Like the venerable Lewis Black, I remember a time when Thanksgiving was a holiday all of its own, and Santa Claus didn’t stick his fat gut in the mix. When Christmas came early for me this year, I wasn’t as aggravated as I normally would be. That’s because it came in the form of an invite to the Star Wars: The Old Republic beta.
I’m a little tired of always playing the benevolent champion. I’m almost certain my guild is choosing Republic when the game launches, so I wanted a little taste of the dark side. I also wanted to gain a feel for the mechanics of a couple different classes without having to replay the story when I start from scratch. This lead me to pick a Sith Warrior with the Marauder advanced class.
Logging in for the first time, I noticed the abundance of servers to choose from. Sure, all of them read “FULL” in the column to the right of their names, but I’d already read on the official forums that you could find a few without a wait time. I scored on the first try and happily created my demonic looking Sith lord.
I’ve played The Old Republic at two conventions to date. Even though I was as giddy as a school girl on both occasions, I had my doubts about the game overall. My biggest fear was that BioWare’s “don’t reinvent the wheel” approach to combat would feel stale to me after all of my time spent in other MMOs. To my surprise, the simple change of removing auto attacks makes a real difference. Watching your character auto-swing at a target is exciting for the first hit, and then never again for as long as you play.
The starting zone was flooded with new Sith running in all directions attacking everything in sight. Being the largest test weekend they’d attempted, I was happily unaffected by the number of players in each zone. In fact, I only encountered one occasion where I completely lagged out and had to restart the client.
I’ve heard the horror stories from other players of insanely long queue times to log in, followed by massive lag spikes. I’m sure they happened, but for my server and most people I talked to, BioWare hit their mark and provided a fairly successful experience. This is good news for anyone who wants to play the game the week it launches. A successful launch goes a long way towards player satisfaction, even though a “bad” launch in the past has maybe put players back a few hours and forced them to choose a new server.
While I was playing I noticed a few things. First are the combat animations. My god, these are fun. Every class has a handful of spells that just look incredible, or are hilarious to watch. My Marauder was like a badass acrobat, leaping in the air over large gaps to close in on an enemy, followed by a front-flip ground slam to stun the pack of mobs surrounding my target. Oh yeah, that feels good. I joked about it on this week’s Next Gen News podcast, but watching an overweight Smuggler karate kick another player in the groin and run away just never gets old (see above pic).
The second realization from the beta weekend, and one that I can’t appreciate enough, is the amount of time you lose yourself in questing. It just doesn’t feel like any leveling experience I’ve had before. Normally, in the back of my mind, I’m telling myself that I just have to do this monotonous task to inch my way closer to max level. I don’t care what the quest text is, who gave it to me or what I’m killing and fetching for them. The Old Republic force feeds you the story in all the right ways while still leaving you in control over how key parts play out. If you allow it to, the game absorbs you into who you are playing, effectively bringing back the character building of old RPGs.
When I say that, I’m not talking about building your stats or grinding up better gear. I mean that your character has a voice and a personality that you mold. The Hunter I played in World of Warcraft for four years has a special place in my heart. But over the course of a weekend and in less than 20 levels, I felt more of a connection to my Star Wars character than I ever could with characters from other MMOs. That’s good storytelling.
I’ve talked about instances and PvP in our previews of the game from PAX East and New York Comic Con. Both still stand as good indications of what those two aspects of the game are like. I did not see one thing coming. That thing is Hutt Ball. I don’t really know what to say about it other than “thank you.”
Hutt Ball has one simple objective: your team must move the ball into the opposing team’s scoring zone. All that stands in your way is the opposing team’s lightsabers, force chokes, explosive devices and the multiple hazards littered through the four tiers of pits, platforms and bridges. That sounds easy enough. Even though you could only queue for a random Warzone, I was lucky to get tossed into Hutt Ball for most of the matches I played.
For someone who was quite pessimistic about what I would experience this past weekend, I can tell you without a doubt that I was satisfied. Too many times, games in the MMO genre are all about the destination. Star Wars: the Old Republic clearly is all about the journey. There are multiple paths to leveling and character progression. It’s up to you to find out which works best for you.
From now until December 20th, BioWare will keep a close eye on their general testers and lucky group of weekend testers to continue tweaking their game. A new build has since been deployed and I’m sure it won’t be the last. The developers laid the groundwork and won me over. I can now say, without a doubt, that I want to see this game through to end-level content.
I’d like to give a reminder to everyone who received an invite to the beta and plans on playing the retail version of the game. The game client you downloaded to play the beta can stay on your computer and will simply patch itself when the game is ready for release. Your old characters will not carry over to the full version of the game. I’ll see you all on Ilum!