Yours to play now, in a galaxy of your own PC.

A while back, I took at look at the beta for the new massively multiplayer game from BioWare, Star Wars: The Old Republic.  Well, as of the 20th, the game is officially launched, but for the past week some lucky players have been included in the pre-launch, leveling up our characters and generally trying to get as much neat stuff as possible before the servers really fill up.  Still, with some extra patch time between the last beta weekend and the official live game having passed, what’s changed about the game itself?

It should be no surprise that the game shows some more polish than it did during the Beta phases; many of the changes are cosmetic, such as graphic options showing more tweaking, and some presentation bugs being fixed.  For instance, there are far fewer masters of ventriloquism present during quest dialogue, with refreshing extra touches such as moving lips being more consistent.  Some quests and flashpoints also got some additional dialogue to work with, so players do have some new content in store that wasn’t around during the beta.

For the most part, the launch has gone smoothly, although on the last day of the pre-launch things seemed to be a bit off – for the first time, lag has seen some very bad spikes (my record is about 112,000ms latency without a disconnection, which was impressive), so there are high hopes that the servers can handle the stress as the game officially launches.  Meanwhile, some servers have been overrun with players; more than once I’ve seen other servers with an estimated wait time of nearly two hours, compared to the average of about 10-25 minutes.  Of course, we’re about to get new players, so the wait times may get even more extreme.

The game itself is the most important thing though, and I’ll be honest, I hate trying to give a score to an MMORPG title; there is simply too much contention over what a game is, could be, or should be with this genre.  What is a fun challenge to one player is an incessant grindfest to another, and it only takes one mention of World of Warcraft for the trolling to start.  That said, my time with the game and my Sith Sorcerer has been very enjoyable.

For one, class balance seems to be well done; no one class really has a pure, 100% advantage over another, and it really does come down to specialization and skill in the end.  I decided to play a healer, my consistent role in these types of games, and it can be easy to see the gaps in play style versus differences in the individual classes.  This is both a positive and negative – positive in that skilled players will gain recognition and success, and negative in that players who do poorly will find themselves hard pressed to get groups that succeed.  There is not really a “win” button, so players do need to spend some time learning their abilities to do more than a “OK” job.

The graphics of the game have seen a bit of touching up as well; the environments seem to look just a little sharper, and the world seems to flow in a better way than it did previously.  A large amount of obvious work went into making the worlds interesting, and it really shows.  Furthermore, one criticism I had from the beta (regarding some areas being “empty” since no quests sent you there) seems to have seen some attention as well.  Moving around the third planet in my adventure, Balmorra, I found myself constantly moving around every part of the map to see all that graphical work.  One thing that helps with this are the Datacrons, hidden items that permanently raise stats.  I didn’t notice them in the beta, but they are an optional “side-quest” of sorts in the main game that provide a small, but useful character buff.

As for the music…well, it’s John Williams, which is most appropriate.  Players will recognize tracks from the Star Wars series et al, so there are no surprises there.

As for the overall score…well, I’m not going to give it one.  All I can say is that I enjoy the game quite a bit, and love seeing all of the new content as I progress through the storyline, but an MMORPG title is not for everyone.  Whether it is the monthly fees, the persistently online world, or the fact that it’s not “their type of game”, there would be plenty of dissent about any score I could assign.  That said, BioWare has put out an incredibly strong offering for their first online-only title, and the effort really does show.  Further patches, additions, and expansions will either make or break the game from here though, and BioWare’s greatest challenge lies not in releasing the game, but maintaining a level of quality that keeps players involved months, and years down the line.

However, since there is a lot to do in an MMO, I’m going to make this review on-going…every now and then, we’ll talk more about some various features, classes, successes, and failures in the game system.  That way, you can join me in seeing how the game shapes up past the initial levels, and hopefully into the endgame content.

Durandal invites you to say “hi” on the Lord Adraas server…but someone stole the Durandal name from me.  Thus, look for your not-so-friendly Sith Lord Deiwos, giving you a nice, tight force grip hug around the neck!

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