Archive for March 14th, 2011

h1

PAX East: My SWTOR Bounty Hunter Origins Demo Playthrough

March 14, 2011

What I did:

Let me say it was a real tough choice when it came down to deciding which class to play. With the Jedi homeworld of Tython premiering at PAX East, every class was available. And they all look so good. Obviously, there were good reasons to play the Jedi Knight or Consular. But my first love is the Bounty Hunter, the class I plan to make as my main at release. And yet, I wondered if I should be choosing it to demo as it would be spoiling some of the quest content for myself.

In the end, a helpful fan next to me in line suggested that I go with the Bounty Hunter, but only do a few quests and spend the rest of the time sightseeing, fighting, experimenting with the mechanics, and overall just exploring to get a good feel of the starting world. This way I’ll get to experience my favorite class, get to know it a little, but also keep the spoilerific moments to a minimum. So that is exactly what I did.

There were four stations set up for the origin demo — two Empire, two Republic. All the characters were premade already, which is par for the course for something with a focus like this. So I don’t know anything about the character creation process, though I did notice after I selected the Bounty Hunter and entered the game world that my character was a large heavyset human male with slightly Asian features and something that looked like a cybernetic “patch” on his jaw. A good sign for character customization.

There was no cinematic or anything (for now, anyway), just a loading screen with information about the Bounty Hunter. Once I finished reading, I clicked the mouse, and I was in.

The beginning was almost exactly the same as what we saw in the developer walkthrough video from a while back, which follows the Bounty Hunter character as he appears on Hutta trying to win entry into the Great Hunt. I met Mako, Braden and Jory, and picked up my first quest. I’m usually the paragon or the “nice” guy when I play Bioware games, but since this was just a demo I turned up my jerk-o-meter and just acted like an ass, insulting my new-found friends to see what would happen. Oh man, some of the “evil” dialogue is just too funny.

Next, I exited the building and started exploring. I shot at enemies, played with my abilities, and ran around the map to look at everything around me. I experimented with emotes, pored over my inventory window and character sheet, switched around my equipment. I did a few more random quests, and got a few levels, and soon after that, my thirty minutes were up.

What I thought:

Let me just get the “constructive criticism” out of the way first, so I can end on a good note. I use that term instead of “negatives” because these aren’t exactly gripes, per se. But one of the first things I noticed was that I did not feel as “heroic” as BioWare had said they wanted players to feel right off the bat. Granted, I’m a Bounty Hunter whose only loyalty is to myself and credits so I’m not exactly the poster child for the perfect hero and the quests reflect that, but even the combat felt a little subdued. I had two attack abilities on the same cooldown — one that was like a rapid blaster shot and another that was like a missile launcher.

Yes, I was able to take on two, three mobs at once, but there were no special mechanics, no tricks up their sleeve. For all intents and purposes, I may as well have been fighting one mob split into three. Combat didn’t particularly feel all that different from any of the other MMOs I’ve played before; I felt no more powerful or impressive. However, this was just my observation, and I was not disappointed by any means. I think this is what most players would expect from an introductory area of a new game in any case, and I have no doubt the quests and combat will become more interesting as you get farther along. In fact, things started getting better the moment I received my flamethrower from my trainer, adding a very cool looking damage-over-time ability to my repertoire.

Another thing I observed as I was running around and exploring — exiting and entering the buildings from one instanced area to another wasn’t as seamless as I expected. Every once in a while I would get a noticeable “jump” on the screen, where the screen freezes for a split fraction of a second as I assume the instance loads. Other than that, the transition was generally smooth and did not affect gameplay at all. I was, however, playing by myself. I wonder what would happen at launch when there’s a ton more other people around and a lot more data to load.

Now for the good stuff — and there’s a lot of it. The most impressive thing is the voiceover. They’re not kidding — the VO makes the game, I think. I was originally concerned with BioWare’s huge investment in their fully-voiced MMO, wondering if all that effort will be worth it or if they’re overestimating the patience and attention span of their playerbase who would rather read the captions and skip over the spoken dialogue. Well, in the end I think if you’re an RPG fan, it will draw you in right away. Even if you’re not, I think you’ll find yourself immersed if you even give it half a chance.

Personally, I thought I would feel bogged down by the amount of back-and-forth dialogue after a while once the novelty of it wore off, but to my surprise, I didn’t at all. The script was so well-written and voice-acted so superbly, I was immediately sucked into the conversation and everything around me just faded into the background. It didn’t drag at all, and my 30 minutes simply flew by. When it was time to stop, I couldn’t believe it had been that long.

