As fate would have it, Bioware picked me for the apparently more limited beta weekend this past weekend. As it turned out, there was only something like 6-8 servers made available rather than 40-ish from the previous weekend.
The previous weekend, I had rolled four different characters on two different servers. As it turned out, only one of those was in this weekend’s list. After a very long day on Friday, I sunk into the gaming cave and decided that it would be interested to see what the Jedi Counselor had to offer at higher levels. Unfortunately, my level 6-ish JC was not on the one server that made it to this last weekend’s test, so I had to reroll.
I don’t know how much of it was a result of my fatigue or the grudgingly slow pace of the low levels, but I lasted about 40 minutes before I wanted to pull my head off. After a good night’s sleep, I reassessed and decided that I’d continue playing the one character that made it in to this beta– My empire bounty hunter which fortunately is the empire side mirror image of my current favorite class, the Trooper.
As loyal readers will recall, Oswald, the bounty hunter, was the character that I used to try progressing “old school” or as I should probably say, in Bhagpuss fashion, eschewing questing and just exploring and killing as I saw fit.
For this weekend, I decided that I’d primarily follow the class story line. Fortunately, the Bounty Hunter class story is a pretty good one. A bit of what you’d expect, but then again, that’s the point– he needs to feel all Bounty Huntery.
A quick trip through the story line on Hutta and that sent me on to Dormund Kaas where the fun begins. Two additional bits of info gleaned from general chat put some wind in my sails– rumor (confirmed) that classes get “sprint” at level fourteen; and when you complete your class quest, you get your ship.
Now that was a goal worth working toward.
Without spoiling the story, I single mindedly focused on progressing the bounty hunter class quest which involves completing three successive “objectives” shall we say in order to qualify for the Great Hunt, an interplanetary bounty hunter contest to commit murder and mayhem across the galaxy– to kill before you are killed by other contestants.
Each of the progressive phases of the qualification quest is loosely gauged to your anticipated level– i.e., where you are expected to be when you are finished with the previous phase. Since I had eschewed most of the other offerred quests along the way, I found myself a bit underleveled for some of the phases.
With my companion, I generally had no trouble with at level or +1 mobs, but +2 mobs and at level or +1 elite mobs could prove to be a bit of a challenge. So, in reality, there is a level gate on the class story quests to keep progressing. As a result, I adapted. I took on a few “side of the road” quests that were convenient along the way and also adopted a general “take no prisoners” approach– when there’s a group of mobs that you might avoid through stealth or guile, use Nelson’s “Never mind maneuvers, go straight at them” strategy for maximum xp.
Finally, and I say finally a bit breathlessly because the third phase of the quest required more time-consuming-but-not-entertaining-nor-dangerous travel by running to the location for the third objective. Of course, having reached there prior to level 14, I had not yet obtained “sprint” which curiously is a toggle always-on super run skill.
If running everywhere was a stupid enough idiom for all modern MMOs to incorporate, a perpetual “sprint” is even more ridiculous. My prediction– very soon sprint will be a sub level 10 skill.
Ultimately, I succeeded at just below level 14, so upon turn in, I acquired “sprint” and completed the “Prologue” phase of the class quest. Of course, prerequisite to carrying out contract killings across the galaxy was having a ride to get there, hence the ship quest. In true Bounty Hunter fashion, one has to be stolen.
From what i can tell, ships in SWTOR are a bit like housing and a bit like actual ships in STO. For those of you wondering, it is a distinctly un-Eve like experience. The ship is mostly an intermediate space facilitating point to point navigation between planets in a sufficiently immersive environment.
A couple of thoughts– apparently every member of the same class will have the same ship. Evidence the class ship ghettos established on stations and spaceports. On the Empire side there are 4 archetypal hangars (cough, no new art required, cough). If you aren’t that class, no entry.
So, while the hangar deck environment is all too life sized, there is unfortunately zero diversity in what you see when you go there. Of course, you didn’t even get that in Eve, but you did get it as soon as you undocked. Sometimes I would just coast after undocking and watch the wide range of ships leaving the station– shuttles, battlecruisers, gigantic freighters, etc. That small feature served as a great and immersive hook reminding you that this is a living thriving universe of thousands of players going about their individual business.
Once aboard my freshly stolen D5-Mantis, the ship affords a number of practical conveniences like a cargo hold. While you can mod the ship similar to the way you mod armor and weapons, I didn’t see any way you could “decorate” your ship uniquely or even permit anyone else aboard to see it. Makes me wonder why I need those extra bunk beds below deck…
Navigation is accomplished by use of the galactic map acessible on the bridge. Surprisingly, the maps are rather intuitive and permit you to switch between galactic and sector views easily. By and large, you don’t fly your ship. You tell it where you want to go on the map, click and woosh, welcome to your destination.
There are space combat missions of a sort. Generally, you can acquire a mission from the console on the bridge that sends you hither and yon to a particular space combat mission. Essentially, this is a space ship shooter minigame not entirely unlike X-Wing Fighter. You are dropped into the mission and without full control of your ship, you are essentially towed through the mission tasked with destroying the various baddies. Very arcadey, but nevertheless I found it fun as a minigame.
One final amusing bit– on the lower deck of your ship, you click on the exit door to exit to the station where you’re docked, no big whoop. Next to the exit door is a clickable door for your escape pod…
Of course, I had to click it with no idea of what would happen…
All in all, this weekend left me with my perspectives of SWTOR intact: this will be a popular game; it will primarily cater to the single player much like its roots; other than crossing paths from time to time, each player will primarily follow its own, nonunique and parallel story to those of their friends; there will be little true exploration; and yet it will still be quite entertaining in the same way that everything Star Wars is entertaining (and retaining all of its faults).
What I’ve seen this weekend has piqued my interest in the potential of the game. I just don’t see that potential realized yet. I will undoubtedly purchase the game at some point, but even if I do buy it sooner rather than later, I’ll probably not play it seriously for some time to let some of these rougher edges get worked out.
Frankly, having seen more of the potential of the game now, I think Bioware has missed a few opportunities here– one great trick that works wonders, is to give the newest players a quick taste of what is to come so that they have even more incentive to claw their way out of their starter worlds. Instead of the tired, newbie zone, if they had chosen to drop a new player into a ship based instance where enroute to the starter world, for example, repubs, imperials, thugs, etc. decided to attack and the newbie was impressed into service to storm the bridge, or man the turrets, etc. I think Bioware could have set the hook sooner and deeper.
Even with its flaws and my generally negative disposition to the game at launch, there is still enough fun in the game to leave me wanting. Six to twelve months post-launch, my prediction is that this could be wonderfully awesome as its refined.