Ah Bioware, where would we be without story? That’s the first thing I want to say. The opening movie of Star Wars: The Old Republic pretty much kicked ass. I have had the opportunity over the past couple years, to play quite a bit of the starting story of both Imperial and Empire at various media events and each time, I’ve not wanted to stop. I love the story aspect of MMOs (those which have it) and will putz around to smell the roses or in this case, kill a sniveling excuse for a human or two. I decided for my time with the press beta on SWTOR to play the Imperial Agent because that was a faction/class combination I had not played before. I was an assassin, an operative – the secret weapon of the Empire! Uhh… that might be pushing it. I was a total noob at how this class worked. But it would prove to be fun.
Gameplay (Minor Spoilers Ahead)
I was not a freed slave, or a recruit, my story started as a fully fledged agent on a mission. I took on a fake identity, the “Red Blade” which suited me fine seeing I had chosen a reddish complexion, talking or killing my way out of situations. Thinking on my feet when approached by another Zabrak who claimed the Red Blade owed him credits, I pushed back a little, but when the flirt option came up, I thought… “Oh? Let’s see how far this goes.” After a little more chit-chat, he insinuated that the Red Blade he remembered wasn’t so pretty. Okay… kill? In a crowded rest-place? What would the consequences be? Ah… maybe I could lure him to a corridor and do away with him there. So I pushed the flirt button again… and (puke) slept with the guy for (blech) light-side points. Ew.
Onto the next story… Kill! The next? KILL! Die, you sniveling excuse for a … whatever race you are! DIE! I guess I’m nastier than I thought I was. No one interfered, they cowered, stood around pretending nothing untoward happened or cheered my actions.
The early stage of the game was about finding myself and it was delivered with blings and whistles. I was settling into my class, my persona, my story as I played the game. I was a ranged fighter. I had covert skills. Duck and dodge. Search and investigate. I was a badass. I carried out my mission (the story quest) and picked up a few side quests – for the credits you know – along the way. Hey, a credit’s a credit and it’s not my rep that suffered here anyway if I decided to take a payment under the table and renege on a deal. Really, if he’d just agreed to pay me more, I’d have rescued his baby brother! Honest!
As I explored, picked up some extra funds and made a few kills of opportunity – no one said the mission was time critical, did they? I leveled. Found the “graveyard" when I stumbled into a nest of (grumble) idiots twice my level and of course the first Heroic Mission. All of the mobs were heroic and attacked in packs and sent me back to re-spawn when I tried to sneak around them… I used my quick transport shuttle back to a previously discovered beacon and visited my trainer and got my last two level skills. Stab? Not so great right now. Oh nice… grenades. Now we’re talking!
Enough with the exploring for right now, I needed gear and credits. Time to see if any jokers in this town will pay for some of these humanoids to be disposed of.
Playing SWTOR is much about discovery. Discovering the game UI and how to go about doing things in the game is pretty much on your own. There’s a panel on the right of your screen that pops up. Read it. The game doesn’t take you by the hand and lead you down the garden path. It assumes you are a gamer and will take responsibility for learning the game. Things flash on the mini-map and bringing it up will provide you a menu, icon key and radio buttons. Go on. Click on one or two and see what it does.
Mouse over your skills to see what they do. For the Imperial Agent, a green outline of a crouching figure showed you where your closest cover was. Now, that I enjoyed. I didn’t have to run up and crouch behind the crate. Clicking the Dodge skill, my character would run, roll and come up kneeling behind the cover, with my weapon pointed at the original target.
The game provides hints also when a dark-side / light-side decision would be made as the center of the decision circle glows red or blue when you mouse over that particular decision. I must have missed it with the suspicious Zabrak letch. Interestingly enough, there can be more than one key decision in a conversation.
I have not played other classes in this beta build, but it seemed to me that the choices given the Imperial Agent are a little more subtle than the ones provided the say… Sith Inquisitor, and I think that’s a good choice as befits the class.
Yes, there’s quite a bit of stand there toe-to-toe and see who’s health bar runs out first (especially at the lower levels) as SWTOR is still a tab-targeting, target-lock combat game. Don’t allow that to break the immersion though, especially since a single blaster shot kills in the story cut scenes. The combat skills and animations and the story more than make up for the game’s standard design decisions. I was one such skeptic, especially in the early stages of development when the story wasn’t as well developed and fleshed out. Somehow, I now see them as separate components to the game.
Story line is storyline, combat is combat. Perhaps it is because the voice acting and animation is that compelling. Now, I’m going to have a really hard time at launch deciding which class I want to play.
One thing I can definitely say about SWTOR is this: Don’t be too anxious to rush for levels. Sit back and enjoy the journey.