I Am a Game Photographer: Star Wars: The Old Republic (Weekend Beta)
I was under the impression that the non-disclosure agreement that beta testers of Star Wars: The Old Republic (abbreviated: SWTOR) — the upcoming MMORPG from BioWare’s Austin studio — was in force until mid-December, but it would seem that the NDA was recently lifted within the last day or two. Which is good, because it means that I get to share my thoughts on it — and several hundred screenshots — with all of you.
I actually started out, on Friday evening, by playing a Smuggler, whom I named for the town of Kemmerer, Wyoming.
I didn’t get that far along the origin plot for the class, but I did manage to get in a few hours of play and got a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the Smuggler.
I probably won’t be playing as one when SWTOR launches, despite the fact that I love the cover system. It’s just a personal preference thing; the Smuggler is not unlike a rogue-type character, and my play style is just not suited to classes of that sort.
I didn’t get a chance to play the beta at all on Saturday, but I did have the opportunity to play in the beta for much of Sunday. Work trips are good for that sort of thing.
I wanted to check out the Jedi class, and so I created a male Jedi named for Jim Bridger, one of the early Western pioneers. There are numerous places named for him in Wyoming, including Fort Bridger and the Jim Bridger Power Plant.
I didn’t get that far along the origin plot for the class, but I did manage to get in a couple hours of play and got a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the Jedi.
I probably won’t be playing as one when SWTOR launches either, despite the fact that it’s Star Wars and, well, who doesn’t love a Jedi? It’s just a personal preference thing; the Jedi is a bit closer to my play style than the Smuggler was, but there was just something about the lightsaber combat that didn’t work for me. If I could have bound the basic lightsaber “instant” attack to the left mouse button, my opinion would probably be very different.
But, alas, I wasn’t able to do that, and I found it too cumbersome to have to work the number keys to launch attack after attack against enemies. Not that I didn’t have to do it with the Smuggler, of course…but it bothered me much less when the weapon in question was a blaster, and the enemies were a considerable distance away. Up close and personal, it just turned into uncomfortable button-mashing.
So, after grabbing an early dinner on Sunday evening, and feeling somewhat underwhelmed by the classes I had tried thus far, I decided to check out the Trooper class. In keeping with the naming tradition I had established, I created a female Trooper named for the town of Kaycee, Wyoming. Rather than spend an immense amount of time tweaking her face, I just kept hitting the button marked “Random” on the character appearance editor; after about 10 minutes, I found a face that worked for me.
I managed to play much more of this class’ origin story than I did either of the other two classes, and greatly enjoyed it for the most part. Until, that is, the story progressed to the point where I had to infiltrate the Seperatist base.
But, perhaps some context is required.
The Trooper and the Smuggler actually both start on the same world, Ord Mantell, and in fact can embark on some of the same side quests. There are basically two categories of quests that I encountered as I played: side quests, and the main quest path. The main quests followed a reasonably well-written narrative, telling the story of your young, novice soldier’s arrival in a bit of a hot zone, and the various tasks she has to perform to help her squad and, more generally, the Republic gain a strategic advantage in the region.
Oh, and something about some terrorists that have stolen a massive bomb (think: orbitally-dispensed ordinance) that you have to get back.
Now, at first, things were humming along. I progressed along the story, through each successive mission. I picked up some better gear, bought still more…
…and generally found that, true to BioWare form, the missions I was being given scaled up in difficulty at pace with my character’s gain in levels and experience. I typically wasn’t being pitted against enemies more than a level above where my character was at, and found the difficulty to be acceptable. It certainly wasn’t a complete cake-walk, and my character did get severely injured in a few battles…but neither was it apocalyptically hard.
Until, that is, until the story progressed to a point where I had to infiltrate the terrorist base to actually retrieve or disable the stolen bomb.
Now, it’s possible that I just suck. As evidence against this, though, I will point out that apart from a couple of mis-steps, I managed to pass each successive mission along my character’s origin story on my first attempt. However, for this infiltration mission, the difficulty level skiped upward very sharply; suddenly, I was facing enemies at a substantially higher level than my character (usually, enemies were within about one level of my Trooper). It also didn’t help when the game spawned an additional six or eight rocket-equipped high-level foes in behind me, just like that.
Maybe that’s normal for MMORPGs; I call it “dirty pool”.
Anyhow, after a rather abortive attempt at soloing the infiltration mission, I set about the tedious task of grinding for a bit, and raised my character a couple of levels. The second attempt at the infiltration mission ended just as badly, however.
I will probably be playing as a Trooper when SWTOR launches; the play style suits me, even if it annoys me a bit that I can’t bind the basic “shoot” command to my left mouse button. Hopefully, come launch, the sudden spike in difficulty will have been reduced a bit. I was really, really enjoying the Trooper’s story, and I was really getting into playing as that class.
But the difficulty spike and attendant need to grind just broke up the narrative for me, and was actually quite a substantial letdown as a result. I’m not normally an MMO player, and what attracted me to SWTOR was the fact that it included strong narrative elements. I’m only playing it for those, really. Significant disruptions to the narrative flow of the game are not something I’m really looking forward to.
The graphics, at least, are quite lovely, for the most part!
Although, while I’m on the subject of graphics, I did notice that I had to scale down most of the settings in order to get the game running at a playable framerate. And even when I did that, I noticed bits of lag here and there, as well as a lot of texture “pop-in” on both scenery and character models.
Now, granted, the viewing distance in the game is significant, and it could just be that my computer’s graphics card isn’t quite up to the task of keeping up with this game. That would be odd, given its ability to handle Mass Effect 2 at full detail at the same resolution setting, but I suppose it is possible. Or The Old Republic‘s textures and 3D models are in need of further optimization, which is also possible. I snagged a beta key for the weekend upcoming, so I guess I’ll see if there’s an improvement in performance over last weekend.
Regardless: SWTOR was an interesting experience. Not being an MMO gamer normally, I can’t comment on whether it’s significantly different from other MMORPGs or not. BioWare’s always-excellent narrative design is certainly present in the game, and I think I will probably enjoy progressing along the story for the Republic Trooper when the game launches and I have a chance to play it through. Provided, that is, that I don’t have to spend days and days grinding in order to progress past key points in the narrative.