Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Star Wars . . . Nothing But Star Wars . . .

So, I know I'm still down two session on my Earth 52 DC Adventures posts, and I could do a better job of detailing our Deathwatch game.  Heck, there are even interesting developments in comics and tabletop RPGs that I could yammer on about.  However, none of that has happened because I've been playing Star Wars:  The Old Republic.

I caught the tail end of the beta on Thanksgiving weekend.  I enjoyed the game, but when I was playing the beta as a smuggler, I was a little disappointed that the mechanical side of the game was similar to World of Warcraft.  This certainly wasn't a deal breaker for me, because, honestly, World of Warcraft initially seemed a bit like Everquest.  What let WoW knock Everquest off the top wrung wasn't what was similar about the game  (essentially, what worked), but what was different.

Getting to play The Old Republic from the beginning, in the full context of how the game is suppose to be experienced, even my slight reservations about WoW similarities went right out the window.

Disclaimer time:  I have played lots of MMOs, and I've cut out on a lot of them due to my general gamer ADD.  I'm not a bit person for raiding or end game content or dungeons or the like.  So as soon as a game gets to the point to where I have to grind too much or the story goes flat, I tend to drift away.

I'm not sure if that will happen to me with this game or not, but I'm strongly leaning towards "not any time soon."  Are there "fetch" quests?  Yes there are.  However, seeing a really nice, fully voiced introduction to that fetch quest that gives a really in depth context for why the kerpluxus needs to be brought back to the quest giver does really help to keep the fetching from feeling old.

There are also "kill X number of Y" quests, but what is nice is that fact that these are usually presented in the context of "bonus objectives" to the main quests that you took.  For example, if you have to hack four consoles throughout a complex, while you wander the complex, you might run into Imperial troops, and you get the optional  "clear out the Imperial agents" bonus objective.  If you complete the quest before you complete the bonus, the story advances.  If you do the bonus objectives . . . more XP!

It's kind of nice, because the extra objective just kind of slides in there.  You don't talk to five different farmers asking you to kill slightly different versions of the same bad guys, all within a block of one another.

In a lot of ways, the game plays very much like Knights of the Old Republic, but with eight different campaigns  (four Sith, four Republic).  Multi-player really comes into play when you get special missions that are kind of in-between the rest of your game experience that you can take a vacation from so that you can wail on some bad guys and potentially get some better gear than you normally would.

There are also one or two side quests in each of the main story areas that are "Heroic 2" or "Heroic 4" side quests that generally require 2 to 4 extra players to work through.  These are full, major areas like the "Flashpoints" are, but a few interconnected rooms with extra tough bad guys that encourages you to ask some of the other people running around in your area to group with your for a little while, long enough to survive the side quest  (which you can skip if you don't want to talk to any of your fellow faction members).

Combat and combat skills look very similar to WoW.  You have a certain number of abilities.  When you get levels, you have to go to a class trainer to learn more abilities, and you pay credits to learn them.  You have skill trees that modify how those skills work depending on how you fill our your tree.  Your main attack doesn't have a refresh time, but a lot of your other abilities will.  It's really tempting to look at that overview and assume that combat plays out just like WoW.  It doesn't, or at least it doesn't feel like it does.

The first change is that there is no auto-attack.  You always have to click on an attack to make it work, so you always have to pay attention to the combat you are in.  Abilities seem to play off of each other much more dynamically.  Not only do you have to pay attention, but you have abilities that chain a bit more.

I've played as a smuggler and a Jedi Knight.  As a smuggler, I had to roll behind cover to activate some abilities, and other abilities were "set up" abilities, i.e. I'd throw a charge at someone that wouldn't go off until something else damaged the target.  As a Jedi Knight, I have to build up Focus with a basic strike in order to access other abilities, like a sweep that shoves multiple opponents back, or an elaborate master strike where you slash and stab your opponent in a sequence to do a lot of damage from "one" hit.

The voice acting and sound effects also go a really long way towards making this feel like a Star Wars experience.  Your lightsaber sounds like a lightsaber, and engine whine sounds like classic Star Wars vehicles going by.

It's not all rosy.  For some strange reason, some people have such bad lag that they have to run the game in windowed mode, which goes against all performance logic, yet it seems to be the only way to make the game playable in some areas.  And then there is space combat.  Yup.  Space combat.

You know how, in between major points in the movies, there were climactic space battles?  There are space battles in this game too.  Maybe I just suck, but if you are like me, you won't be completing many of these missions until you sink a whole lot of credits into your ship that you probably need to complete the main storyline, which means that space combat is kind of an add on if you want to mess with it and invest the time a credits it will take to have a competent combat star ship.

But despite those flaws, if you liked the KOTOR games, the only downside I can see to this game is if you don't have the $15 a month for the ongoing fees.  Heck, it's restored my enthusiasm for Star Wars that was heavily damaged by the Clone Wars cartoon foray through the EU, leaving twisted wreckage and Lucas-fueled ideas behind it.

Also, I didn't get killed by a Corellian Butterfly in my first combat.  So I almost forgot I ever played Star Wars Galaxies.

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