Star Wars: The Old Republic
When I heard that Star Wars: The Old Republic was going free to whatever, I thought it would be a good deal. I liked the game OK, but not enough to pay for it. But with no strings attached? I could meet up with friends, and we could casual-though it. I have some friends who don’t leap at any MMO in a skirt, especially ones with subscriptions, so it’s always a selling point when one rips out the turnstiles to let the masses in.
But…I should have known that not everything was going to go over well. It actually started back when the initial tsunami of SWTOR announcements were being made. I watched a video of some developer on the project talking about crafting and trade skills. I like crafting and trade skills when they’re more than just the “have mats; have recipe; mash em together in mass production; profit!” that you see in 99.9% of the MMOs out there, and really hoped that SWTOR would break out of that mold. Anyhow, said-developer didn’t seem too excited about talking up the crafting, because he fobbed it off with the (para)phrase “we’ll have crafting, because other games have it”. So, basically it was admitted that we couldn’t expect anything special, because crafting was being added to fulfill an MMO bullet-point, and for apparently no other reason.
Then, of course, the much lauded “fourth pillar” turned out to be a rotten timber holding up a rather weighty roof upon which the SWTOR hype machine was grinding away. Looking under the hood, then, revealed something that didn’t have any more depth than the loved/reviled World of Warcraft. Less, actually. Removing this pillar left us with nothing more than a trash-mob tower-defense game. We already know that crafting wouldn’t add a dimension to it, so in the end, a lot of people decided that SWTOR wasn’t worth the monthly sub, and turned their backs.
As much as I might have wanted to check it out once it went free to whatever, I’ve now decided that no, I’m not going near it, thanks to one sentence in this quote from a post mentioned in an article on Rock, Paper Shotgun:
One of our golden rules is that the Free-to-Play experience should not cheapen the experience for paying subscribers.
I get it. Subscribers come first. They pay the bills and that’s what keeps the lights on and the developers fed. I am 100% OK with giving subscribers the buffet, while the rest of us have to deal with the dollar menu.
But then the sentiment gets worse, IMO:
If it turns out that the Free-to-Play conversion results in a degraded Warzone experience once we go live for subscribers, you can rest assured that we will quickly make adjustments to the system to ensure that subscribers have an optimal experience.
Emphasis mine. People like free things. Make something free, and yes, you’ll get all kinds of people coming out of nowhere who want a free piece of something free, for free, no strings attached. And with no strings comes no responsibility, right? The popular corollary that you hear from subs in a free to whatever game is that once something goes free, it goes to hell because the “Free players” are all scumbag parasites who have no respect for the game because they’re not paying for it.
I expect this from players, because many gamers are blatantly elitist when they feel that they have the upper hand on whatever drives their ego that day, but we’re getting this from a company spokesperson in a public forum. Reading between the lines, BioWare-slash-EA is planting a boot to the stomach of a population they’re hoping to attract (read: convert to subscribers of a game most of them left in the first place because they decided it wasn’t worth paying for) by putting them in their place as second-class citizens in no uncertain terms.
Free to whatever players may cheapen the experience for their subscribers…how? Already, BioWare doesn’t think much of filthy freeloaders that they want to convert. Somehow, these free to whatever players will degrade the experience, apparently by fleshing out the ghost-towns they call servers, and possibly becoming attached enough to pass through the pearly gates of privilege, where they stop being the enemy and magically become a pampered and revered customer. It’s not so much that I disagree with giving perks and priority to paying customers; I don’t. At all. I do, however, think that the people they have talking for this game are either not very good a PR, and shouldn’t be talking, or are barely able to conceal their arrogance, and disdain for potential customers and/or the genre that this game inhabits. There are certainly better ways to say what was quoted above that didn’t make it obvious that free to play SWTOR players should expect to get pissed on as a right of the company, and the paying subscribers.
