Publisher: Electronic Arts
In the first part of our SWTOR review (which you can read here) we looked at the initial impressions of entering The Old Rebublic, but in today’s edition we are going to focus on what life beyond the Prologue chapter is like, working as a group, and Flashpoints.
In my literary blitz to talk about as much as possible, I actually forgot to mention the character creation process in part one of the review, so we’re going to take a quick look at it all now. Depending on which class you decide to play as you will be presented with a selection of races to choose from. There are restrictions however, for instance you can’t be a Cyborg force user or a Twi’lek Trooper, and some races are faction specific, such as the Rattataki for the Imperials and the Marialan for the Republic. Once you have selected you class and race, it’s on to tweaking the appearance of your virtual self.
Initially it seems very basic as there are no sliders with pinpoint precision, only preset options. For instance, there are only four body types; small, normal, large, and very large. However once you get beyond this there is a wealth of options available that while not on the scale of APB’s creation tools, or even that of Star War Galaxies, it provides enough variation to create a character to your own tastes. There is an array of hairstyles and beards to choose from, both retro and modern in design, as well as skin tones and complexions to cycle through, and although scars are sadly fixed in preset positions there should be enough options to find something to fit the bill. For instance, I was able to make a rather suave and cool looking smuggler, but instead opted to look like a wizard with a bad-ass scar across his eye and a shotgun (think Ian Mckellan meets Rutger Hauer attempting to play Han Solo and you’ve got the right idea.) I nearly made a rather intimidating alien Bounty Hunter, but then decided to create something that looked like Sam Fisher during the early development of Splinter Cell: Conviction (complete with a haircut that has been named “the Bieber”) that worked out well.
You can even make a fat Twi’lek that resembles Sammo Hung if you really wanted. The possibilities are endless.
Anyway, back to the in-game content. I’ve been spending a lot of my in-game time recently playing in a group of four, recruiting my usual group of easily recruited cannon fodder mates to help me out. It’s a well-rounded group on the Republic side, with myself as a Smuggler healer (complete with shotgun), my mate Dan as a Jedi Consular tank, and my other two mates Jonny and George as the Jedi Knight and Trooper damage dealers. By selecting one of each class we were able to benefit from each of the class specific buffs, and it also meant that no one was fighting over any of the loot drops (something any MMO player will relate to as being quite frustrating.)
We decided to do our respective starting planets on our own and join up afterwards to proceed to the Republic homeworld of Coruscant so we could blast through the content as a group. Because of the excellent placement of the mission objectives it didn't take us that long at all, but we started to notice that because we were progressing together and doing every single quest we were gradually out-levelling the content, to the point where we are now on the third planet of Taris and considering only doing Heroic missions (which are designed to be challenging to a group) and personal story missions only. This can also hold true if you decide to play the game on your own as well as my Bounty Hunter, with the exception of Heroic quests where I have requested help in General chat, has done everything on his lonesome and emerged high enough above the content to be able to take on everything with relative ease.
Rewards from missions tend to come in two flavours; either class-specific items to upgrade your armour and weapons, or planet-specific commendation tokens that can saved up and spent on high-end gear and modifications. I actually found that, because I was very rarely choosing anything other than commendations, I would end up with a nice pile of them by the end of my time doing missions on the planet, enough to buy at least two or three modifications and occasionally enough to buy a new piece of armour as well. It meant that I was able to keep a good pace with the best gear available, aside from the rarer Legendary items.
It may seem that so far I have found SWTOR to be ridiculously easy, and in some ways you would be right, but there are points in Heroic areas (and Flashpoints, which we’ll get onto in a moment) which have almost caught us off-guard, and it highlighted a problem with the early level balance of the classes. Once you leave the starting planet and you arrive on the faction space station, you are presented with the option of which Advanced class you which to play as and decide which role of damage dealer, healer and tank you wish to play as. While you are given one or two role-orientated abilities to begin with, the group consensus was that they were not powerful enough to be effective. For example, as the healer of a group I found myself with one healing ability to look after four people, and in moments of hectic combat I found it wasn’t enough to ensure everybody’s survival. Likewise, our tank Dan didn’t have an effective taunt ability to begin with and had to wait several levels before he had something to hold the threat level (to MMO newbies, this basically mean “the ability to focus the enemy’s attention at themselves.”)
