Thursday, 3 May 2012

Hustlin' through the Old Republic: I arrive fashionably late

Well it’s here, it’s been here for a while now I just decided to obtain it when the timing was right, as I had enough things to do and play already if you hadn’t noticed the lack of posts in February and March I indeed have started playing Star Wars the Old Republic (SWTOR). In case you didn’t know it’s been out since December 23rd 2011 in the US but we down this part of the world had to wait till March 3 before it was officially released in AU but the part I’d been waiting for was the Australian based servers, yes you read that correctly and I’m going to say it up front, Star Wars the old Republic has Australian based servers, there’s currently only 3 of them but that’s better than most MMO who have “Oceanic” servers with the correct time zone but located in the US still. In this field Bioware has already stood out above the rest.

A Jedi Shadow on Belsavis
So as you’ve probably guessed it’s time for another post title: Yes, Hustlin’ through the Old Republic, it may sound cheesy but it’s the best I could come up with I was thinking of Fresh Prince of the Old Republic as I like to think of it as World of Warcraft being West Philadelphia but of course WoW wasn’t a bad place at all as I’m sure Will Smith would agree, and also my mother didn’t make me leave there in order to live with my rich cousins in SWTOR as the song goes. But hustlin’ has that kind of ring to it, the term “hustle” basically means to make money in any way possible, a lot of the time illegally and that’s what you’re doing in SWTOR, well mostly and as it only has one type or layer of currency your dealin’ with big money. I suppose this name would suit more if you were playing as a Smuggler or Bounty Hunter who happened to be doing the ‘underworld trading’ mission skill but as with all MMO’s currency is a very big part of the game especially since you have to pay people to train you for new abilities but anyway. As with my WoW related posts this topic will be my adventures through SWTOR and anything interesting that happens during the time, of course I’d have to remember to record it but I always have a few things to show, I will try to feature as much as I can any updates, announcements and special events that happen as well, though there are more than enough sites that do this already.

I was meandering over the fact that should I make this first post a review of SWTOR itself, but of course as Zero Punctuation had put it, it’s very hard to “review” an MMO even after a couple of weeks playing, So I decided that I would treat this first post on the new topic as an introduction to the game. I never did one for my WoW posts but if you’re reading this blog there’s quite a big chance you already know what WoW is, I did one for Minecraft thanks to Dave a bit after I had made my original posts and I suppose I did do a “teaser” post for SWTOR earlier on in 2011. But I’m happy for this to be just an introductory post but I will also give you the basic info which you don’t need to hear it from me, take it away Wikipedia:

 
The original "Deceived' trailer

Star Wars: The Old Republic, abbreviated as TOR or SWTOR, is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game based in the Star Wars universe. Developed by BioWare Austin and a supplemental team at BioWare Edmonton, the game was first announced on October 21, 2008, at an invitation-only press event. The video game was released for the Microsoft Windows platform on December 20, 2011 in North America and part of Europe. Early access to the game began one week before release, on December 13, 2011, for those who had pre-ordered the game online; access opened in "waves" based on pre-order date.
Although BioWare has not disclosed development costs, industry leaders and financial analysts have estimated it to be between $150 million and $200 million. If accurate, this would make it the most expensive video game ever developed. The game had 1 million subscribers within three days of its launch, making it the world's 'Fastest-Growing MMO Ever', compared with rivals such as World of Warcraft
*taken from Wikipedia

I was recently looking for a printed strategy guide for the game but was unable to find one as yet apart from some crap “atlas” from Prima games that’s trying to be passed off as a strategy guide. Now of course you might be thinking who the hell would buy a printed strategy guide to an MMO when all the information you need is freely available online? Well I’ll tell you why, it’s because I like to read about a game I’m currently playing and reading about it makes me want to play it more, also reading a book is both easier and better on your eyes than staring at a screen the whole time, and also I like to read while eating and the guides have a wealth of information that can keep me entertained for weeks. I now have four different WoW Strategy guides, an original guide plus one for each expansion and reading them all and seeing how World of Warcraft has evolved is good fun to read and reminisce of how the game used to be and I look forward to doing this with The Old Republic.