Here’s some free advice: a free player who’s a dick will still be a dick if they start paying. Treating potential customers like moustache-twirling villains who are looking to blow up the train tracks of fun being ridden by paying customers is a sure way to prove that the SWTOR machine has just given up hope of being as relevant as their PR machine wanted us to believe they would be back in the early days of the game. Personally, I was wary when I was given the impression, through an off-hand remark, that the game-to-be would only be paying lip-service to some mechanics “because other games have them”. I’m not a game designer, but if I were, and I saw that as a reason for adding a mechanic, I’d punch the person who rationalized it thusly in their donut-insertion hole. Add to that the storytelling “experience” that was supposedly so revolutionary, but which turned out to be basically a thin veneer on an otherwise rotten frame. Finally, using language in a public statement that pulls no punches in telling the people you hope to convert to paying customers that you think they’re blood-sucking freeloaders beneath reproach is really phoning it in.
Wow…Uh…I really just want to back off my statement, and to apologize for this rant because I violated the #1 rule of blogging: Don’t take your first source’s word for it, especially if it’s a quote of a quote.
Apparently Tramell’s comment is correct. This actually had nothing to do with F2P players “ruining” the warzone experience, but rather that subs converting to F2P would mean that warzones wouldn’t pop frequently enough for remaining subscribers. The “degraded warzone experience” being referred to is that: a poorer experience overall, and not because of an influx of F2P players. In that, I apologize.
But I still feel that F2P players are generally given the short end of the stick in terms of “class”, and that the overall SWTOR experience and presentation have been astoundingly lackluster.
Good people of the Republic!
(This is when the Imperial scum can excuse themselves to get a snack from the concession stand. It’s right over there…by the incinerator).
Good people of the Republic! I thank you for your service. It is because of your tireless devotion to the ideals of freedom, honesty, and the thin veneer of tolerance for non-human species that we are able to forge ahead for a brighter tomorrow!
(Please note that holovids of this speech will be available for the modest fee of 200 credits. All proceeds benefit the Galactic Senate’s Fund For Downtrodden Lobbyists.)
But while you are all taking to the stars in your taxpayer-funded starships, shooting anti-Republic sympathizers, and aliens who may or may not be anti-Republic sympathizers, there is a veritable army of unsung heroes who ensure that the machinery of our Glorious Republic is ever-churning, much like the combines at Colonel Moreth’s Bantha Burgers (mention this speech and receive a free small order of crazy fries!). We wish to pay homage to their selfless sacrifices, knowing full well that even Jedi have to use the rest-rooms now and then, and those things don’t clean themselves. Am I right? Haha! Let’s take a look.
Here we see Kalis Martoni. Kalis works in maintenance on the Republic Fleet. He has given 10 years of his life in the service of the Republic ensuring that the dirt from any and all alien worlds (and any aliens) that you track into the station on the soles of your boots need never spoil your experience aboard the premier shopping and day-spa cruiser, The Gilded Privilege. The next time you see Kalis, be sure to tell him how much you appreciate the countless hours he spends on his knees.
Here we see Alyssa Strob. Alyssa works tirelessly to ensure that your cargo is treated with the utmost respect, and that it is removed from or sent to your ship in perfect condition. Alyssa is on a work-furlough plan from the penal colony on Denthes, where she is serving a life sentence for human trafficking, engspice smuggling, and operating a lightsaber while intoxicated. Oh Alyssa! When will you ever learn?
What’s this? A confused citizen of the Republic? Seems like someone is having a hard time finding his flight? Maybe he’s a doctor headed to Taris to help out with the rakghoul plague? Maybe he’s a soldier away on leave? Or maybe he’s a Senator who hasn’t spent time outside his comfortable bubble of sycophants in such a long time that he’s forgotten how to read the shuttle schedule? Keep at it, confused citizen! I’m sure you haven’t already missed your shuttle!
Well, well, well! If it isn’t Drebo and Drebo, the Republic’s best known clone comedy duo! Take a seat, everyone (in the mezzanine with the rest of the middle class, because the floor seats are reserved for those with credits) and get ready to laugh at their classic routine “Guess Who’s Going To Be Getting The ‘Enhanced Pat Down’ At The Spaceport?!” Parents, you might want to shield your children’s eyes; this one can get pretty graphic! Oh, the humanity! (Aliens will be escorted out of the theater during this sensitive routine. We appreciate your understanding).
And last but certainly not least, we would be remiss if we didn’t recognize the tireless dedication of our robotic compatriots who tackle the tough duties
that humans won’t do are too dangerous for humans a re beneath even aliens that they find uniquely fulfilling! Take good old TS-17 here! It’s his job to scan each and every incoming passenger at the Taris spaceport to ensure his, her, or it’s safety from concealed weapons and hazardous substances! Thank you, TS-17!