I was also very impressed with Hutta. I’d always thought that planet was sort of nasty — grungy, smoggy, yellow and just overall kinda gross. But even here there is beauty. The first thing I did when I exited the building into the world was look up. There was the outline of a giant moon or something in the sky that just made me go, “Whoa.” I also ran around some more, seeing how far I can go. I stopped when I opened up the map and saw how big the starting area was and realized I wasn’t going to have enough time to do all the exploring I wanted.

Gameplay was also smooth as hell. Combat and other movements were natural and fluid as water. That was pretty amazing.

Of course, the selling point of SWTOR is the story. Obviously, 30 minutes is nowhere near enough time to be able to experience all its intricacies, but in that time, I did get a taste. Like I said, I was immersed almost immediately, and was hanging off every word of the dialogue. Even though the objectives of the few introductory quests I was tasked to do were rather mundane and fairly typical of your standard MMO fare, the story and reasoning behind them made up for it.

In other words, I didn’t feel like I had to do a quest because I just wanted to gain experience or rewards, I felt like like I wanted to do the quest for the quest itself. I wanted to know what will happen, to follow the events through to their conclusion. In most games I’ve played in the past, quests have felt separate or removed from the rest of the game, as in I could get in, get out and never have to think about the quest ever again after it’s completion. During my time with the demo on the other hand, the quests I did felt like individual parts of a larger whole, as in I wouldn’t be surprised if some of my decisions at level 3 will come come back to haunt me again at level 30. In fact, I think I’d read or heard somewhere that that’s exactly what happens. I really do get the feeling my choices will matter, and I didn’t even have to get very far in my playthrough to reach a point where I was faced with a major decision that I know will alter my future.

Well, I’d originally wanted to do my write-ups for the Bounty Hunter origins demo and my playthrough of the Taral V flashpoint together at the same time, but this ended up being longer than I thought. Taral V will have to be my next update.

h1

My PAX East 2011 Recap

March 14, 2011

So PAX East weekend is at an end. I feel a little sadness at that, since I had such a great time, but there’s a bit of relief as well. For one thing, I am exhausted.

This is the first chance I’ve gotten in days to get online and give my blog some attention again. If there’s something I learned, is that PAX lines are the great leveler. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, how old you are, everywhere you look everyone is groaning, gasping, cringing as they shift on their tired feet and stretch their sore back and leg muscles.

Anyway, here are the highlights of my weekend, which included some hands on time with Star Wars: The Old Republic. Mission accomplished!

Friday

We arrived in Boston after about 9 grueling hours on the road. We were delayed earlier in the day by traffic and other complications, such as a 5-month old puppy with an overactive bladder. By the time we were settled in, it was already almost 9pm. I had wanted to hit up the Rift community meet-up, but even as the hours passed by as we were driving, I knew the chances of making it were pretty slim. We were just so tired by the end of our trip, I opted to crash early so we could wake up tomorrow refreshed. Such a shame, though; I heard afterward that the Trion crew threw a rockin’ party.

Saturday

So the real fun begins in earnest. My brother-in-law lives in the area, so he knew all the best places for cheap parking around the Convention Center. However, we arrived to find out he had forgotten his PAX pass at home! As a result, I was dropped off to enter the building on my own.

I waited in the line to get in, noticing I did pretty good for myself. The doors finally opened at 10am and we were released from our taped off corrals like cattle. You know me; I made straight for the EA booths, specifically 912 where Star Wars: The Old Republic is located. I stopped in my tracks as soon as I saw a wall of TV screens showing off the Taral V flashpoing gameplay and just stood there and watched. This was the first time I’ve ever come so up-close-and-personal with the game, and I think I just wanted to take a quiet minute to appreciate the moment.

It was kind of hard to do. There were so many people. It wasn’t long before there was an announcement on the stage, telling visitors that the lines for the demos were already capped for the day. And this was barely 10 minutes after the door opened! Crazy. I heard they weren’t going to let anyone get into the line anymore, but that was okay with me. I knew before coming that there was going to be an iffy chance whether or not I was going to be able to get some hands-on experience with the game, and I’d already come to terms with myself about that.

Imagine my surprise when someone from Bioware wearing an Old Republic shirt came up and told me and the group around me, “You guys are looking at about a 3-hour wait,” before moving down and counting heads again, then telling those people “4-hour wait”. Apparently, by wandering straight over with the crowds to ogle the TV screens, I had unwittingly and cluelessly queued up for the demo line. Hell, I wasn’t there on Friday, I didn’t know! I just followed everyone else and it turned out to be the right place! I couldn’t believe how lucky I got.

Of course, that meant I’d left my husband behind and he wasn’t very pleased. He hesitated to ask me to get out of the line though, even before I told him it would be like me pulling him out of a Superbowl game when his favorite team was playing. He said, “No, it wouldn’t!” but he was understanding and made me promise I would wait in line again with him tomorrow if he wanted to play the demo too. Hey, to try for another chance to play SWTOR? No complaints here! I have the best husband in the world.

