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[personal profile] firebyrd
I've been playing Star Wars: The Old Republic the last few weeks. The tl;dr version is that the story is fun the first time through, but the game built around the story is pretty bad. More behind the .

Now, keep in mind that while I have loads of complaints, I have kept playing the game. Obviously I bought it, which I haven't done for a single MMO I've tried out other than WoW. I tried to like FFXI back in the day. I really did. But after a while spent reading a book between every battle waiting for my health to regen so I wouldn't die on the next one (especially since dying would cause you to lose experience), it was just far too boring to keep going. Star Trek Online was just horrible in every way. The space combat could have been interesting, but was so easy (spin constantly while attacking your target so different areas of the shields would get hit so they could regen properly) it became dumb. Rift didn't strike me as bad in any way, it was just that if I wanted to play WoW, I should...go play WoW. Some friends are big fans of Guild Wars and GW2 certainly looks interesting, but trying to start out in the original game at this point is like trying to start playing Everquest or Ultima Online. Games have advanced so much since it came out that it's extremely painful. So while I've tried out other games, nothing has grabbed me at all until the TOR beta. I wasn't expecting to like the game. Again, if I wanted to play WoW, I should just play WoW. But the story was enough that imaging playing through with Eric sounded extremely fun, so here we are.

Let's get the vaunted "choice" out of the way at the first. I've obviously liked the story enough to keep playing, but all the "meaningful" choices people keep talking about are just sleight of hand. The game doesn't change in any meaningful way. If there's an option to kill someone and you don't, sometimes they'll send you some stuff in the mail. If you do kill them? You'll get the exact same stuff in the mail, just from someone else. Nothing is changed long term, as the story is incredibly linear, to the point that there's only one leveling path. You have to go through the exact same zones (planets) if you ever level more than one character on the same side with only your class quests being different (and they don't provide enough experience to skip the rest). Being able to interact as groups with everything but the class quests is fun. When the different dialogue options pop up, the game rolls for each person in the party, and the winner's answer is the one provided in the cutscene (though only your answers affect your light side/dark side rating. If the person who wins the roll picks the dark side options and you picked light, the game will enact the cutscene for the dark side, but you'll still get the light side points). The first flashpoint (instance) on each side is extremely fun with the story that's interwoven in it, but all the ones I've seen after that are the usual old dungeon grind (and everything I've read suggests that trend follows).

I can't speak from experience, unfortunately, because trying to get a group in the game at this point is a nightmare. I've run through a few of the instances by myself once I've outleveled them, but even that's a pain because stuff takes extremely long to die. It can't hurt you or anything, but you can do very little damage to it, which is rather tedious. At any rate, the only "system" in game is to put a little marker by your name in the /who lists to show you're looking for a group. No one uses this for either the heroic quests (i.e. group quests) or for dungeons. You have to just spam chat. On the first two to three planets, it's possible to find people to do heroic quests with. You'll see 50+ on the bounty hunter/imperial agent planet and often 100+ on the Sith planet, for example, and so there's a fair amount of trickle down the first little while. After that, it becomes difficult to impossible to find people because the "populated" planets have around twenty people on them at once and there are enough quests that send you back at high levels that there are always a fair number that aren't going to be interested in doing your level 30 quest. Many of the planets will usually have less then ten people on at once. Now, I suppose it's possible I picked a server that, while in the top ten population wise, the Empire is the small faction, but since Empire (i.e. Horde) is the overwhelming majority most places, I have my doubts. Even the Imperial Fleet, i.e. the capitol city, will only have fiftyish people there during peak hours (and that's a big jump since the latest patch came out during the time I've played, it was previously 20-30). So you want to run a dungeon? Sit in the fleet doing nothing but spamming chat and hope. I haven't even seen people ask for groups for any of the 30+ dungeons other than the level 50 heroic versions (and even that's pretty rare). One of the things that made finding groups in WoW work before LFD was added, at least during Wrath (though maybe it was in BC too, as I recall seeing people looking for Kara groups while I was running around in Hellfire Penninsula after I finally got BC a few months before Wrath came out), was the global Looking For Group channel. That way, you could go do things while you assembled a group. At low levels, it could take a long time, but at least you could do /something/ while you were doing it. LFD has absolutely killed WoW's server communities unless you raid or RP, but you've got to have something in place that's better than sitting around bored spamming chat.