(Disclaimer: Any nude scans found on the Holonet that coincide with your time at the Taris spaceport should be brought to the attention of Sargent Alphis Karbone. All reports will be filed and will be kept in the strictest confidence. You have our word.)
These are but a few of the hardworking individuals you’ve probably passed by, stepped over, sworn at, punched and/or kicked, groped, or have been harassed by. Remember, these citizens are people too (Except TS-17, whom we got from Radio Shack), so the next time you see someone you wouldn’t normally give the time of day to, give them the time of day. It will serve to remind them how much longer their shift is!
Since the SWTOR site is getting hammered, I copied and pasted this into an email yesterday for some friends who couldn’t access the site from work. I’m re-posting it here for easy access until the official site eases up on the sphincter.
Now that your guilds are in the game, ready to go, here’s everything you need to know about how Guild Deployment works.
How can I tell if/where my guild has been deployed?
Everyone will receive an email before Early Access with details about the status of their guild.
- If your guild was successfully deployed to a server, you’ll receive a link to the website that you can follow to find out what server your guild has been placed on.
- If your guild was not deployed to a server because it did not meet the qualifications for import, you will be able to create your guild manually in the game.
Server assignments through the Guild HQ system are final and cannot be changed, but you and your guild are not in any way required to play on the server where you were placed. We have pre-created assigned guilds on specific servers as a convenience to you, and these assignments may be ignored at your discretion.
What happens if I don’t like my server assignment?
Ignore it. You are more than welcome to create a new guild on a different server (as long as no one has already taken your desired guild name, of course). In order to create a guild in-game, you’ll need to gather a full group of four players and 5,000 credits, then speak to the Guild Registrar on the Republic/Imperial Fleets.
I am happy with my server assignment. How do I join once I’m in the game?
When you first join the game and reach the Server Select screen, the server where your guild has been pre-created will be marked with a gold flag.
If you choose this server and create a character on it, you’ll be presented with a dialogue box inviting you to join your guild when you enter the game. Accept that invite and you’re in!
What happens if I decline my automatic guild invite?
Every character you create on the server will be offered an automatic invite until ONE of those characters has accepted the invite. At that point, no further invites will be offered to any future characters you create on that server.
What happens if I accidentally told the game to stop offering me invites, but I changed my mind?
There is an option in the Preferences pane (under Social) which allows you to ignore all automatic guild import invites. If you accidentally chose “Do not ask again” in the invite and selected “No,” you can go to this panel and deselect the “Ignore Guild Import Offer” box. The next time you create a character on the server, you’ll once again be asked to join.
Can I join my pre-created guild with more than one character?
You can only accept an “automatic invite” once, so if you wish to add additional characters to the guild, you will need to reach out to your Officers or Guild Leader to send you additional invites.
What happens if our Guild Leader doesn’t join the game immediately?
Guild Leaders have until two weeks after launch (January 2nd, in our case) to accept their automatic invite. At that point, if your Guild Leader has not arrived in-game and accepted their invite, the most senior Officer will be automatically promoted to Guild Leader. Please note that this means it could be possible for the guild to be leaderless for up to two weeks after launch, so make sure your Guild Leader is ready to join the game!
For a video of the space combat…and some sexy spoilers of Bioware’s unique brand of “adult content”…check out my recorded Livestream.
I was fortunate enough to get an invite to a smaller beta weekend, the last, last public event of the testing period. The game opens for “early access” for pre-orders in 10 days (or so), and it’s been announced that anyone with a recent beta client can just patch it up to retail. I’m pleased, because I’m sure there’s a Comcast sniper on a neighbor’s rooftop, waiting for me to walk in front of a window.
This weekend, I completed the third part of the Trooper’s story on Coruscant (level 16), and at the end, I was given my starship. This was really the reason why I wanted to get in on the action this weekend, because I wanted to see how it worked as a mode of transport, and also how the space combat worked out. I was unsure how to get my companions doing their thing while on-board, but realized that it’s mostly a downtime scenario which allows you to send them out to collect or craft without having to worry about needing them back in time to watch your ass should combat arise. Plus, when out in the field, your companions back on the ship can be sent out or be made to craft stuff, even as you’re in combat:
Droid: “Yeah, L.T. I need something to do…”
Me: “Christ! We’re under heavy fire here, can it wait a while?!”
