Star Wars: The Old Republic Beta Hands-On
The Star Wars: The Old Republic beta has been plagued with delays and issues, but despite this BioWare has just had a hugely successful beta weekend – with record players delving into the Star Wars universe.
We were one of the many thousand to trial the SWTOR beta, and here’s what we thought of our first moments in the latest Star Wars MMO.
For many, character creation is the most exciting part of a new MMO, whether it’s that fresh start, the ability to craft whatever character you like or even the opportunity to match the options alongside previous attempts.
Compared to WoW, Star Wars: The Old Republic is brimming with character options – from a handful of body sizes to more face designs and hairstyles than you can poke a lightsaber at.
SWTOR’s character tools won’t trouble the likes of Champions Online, whose wide range of sliders really can craft a character unique to you, but for an MMO there are more than enough options available.
The only issue of note was the similarity between races. Since they are all humanoid in size and shape, the only really aesthetic difference is skin pigmentation and hairstyle.
This will become even more noticeable once your character starts equipping helmets or hoods, too, lacking the visual variety that MMOs like World Of Warcraft and Lord Of The Rings Online had with its multitude of race types.
That said, there are a still a wide selection of races available:
- Human: self-explanatory, really.
- Miraluka: Force-sensitive humanoids born without eyes.
- Mirialan: green-skinned Orc-alikes from the planet Mirial.
- Twi’lek: the most unique of races, with a variety of skin colours and two tentacles attached to their head.
- Zabrak: red-skinned people with spikes instead of hair. Think Darth Maul.
- Chiss: blue-skinned, creatures from Csilla. Similar to Mass Effect’s Asari.
- Cyborg: human’s grafted with cybernetic implants.
- Human: can be part of either the Galatic Republic or the Sith Empire.
- Rattataki: pale-skinned humanoids, that has been warring with itself for years.
- Zabrak: This race can fight for either side of the war.
Before even tweaking the aesthetics of your character, however, you’ll need to pick a class. As with all MMOs this is the most important decision you can make – and will likely affect the way you play through Star Wars The Old Republic.
It’s not immediately apparent what each class does, however, even to MMO stalwarts. It takes a little reading and some knowledge of Star Wars lore, but the class system is as simple as any other.
Jedi Knights and Sith Warriors, for example, are your typical melee combatants, both utilising a lightsaber to slice apart enemies and absorb damage. Jedi Consulars and Sith Inquisitors, meanwhile, are the equivalent of magic-casting damage dealers.
As for the classes not Force-sensitive, there are the Troopers and the Bounty Hunters – which can specialise as either a damage class or tanks – and the Imperial Agents or Smugglers that fulfil the stealth classes.
There’s nothing really outlandish about each of the classes – especially the Knights/Warriors and Consulars/Inquisitors – but the Bounty Hunter class is one of the most unique, requiring regular discharging of the heat from his jetpack to avoid losing combat abilities.
Whether this will cripple the class or others will find alternative ways to include a similar feature is at this point hard to tell, but we wouldn’t be surprised if Bounty Hunters are the ones to get the most post-release work done, just like the Tauren in World Of Warcraft had.
Of course, MMOs aren’t known for their excellent benchmark-pushing visuals – but compared to the majority of MMOs there’s plenty to praise from what we’ve seen of SWTOR’s graphics.
Unlike most betas, all the options were available to notch up to the highest setting. It’s still largely caricature, similar to World Of Warcraft, but with so much more detail in the environments.
The dusty bowls of the starting area of Korriban, for example, or the lush, oak-filled landscape of Tython each have clutter splattered throughout – there’s always something to look at beyond the respawning mobs, and it’s usually colourful and appealing.
It’s not all perfect, however. Texture pop-in was horrendous during the beta, often taking many seconds before the correct features had loaded. This could be due to lag, but more likely the engine is still in need of a little tweaking.
Conversation And Cut Scenes
Who knew that this could be such an exciting feature of an MMO, and the one element we’ve been missing for so long? Voice acting and cinematics have been known to be making their way into Star Wars The Old Republic for a long time, but seeing them in action is really quite impressive.
Maybe it’s the years of endless quest logs – most of which are overlooked to answer the question ‘what do I need to kill, and how many?’ – but the voice acting and NPC interaction is a breath of fresh air in the MMO genre.
Speaking with each NPC, and sometimes having dialogue options to reply with, engages you with the task at hand. And though these quests are still the typical MMO fodder – ranging from slaughtering a set number of creatures to tracking down another NPC – the very fact that you’ll know why you’re even bothering is refreshing.
You might not have much impact over proceedings, but voice acting makes a world of difference to player involvement.
This is where it gets a little trickier to judge: in many ways Star Wars The Old Republic follows the same template as so many other MMO games before it, but it manages to feel… different, somehow.
Abilities are still activated as normal through hotkeys applied to the keyboard, while regular attacks – be it through laser pistols or lightsabers – are mapped to the right-mouse button.
There’s nothing outwardly enjoyable about combat – at least compared to other MMOs – but the combination of speed, fluid movement and the interaction of activating the basic attacks makes it wonderfully slick to play.
It’ll take a lot of extended play to really critique the combat system of Star Wars The Old Republic and its the depth, but at the moment it’s looking like it’ll be a lot of fun to figure out.
Confusion With The Map
Now this is likely a side-effect of years of being led by the nose in MMOs, but the overriding feeling throughout the first few hours on the SWTOR beta is one of confusion. Despite being told by NPCs specifically where to go and what to kill, in most cases it was baffling to even try and locate a quest location.
Most notable was the Sith Inquistor’s training quest – where it was necessary to find a Sith master Sindrall – but despite following various arrows and path routes that our map seemed to highlight, it always seemed like there was nothing but dead ends and wrong turns to navigate.
It becomes a little more sensible once navigating exterior locations, but this is perhaps the thing most in need of work.
Unfortunately, this race is just an NPC and not playable.
Lag can be one of the most infuriating issues of MMOs, and throughout the beta it was a regular occurrence. At no point did it cause more annoyance than the infrequent delayed action or a negligible stutter in action as input caught up with the server’s data, but it was noticeable.
It is important to note that at no point throughout the beta did we find a server below ‘Heavy’ traffic status and clearly part of the beta was as a server stability test. While the lag we experienced wasn’t constant, nor was it ever a real nuisance, if this isn’t solved in time for its full release it could be detrimental to SWTOR’s reception.
It’s hard for any MMO to make it past WoW these days, but as Blizzard’s long-reigning champion begins to bleed subscribers, the time might be right for BioWare to step in and begin the charge anew.
And it’s done so in a surprising way: the mechanics underpinning Star Wars: The Old Republic are, on paper at least, similar to most other MMOs on the market. Yet all the same it manages to tweak it in such a way it feels fresh and new, with some even stating their interest because it doesn’t feel like an MMO.
Maybe it’s the Star Wars license and the level of sheen displayed here, or maybe it’s the subtle alterations to combat that make it fast and fun yet recognisable to any MMO player. It’s hard to pinpoint, really, but it’s easy to consider that Star Wars The Old Republic could easily become the next big thing for MMO gaming.