Ok... So Star Wars.
Here is my initial impression of Star Wars The Old Republic. I can sum up how I feel so far in just a few words. "It's like playing Knights of the Old Republic but with an online community and other people running around."
My love for MMORPG's has grown and waned over the years. It all started with a friend introduced me to World of Warcraft but 6 years ago. Through that time I put many hours into that online world and after 5 years of WoW, I was done. I couldn't handle it any more. On my down time during my WoW addiction I tried out City of Heroes/Villains, Final Fantasy XI, Rift and a few others. None of them really held my attention very much. There was a certain magic about World of Warcraft, and for some people there still is... not for me.
When I got a chance to get early access on Star Wars the Old Republic, I had my resignations (Early access was granted to those who actually had a pre-order code redeemed several months prior to launch). It was another MMO, maybe I would hate it and then Bioware's good image would be ruined... but worse: what if I loved it? I'd be sucked in again for another 5 years of my life.
Well my greatest fears rang true, the game so far is excellent. It is not without it's problems, but so far it's really fantastic. When you start the game you are given an opening cut scene showing why you're on the world you're on. In my first case I was a young Padawan being sent to train with the Jedi. You then complete quests which are delivered via cut scene and dialogue. And in true Bioware form you have a radial to choose what options you would like ranging from very good, to in between and then evil. Morality is a big part, when you create your character you only choose which side you fight for, being light side or dark side is completely up to you. You can be a good aligned Sith or an evil Jedi, that's entirely up to you.
The game has a big, big focus on the single player experience. It does it's best to hide that it's an MMO without actually hiding it. I know that doesn't make sense, but bear with me. While you're given quests, they are usually along the lines of make it to the certain point and rescue someone, or shut down a computer, or something else along those lines. The grinding stuff (like killing 25 of X enemies) is all an option that can be done for extra experience points while on the way to the objective. It feels very much like a single player game, except everything can be done with your friends... in fact there are specific quests that require you to work as part of a team (honestly, it wouldn't be an MMORPG if it didn't have group specific quests).
My initial impressions show that the class synergies work really well together. There are 4 base classes to choose from per side (Jedi Knight, Jedi Consular, Smuggler, and Trooper if you're Republic and Sith Warrior, Sith Inquisitor, Bounty Hunter, and Sith Agent if you prefer to fight for the Empire). Each class gets to choose a specialization at level 10. There are many Healing and Tanking classes to choose from, with only 2 straight damage classes out of the possible 8. I really hope this means that we don't run into problems like in World of Warcraft where tanks or healers were hard to find depending on how your server was populated. The classes all feel pretty unique, even between the different Jedi/Sith classes... so there's lots of option and variance.
The combat feels very MMO like. Why fix something that isn't broken? Unlike World of Warcraft, however, you don't have an auto-attack. So you constantly have to hit the attack button to keep swinging or shooting. I unfortunately haven't had much time to mess around with the cover system with the smuggler, but there will definitely be more on that at a later date.
Crafting is very well done. You choose 1 actual crafting profession and two others that are usually used to gather materials. You can find the materials on the field or you can send your ships crew to go on missions to find you materials. These missions cost in game credits to perform so you can only do them if you have the cash, but they are worth the reward. All you do is hit the "do mission" button and off they go. They return in a few minutes with loot (or sometimes without) and your gathering skill goes up accordingly. Crafting is actually very similar. You tell your companions to craft you things and they are timed and appear in your inventory when they are done. I think this is really great because it doesn't break game play. You set it all up to happen and it just happens behind the scene. It means I can just tell my companion droid to make me 7 light sabre hilts while I keep doing quests.
My first Flashpoint was quite an experience to behold. The Flashpoint system is basically SW:TOR's dungeon system, except they are much more story driven. Myself and 3 others got together to help out a republic ship. It plays out very similar to any other instance or dungeon in other MMO's, you go through the motions killing enemies along the way. What makes SW:TOR different is that there are story based cut scenes interspersed with the action. Now you may be wondering how it handles the chat options when there are several players... well whenever a chat option radial comes up you choose what you want to say for the situation, and then there is a roll to determine which character will actually get put into the spotlight and make the decisions. In the first flashpoint my party was actually given someone's life in our hands and we got to decide what their fate was.
The next thing I got to explore was the space combat. You are given a ship at one point and you can perform space combat missions. These are incredibly fun and break up the game play very very nicely. To control your ship you point with the mouse and your ship will bank and veer in those directions. Using the arrow keys gives you quick dodges and space bar gets you a barrel roll. The game guides you around the scenery and you only really get to control your ship within the confines of your monitor space. Still really fun to do and you get experience points for taking down enemy ships and completing your objective so there is a very good reason to actually do your space missions.
Now, the game isn't perfect, it's really hard to achieve a perfect MMORPG at launch, but it's very good. There are a few minor bugs that I've seen so far, mostly just the crafting material nodes not working in some cases. It's quite a bit more challenging than World of Warcraft, and slightly more time consuming. Levelling up is something that hasn't been a quick experience for me. In a few marathon play sessions I only managed to reach level 19 out of 50. It took me all night to reach from level 1-10 on my first night playing. Now I'm not necessarily gunning to level up as fast as possible, I actually want to enjoy my ride upwards and see most of what there is to see, but in the case of games like WoW I would probably be close to level 40 or 50 with the time I've put in to SW:TOR. The level up grind feels really good and I'm enjoying every minute of it.
It honestly feels like Knights of the Old Republic but online, and that's what makes it so good... plus dual wielding light sabres is pretty freaking awesome.
More on my experiences next week! Stay tuned!