Now for the really ugly everything else. The game was released in late 2011, but it plays like WoW did four or five years ago. Again, if I want WoW's gameplay, I'll just play WoW, except back then, I couldn't stand to play WoW for more than two to three weeks at a time after the initial excitement wore off. The quests are overwhelmingly "kill x bad guys," so once you've gone through the cutscene about it (fun the first time only), it's a huge grind. It's even worse because the single player game is balanced around you having an NPC companion running around with you, without which you'll die, so almost everything you fight is in groups of two to five, and they raise the numbers accordingly. It's not unusual to have quests that require killing 30-50 mobs. Many quests where you just need to collect something or kill one specific named mob have bonus quests where you kill x number of the mobs you'd be killing to get to the stuff anyway for extra experience. That in itself isn't so bad, except there are some bonus quests with multiple stages. First stage is pretty much always kill a large number of mobs. Second stage is usually to interact (either "picking up" or destroying) various items scattered around the area. The end stage is to summon and kill some elite mob and then turn in an item you loot from them. Occasionally there are additinal varieties of those three types of things added to make more stages, but that's the gist of it. Unfortunately, the respawn timers are so fast, the quests are torturous. You'll finally finish killing 30 mobs, have to go pick up stuff in the same area...and almost everything will have respawned, meaning that you have to kill at least another 20 mobs in the process of doing the next quest. Why can't you just give me all the stages simultaneously so I only have to kill 30 mobs instead of 50? The multi-stage bonus quests give enough exp I can't help but do them, but they're extremely grindy. There are also plenty of those fun "travel across the zone to do a quest, come back to turn it in, then go back to the exact same area to do something else" quests. There was an area on the planet Voss where I was given five or six quests to do all in the same area at once and I could have cried tears of joy at having good quest flow for once. Of course, once I finished them and went to turn them in, I followup quest. Sending me to the exact same area where I was. Ah, it was a beautiful dream for a little while.

There are no addons or macros. Now, the best healer in my raid team uses almost no addons (DBM and Recount and that's about it), but she does use mouseover macros. As someone who has plenty of healing experience, trying to heal without mouseover macros or an addon that duplicates that function is a thing of nightmares. Add in the fact that the TOR UI is horrible and they just barely added the ability to customize said UI and it's mind boggling. This game released in late 2011! How can you not have that sort of functionality in the game (note that Rift, almost a year earlier, had a fully customizable UI in beta and even WoW has some basic customizing without addons now)from the start? How can you not even allow your players to try to make it possible to do more than focus all your attention at the bottom quarter of the screen for five months? And why did you design things that way in the first place? When it comes to macros and addons, Bioware has legions of fans praising them for their paleolithic ideals. Virtually no one wants a return to things like the one button macro play of BM back in BC. But to have macros in order to heal, in order to target things (especially since you can't click on nameplates to target, you have to click on the actual mob, WTF?), to state your vent info, to pop trinkets or cooldowns that aren't on the GCD, those are all legitimate and useful uses of macros that don't play the game for you! Even worse, they're pushing various TOR themed products from Razer, so if you spend lots of money on high end gaming peripherals and you're experienced in using them, you can still have macros, which then disadvantages players who don't have those products so they can't duplicate the functionality with anything in game (I've got a Naga, but apparently I'm an idiot and couldn't get mouseover macros to work properly, so YMMV).

