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Star Wars: The Old Republic Review Part 3 | Spinning Up The Hyperdrive

Author:
Carl Phillips
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
BioWare, Electronic Arts, MMORPGs, Star Wars The Old Republic
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Star Wars: The Old Republic | PC

Star Wars: The Old Republic Review Part 3 | Spinning Up The Hyperdrive

Platforms: PC

Developer: Bioware

Publisher: Electronic Arts

We’re back with another instalment in what we are calling our season of “SWTOR Saturdays” with the third part of our Star Wars: The Old Republic review. It has been an interesting week for BioWare’s MMORPG, with a new content patch released to much fanfare, only for it to break a number of things in the process, perhaps most notably the Ilum battleground fiasco. Thankfully, there’s more to this game than exploitable PvP mechanics and we’ve still got more ground to cover before our final judgment on this one, so let’s get right to it.

If you’ve missed Part One and Part Two of our review, be sure to give them a read to get up to speed on the impressions so far.

When players have reached the end of their class story on the second planet their visit, which is Coruscant for the Republic or Dromund Kass for the Empire, they are finally rewarded with access to their very own space craft, and each presented in their own special way. For example, Sith and Jedi are given their own ship for being loyal members of their order, while Bounty Hunters and (especially) Smugglers have to do a little more leg work story-wise to get their keys to their ride. Each class has its own different design, inspired by iconic space-faring vehicles from throughout the franchise. Sith Warriors get something that looks like a giant Tie Interceptor, while Smugglers receive a ship that looks not unlike KOTOR’s Ebon Hawk (Troopers sadly get something that looks like it is flying backwards, which is a little disappointing and / or funny.) Being able to move your avatar around the outside of your vehicle in the hanger bays is a nice touch, allowing you to appreciate the galaxy-trekking machines in all their glory before heading inside.

Star Wars: The Old Republic Review Part 3 | Spinning Up The Hyperdrive

These ships act as a personal base of operations for your character in addition to being a mode of transport between the various planets. It provides you with an area where you can interact with all of the companions you have recruited so far, and allows you access to your cargo hold to store items without resorting to a return trip to a planet or faction base. The holoterminal allows the flow of story missions to continue  between planets, but the cockpit also plays host to a key departure from the game thus far; Space Combat missions.

The on-rail space combat sections are fairly reminiscent of the old Star Wars arcade games, using your mouse to aim and steer your ship to around whilst attempting to shoot down enemy craft and turrets. While this is the main focus of these sections, you will occasionally be given objectives such as protecting a friendly ship as it makes its way along a debatable flight plan past several enemy ships until it reaches safety. The controls are simple to pick up, with Left Mouse firing lasers and Right Mouse firing missiles, and the craft following the mouse pointer with ease. You can even attempt to get yourself out of sticky situations by doing that tried and tested combat manoeuvre we all know and love, the barrel roll, by hitting the Space bar, although I do question its effectiveness in heavy fire situations.

It does look cool to do, though.

Star Wars: The Old Republic Review Part 3 | Spinning Up The Hyperdrive

Mission objectives come along with Bonus objectives in a similar manner to the on-foot missions in SWOTR, with proceedings being easy enough to begin with, but as additional missions unlock as your character advances through the levels the difficulty gradually cranks up. To provide assistance you are granted new abilities, such as transferring power to weapons or shields (at the cost of the effectiveness of the other) and eventually EMP blasts to help blast your way to victory. Of course, you won’t stand a chance of making it through the later skirmishes without upgrading your ship with better equipment, which is done in a similar manner to swapping weapons or armour on your avatar and companions.

Are these sections any fun though? They are a welcome way to break up the content in SWTOR, distracting the player every once in a while, and the experience gain from completing them at least once a day is incredibly helpful for those looking to level up quickly. It’s not X-Wing or Tie Fighter by any stretch of the imagination, but then again it’s quite clear BioWare had no intention for it to be. The space combat sections provide enough of a visual thrill to replicate the action the franchise is famous for, and most missions are short enough to not outlast their welcome.