Droid: “Uh, sure… I guess. I’m still getting paid, though. Right?”
The space combat is a decent diversion. I’m going to go out on a limb and equate it with the rifts in Rift from a psychological standpoint. Both exist to break up the monotony of running everywhere, and give the players another way to earn XP. You can switch between ground-pounding and flying the unfriendly skies pretty easily (if you’re in your ship), so heading back to your ship after a hard day’s work will afford you the greatest opportunity for activities the next time you log in. I admit, though, I didn’t RTFM, so I was flying around with no clue about what I needed to do or how to do it. I failed one mission twice because I didn’t know what objectives I needed, or how to use my missiles (Right mouse button, of course). Also, I picked up some upgrades for the ship, and when ON the ship, right clicking them made them vanish…but I got no confirmation that anything happened. Ah well.
I am still impressed with “story as a vehicle” for getting me to “do stuff”. I artificially cut myself off at a decent point in the story. I admit: it was hard because I don’t really have a plan to play a Trooper in release, so I knew I wouldn’t “spoil” anything by experiencing the story here. But I realized that even though I might not go Trooper, I will be asked to tackle the 75% of the Coruscant missions that I have done, and which are non-class-specific. The further I progress as a Trooper, the more tempted I’ll be to pick up those side-missions, only to have to tackle them again in release. I’m usually not a fan of re-doing content, which is why I’m not an alt-aholic, and is something that I suspect SWTOR is going to break me of.
I do have one spoiler, so highlight the rest of text if you want to see it (it’s Trooper specific, so if you don’t plan on playing a Trooper, spoil away!)
One good thing about relying on the story is that Bioware has made connections between you and NPCs which reaches across time. When I had to bring down the Black Sun cartel, I was put in touch with an undercover operative named Jaxo. During the conversations, I had a chance to [Flirt], so I did, but I eventually walked away to the next mission.
The first mission off Coruscant had me rescuing a kidnapped Senator from a space station, and my local contact was Jaxo. Once again, I used the flirty options, and at the end, she invited me to “visit” her at her place back in the Black Sun territories sometime soon.
So I did. And we did. Sadly, there’s no achievement for “Intergalactic Booty Call”.
If you watch the Livestream, forward to 59:40 to get a taste of how Bioware handles this kind of thing
Happy Monday and other oxymorons on this, the day after the last beta hurrah for Star Wars: The Old Republic. I spent a lot more time in the game this weekend than I had previously, and after having learned a lot of things, felt that I had a better handle on the game and how I might feel about it later on.
I’m still avoiding the Jedi Consular, since that’s what I’ve decided to play in release. This time, I went with the Republic Trooper, a class which I don’t think receives it’s due. In a universe like Star Wars, the sexy archetypes are the Jedi, the Smuggler, and the Bounty Hunter. The Troopers are cannon fodder and once you get to the “modern” movie timeline, they’re clones, cheap, and expendable. No one wants to be a cookie-cutter character in an MMO, right?
I admit, I picked the Trooper because I knew I wouldn’t be playing one in release, but having played this class, and the Empire’s bastard class, the Imperial Agent, and now having been impressed with both, all bets are off.
I met up with Mindstrike who was playing a Smuggler while we were on Ord Mantell. We had several generic missions in common, but we finally got to experience cases of tagging along to someone else’s story mission, and the shared social missions. We had a bit of confusion at first about who could see what, who could participate in what conversations, and what was going on when one person was having a conversation that the other couldn’t see. We found that if you’re both taking a generic mission for the first time, you can both participate in the conversation. If you’re past another person’s green door, you can SEE their cinematic and hear their conversation, but you can’t do anything. If you have already done a generic mission or are ineligible to receive it, you just around like a doofus until your party is done with their conversation.
Playing with two people is great; playing with two people who each have a companion is awesome. It’s like a wrecking ball swinging through content. To some, that may sound like the End Of The World As We Know It, but as I’ve said before, I’m all about the progress and, in this case, the story.
