Hello everyone. I’m pretty invested in this game and I wanted to write down my thoughts.
So I’ve played the game for a little over a month. A combination of RL obligations, managing my guild, and being an alt-aholic have kept me from getting any one of my characters to cap, but I think I can still comment on the game, especially now that the first major update has been released. My end-game experiences are largely vicarious through my good friends who capped weeks before I will.
+ I wasn’t sure how Bioware would execute their storytelling and interactive dialog, especially in a multiplayer game. But they did so very well. With XP and social point bonuses to group up, there is even incentive to do so. Caveat: The LFG tools are not very good. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how willing randoms are to PUG and do so effectively, but this isn’t always the case. Particularly when crowd controls are damage dependent, DPS PUGgers still like to throw around their AoE’s.
+ The game design is actually pretty impressive. The auto-instancing for story portions is seamless – this is really one of my favorite parts of the game. I find to be a masterpiece of the experience when I’m going into an instanced area with no loading whatsoever and its just me, my companion, and the baddies. Boss mechanics have a nice scale – easy at lower levels and increasingly more difficult with twists. PvP maps are pretty good, and huttball is a nice CTF style zone. Caveat: Open world PvP (see the ugly)
+ The art – I like it, some people won’t. It looks painted, so the environment looks fantastic, while character models are hit or miss. Effects are nice, and there has clearly been a lot of work done for the character animations.
+ Bioware’s commitment to making the game last. They have devoted a lot of resourced to not only developing the game but also developing a feedback system that has definitely worked at times. They have also been relatively transparent in their decision making process and explain a lot of changes and nerfs and why they happen. From an transparency/explanation standpoint, I’ve been very pleased with the Bioware team.
+ It’s fun. The whole package is still a positive experience. Whether its because you like playing with friends, love MMO’s, love Star Wars, etc. It’s enjoyable, despite what is written below.
+ The sound. I never appreciate good audio until I really think about it, but all 3 aspects of the game’s audio are top notch. The voice acting is solid, the music is epic, and the effects are classic and iconic. It really adds to the overall experience and Bioware really nailed it.
The needs work (bad):
* Performance: Several components of performance can be discussed.
1.The game doesn’t seem to scale well. It is okay on a mid-range gaming computer. An 8800 GT can still handle it with a lot of the settings turned down. But this is a game that looks like it was designed to run on a full range of hardware, and it just can’t. High end hardware is still taxed depending on the environment. There isn’t just one thing that’s wrong here, but a lot of people can’t handle PvP where FPS drops tremendously. When vanilla WoW was first released, I remember playing it pretty well on an laptop with an integrated intel GPU (Intel 82845G with a Pentium 4M 2.2 Ghz CPU). An equivalent laptop today would be completely unplayable for SW:ToR.
2.Ability delays (time from hitting an available action to your avatar actually performing the action) are noticeable – again, especially in PvP. This may be a limitation of animations and a propagation of delay type problem, but it gets worse in the more intense areas and is pretty annoying.
3.Anti-aliasing – they just implemented 3 settings and the “low” setting doesn’t look like it does anything. While the “high” setting looks like it gets 2x sampling AA – its not that noticeable (still lots of jaggies)
4.Texturing – lots of texture problems. I have a lot of pop-ins and a lot of times when the low res texture won’t switch to a high res texture when it should. When it works, the transitions are seamless and world objects look pretty good and nicely detailed. However, having a few elements use their low resolution distance textures when everything else is using near distance textures is jarring. This is something that really bugs me. The texture atlas that Bioware implemented was designed to optimize performance, but either that optimization isn’t working correctly or the game is just too demanding even on a midrange rig (ATI 4850 with a core i7, intel 320 SSD, 8GB RAM).
5.FPS in player-heavy areas – PvP has been an issue for a lot of people. Open world PvP can get bad. I don’t know how much super high end hardware helps
* Quality Assurance – I didn’t expect the game to be finished upon release, and wasn’t surprised that there was still work that needed to be done. And to be honest, most everything worked well enough. However, since then, I’ve been mildly disappointed by the patches. I know there is always a balance between quality-of-life improvements and additional content, but since the game went live, we’ve had one patch that fixed a memory leak on a planet, a couple of major bug fixes, a couple of major exploits that were emergency patched. The last patch created a major exploit, which is being fixed as I write this (1 day fix, not bad). However, I would have preferred some progress in the quality-of-life department which there has been very little of (a weak anti-aliasing option was added, and a lvl 50 PvP bracket, but that’s it). Given the lack of features in the UI, auction house options, guild functionality, LFG tools, I really thought they would focus on those and I was hoping these were in the pipeline that didn’t make it for launch. Unfortunately, while we have confirmation that these are all things that are being worked on or at least looked at, nothing has been implemented in the first month that the game went live. This isn’t a make or break quite yet, but I’d like to see these core functions to be implemented much sooner rather than later.