Star Wars: The Old Republic Review Part 3 | Spinning Up The Hyperdrive

With the discussion of space ships and travel done and dusted, it leads me quite conveniently on to the topic of the various locations used in SWTOR (this isn't a look at system performance, which will be done in next week's article.) The art department have done a phenomenal job bringing the worlds from Star Wars to life, be it from the films such as Coruscant, Hoth and Tatooine, or the expanded universe locations such as Taris and Dromund Kass. Each planet offers something contrasting in terms of palette, and the attention to detail in making each location more than just an area to run around and complete missions should make the die-hard fans of the series happy.

Two locations spring to mind that need commending, the first being the ill-fated Alderaan. As well as providing a different approach with its story thanks to the Aristocratic nature of its inhabitants, players finally get to see the long-described beauty of the planet scored to some of the best music in the game (although the best music has to be the funk-jazz muzak used in the many cantinas, something Max Remo would have been proud of.) The second location I have to make note of is Nar Shaddaa; the true hive of scum and villainy in the universe. Strong influences of Blade Runner can be found in the visuals and audio cues of the Hutta moon, with the taxi rides between zones highlights the sense of scale of the towering skyscrapers (something Coruscant also manages to do quite well.)

Star Wars: The Old Republic Review Part 3 | Spinning Up The Hyperdrive

"A new life awaits you in the Off-Wo-... wait a second..."

If you want to see the locations of the game at their graphical best, you can check out some panoramic pictures at the link here. It's worth pointing out though that players cannot achieve the levels of detail demonstated in these pictures, but it quite clearly something the game is capable of should BioWare flick the switch. (EDIT: This is in fact not true - you can achieve this level of detail in SWTOR's current state, but you risk making your PC cry. See the comments section for word from the creator of the panoramic pictures!)

We briefly covered Crew Skills and crafting in the previous instalments, but we’re going to look over the mechanics in more detail and what is expected to make the best gear. I’ve already mentioned that your companions do the majority of the labour when it comes to crafting, as they can be sent off on missions to retrieve materials and items at your request. These come at a cost in credits, and are separated into different level tiers, each displaying their intended reward along with how long the companion will be unavailable for. Along with this there is a difficulty rating which is indicated by the colour of either a dot next to a craftable item, or the colour of the mission text for retrieval missions. For instance, grey yields trivial rewards for your level and no skill increase, green provides the lowest possible rewards, yellow indicates normal skill level gain, and red signifies the best skill gain.

While crafting an item with a red indicator will gift you several skill points, with retrieval missions there is a risk of your companion returning empty handed. However, it is with these missions that the rarest materials, needed for the better-than-average craftable items, can be found. As you progress with your crafting skills you can learn new recipes from the available trainers, however there are two ways to discover improved recipes; the first is by randomly being rewarded one from retrieval missions, and the other is by using the Reverse-Engineer ability on any created items. This ability, located at the top of the inventory box, not only provides a chance at learning an improved version, but returns some of the materials used in its creation back to the player, ensuring you at least get something every time the action is performed. Early level items tend to provide you with an improved recipe within the first 4 or 5 attempts, but once you get to over 200 skill the chances drop significantly, and I found myself feeling personally insulted when I didn’t discover a better version.

It’s now at the point where I’m blaming George Lucas every time it fails.

Star Wars: The Old Republic Review Part 3 | Spinning Up The Hyperdrive

Overall the crafting system does exactly what it intends to, providing the player with the ability to create epic items without the need to stop their adventures whilst doing so, and I especially like how you can store crafting materials in your cargo hold for use, eliminating the need to carry everything with you whenever you wish to make an item. However, I do have one gripe with the crew skills, and that is how the retrieval missions (Investigation, Treasure Hunting, Diplomacy and Slicing) do not give you an indication of which rare materials they will reward you with, and as such will force the player to do external research as to what the best one for their main crafting profession will actually be. Additionally, one current bug when picking up materials scattered throughout levels has been frustrating for me. At the time of writing, if a player goes to loot a resource and then does not pick it up, it causes the empty node to remain in the world and not respawn. There were numerous times when I would go to a spot indicated on my mini-map where I could scavenge some metals, only to realise my effort was all for nought. I hope this is fixed in the near future, but consider this a friendly “heads-up” on the issue for now.