About That Story…
I enjoyed the Trooper storyline. You’re the newest recruit in Havoc Squad, a special forces unit currently assigned to Ord Mantell in order to assist in the battle against a separatist movement. That’s all I’ll say about that. Spoilers, etc. As a class, the Trooper has as much subtlety as a battering ram. Sticky grenades, rockets, full auto, and armor-piercing buffs make for a formidable opponent, and that’s before you pick up your first companion. I died only three times which was more due to my overconfidence than it was to the performance of the class.
I ended the weekend at level 14, having completed some arcs on Coruscant which were supporting the Trooper plot. Normally, once you leave the training-wheel zones, you’d start getting off the beaten path of any overarching storyline, but I never felt more then one mission away from the Trooper’s narrative. For me, this is important because side-quests can be distracting to the point where the main story thread is lost in the haze of having to find someone’s lost heirloom or to clear a crime syndicate out of the lower levels of the city. Thanks to constant reminders for the why to your actions ties back into the main story. For me, this is critical to my potential long-term success with SWTOR.
My Potential For Long-Term Success With SWTOR.
It’s hard to say after only a weekend what the future holds for my investment in this game. I thought Rift would be the one game I’d stick with, but I lagged behind the general population (again) and found myself alone without support in a game that requires you to have support for the main selling point of the game – the rifts. Once that reality set in, and I reached that magic level decade of the 30’s, my interest in the game dropped like a stone attached to an anvil locked in a safe dropped from a cargo plane.
Right now, the story propels me in SWTOR. Having to kill X number of Y because my quest tracker says so is pure theme park MMO, but the fact that I can do it without much upset says a few things to me:
- Combat is a speed-bump in SWTOR. It’s necessary only because…
- …It’s all about the story.
I really hate to burst people’s bubble, but if you’re looking to SWTOR because you want another loot-whore, end-game hump-fest, or if you deride it because of the same, then the reality of the game totally went over your head. Like a novel, there’s the reader’s interpretation, and the author’s purpose, and the two may not align. If you want to run this game like a min-maxing, l2p-your-class, “win” at MMO game, then that’s fine, but I believe that the authors of this game really intended for you to put that artificial crap on the shelf and to treat the game as an interactive story. A story with pictures, so those with the World of Warcraft mentality don’t have to strain themselves to keep up.
I’m cautiously optimistic about my chances of progressing through this game for the reasons stated above, as well as an all-important third reason: so far, nothing has stood in my way. With Rift, I felt abandoned and unable to progress. With EQ2, WoW, and LotrO eventually left me with a treadmill feeling because there was no overarching reason; everything was a one-off mission that needed to be completed and didn’t have ongoing consequence* later in the game. With SWTOR, I made it to level 14 in two days. That’s more then 1/5th of the way to the cap which for me is huge. I totally credit the story as the vehicle for my interest. I’m hoping that this will continue to propel me through the game to the cap (finally).
It’s Like Duct Tape
Now, like the duct tape and the Force, there’s a dark side to all this light side. I’m not a fan of pointing out issues just to counter to ebullient praise, but I’m also not ignorant of issues; I just usually choose to rise above them in order to find the enjoyment that’s there. Unless there’s a show stopping issue, which is rare, I can live with anything else that the game throws me, even if there’s something that throws me.
That being said, my one gripe with SWTOR is that I was really expecting more polish on this sucker. And here’s a caveat! I know that many times the “beta” version we play is potentially several months old in the build cycle. I also know that it’s beta, still, even this close to launch. There’s a good chance that when things get pulled together, things will get ironed out. There’s also the chance that things won’t get ironed out.
Some of the gripes (which are by no means ground-breaking for me) include weird-isms like shooting with no weapons in hand, having to listen to other people’s companion’s one-liners all the time, and the delay between alien dialog subtitles synced with voice-overs, and the ability to select my conversation option. Again, none of these are really game breakers for me, but I know there are some “quality Nazis” out there who still equate “release” with “flawless” and who will use things like this to fuel their personal campaigns against the game.