As such it turned a large portion of the early content into a DPS (damage per second) race between ourselves and our digital foes to see who could clobber the other one faster, with the occasional heal thrown in. While this is the case with almost any MMO, those new to the MMO fold may find the change a little more disorientating that usual. However, once you gain more abilities suited to your role things start to fall into place and allow you to find your place in a group dynamic. For example, George as the Trooper has some excellent AoE (Area of Effect) abilities to take on multiple enemies, whilst Dan and Jonny as the Jedi Consular and Jedi Knight respectively where able to interrupt enemy moves from raining hurt upon us all. At one point we all did our knockback abilities which, as the name suggests, knocks the enemy back slightly, and in doing so managed to knock a couple of foes over a barrier and to their deaths. It was visually satisfying to watch, although we felt it was a little overpowering at times.
The majority of MMOs have its own version of dungeons, commonly known to the WoW crowd as instances. SWTOR is no exception as it brings us Flashpoints; self-contained private areas where groups of players can come together to take down some foes and get some sweet, sweet loot at the end. Things start off very well for the first instance for both Imperial and Republic players, as they take on the challenges of the Black Talon and the Esseles respectively.
The first flashpoints takes place on a ship traveling to the faction capital, and ultimately gets involved in a plot that only the player can resolve. In essence it takes SWTOR’s strongest asset, the ability to tell an involving story, and places it in the standard dungeon formula of killing enemies until you reach a boss, and then kill more enemies before reaching a final boss. Everything is there, from moral light/dark choices, to bonus quests of killing a certain number of enemies (or in some cases, an optional boss.) Multiple conversation paths allow the instance to take different routes, for example you could opt to save a group of trapped engineers by doing a little leg work, or kill them there and then to power through the story (and gain a few dark side points in the process.) As stated in the previous part of the review, whoever gets the highest roll will have their choice played to the rest of the group, but you will get the rewards from whatever choice you personally made. It created number of moments where we would go “oh man, I should have picked the other option!” simply because it was more comical.
Such as my Smuggler telling the leader of the Jedi Order to stop babbling and pay him. It was both cold and hilarious.
Beyond the first Flashpoint however, proceedings so far have looked a little too traditional due to the lack of focus on storytelling whilst in the Flashpoint. Picking up the mission will have you receiving orders from your faction leader in the usual conversation setup, but beyond that the story feels non-existant. The difficulty curve was fairly traumatic as well, with my group finding itself tearing through enemies with relative ease, only to engage a boss that took us all by surprise by the sudden change in difficulty. At one point we were facing a huge beast in the Athiss Flashpoint that acted as the first boss, and due to us almost playing it on autopilot we were torn apart by the beast on our first attempt, ending up with me on my lonesome frantically running around.
I certainly hope that Flashpoints further down the line involve a bit more story, as it presents itself as a little rushed without something to flesh the encounter out. That said, I was impressed by how crew skill professions can have an effect on how you progress in an instance. For example, because I have Scavenging as a crew skill I was able to repair a damaged combat droid to follow me around and fight on my behalf, effectively adding a fifth member to the team. At another point, I was able to repair a drill to create an alternate route to a boss, allowing us to circumvent a corridor of enemies. We were presented with an opportunity to hack an elevator to give us safe passage down into another area of the map, but because we didn’t have anyone with the Slicing skill we were forced to drop down a hole and fight some enemies. I liked how these inclusions of crew skill abilities in Flashpoints to add a new layer of involvement to players, as well providing an additional reason for the player to keep the level of their crew skills up to par.
And that’s your lot for today. We’ll be back soon with more insight from SWTOR, including a focused look at the Space Combat sections, PVP, a more detailed look at Crew Skill Progression, and what to expect from end-game content.