We’re out of time for today, but make sure to come back next week for more impressions from our time in SWTOR, where we will be delivering our final judgment on BioWare’s MMORPG.

Add a comment6 comments
hurrakan  Jan. 23, 2012 at 12:27

The Trooper's starship is based on the B-Wing, seen in "Return of the Jedi": http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/B-wing_starfighter

> "The on-rail space combat sections are fairly reminiscent of the old Star Wars arcade games, using your mouse to aim and steer your ship to around whilst attempting to shoot down enemy craft and turrets."

This statement is wildly inaccurate. The "on-rails space combat sections" are NOT AT ALL "reminiscent" of the old (FAR superior) games like Tie Fighter. It's on rails - the player has no direct control (only the illusion of control). There is no reason for this pathetic space-combat. Indeed, many players are demanding that it be removed completely because it's boring, pointless, and breaks immersion.

This review does not mention graphics. The graphics in SWTOR are very bad - only low resolution textures during gameplay. The panoramic pictures linked to are NOT representative.

Crafting is also broken. Crafting is NOT profitable on the way to level 50. And when you're at level 50, it's not possible to craft anything as good as PvP gear.

CarlPhillips  Jan. 23, 2012 at 13:54

Hi Hurrakan,

Reviewing SWTOR has required something a little different to the normal procedure we usually undertake here at Dealspwn (something I admit to in the first part of the review) and as such we decided to break everything down in this huge game and look at different aspects each week. So, with that in mind...

I have yet to give my opinion on graphics and performance in my reviews, and it is something I'll be addressing in next week's edition. The section you are referring to was my reflection on the aesthetic design of recreating the series' locations in a digital form, something I stand by saying BioWare have done very well.

Additionally, in my defence I didn't compare the space sections to the Tie Fighter PC games, I compared them to the old arcade games (as in the ones from the amusements parks with the giant joysticks.) As someone who is a huge X-Wing / Wing Commander / Freespace fan of yester-decade (I feel so sad saying that) I'm fully aware it is nowhere near the standard space-flight sim fans yearn for (something I briefly state in the review) but they are an optional addition; you don't have to do them and you're not penalised for skipping them (bar all that free XP) so I think removing the feature is slightly pointless. Personally I don't mind doing them, but I know of people who dislike them just like you. To each their own.

As far as issues with crafting goes, I've not seen any so far with my time grinding Cybertech and Armstech, although a quick look on the Official forums suggests I'm one of the lucky ones. Game economics is something else I'll be addressing next week, but I'll give you a sneak-peek on my opinion; considering how easy it is to pick up planetary commendations (something I've stated in previous parts of my review) is there really a market for craftable items up until max level?

Also, in regards to PvP gear being better, it's hard to argue against that with the current setup, although I would say that Expertise is a wasted stat in regards to PvE mechanics.

Last edited by CarlPhillips, Jan. 23, 2012 at 13:55
dijonpepperberry  Jan. 26, 2012 at 09:47

Hello all, I am the author of the panoramic pictures linked to at http://www.flavivirus.net/swtorpano . I would like to respond both to the article and the comment section regarding the graphics.

All of the panoramas I created were created with game-rendered screenshots (removing the HUD) using ATI Catalyst to force 24xAA (8x EQ with Edge-Detect) and SuperSampling. The game was unplayable on my computer, but just barely. I was running at these settings at a resolution of 2560x1440 at about 6-14 frames per second.

I have a quite-advanced computer (ATI 7970 + i7 2600k + 16gb ram) but it is not inconceivable to get similar quality. If you don't need to run at such a high resolution, for example, SWTOR was capable of that level of detail at about 20fps running at 1920x1080 on my computer.

The screenshots were taken (30-40 in succession) and then stitched together, but no photomanipulation was done.