They also just barely implemented combat logs with this latest patch. Five months into the game. What this meant previously is that if you died, unless you specifically saw "oh, I was standing in the fire," you had no way of figuring out what killed you or how to counteract it. You can't even just mouse over debuffs to try to figure stuff out, because the tooltips tell you almost nothing (I.e. "Doing elemental damage over time." Well, gee, thanks, but HOW MUCH?). Apparently it wasn't much of an issue because the end game content is a huge joke. I haven't tried it myself (see the impossibility of finding groups), but I'm getting the impression it's somewhere between Baradin Hold and Dragon Soul in difficulty, i.e. not at all.

There's tons of quality of life issues, some of which they've just barely addressed. For example, you don't get a mount until level 25. There's a sprint ability that raises your run speed out of combat constantly by something like 35%. Up until this patch, you didn't get this skill until level 14. Now you get it at level 1, but seriously? Why do you want to torment your players with tedious things like slowly walking from the quest giver to that spot clear across the zone and back? When I first wondered why it wasn't at level 1 from the beginning, I chided myself for being unfair. After all, you don't get stuff like ghost wolf, travel form, and aspect of the cheetah/pack at level 1. But then I thought about it and realized I wasn't being unfair. The travel abilities I mentioned are not universal between the classes and can be /used in combat/. So it would be both unfair for those classes to be able to get around faster from level one and it does affect gameplay beyond just whether or not things are tedious.

Some of the other "fun" things. The auction house only allows you to have fifty auctions at a time. Additionally, until the recent patch, there was no search function, just stupid dropdown menus that you had to sort through trying to find what you wanted. Crafting is done entirely by your companions and it takes forever. The earliest things crafted take about a minute to make. Later on, it can take hours. Since it's done by your companions, you only get one companion for quite a while, and the game combat is balanced around you having your means you're screwed if you even try to craft until you get your ship (which has another companion) sometime in the level 16-18 range. Bioware removed the best graphics setting before they released the game because apparently they can't let people decide for themselves if they want to risk dealing with lag due to rendering high quality characters (I saw a funny comparison screenshot the other day that showed an EQ character next to a TOR character. In some ways, with the reduced graphics of TOR, the EQ character looked /better/, and otherwise they looked pretty similar quality wise). I submitted a bug report a few days ago. I was told to do all sorts of things to generate logs from various parts of the game and send them in reply. Aside from the fact that I don't believe it should be up to me to diagnose the problem with someone else's game, I was told to reply with attached files and there is no way to do that. There is no way to reply. There is no way to attach files. In fact, I can't get the ticket response to /go away and leave me alone/. Almost every time I log into a character (there are a few times when it doesn't, which makes it worse because what did I do differently those times?), this ticket responses flashes at me and demands that I do something with it, but I can't do anything with it! Every button is greyed out other than creating a new ticket. It says the ticket and thus the issue is closed. But the stupid thing won't go away! If it's not obvious, it's driving me batty. The space combat is a terrible, boring rail shooter that seems like an afterthought. If they'd taken something like what STO had and then made it not about spinning to keep your shields up, they could have had something great, but nope.

Now, maybe I'm picky, but I have a real problem with much of the design in the game, as in what you see and hear. The game takes place more than three thousand years before the Star Wars movies. Yet...everything looks like stuff from the movies. You play a smuggler, and you get a ship that looks like a slightly modified Millennium Falcon. You play a bounty hunter and you get something that looks suspiciously like the Slave I. The armor looks the same. The light saber fights in the promotional movies use the same moves and situations. Even some of the characters look like characters from the movies (the trooper shown in one of the videos looks like Jengo Fett/the clone troopers)! The music seems to be about 90% from the movies (and the fact that it's so high makes me think the few things I've heard that seem new are probably just filler pieces that I've not consciously noted before). Now, I love a lot of the music from movies. But hearing the music from the speeder chase scene on Coruscant from Episode II over and over and over and over when I fight stronger mobs is enough to make me want to scream. Most of the planets you visit are those from the movies (Coruscant [admittedly that makes sense given that it's the traditional capitol of the Republic since forever], Tattooine, Hoth, Alderaan, and while we never saw Corellia in the movies, obviously even that's related since it's Han's homeworld). Apparently no planets ever change in importance ever over thousands of years. The same ones are always influential, even when there's almost nothing there as in the case of Tattooine and Hoth. Tons of the clothing closely resembles stuff from the movies. Apparently only marginal changes happen to anything in thousands of years. Right. Because that makes sense. It seems like they gave up so much chance for creativity just to make everything like the movies. If I wanted to experience the movies, I'd go watch the movies!