It’s been a while coming since my original post on the subject, and I think SWTOR has lived up to my expectations and of course as you’d expect as a previous WoW player I did have a lot of expectations but I didn’t really want to, I didn’t want to view this game as just another WoW rival that will fail like some others in the past. But it didn’t, it hasn’t it has cost Bioware an incredulous amount of money and resources but it’s held firm as far as I can see. I went into SWTOR with a lighthearted attitude intending to have some fun and play the game the way the designers intended and not try to change things around so much because of the quintessential fact that it would be “more like WoW so it’s better” I’m trying my hardest to keep away from this but with the release of the newest major patch which includes the simple, functional and very useful user Interface editor it was one hell of an effort not to try and re-arrange everything wow-style. But to be honest the whole experience has been rather good and possibly getting better as I go further into it.


A good explanation of the SWTOR gameplay mechanics in a group flashpoint (dungeon/instance)

Before I purchased the game I had decided long ago that I wanted to be on the Republic side and I wanted to be a Jedi Knight. The reasons for this were that at the start I guess I just wanted to be the good guys, I played Horde most of the time which I were (almost) convinced that the Horde had more morality and was more of an Alliance than the Alliance itself but this is open to  debate amongst WoW lore junkies everywhere. But with the Galactic Republic I never necessarily saw them as evil, though if I could nerd out for a bit and imagine myself there to be honest I would be kind of hesitant to pick the way of the Jedi. I knew that since there was technically only 4 main classes and two of them were Jedi/Sith that it was going to be lightsabre mania right from the start and that I probably should pick another class, but I knew couldn’t the “lure of the lightsabre” as I like to call it was too much.  My brother who plays as a smuggler and was always going to play as a smuggler did say to me in a  conversation some quite obvious traits with players that were:
  • Not many Smugglers or Troopers around at all i.e. not many non-Jedi, but of course an MMO with only 4 main classes per side two of them being force-swinging lightsabre wielders and the other two being supposedly boring ol Shooty Mcgunguns (with the possible exception of the Bounty Hunter which is probably the most popular non Jedi/Sith class) you could probably guess that was going to happen. But anyway, that’s that I guess, at least the two separate Jedi/Sith classes on each side can heal/tank respectively. 
  • The majority of players were human and sure enough I looked around and they were, and I was, of course I could come up with a few of reasons for this. One being that when you select a character you select the race then you get the option of selecting the bodytype, and the reason you are able to do this is because the only difference between the different races is their heads, everything else is pretty much humanlike unlike WoW in which each races body is significantly different. The second reason is that humans are usually the base to get chosen as that’s what we are and can identify with, the majority of major Jedi characters in the Star Wars movie series were human as well. The last reason is that in SWTOR your initial surroundings and main storyline are governed by your class not your race, so class in all respects is the biggest decision whereas races in WoW determine what your character looks like and how they will move/talk/dance/etc, their starting area and home city and also what mounts you will be able to (easily) acquire.
Republic side character select screen
 Most of this is true but it’s not exactly a dire blemish on the game, every main class has an advanced class that specializes in either healing or tanking so a whole group full of Jedi can do an flashpoint (aka instance or dungeon for all you WoW people out there) without any trouble as long as they have the appropriately capable advanced classes. Frankly though I do miss the way WoW handles the races, It’s one of the main reasons I really enjoyed creating a new character. For example as an Undead (or Forsaken) character, you woke up in a  tomb and your starting area was the dreary and gloomy but somewhat hauntingly beautiful Tirisfal Glades where you can get your Skeletal Warhorse with whole area being of undead-style as well as your home city which was the massive Underhalls of a ruined human city. Now you don’t quite get any of this for races in SWTOR the only relative difference is their social abilities and non-body shape related looks, you don’t get a unique starting area for your race, this is done through classes as I mentioned before but I suppose this really doesn’t bother me as the class starting areas are involved and exciting enough though having no home city apart from a allegiance wide space station. In regards to the vehicles available I’m fairly unimpressed, I would rather a certain build of each vehicle be assigned to each major class for example Jedi Consulars would have the Rendill line of speeders, I enjoyed the variety and character of the mounts in WoW, the SWTOR mechanical mounts, are fun to skim along with, one way which you (usually) wouldn’t be able to travel like in WoW but they don’t come very close to the fun and companionship (even the mechanical ones) of the WoW mounts.

