps not be so skeptical had  I not heard, just a few short months ago, those exact same proclamations from legions of players entering the world of Rift when it launched.  And Rift too had its own unique and distinguishing mechanics, but in the end it wasn't enough to keep people in their world.  It will certainly be interesting to measure SWTOR's pulse a month from now, to say the least.

And until then, you can find me feverishly slicing up ten womp rats with dual lightsabers on a world in a distant galaxy, in a time long ago.

Thoughts?  Comments?  Is my skepticism well founded, or way off mark?  Please post up your thoughts and your own experiences!