While I totally understand that working on a game of this magnitude is beyond the scope of one mortal’s comprehension (despite the fact that many lesser-mortals claim to have their finger on the pulse of these things), I’m disappointed to see things like this in such a high profile title from a high profile studio this close to release because I know that in some quarters the game will suffer from it in the court of popular opinion. The game will still go on to be a huge success (by actual standards, not the usual self-important forum-troll standards), but I’d really love to see it clear hurdles easily in all areas, and not just because of it’s IP, features, or name brand developer.
While I hope these kinds of things are ironed out quickly, they won’t stop me from enjoying the game come release time.
And Now, Some Spoilers!
[To see these, highlight text from here to the end of the post!]
I wanted to put that in there because there’s some things that continue to impress, and some deal with spoiler content.
One of the missions for the Trooper story is to cut a supply line based in the criminal underground in Coruscant. The supply in this case is a shipment of advanced battle droids that you need to destroy, eventually bringing you face to face with the droid supplier. He boasts that he’s also augmented several humans with undetectable cybernetic parts, and plans on unleashing these unsuspecting time-bombs on the general population. You’re ordered to kill these citizens on the off chance that this scumbag is telling the truth, but as you can imagine, you have a choice to kill or not to kill. I chose not to kill.
Later, I received an email from an NPC which told me that while the rumors of potential cyberizing were found to be accurate, those people I released – who were supposedly altered – showed no signs of having this lethal technology.
From an emotional investment standpoint this is an interesting twist. During the mission, I found that my companion didn’t react favorably to my initial acceptance of the kill order, so I switched at the last minute to let the subjects go. I thought I was done with that, but the decision was brought back to my attention in a good way when I was informed that I had made a humane and correct decision, despite earning an earful from my CO for going against her orders. This bridging of time for what might have just been another step in the progression of the story made me smile because it supported my non-lethal decision, and because I thought that it could have easily have gone the other way. It also supports the idea that the story isn’t something that goes in one eye and out the other, like other MMOs.
The NDA is down. Let the vomiting of details commence!
[Insert Scrolling Exposition Text Here]
I need to say that I started my SWTOR experience after coming off a few hours of Skyrim. That’s a tough act to follow for any game, especially if that game is A) another RPG, and B) and MMO which has been often criticized for it’s safe design decisions. I admit that my initial impression was colored by Skyrim, which is both fair and unfair. Fair, because Skyrim sets a high bar for all games, but unfair because one’s a single player game which can have the room to breath, and the other is an MMO which really does have to cater to a wide audience. The Star Wars IP really doesn’t do it for me; I’m a casual fan, but could take it or leave it beyond eps IV, V and VI.
I have also been on an anti-MMO bender lately, as previous posts can attest to. I was going in with several strikes against SWTOR already, and the only real reason I hadn’t cancelled my pre-order at that point was because I know my friends are planning on playing.
In A Galaxy Far, Far Away (And Packed To The Gills With Testers)
My first misguided decision was to create the class I wanted to play: Jedi Consular. I don’t care for the “Jedi” part; I’ve taken an unusual shine to the healer class since Rift, so I decided this was to be my class in release. But I wasn’t feeling it, for the reasons stated above. I also realized that I shouldn’t play the class now that I want to play later, so I quit out and created an Imperial Agent. I consider this to have been a Good Move ™.
The Agent was fun. The cover mechanic worked pretty well, although it’s kind of gimmicky. Normally you’d just stand there and shoot like a total dork, but at least with cover, you get the feeling that the usual MMO unwillingness to, you know, avoid getting shot at is mitigated by the fact that you’ve decided to take cover this time. I wasn’t sure how to use the Agent at first, but found that while in cover, your abilities in the hot bar change. I guess this is kind of like a stance change. A lot of the Agent’s abilities revolve around shooting and blowing things up,which is great fun. After I found the right ability rotation (a curse of MMOs, natch), I was gunning down and exploding targets really good-like. Thanks to Rift, I even stopped several times to lob grenades at mobs under fire by other players before running on my way. I‘m a real fucking nice guy like that.
I don’t really follow the greater Star Wars canon, so I’m not going to get all geeky over nods to the universe to be found in the game. I liked the visuals, though. I thought they were properly immersive. In the Hutt palace where you spend most of your time as an Agent, you often pass through the cantina which had the same kind of surreal music you hear in Star Wars cantina when Luke and Ben hire Han: it’s kinda goofy, but in an alien way, so you nod and say “OK. I can get on board with that”. And, Twi’lek pole-dancers.