In response to the article: The game is already switched on to give you that level of detail if you have the guts for it.

In response to hurrakan, these are completely representative and I created them using only in-game graphics. If you click on the actual image on the link, you will see many screens-worth of images, each represents how the screenshot would look before stiching. NO postprocessing was applied (Except for the "bonus" section.

The reason I did these panoramas was to originally make myself some desktop backgrounds. However, I was blown away by the beauty of the game and decided to share the images. To anyone saying that SWTOR is ugly, my panoramas are my "suggestion" that it is not. Up close textures need working on, but that is on the way.

CarlPhillips  Jan. 26, 2012 at 11:34

Hi dijonpepperberry,

Thanks for taking the time to visit the site, and for giving us some insight into your process of making the panoramic pictures. I have edited the article to reflect the fact the level of detail is in fact achievable in SWTOR's current state.

As I stated in the article above, I too agree that SWTOR is a good looking game that faithfully replicates the asthetics of the franchise. Even at lower resolutions I think it hits the mark artistically (my in-game screenshot of Nar Shaddaa being my point of reference) but the old saying "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" is all too apt to this discussion, and some will not feel the same way due to personal taste.

hurrakan  Jan. 26, 2012 at 12:40

The ARTWORK is good, NOT the graphics.

My PC is also "advanced":

i7 2600K
MSI N580GTX TwinFrozr II O/C (290.53 beta drivers [recommended for SWTOR])
16GB 1600MHz CL8
Intel 510 250GB SSD
2,048 x 1,152
Seasonic SS-850KM PSU

When I was playing during the beta I thought the graphics were good. Now that the game has launched, I do not.

Bioware disabled high-res textures because the engine is not good enough to render them at an acceptable frame-rate, apparently, even on the most powerful systems currently available. That don't impress me much!

I've also witnessed huge graphics glitches, like on Tattooine where there is frequently some weird green artifact(s) that disrupt the entire screen.
It needs to be at least 30 FPS, preferably 60FPS or 120FPS.

The fact is that the game engine that Bioware are using for SWTOR is not very good, and not at all optimised. This is why anti-aliasing was only enabled with the first major patch 1.1, (and it still doesn't work for many people).

Bioware stated that high-res textures will probably not happen until the next major content update, sometime in March.

A modern game should look better than SWRTOR does and should run smoothly, even if the computer is only of average performance. Especially if that game had a budget of $500M. It seems like Bioware spent all of the budget on marketing and voice-acting and didn't have anything left for the game engine.

dijonpepperberry  Jan. 26, 2012 at 19:19

Hurrakan,

I completely disagree. Again, the panoramas on my site represent in-game graphics. I run the game with 4xAA at high res and it looks quite beautiful, and I get a smooth 60fps with vsync on. Certainly your system meets my specs, I cannot account for your fps problems.

This weekend I will be updating my site with more panoramas, some of them were taken with the game state that I use for play - 4xAA with forced 16 x ansiotropy, optimized AMD tessellation, and supersampling. I run that at 60fps.

I'm not an apologist - There are problems:
1) I, too, have the "green glitch" on tattooine, which is both mystical and annoying. It seems to be generated by transition changes, but we know that it will eventually get fixed.

2) I care far less about character textures than I do about environmental textures - SWTOR can have some ugly textures, which will NOT be addressed in the March update. Zoom in on a wall or door and it can get pretty nasty. You spend a lot of time seeing characters from afar - I don't think that people will notice march texture update if they're not zooming in to take self-portraits.

But, again, I submit to you that the panoramas presented represent in-game graphics. If you do not consider those graphics to be excellent (or at least GOOD), then you likely do not have a good reference point (how long have you been gaming?). The game I play most days (damn work!) is beautifully rendered.

The $500M thing is completely false, EA financial disclosures show $200M. It's a lot of money, but I for one am very satisfied that EA/BW decided to invest in story and design. Were this a more beautiful game, but less satisfying, I would have been disappointed.

Bioware has always valued story over graphics, I fail to see why their MMO would be any different.

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