15 hours with The Old Republic

I’ve had some time to sink into Star Wars: The Old Republic, probably not enough to assess it compared to my time with World of Warcraft, but enough to suss out some initial impressions. I have no say in its eventual success, nor do I have any say in if it’s “better” than WoW; I do feel confident enough to tell you it’s the best MMO out there that isn’t WoW.

“It isn’t WoW,” is kind of a tricky statement, because were it not for the cutscenes and dialogue wheels, playing SWTOR is a lot like playing WoW. Someone will demand you kill 10 bandits because they are interrupting military efforts, someone will want you to place bombs on enemy encampments, and someone will probably want you to deliver a message at some point, all of these things you will do without hesitation. Upon earning enough experience to gain a level, you will be rewarded with a talent point to invest into a talent tree. Over time you will create a rotation for yourself to go through during enemy encounters. It all sounds pretty standard, correct?

SWTOR does a few things that Blizzard either never came up with, or never found a way to implement. Apart from its ability to convey importance to what would otherwise be menial missions, SWTOR devotes its time holding the MMO behind its back while ushering you along your single-player storyline, almost as if it’s embarrassing or something. It’s really weird, but after a few hours I gave into its manipulation and went along for the ride. The smartest thing that comes out of SWTOR’s need to immerse you is the companions. From a mechanical standpoint, it introduces players to class interaction, which is important assuming a lot of new MMO players might not grasp the concepts of a healer or a tank. But to an experienced MMO player it removes the downtime during the leveling progress, especially when the game is already littered with cutscenes.

With all of SWTOR’s polish though, it’s easy to find things that may have been overlooked or skipped. For example: WoW’s incredibly useful visual cues. Sure, it was an add-on that Blizzard stole for a patch bullet point sometime during Wrath of the Lich King, but without it my eyes are forced to stare at the ability bar. For me specifically, as a Bounty Hunter I need to know when Rail Shot is available for use, a nice graphical cue that appears somewhere near my character on screen would be preferable.

Again, my time with SWTOR is extremely limited if you look at the time I spent with WoW, but then again, new MMOs need to bring a lot of finesse if they want to compete. Maybe if I hit max level the actual MMO features will start to unearth themselves, but for now SWTOR is the largest BioWare game with a promise of cooperation that so far, has ultimately felt in the way during the leveling experience.  Luckily, I believe BioWare and EA managed to launch a good, new MMO. It’ll be important to see how BioWare deals with balancing classes and adding content, because without support an MMO is nothing.

I’m not done yet; I’m still finishing missions and still leveling up. Look forward to more impressions as I continue my path to level 50.

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