* Confidence in Bioware – Bioware is a great company at game design. And the foundation that they have laid down for Old Republic is as solid as I’ve ever seen for an MMO. However, the execution of the foundation wasn’t perfect, and they have fallen under many of the same trappings that countless MMO developers have previously. While nothing has been explicitly advertised as Old Republic being somehow different and better from everybody else, that was (unfairly) the impression that I was getting. EA and Bioware were putting up tons of resources and talent and using a brand new MMO engine to make a game that had a story element that nobody else had while doing everything else just as well as WoW. On that end they have hit 1 of 2 goals. They have created an MMO that has a story element that nobody else has, but they were unable to reach the level of polish that Rift had at launch and WoW has had for years now. Yes the game is new, but a new game is the best shot at grabbing market-share, and I feel that its an opportunity being wasted from a rushed launch with lack of post-launch focus. I think Bioware can make the game an enjoyable experience, but I no longer think that they have a shot at really competing head to head with WoW. It’s possible, but what I gave a legitimate shot before has almost faded into just another MMO.
– Open world PvP zone (Ilum) – is a mess. It was exploited from day 1 and continues to be exploited despite several patches. First it was camping high level chests by low level characters while the high level zone was underpopulated, then it was swapping control points to achieve quest objectives, and currently its camping spawn points. This is some of the poorest game design Bioware put up. And honestly, I think its time to switch development teams on this one. The open world PvP team has shown time and time again that they don’t know what they are doing. What’s worse, the transparency that I mentioned earlier is less believable. Gabe Amatangelo, the lead PvP developer, released a statement about how the world design wasn’t working as intended (specifically, that there is a safe zone around each faction base), except it was his team that decided turrets were necessary in the safe zone in the very same patch. Why do you need turrets in a safe zone? I think what’s happened is that open world pvp is impossible to be tested internally, there simply aren’t enough people. Therefore, the entire zone was theory-crafted. Typically, the public test server would serve as an appropriate platform for open-world PvP, but the PTS is new with no character transfer options, so its not going to be populated. Additionally, basically everyone who is in highly populated open world PvP has universally talked about the almost unplayable performance of the zone. Given the poor scaling I mentioned earlier, I wouldn’t be surprised at all that this was a legit complaint. This was a clusterfuck from the beginning, and the open-world PvP zone should just never have been made available until after a time where it could be legitimately tested. Hopefully they learn from their mistakes and don’t release things that haven’t been properly tested. You simply can’t theorize all possible exploits against a million-player base. And once an exploit is found, the internet allows propagation for abuse and all those carefully designed elements just don’t matter anymore.
I would say I have to split my conclusions in 2 parts – PvE and PvP.
PvE – 9/10. There is an absolute shitload of content, and most of it is legitimately good. End-game is being fleshed out, but from what I’ve seen so far, there a decent variety of things to do. It won’t last forever, but that monthly sub is paying for all that future content coming down the pipeline. If you play the game by yourself, it hits enough of the RPG experience that the game is still good. There are still bugs, but nothing that frustrates me to the point of not wanting to get to the next part of my character’s story. It’s designed well and maximizes rewards at an appropriate pace. Almost all of the PvE stuff performs pretty well, actually, with really only texturing and the occasional graphical bug degrading from the experience. Most of the time, the framerate is nice and stable on a mid-range machine and abilities fire off as soon as you hit the button (or your global cooldown finishes).
PvP – 5/10. The design here is pretty good. The instanced zones have good designs and mechanics, and the experience, gear, etc. seem like they are rewarded appropriately. But the in-game experience is bad. Shadows have to be turned off even on the highest end machines to keep a good frame rate, and mid-ranges will struggle in PvP. Open world PvP on Ilum is substantially worse, with exploits and/or piss poor performance making it a bad experience across the board.
These are just my thoughts on the game so far, but I wanted to write them down. Feel free to comment!