There are only ten species to choose from to play (and one of those is cyborg, so it's really just humans with some implants). All of them are humanoid. It boggles my mind, because there are tons of other aliens in the game that they already had to do the design work for. Why not let us play more? The character creation also seems to produce incredibly same looking characters. There are NPCs that look old or whatever, but you can't choose to look that way. There will be options that have 40 different toggles, so you think there's a lot of variation, but when you go through them, you'll find it's mostly different colored makeup, the presence or absence of freckles/pockmarks/moles/etc, and differently shaped eyebrows. The hairstyles are mostly uninspired, many are just minor variations of each other, they're all short, even for women, and for some of the races they don't even work properly (race specific things poke oddly through the hair and such, much like draenei horns stick through helmets in odd ways in WoW). There's a "danish on each ear" style...but then they put weird wrappings over all the twists. So they put in a Leia/Padme inspired style, but then make it look dumb and not like they did in the movies, when everything else looks like things in the movies. I boggle at how they came to such a decision.

The game has aoe looting, which is a plus. But even WoW's getting that in Mists and other games have it as well, so it's not exactly a game changer. It also has a nice button that out of combat will quickly regen your health and resource. The only things that really seems to separate the game from every other WoW clone out there is that it's in space and dialogue is voice acted. The talents are the same old boring "1% to this stat," kind of thing for the most part, exactly like WoW's used to be. Now, the Cata revamp to talents didn't do what Blizzard want, but from what I've seen in the beta, the MoP system has a good chance of succeeding. TOR, on the other hand, has moved backwards. Overall, it feels like it came out years ago with how grindy it is and how outdated so much of it is. There's no dual spec and the costs for swapping specs quickly become astronomical (up to 95,000 credits to swap). If you've done a quest before, you can't just accept it and go, you have to at least space bar to skip through the dialogue which takes much more time and still requires you to pick your dialogue options. There are just all sorts of these annoying and bad things that add up. I'm genuinely shocked by all the people who say they're so bored of WoW or how they hate WoW or so on can even stand to play this game, because it takes all the bad things that WoW ever had (and has discarded much of) and adds voice acting to it.

Finding out what happens in the story is enjoyable enough that I do have a level 50 bounty hunter and I'm hoping to work through the Alli-er, Republic storyline in the time I have remaining. Bioware is giving out a month of free game time to a bunch of people, which I should qualify for (it's funny to see the fanboys gushing over how wonderful Bioware is for rewarding their customers in such a way, somehow completely missing the point that they're bribing people to continue playing the game because of the way populations had already dropped so much before this latest patch hit. Seemed like most people at least realized that was the goal of the Annual Pass for WoW), and I'm going to keep playing it for a while longer at least, but I'm not subscribing. Not that this is a surprise, because I knew playing the beta that the game didn't have lasting power, I can't pay for yet another sub and I'm sure not quitting WoW (even if I could, as I happily let myself be bribed for a free copy of D3), but it's interesting to me that even playing the game longer than in the beta has only made my feelings about it intensify. I have enough fun to play it, but if I talk about it, all I can seem to say about it is bad. As I said at the very start, the story is interesting, but dang, there is just a bad, bad game built around it. Alas, it's so bad that Eric mostly hasn't wanted to play it with me, so I haven't even gotten that aspect of it.

If you want to see the story and don't mind paying a subcription and grinding a lot for it, go for it. If you want to play an MMO, particularly one that's not the same old thing, steer clear.
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