Publisher: Electronic Arts
We begin this week’s edition looking at an area which has been up for debate on our humble website over the last week; system performance. This is a key area of discussion for any game, but it is an especially important topic for games on the PC platform because of the copious amounts of system configurations that exist. Optimisation is king in regards to this, and considering the amount of time SWTOR (or any MMO) will require you to invest, a stable build needs to be implemented. Even though I have already applauded the aesthetic design of the environments in Part 3 of the review, it is all for nought if you can’t run the game in a stable enough manner to be able to enjoy it.
So, how does SWTOR hold up? There’s no straight answer to this one, so get seated comfortably.
While your experience will vary depending on the sort of system you own, performance is generally choppy overall at the time of writing. My (unfortunately aging) Alienware M17 has been the host of my SWTOR sessions, and as such I have been forced to put the majority of the graphical settings on low with Anti-Analysing turned off (no “medium AA” for me) to enjoy a playable experience. That said, this hasn’t stopped it from being a trouble-free experience, with a number of issues emerging along the way. Graphical artefacts appearing during the character selection, enemies standing up frozen in mid-air after being defeated, and the eyes of any character in a cutscene suffering from what looks like being possessed are but a few of the bugs I have come across. Admittedly these issues don’t happen consistently; it’s a luck-of-the-draw situation as to whether they will occur. On top of this, equipping certain armour pieces has been known to remove portions of facial hair, something I experienced with my Smuggler, McGarnagle. He went from having a wizard-esque beard to looking like Lemmy from Motorhead. It’s a bug that is purely cosmetic in the grand scheme of things, but if that sort of thing winds you up I suggest you be warned.
If I could digress a moment, you’ll also be glad to know that his change in facial hair appearance has not stopped McGarnagle’s missions to seduce all of the women in the galaxy, which is nice.
Latency issues have also been problem as of late, and not just for me. The group of gaming comrades with whom I am going through the content with have been experiencing lag at random intervals, although the latency meter below the mini-map regards states all is well. Again, this is not a constant issue, and it only seems to affect the use of abilities, but it is an issue none the less. Populated areas such as the faction space stations will also put your system through its paces, and there have been times where I have had to wait a few seconds for my game to catch up due to the abundance of activity taking place. The thing is, I’ve seen SWTOR running extremely well on a number of top of the line PC, so it could simply be a case of knowing your system enough to get rid of the performance gremlins.
The level of detail in textures is another issue at the time of writing. Getting up close to walls and objects in the world in first person perspective highlights the issue, and on my system the transition to better textures, such as at cargo hold access locations, is a little slow, but at a sensible distance it all looks presentable in my opinion. At the end of the day though, even with all of these potential performance issues that could (understandably) sway gamers from even considering the prospect of playing the game, I for one haven’t been pushed to the point where my enjoyment has been eclipsed by any of the performance bugs, in a similar manner to how my enjoyment for Skyrim was not overshadowed by a maximum of 2gb of RAM hampering the game engine during its launch. That’s not to excuse BioWare’s faults however; something needs to be done to address these issues, but there have been other MMOs that have suffered hideous optimisation during their launches (Mortal Online, for example) and as I’ve already said, I’ve simply turned down the settings and carried on with my enjoyment intact, as SWTOR is still a good looking game even on lower settings.
Continuing on from last week’s topic of the crafting mechanics, another important aspect outside of the storytelling and combat is the economy of the game, and reward items. At a base level BioWare have opted to stick with the tried-and-tested nature of credits and tokens for purchasing items from vendors. Junk from fallen enemies, known in the MMO genre as “greys”, make up the bottom of the chain along with credit drops, providing slow and steady access to cash flow in the early stages. Thankfully, players have been given a feature which allows them to send their companions off for a minute to sell these greys, removing the need to ditch junk for better loot or force the player to return to a vendor to sell up.
However, for those wishing to put in the time and credits in there are ways of making a fortune in this game through the use of crew skills, although some are easier and quicker to provide a monetary yield than others. For example, slicing may as well be renamed to “get your free money here” as it not only provides access to large cash sums when sending companions away on missions (at a risk of failure, mind) but allows players to pick up lockboxes on their travels which always contain a deposit of credits. Outside of this, every other profession requires a sink of hard earned dosh into furthering your craft.
That’s not to say there is no profit to be had in anything other than slicing; far, far from it. While planetary commendations provide an easy method to skip the purchase or creation of items and upgrades (especially at lower levels) there is a market for upgraded “blue” and “purple” items (Augments for weapons and armours being a key example.) This is largely in part to the current population moving on from their first character and now levelling up an alt, however there is currently a market for crafting materials of all kinds. I was able to sell the majority of my lower levels “mats” to return a tidy profit that is currently funding all of my current crafting antics, and members of the guild I am in have been making a killing from their Synthweaving and Artiface professions at maximum level. This is thanks to the use of the Galactic Market.
Much like the Auction Houses in other MMOs, players can place items on to the Galactic Market to be sold at the cost of a deposit, which is returned to you either upon completion of a sale or the expiration of a listing (cancel the auction though and you lose the deposit.) Perhaps the biggest point to note about the Galactic Market is how everything is Buy-It-Now; there is no bidding in SWTOR. While the menus are functional and relatively easy to navigate, I do have to criticise the inability to type in the name of an item if I want to find something specific. Instead, I am forced to select the type and sub-type of item I want to search for before being able to type anything in for a more specific second search. It is a long winded process that should be quicker and hopefully will be addressed in future updates, because right now it’s just plain annoying.
After all, my Smuggler needs to make his money in a hurry, yo.
We’ve been through four parts of the review already, and at this point you’re probably asking yourself what our overall opinion on SWTOR is. Well sadly you’re not going to see it here; you’re going to have to wait until tomorrow for the final assessment (along with our opinion on PvP) where we will decide if SWTOR really is a new hope or just a phantom menace.
Star-Wars–Joke Five! Up high!... What? No?...pfft, FINE.