Vehicles, fun but still just machines
When I started my character I suppose the hardest thing I had to work out was what to name myself as I said in my WoW posts I discovered the name “hbui” from mashing the keyboard which was a surprisingly more suitable for an mmo then my usual FPS “JDman”, so when I had to come up with a name that I was going to use for SWTOR it was kind of a weird experience deciding how to choose but eventually I just decided to use the same parameters as before, 4 letters, grammatically incorrect and no special characters. So my first character would be named: “Jxan” nothing special I know but MMO names aren’t supposed to be, I actually realised now that I could have made a second name but meh, it’s less to type in as was my argument before spaces in names.

Jedi Knightin' it up
As a Jedi it’s pretty basic, use the right abilities at the right time, manage your attacking enemies, choose the right companion for the job. Things get a bit more complicated when it comes to classes in the game. The Republic side has 4 main classes that being Jedi Knight, Jedi Consular, Smuggler and Trooper, with each having its own advanced class which basically slightly change your style of play, for example my Jedi Knight is a Guardian, so he uses only one Lightsabre, further to that the advanced classes have 3 different skill trees for the Jedi Guardian there is defense, vigilance and focus which are basically the tank tree, the damage over time dps tree and the pvp style burst damage dps tree that is shared over both the Jedi Knight advanced classes. Now this is all well and good but my main problem (and probably a lot of other people’s problem) is that there is currently no dual-spec option so my dilemma is that I want to be able to tank in instances, so I am tank specced, but most of the time I’m not tanking just dpsing and the times I am able to tank for instances usually someone picks up the role anyway, I’ve also been mulling over if I should be keeping a separate set of gear for DPS as because I’m supposed to be a tank I’ve favoured endurance (which increases health, similar to stamina) over strength with most of my gear but then again whenever I did that in WoW I always had to keep checking whether the dps gear I was getting was better than my tank gear, but I spose the stats are a little bit different and it’s vice-versa in this case. I must make a point here to mention the Datacrons which add a marvellous element of treasure hunting and platforming which is pretty much unheard of in an MMO and I’ve had lots of fun laughing at less agile players falling to their doom.

My current Jedi Knight Skill Tree many say the skill tree system should be scrapped in favour of Blizzard's new system
The next points I need to make is that of your companions yes you now have these npc characters that follow you around and help you, and you don’t just have one, by the time you reach level 50 you will have a whole posse of different characters well that’s if you could have them all out at the same time which of course you can’t. Your companions serve a lot of uses, they can tank, heal or do damage in battle, they make comments about random things and can serve as a love interest for your character and they can also perform Crew Skills. Which as you would have probably guessed are similar to the crafting skills in WoW, main difference being that you yourself do not make the stuff and you do not gather the stuff either (well most of the time) it’s your companions that do this. So there is the usual gathering skills where you collecting crystal or hacking systems for valuable data and crafting skills where your making new Jedi colour crystals or droid parts  but there is also a mission skill, where for example you send your companion away for a set period of time to go pick up some illegal goods or do some diplomatic shizz yo in which they come back with rare items for use with your crafting skills. The thing that gets me though is that crafting things take much longer than it does in WoW and I’ve found that kind of hard to get used to, as my usual way of things is to go ok I need 3 of these, then wait up to a minute while I make them, in SWTOR each thing takes about 2 minutes minimum, with semi-rare items taking about 8, I’ve just had to keep remembering to get my companions making them while I’m running around doin other stuff, the mission skills are easy enough as they take thing longest (up to 15 minutes!) but all you need to do is use a non-active companion to do the work. When you request your companions to go on these missions or make these items they simply just disappear, apparently either back to the ship to get crafting or wherever else their going.

Kira Carsen, a Jedi Knight Companion
Bowdaar, a smuggler companion
 One of the biggest differences between WoW and SWTOR is the storytelling inside the game, in SWTOR your have you own classes main storyline which basically leads you from planet to planet each with its own storyline and mini storyline inside it and coupled with the fully voiced players and NPCs and authentic Star Wars sounds and music it’s a very immersive experience, much more then some MMO's which have little or no specific storyline for your character. we all know the whole Bioware conversation mechanic that you’ve seen in the Dragon Age and Mass Effect series as well as many others. Where if someone asks you a question then you have 2 or more answers or actions depending on what they have said and you have the option to pick the polite, controversial or downright offensive reply. SWTOR’s spin on this is sometimes your actions can have Light or Dark side consequences so you could probably guess what that would be: “kill the slaver and free the people” or “accept bribe from the slaver and commit the people to their doom” they aren’t always about money of course though being a Jedi I really couldn’t do anything bad like the good natured sap that I am.