Hutta is kind of a crappy place, with a lot of swamps, some slave labor, and a kind of shanty-town feel despite being high-tech. That’s one aspect of Star Wars that I do like: how high technology can exist in such a run-down and totally crappy configuration that implies that the people living there don’t care that they have hover-bikes. It’s old hat to them, and they just shrug it off.
Jedi Mind Tricks
So after a while, I found that I wanted to go back and play, partly because I felt obligated as a tester, but partly because the more I played, the further I progressed in the Agent’s beginner story arc. And I was enjoying that aspect. The voice-over is crucial to this. It is as you would expect if you’ve played Mass Effect or other BioWare conversation dial games. If that doesn’t light your fire, well…turn back now.
Sitting here now, writing this almost a week after the testing experience, I can say with certainty that the into to the Imperial Agent story arc will stay with me for a long, long time. There’s only a handful of quests from any RPG or MMO that I can say that about, so I consider that to be a special kind of litmus test in regards to the worth of a game for me. Without getting spoilery, I can say that being a total dickwad, purposefully picking the decisions to maximize the Dark Side points, lead to a very sharp contrast when the situations got serious, but it was the divide between being an asshole and the hard decisions – and sometimes regret of making a particular decision – that put a pin in the whole intro for me. I don’t have any official plans to play Sith in release, but if the opportunity arises, I am so going to be an Agent all over again…and will probably be as big of an asshole as I was the first time around.
Bonus Content (Extra Stuff On The DVD)
One thing that also added to the enjoyment was the attainment of my first minion. She rolls into the…role…naturally as part of the story, which I thought was smooth. She kicked butt, but wasn’t a deus ex machina or anything. I had a bit of a stumble trying to figure out how to give her gear and to manage her effectively at first. After I left Hutta, though, I was able to use the companion system to send her to sell my junk items, and, once I got her her companion skill (Underworld Connections) I sent her away on her first solo mission. It works like the pet in Torchlight, where they go away for a set amount of time that, in this case, varies based on the implied complexity of the task (and the expense of shipping them out, and the level of the reward). I like the idea that you can do these things with them while you’re just bumping around the quest hubs or waiting on other players to get their act together.
But if you strip out the conversation system, the story, the companions and some of the other fluff that BioWare has added, you have a basic, old school theme-park MMO. That’s pretty damning for some, and it was for me up until I became invested in the story. I really don’t want another wall of text MMO where I really only read the objectives and compare rewards and never consider what the narrative reason is behind my task. It’s kind of a “thing” that’s been missing from MMOs: a real mechanism that nails the unappreciated aspect of lore and story to the player’s forehead so that he can’t ignore it, or can’t just read the objectives before robotically plowing his way through to get the reward. I really started to care about what I was doing, and how it was affecting the story, and yeah, at some point I stopped being a dick and started earing Light Side points because there were characters I didn’t want to betray (the one that mattered the most to me was handled badly by me, and I still regret the decision I made to that end). If it weren’t for the stories, and the way that they’re executed, I would have backed out on my order by now.
So some people are going to love it. Some people will absolutely hate it because it doesn’t deviate enough from the themepark MMO design. Some people will be on the fence and will probably buy it and give it a shot for the free 30 days of play time (strangely, I just questioned whether there would be a free 30 days…don’t know why…) and will make their decision in that time. It’s a polarizing game, which is good and bad because regardless of how you personally feel, it is doing some things to move the ball down the field which can only mean a march of progress for the genre that hasn’t really progressed by leaps and bounds over the past few years. We had this kind of minor shift with Warhammer Online’s public groups, the introduction of LFG tools, and other features that we now take for granted. I do hope that future MMOs integrate deeper conversation mechanisms, because I think then they can start to really tell the stories that they’ve been trying to tell all these years, and make more people take note of them.
One burr in my bonnet, though: I realize that the Hutt are intergalactic gangsters, but was it really necessary to give some of their minions those stereotypical “wiseguy” accents? I felt the only thing missing were the gold chains, bad Hawaiian shirts, and copious chest-hair.