My original assessment of Star Wars: The Old Republic — that it was a gussied-up version of the typical “kill 10 rats” style of MMO — still hasn’t changed much after a month’s gameplay. (I started playing on 12/29.) Now, after having a full month to get a clearer impression of the game, I think that one of my original statements from the last issue of MOG still holds:
All the derisive talk of TOR being “a single-player RPG masquerading as an MMO” isn’t that far from the truth, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
I find myself taking a “single-player” approach to TOR much of the time. As usual, very few of my guildmates are around my level, and many are at 50. While I’d like to play with them (novel idea, that… MMO makers should try and make that easier, ya think?), I also want to fully experience the story the game has to offer. So I’m not rushing to max level, and I tend to get into the game when I’m in the “mood” for single-player action, rather than MMO play. But it’s a good single-player game, so it’s got that much going for it.
My trooper vanguard is level 35 now, and, when out in the world, I’ve generally soloed. I stopped trying to find groups for heroics about 10 levels ago, since, even now in the game’s infancy, it’s getting harder and harder to find people to group up for random low-level missions and it’s even more grating when the other players have to run halfway across the map to get to the action.
I have played a fair amount of PvP, though, and have run every flashpoint available to me thus far (except Taral V, which I hope to knock out tonight or tomorrow). Being limited to four-person groups very strictly delineates the class roles; you pretty much require one tank (me), one healer, and two DPS. One of my groups, though, was three troopers, one each tanking, healing, and DPS-ing, and a Jedi, so the promise of variety in class roles seems to have been fulfilled, at least at low levels.
My major beef with flashpoints is that, for all the talk of story, they’re pretty much the same as any other instances. When I first ran the Esseles, I was really digging all the conversation options and branching points in the flashpoint and thought that they were a clever and innovative way to present that content. Future flashpoints, though, have lacked those options. You get to chat with an NPC at the start and end of each (provided your groupmates are patient enough to bother), but in between you’ll only have one, or maybe two, options. My social rank suffers for it.
PvP is a mixed bag thus far, and I haven’t even made it to Ilum yet. While it’s fun, and I haven’t had quite the framerate issues that others have reported, the action gets really choppy when there are too many characters on the screen, and the disjointed sound effects on Alderaan are especially jarring. Also, I stand by my original statement that Huttball needs more feedback. I’ve received the ball a few times only to have no idea that I had it; perhaps a billboard or a tone to indicate possession would help, because there’s so much going on that I don’t always see the icon flash over my head. And some kind of map indicator to tell us the direction of the ball or a player-name popup to show us the carrier, as employed in Rift‘s warfronts, would also be nice.
As for my class itself… I sense a nerf coming in the future, especially if what I’m hearing about the inadequacy of the Jedi knight class is true. My character can tank, fight in melee, fight in ranged, pump out AOEs, and do above-average DPS, all of which seems a bit wrong to me. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of our damage was taken away while being added to the Jedi knight class (with similar modifications to powertechs and Sith warriors). I will say this, though: Playing a vanguard is probably the most fun I’ve ever had playing a tank. They don’t usually get flash effects, but the sheer number of explosions I have at my disposal definitely satisfies the required BOOM! factor, and then some.
Speaking of looks, I may have been a bit harsh in my initial assessment of its graphics. Character models, especially faces, are excellent, and, now that I’ve escaped the swamps and ruins of Taris and the brightly colored metropolises of Coruscant and Nar Shadda and have moved on to more scenic planets like Tatooine and Alderaan, I’m really digging the landscapes. Still, having just watched a trailer for Mass Effect 3, I’m a bit miffed that it doesn’t look that good — or even as good as ME2. I realize that software development, especially on a long-running project like an MMO, is a moving target, but that doesn’t mean that MMOs can launch with outdated graphics.
I haven’t encountered any cripplingly bad gameplay or bugs or anything that’s made me want to ragequit (again, I’ve never been to Ilum). On the other hand, I’ve never been that big into Star Wars like your average geek and so I didn’t approach this game as my personal MMO savior (that spot’s reserved for Guild Wars 2). I like to think that gives me a more even keel than many in grading it. I’ve still got a ways to go before endgame, which I’ve heard not-great things about, but I’ve got three more months before my sub runs out, and considering how little I’ll be playing LOTRO over the coming months, TOR has, by default, become my #1 MMO. For the first month, I’d give it a B+. It’s still the same kind of gameplay you’re used to, but with a shiny enough coating that you won’t get bored — yet.