The SWTOR Beta Review: The Sith Emperor Has No Clothes

Well I have been part of the last two beta weekends and here are a few impressions of the game. First some facts.

UI: The UI is not modable. It can’t be moved or resized. It’s ok, more or less, but it is what it is. No mouseovers. No target of target. No passthrough target. 2001 called, DAOC wants it’s UI back.

LFG: The LFG system is to flag yourself as LFG which adds an icon to your name and flags you in the /who system. 1999 called, EQ wants it’s LFG system back.

Dual Spec: Nope. With the added plus that each class has two advanced classes (a notion every other game figured out was rubbish–EQ2 even removed theirs) and you’ll have to replay the whole thing to do the other.

Care to give those a little think? Having some form of LFG system debuted in DAOC in 2001. In 2004, EQ2 had a fully configurable and replaceable UI and WoW had mods. And everyone has gone to dual spec, Rift being the real pioneers with 5 specs and virtually free respeccing.

So what does SWTOR have? Well it has a license. And it has a very nice questing system that uses voiceovers. And for soloing, it gives you a companion bot that will tank or dps or heal for you–whatever you can’t do it will. (Like Guild Wars gave you in 2005) That’s about it, other than that this is a 2003 era MMO with little new.

So the voiceovers are one of the most unique features. All the quests are fully voiced and cut scened and they offer you choices, not just an accept or decline.

Except sometimes choices aren’t choices. What you learn pretty quickly when you redo content (such as repeating an instance) is that no matter what you say, the outcome is the same. You may gain a few points with your companion critter and some of the choices gain your dark or light points and have a different outcome. But mostly, all the choices net you some kind of statement that is plausibly close to what you clicked and the NPC responds with something plausible in response. It’s kind of like how scam fortune tellers come up with very generic things that could apply to anyone.

It’s by no means terrible, the first weekend beta I was in blew me away. But once you start to see behind the curtain, which for me was when I redid an instance three times, you notice that the Great Oz isn’t quite so great. And it’s really hard to recover from that. And even when you don’t see stuff a second time, after a while just like text quest grinding, voice/cuts scene quest grinding all amounts to killing ten rats and you stop paying attention.

But the instances and other “end game” features are where I think the voiceovers really fall apart. The instances are full of voice overs and cutscenes. And I’m sick and tired of them in the one instance I did because I’ve seen them three whole times. Now think to yourself, how many times have you done each instance in WoW or whatever your game of choice is these days? Sure you can skip them with the space bar, but you still need to click through the responses. It’s not a good match and that’s something that even just a few days in SWTOR kept bringing to the front of my mind: do these people really “get” the MMO genre?

The companion was an ok idea, but it’s weird seeing all these people running around with the exact same companions.

The graphics are ok, but I’m left wondering why my framerates are as low as they are for what I’m seeing. There are also some noticeable issues. My twilek’s light saber worn on my back pokes through my leku. My trooper has a rifle slung on his shoulder, but it’s not slug, it just hovers with a noticeable gap between it and my body.

And on top of all of this is the problem that this is a fantasy swords and sorcery MMO with blasters and light sabers replacing the graphics. So you stand at short range and go at each other with blasters and eventually you take something down. You heal by shooting people with a healing gun–aoes are done with a healing grenade. You are a good and noble jedi so you run around the landscape killing stuff and looting the bodies. And you collect crap in the wilderness to craft with. At least SWG had some kind of nod to industrialization in its crafting system. All of this has a toll. You’ll see people reverting to things. “Where do i train more spells?” “Where do I get a mount?” and so forth. It makes immersion hard, even with the heavy quest emphasis.

There are also some really specific similarities to WoW. Just as an example, I play the healing sith class. So I get a channeled DPS ability that also slows the movement speed and has an animation of power shooting at the target–this familiar to anyone who plays a WoW Priest? There’s a lot of this. All diku based MMOs are going to have similarities, but SWTOR takes it to an extreme.

More than anything I think the game has made me appreciate Rift. For the most part Rift is just a WoW clone and a fairly generic feeling one. But it had nicer graphics and it had an interesting public quest system. And it had the entire mix and match soul system with 5 specs and free respeccing. It added in free unlimited server moves. It didn’t bring much to the genre, but it brought something. SWTOR isn’t even bringing everything that others did.

I can’t imagine anyone would be talking about this game if it didn’t have a Star Wars license.


  1. Nils November 27, 2011 12:18 pm

    I’m not even in the beta. I’ll get the game in Dezember and play for 30 days, I guess. Thanks for an informative review.

  2. Mosh November 27, 2011 1:22 pm

    Wifey and I have played nonstop since Friday morning, as well as the last weekend beta, and it confirmed to us that we definitely will be playing it at release. Honestly I was more concerned about it going in, then I was once I played it. Playing it has eased most of my concerns.

    The UI is serviceable, but Bioware has promised a custom UI and addons after release. Whether it is as indepth as WoW (which I kinda hope its not) or an afterthought like Rift will be seen. As for the LFG, I prefer it the good old fashion way. Tag yourself, and search. I *loathe* the matchmaking systems that have become popular in MMOs.

    I asked my wife the other day if swtor wasnt a Star Wars game, would she still play it. Absolutely she said, and I agree, although I will admit the license is the only reason I considered it. But having played it, I would stick with it regardless of the IP.

    Being a hardcore SW nerd, I will say the thing that bothers me most is the inclusion of the Chiss as a playable species. Doesnt jibe with the established lore at all. I’m also disappointed in the lack of non-humanoid playable class. It seems almost silly that you cant roll a rodian, trandoshan, or a wookie. I assume it has to do with the voice acting.

    Sure there are some idiosyncrasies here and there, but not much more than other games. It could use a bit more polish and thought when it comes to ‘quality of life’ type of issues, but all in all, I think its an excellent starting point for an MMO. We’ll see how it holds up after 3-5 years, but for now, I’m pretty happy and excited about it.

  3. Mellyg November 29, 2011 1:19 pm

    Does Bioware know the MMO genre? I hope not, since most of these games are more mmo and little to no rpg. And that is what this is supposed to be, right?

    I think people need to ask themselves before playing this which they want more in a game.

  4. illustar December 14, 2011 12:03 am

    Could it use more polish? Of course. They emphasized from the beginning that this is a story-based MMO, that they were going to rebuild the MMO format from scratch to incorporate the RPG aspect. I didn’t think it was perfect, but it was a lot of fun. To me it felt like the WoW of KotOR (one of my favorite games).

    Something I loved about it was that in both classes I played during the beta, my class story crossed over with KotOR references. Characters were mentioned or had actual cameos. I had been really frustrated with the idea that SWTOR is set 300 years after KotOR 2, but the allusions I encountered, even so early on, gives me hope and anticipation for the rest of the game.

    I do expect it to get better – other playable races, better UI, etc – but I think it’s got great potential so far.