SWTOR Sweeps GDC Online Game Nominations – Really?

Uh, what?  Bioware’s Star Wars: The Old Republic nets a total 6 nominations for the GDA Choice Online Awards, and I’m sure I’m not alone when I say, “Come Again?”  Not that the game was bad – I played it for a month before I got bored.  It was polished, pretty, and utterly run of the mill.  Outside of some slight differences in class structure and crafting, the game was stunningly underwhelming.  Still, it received nominations for Innovation, Audio, Game Design, Visual Arts, Technology, and Best New Online Game.

So …. yeah, I’m curious how a game that was pretty universally regarded as “good, but nothing special…” and from which a large number of gamers flocked to, then away from got nominated for so many awards.  Again, not that the game was bad by any stretch, but I know I personally, I was really unimpressed with the game.  So I’m really surprised and I’m not gonna lie, a little bit skeptical about these nominations.

Via: SWTOR dominates GDC Online Awards nominations @ Massively

Star Wars: The Old Republic – 14 Day Thoughts

So, with 3 weeks at home (instead of on the road) and some time off from the graduate work, I’ve actually had the opportunity to play some games (totally unheard of,  I know!).  So, over the next couple days I’m going to give my impressions of various new games.  I’m trying to stay away from the “review” word, it’s not a review, it’s just my thoughts about the games.  Anyway, moving on – Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Anxiously awaited, long touted as a WoW-killer, a game-changer in the MMO space, new and innovative with it’s use of all voice-overs.  I’ll be honest, the only reason I got the game was because my mom was at a loss as to what to get me for Christmas, and being mildly interested, I told her to get me SWTOR.  And, well..she did.

So, I get all loaded up and play a Jedi Consular on the Republic side–I usually play the “misunderstood anti-establishment” factions, but the Sith were just too evil for me,.  The character creation process was a little less than what I was expecting.  While there are more options than like World of Warcraft (is it possible to write about a MMO without mentioning WoW?), the options left me wanting more, not satisfied with what I had.  For male body types, you can play nerd (small and scrawny), Adonis (Tall, muscular and statuesque), or a human-barrel hybrid (short, and disproportionally squat).  Female body types are differentiated primarily by cup-size.

As I’ve seen mentioned over and over again, it’s a bit upsetting that most all of the races basically looked human, with the exception of Twi-lek, with the two large tentacle-ish things on their heads instead of hair.  The rest of customizations are pretty much standard fare–complexion, facial features, and scars/tattoos, etc.  Nothing overly exciting or out of the ordinary here.

The opening cinematic is amazing to watch, and I was hankering to start chopping things up with my own personal glowy stick.  Getting into game–it plays pretty much like everything other MMO ever.  The key difference being that you pick your class until level 10.  At creation you pick an “arch-class”, that has two possible specializations.  So, as a consular I could choose at level 10 to be a shadow (rogue) or a Sage (caster/healer).  So I learn some basics of both classes up until level 10, then gain new abilities from my specialization while continuing to develop my consular abilities.

After picking your specialization, you then get the tried and true talent trees.  Ever level you get a point to add someplace.  It’s much like the first generation of WoW talent trees before they started to try and make the system easier to understand and more predictable.  As a Shadow, I had the options of a tank specialization, a stealthy specialization, and a melee/close-ranged damage spec– I chose the melee/close-ranged spec as it was the least cookie-cutter.  Just about the same time you choose your real class, you also get a companion to help you throughout your journeys.  As you progress through the game, you get additional companions, though only can ever have 1 at a time out with you.

Companions are actually how you use and level up your crafting skills.  In a slight deviation from the norm, you can pick 3 skills which consists of choices from gatherings skills, crafting skills, and mission skills.  You can only ever choose a single crafting skill, but can take the others in any combination you’d like.  The mission skills provide rare components for crafting as well as gifts to give your companion to raise their approval of you.  Your answers in dialogue and quests throughout the game also influence this approval rating.  The higher the approval, the faster the companion completes the tasks, and has a less of a risk of failure.

After approximately level 20 (I got there at 18) you get your own personal ship, which is SWTOR’s player housing more or less.  You can take your ship on Star-Fox style space combat missions that are pretty lame.  There’s a lot Bioware could have done there that they just didn’t.  Enemies in space combat never attack from behind, it’s pretty simple to play and not very challenging truth be told.  I don’t know, I was hoping for something…more in-depth.

At this writing, I’m level 22, and the game feels more like a first player game the other people occasionally visit to me.  I’ve read that at later levels it feels more like a true MMO, but up until this point, I’ve not had to really worry about finding a group, instances, or anything like that.  Almost everything up until this point can be completed solo.

 Overall the game is solid–I think the most annoying thing for me is that literally every quest is voice-overed, which means loading times everytime you click on something.  The longest I waited was maybe 8-10seconds for loading, which actually did more to break the illusion of the game for me than just text.  It’s a little thing, but still annoying.

Everything the game does is solid, polished and well thought-out.  I think the biggest issues are first that Bioware doesn’t totally understand the MMO space, thus feeling that at least for approx. the first 20-30hours of the game feels like a single player game.  Then, the game doesn’t really ever take any risks — it takes the precedent set by earlier games in the genre and executes them flawlessly, but at it’s heart – it more of the same.  The differences are minute, and not horribly influential on the overall game play.

BioWare Claims to Take a Large Chunk of WoW

Don’t get me wrong, I love Bioware – they do some amazing stuff and they are a great at what they can do, but really this is like the up-teenth time that a game has claimed to a “wow-killer” or any variation thereof.  Forgive my extreme disbelief.

According to IndustryGamers though, EA is claiming just that … again.  As history has apparently taught them nothing about making broad, grandiose and ultimately unsupported claims (I’m look at you, Sony), TOR has effectively thrown down the gauntlet to a Juggernaut who couldn’t be less interested.  Claiming that WoW is a silent movie to their Walkie-Talkie (really, that’s the best metaphor you can come up with?), that the voice acting in TOR will draw gamers away from Azeroth.  That’s a pretty arrogant metaphor for stylistic choices within WoW.

Call me a cynic, but I doubt anyone is going to say , “Voice acting!! Yes!!! This will totally make the game so much better than WoW!!”  Lets be realistic here–true you’ll get a few converts, you’ll get the people claiming “WoW Killer,” as you always do at the launch of every new MMO.  But time has shown again and again and again that making foolish claims like taking a huge chunk of the WoW player base just makes you look delusional and out of touch.

People will disagree with me on this, as that is the nature of the internet to be contrarian, but new MMOs, no matter how great, how wonderful and meaningful will not have a significant impact on WoW – because WoW is more than a game — WoW is a cultural phenomenon.  Azeroth has a population larger than some countries.  Really.

So EA – don’t kid yourselves.  Bioware will produce a great game, and it’ll be polished and well done but don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ll take a large portion of anything WoW has right now.  Culturally, World of Warcraft is probably the most significant piece of media in the world today.

Via Industry Gamers: WoW to Lose ‘Big Chunk’ of Market Share to Star Wars: Old Republic, says EA