You make many dark or light side decisions with a few consequences
The bottom line though isn’t about the morality of you or your character, there are many items in the game that you need a certain amount of light/dark side points to be able to use it, so as Zero Punctuation mentioned you may as well just pick your allegiance from the start as to get some of the best items at the end of the game you need to have selected the light side option most of the time. The only other difference I can think of is that is you select dark side all the time it visibly shows on your character as I saw with a level 50 Jedi who looked very evil indeed. One thing I really do want to try is play as a Sith and pick all the Light side options, which I really want to see how it works because aren’t Sith supposed to be evil? Well I suppose Jedi are supposed to be good.

Dark side corruption changes
 Not too long into your main characters storyline you receive your very own Starship which serves as a mini home base for you and your crew. It’s basically how you get from planet to planet and also how you access your space combat missions, but to be honest there’s not really much else you do there, just mission briefing and access to your Cargo Hold, you’ll probably spend a lot more time on the main Republic or Imperial space stations which sit near their respective fleets and basically act as the home cities for each allegiance. Apart from getting from planet to planet the space combat missions are probably the main thing you will be using your ship for and I must admit they are good fun I was always wondering how Bioware could pull off space battles in an MMO. Basically it’s like an arcade game, when you start, your ship is at the bottom of your screen and you can move it around quite quickly with the mouse in order to dodge incoming fire and you aim your lasers and missiles using the mouse as well. There’s a few different kinds of missions  including destroying an enemy battlestation, destroying an enemy ship or series of fighters or protecting an allied ship which is possibly the hardest as the upgrades to your own ship make little difference when you’re not the one being shot at. I could possibly argue with my brother forever on this but I can’t help not feeling that this was put in just because it was a Starwars game and it had to have space battles so this is what they chucked in. I suppose it wouldn’t been a semi-large hole in the game  without it and the arcadiness suits because we don’t want to bother ourselves with X-Wing vs Tie Fighter levels of complicatedness in an MMO.


Space Combat, you have to see it to believe it (or understand it)

The graphics in SWTOR are what you’d expect them to be, for an MMO cannot have the fancy graphics of other games for the reasons enclosed in that conversation of course, I never expected the graphics to be anything more than acceptable, there is a bit of popup in the scenery though, especially around the foresty worlds such as Taris or Alderaan, I’ve recently travelled to the desert planet of Tatooine which is very good looking for a desert. What sometimes takes me by surprise is the size of some of the rooms/caves/buildings in the game, whether it’s huge storehouses giant caves or just massive ships or space stations the sheer size of some places is sure grand to look at. One very interesting feature with the characters models is that you have the option of “Unifying the Colours” of your gear so for example remember all those times in WoW where your armor looked kind of like this well Blizzard had their own way of fixing that and so do Bioware. The armor and robes that you get in SWTOR aren’t quite bulky or outstanding as of those in WoW, this allows the unify colours button to basically turn every other piece of gear that you have to blend in with the base colours of your chestpiece, which makes you look pretty cool and is a great feature.

Smuggler Sharpshooter on Alderaan
Overall my experience with SWTOR has been a good one, I’ve played my first character to level 30, I’ve joined a guild, I’ve learned a lot about the game so far and am mostly happy with the experience, there’s so much more class and spec combinations that I want to try  for example Jedi Consular Sage with Telekinetic spec I’d also really like to try the Sith side an be and be a “Good Sith” who always takes the light side option. Whether or not I go back to WoW at some point though remains to be seen, though before I was switching between WoW and Minecraft, now I’m switching between the three of them, and trying to watch the whole 3 Kingdoms TV series as well, sigh I spose I’ll always have too much to do or play.

My current interface setup with Tatooine in the backdrop
 Stay tuned for more SWTOR posts as they come, I can assure you I’ll be playing for a while yet.

JD

Facing the council for "misuse of the force"

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