Here we go…!
1. Voiceovers – Yes, the game is almost fully voice-overed. Is voice-overed a word? Probably not. Let’s just say that the majority of your NPC interactions will have voice-acting, not text. These interactions also present themselves in a cinematic fashion, involving your character and whoever they are speaking to.
Not everything is voice-overed, however. Voiced? That works. Yes, there are “codex” entries that are fully text. They basically explain what you’ve seen or interacted with in the world, providing insight to the lore behind the game.
2. Quest options – Something I’ve always wanted in an MMO is a little more flexibility with how you handle questing. Essentially, the option to give Item X to NPC Z instead of NPC Y for a different reward. The ‘standard formula’ has never truly allowed this — you always give Item X to NPC Y for Reward A, B or C.
In SWTOR, you have some options. They are not elaborate, but they are present. At times, you can choose to double-cross a quest-giver. Or, you may arrive at your quest objective and find another NPC is pursuing the same item and you can dialog or duel with them. You also have options during certain quests to make a Light side or Dark side decision — often a Dark side decision is to kill or maim someone, while Light side is sparing their life or allowing them to escape. These choices have a small but noticeable impact on your character, purportedly allowing you to equip certain items distinctly Dark-side or Light-side items as you play.
Yes, you can have a Sith with certain Light-side tendencies, or Jedi with Dark-side sensibilities. Apparently this is “in the lore” and canonical. I’m no student of the Star Wars expanded universe (books, comics, etc.), but going by the films alone I can liken this to Darth Vader offering Luke the chance to join him rather than simply destroying his Jedi son, or Luke allowing his anger, rage really, to nearly overtake him during his final duel with Vader.
All in all these options fostered roleplaying, which is nice. While playing my Bounty Hunter, for example, I could make decisions based on how I feel my character would operate in the game world — I chose to have him be the sort who does not deviate from his employer’s instructions, and any time an NPC presented an alternative offer I either refused it. I could have also played my character as the opportunist, who was only interested in credits and would backstab his employer if it earned him more cash. Plus, there were times when I could refuse or accept offers in a cruel or kind manner, allowing me to further personalize my character: he ended up adhering to his contracts’ stipulations, and would kill if the bounty called for it, but otherwise would not be excessively ruthless. A “capture or kill” would have him lean heavily toward “capture.”
This was fun. Even if it had zero impact on gameplay (it does, albeit minor in some areas), the option to make a decision like this now and again felt like roleplaying.
3. Game Mechanics – Overall, this is a cooldown-based MMO. It feels a lot like World of Warcraft in terms of how abilities work and how your character moves and fights. There are no auto-attacks, which is a major difference. There are class-specializations, as well — they go beyond Talent Trees, too.
For example, your base class is the Sith Inquisitor. When you reach level 10, you choose one of two specializations: Sorcerer or Assassin. These two specializations play differently from one another, but share some similarities. Furthermore, you have your talent trees — a Sith Inquisitor (Sorcerer) can spec into Madness, Lightning, or Healing. Each “tree” changes your playstyle somewhat, and afford new talent-only abilities.
The options here felt good, at first glance. I did not get very deep into these trees, but the possibilities are exciting. They should help to make your character feel more like your character… though I fear there will eventually be “cookie cutter” or pre-determined “best” talent builds, just as there were in WoW.
4. Storyline – The game feels a little like a single-player game with multiplayer options. This isn’t a bad thing, really. You can solo much of your leveling experience, but there are also Group quests (2+ players) in every zone, plus your Flashpoints or “dungeon instances” to enjoy. Also, there are PVP areas where you will only fight other players.
Some are criticizing the game because of this. Many of these critics are proponents of World of Warcraft, which puzzles me — WoW also features a linear leveling process, introduced in Cataclysm, that can be easily soloed. Only in dungeons do you need to call on other players to complete your goal. In fact, Group quests while leveling have virtually been abolished in WoW — there are no more Elite mobs that cannot be soloed at level or quests requiring 2 or more players.
But I digress. The leveling experience has a per-class theme and storyline, which has been enjoyable so far (I’ve played a Bounty Hunter and an Inquisitor).
5. Flashpoints – I played through one Flashpoint, so I cannot say that they will all be as enjoyable… but I am hopeful. A Flashpoint is effectively a “dungeon instance” with a storyline. Like with much of the game, there are cinematic moments that break up the gameplay. To not be too spoilerific, let me give an example: your Flashpoint may start off in an outpost on the surface of a planet, and as you progress you board a shuttle and dock with a ship in orbit to continue the campaign.
Not everyone will enjoy this, but I thought it made for a more involving situation. Otherwise, the “dungeon” played very similarly to what you may be accustomed to: there were “pulls” with various “mobs” and the option to Crowd Control one or more of the enemies. There were “bosses” who required more situational awareness or a change in tactics. These bosses dropped the best rewards. There were also “chests” that contained bonus items here and there.
1. Performance – Load times are painfully slow, especially when starting and quitting out of the game. Presumably this is because of the sheer amount of data needing to be loaded for the voiced cutscenes and NPC interactions. If there is one thing that will trample SWTOR’s fun factor, it is this. The loading times on even a powerful computer can be annoying. This is further exacerbated when playing in a group — if someone in your group has a truly slow computer, their load times will be even longer and you will be left “Waiting for other players” for your dialog options, cutscenes, and general gameplay pacing.
2. Graphics – They’re adequate. I do not have much of an issue with the graphical presentation here, but many players are unhappy with the style. That’s fine. This certainly isn’t Skyrim — nor could it be, really, while still maintaining the MMO aspect. There are, however, more polygons present in the landscape and characters/gear than what you’ll find in, say, World of Warcraft.
3. Your NPC Companions – Every class in SWTOR is effectively a pet class. My Bounty Hunter ended up with a Companion. My Inquisitor has one too. My feelings on this are mixed — I enjoyed playing a Hunter in World of Warcraft, so having a “pet” is not unfamiliar to me, but I also acknowledge the shortcomings of the artificial intelligence for these minions, and to overcome bad AI is to micromanage them (that is, control their every moment and attack) — and that is not fun at all.
On my Bounty Hunter, for example, Mako was a sufficient “healer” who kept me from dying while I took the hits and dealt the damage. That was OK. On my Inquisitor, however, my companion is a “tank” who will keep the attention of whoever I am attacking. This is fine in theory, but in practice my “tank” felt underpowered at times and difficult to heal. There is no “Mend Pet” ability. I have a Heal that I can use on anyone, including myself, but to target my “pet” and use this… during battle… was difficult. I could not deal damage while healing. That, and the ability did not restore much health to my Companion.
There appears to be no Macro functionality in SWTOR, so I cannot create a macro that will always target my pet and cast my Heal, effectively replicating the one-button Mend Pet ability and allow me to, at the very least, retain my enemy target while healing.
4. No Macros, No Mods – Apparently, there will not be modding support for SWTOR at launch. That might change as time goes on. Macro support may be added as well.
Some will argue that Macros and Mods will automate gameplay. This is true, however I think there are certain “quality of life” improvements that can be made with Macros. A Mod like Power Auras allows a flexible display of buffs/debuffs and other visual indicators that players can respond to above and beyond the default UI. The default UI is only so customizable, after all.