So…since the last time I had a chance to play The Old Republic, I actually had the chance to participate in two additional beta weekends. I briefly took the opportunity to play the first hour or two of the Bounty Hunter storyline, taking the slightest look at life on the Imperial side. That failed to appeal, so I decided to continue playing through the original mission of my Trooper character.
The main splash screen for the game.
Unfortunately, she was no longer accessible. She was still on the server, but the game couldn’t actually load her up for me to keep playing as. Pity.
So, I decided to try the one Republic class I hadn’t yet looked at: the Jedi Consular.
And…wow. In the Consular, totally found the character class I am going to play when the game launches. I had expected to play a Trooper, but the Consular proved to be the ideal character for me, with a combat style that I completely grokked, and a rich storyline that sucked me in just like Mass Effect did.
Like the Jedi Knight, the Consular starts on the Jedi “homeworld”, Tython. The storyline for the Consular quickly begins to build a deep sense of mystery, involving ancient Jedi ruins, the remnants of the first lightsaber, Force apparitions, and even the origins of the Dark Side’s followers.
Even a practice saber can be deadly if you know how to use it.
The origin mission concludes with a sequence showing the assembly of a lightsaber, after which point the Consular Padawan is inducted as a Jedi.
That said, a real lightsaber is better.
From there, the story takes the Consular to the capital world, Coruscant. Actually, I think all of the Republic classes get sent to the capital world once their original missions are complete, because I saw plenty of Jedi, Smugglers, and Troopers wandering around. The Consular storyline becomes about finding a cure for your stricken former Master, whohas contracted some kind of malady that has “Dark Side” written all over it.
The Jedi temple. Not on Coruscant.
Three Jedi artifacts, called Noetikons, need to be retrieved in the hope that they might help find a cure, and this quest occupied pretty much the rest of both beta weekends. Along the way, I picked a huge number of side quests, many of which had multiple stages and excellent storylines of their own. And I got to explore several huge, and very detailed, areas of Coruscant.
Consulting a Noetikon.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed the story, for both the main plot and many of the side quests. One of the things that really stood out, I think, was that the game made it very easy to forget that I was playing an MMORPG. I could just as easily have been playing Knights of the Old Republic 3 (and in a somewhat spiritual sense, I suppose it could be argued that SWTOR is KOTOR3).
Like Sergorn said earlier, the game looks great. BioWare didn’t try to go for hyper-realism; they adopted a visual style that borrows ever so slightly from The Clone Wars (the animated series that chronicles the events that transpired between the second and third movies), and adds in BioWare’s typically excellent area design. Like other BioWare games, the world of SWTOR is not a truly open world. Each planet could be described as semi-open, constructed from numerous areas that blend seamlessly into each other.
Coruscant, in particular, is a marvel; BioWare Austin really captured the scale of the planet. The visual style changes quite sharply, but believably, between areas of the planet. The Senate Plaza is regal and clean; the deep Works area located much closer to the planet’s surface is dirty, dank, and just a bit savage. And taking a taxi between locales, far from being burdensome, is often a rich visual treat.
Though I do have to admit: I was very tempted to fling my character from the city’s heights just to see if she’d fall all the way to the ground so far below. I had to content myself with occasionally flinging enemies over the ledges instead, mostly with the (entirely too handy) Force Wave attack.
I didn't actually jump off a ledge. I took a lot of taxis, however!
A note on combat: as I said above, the Consular proved to be an almost ideal fit for me in terms of combat style.
Consular, engaged. Yes, she IS deflecting blaster shots!
Consular attack powers seem to split between attacks involving flinging things (enemies included) and attacks against an opponent’s mind. My usual attack method, which rarely failed, was to charge in to a group of enemies, flinging a large object at the nearest foe before flooring (and dispersing) the entire group with a Force Wave.
This would be the Force Wave of which I speak.
And then, naturally, I’d pick off the survivors one by one with my dual-bladed lightsaber, the class weapon for the Jedi Shadow specialization that Consulars can select at Level 10.
In all honesty, I toyed with the idea of canceling my pre-order of The Old Republic. Not because it’s not worth getting; it most certainly is. Instead, I’ve contemplated stepping away from it because of the very real possibility that it might become a bit too all-consuming. I can honestly see myself getting pulled into the game (or at least the single-player narrative portion) at the expense of all other activities. Including Aiera.
But I think I can manage my time. I’m hoping I can, at any rate. Thus far, I’ve reached Level 20 with a Consular character who is nearly a perfect re-creation of this one (sadly, beta characters were wiped from the servers prior to launch), and I’ve managed my time pretty effectively between playing the game and managing other commitments. That said, the Christmas break certainly did help me find as much time as I did to put into the game.
Now, to be fair, my one gripe with the game still exists: quest narratives (main and side quests) get broken up periodically by spikes in enemy difficulty, requiring you to level up somehow before progressing.
Also, sometimes the graphics took a while to load.
However, I found that by doing a bit of in-game recon, and by observing which foes in which area were at particular experience levels, I could do different tasks along both the main and side storyline in a way that kept the difficulty at a level my Consular could handle. I had to grind a little bit, but in SWTOR that isn’t always the best way to get experience and level up. Polishing off items (even the “defeat X enemies” tasks) on the question list worked way better than hard grinding…and usually resulted in better loot.
Not that grinding isn't sometimes fun.
The loot system in the game deserves a comment, because loot comes in two flavours. The first is useless loot, items that actually have no use (the item tooltips tell you as much), apart from being something to sell for a few credits. The second is useful loot like new weapons and armour. Generally, killing enemies and hard grinding net you only (or mostly) the first kind of loot; defeating significant enemies and finishing quests gets you the second kind.
The game, in other words, doesn’t just want you to run around killing everything you see; it wants you to play out all the stories it has to tell, and rewards you (often quite richly) for doing so.
And I, for one, am keen to take that bait.
And to capture screenshots of graphics glitches.
I just wish it had been even remotely possible that my Consular character from this attempt at the beta would have been preserved on the SWTOR servers until launch, so I could just pick up and run with the storyline where I left it last. Alas, as noted, this wasn’t the case.