The time went by quickly, especially after I got to know my neighbors in line and started talking to them about the game. In a bizarre twist of fate, the nice gentleman beside me I was chatting a lot with turned out to be none other than TheDarkKnight, creator of the epic thread on the SWTOR general discussion forum, “Information gathered on the Old Republic so far!” I don’t think I’ve ever interacted with him on the forums personally, but I see his posts so often that I almost feel like I know him. It really struck me then; people talk all the time about how fan expos and conventions are such great places to meet up with your online friends, but it didn’t hit me until that moment — you can literally run into anyone in the community here. I was so glad to be in line with someone I “know”, and like his forum thread, he was a wealth of SWTOR information.

Finally, the moment of truth — as I neared the front of the line, all of us were asked what we were interested in demoing. I’ll admit I was sorely tempted to play the Taral V flashpoint. But being more popular, the wait was going to be a little longer. I decided not to test my husband’s patience and decided to play an Origin demo. I was plucked from the line along with TheDarkKnight who also opted to do an Origin, and led to another cordoned off area to await my chance to play — and if you’ve been following my SWTOR posts, my choice won’t come as a surprise — the Bounty Hunter starting area.

Sorry to tease, but I’m afraid my hands-on experience will have to wait for another post. I just have so much to say, but my brain is so tired right now, I can’t promise I can communicate all I want to say in a coherent manner. And also, I want to write it together with the hands-on experience I got the next day, because as it turned out, I managed to play the demo for the Taral V flashpoint after all…

After I finished the demo, which was about half an hour long, I gathered up my SWTOR swag consisting of a poster and a couple shirts. I received one of the latter after playing the demo and TheDarkKnight offered me his since he already have some — he said so that I could have both a Republic version and a Sith version. I was so touched and thankful! Bless good people. Bless gamers.

I went in search of my husband and my brother-in-law, who had been walking around checking out the rest of the expo. I had originally wanted to check out the Guild Wars 2 panel at 3pm, but I got done just shy of 2pm and BAM! Twitter informs me that they were already 100% full. Like, as in don’t-even-linger full. I should have figured.

I found the guys finally; they had been exploring, checking the Warner Bros/Turbine booth. My brother-in-law discovered free-to-play Lord of the Rings Online and they’d grabbed a couple game discs. I met up with them in the Nvidia area, where they’d been playing some of the demos there in 3D, and my husband wanted me to give it a try as he was impressed enough that he was actually willing to consider getting a computer with 3D capabilities for his next rig.

Ugh, I don’t know. First of all, everything’s a lot darker with the glasses on. Bugged the hell out of me. Also, I have messed up eyes, my left eye being far-sighted while my right one is near-sighted. Things generally balance themselves out, so I’ve never actually required glasses — but you can imagine what weird things that can do with my depth perception at times.  Anyway, I learned something that day. My vision gets screwed up when I attempt to see through 3D glasses, to the point I actually wonder if I see the same thing as other people with normal vision. Even if I was wearing my contact (yes, I was only ever prescribed one contact lens, and I’m only advised to wear it while driving) I don’t think I could stand having something resting on my nose while I’m trying to play a game. It’s why I disdain glasses. I’m fussy like that. Sorry, 3D, no thanks for now.

I also wanted to check out some Guild Wars 2, but was surprised to see no booth for them. Instead, their demo stations were spread out around the exhibition hall. There was one at the Alienware booth, for example. I knew there was also on at the Nvidia booth, so I went and looked for it. There was quite a handful of people waiting to play, so all I was able to do was watch for a while. I was quite impressed with what I saw. The person playing was a Charr — and the movement and combat I saw was exceedingly smooth. Not being able to get some hands-on experience with Guild Wars 2 was probably my only regret for PAX East.

We took an hour or so afterward to eat and go home to check on the doggies. My brother-in-law has a dog too, so it’s been a madhouse here with three hyperactive dogs running around. After cleaning up the mess the little puppy made, my husband and I took off back to the convention center to attend MMORPG.com’s “The Future of Online Gaming” panel. It was my first and only panel at PAX East, and boy, was it a good one. Information was sort of missing from the program, so I’m trying to go by memory here — panelists included Craig Alexander from Turbine, Scott Hartsman from Trion, Curt Schilling from 38 Studios, Colin Johanson from ArenaNet, James Ohlen from BioWare and a couple other devs from big companies. It was fascinating, to say the least, being able to hear what these bigwigs had to say about the genre and to see what their visions are for their games.

Interesting thing happened at the end of the panel. I knew from the conversations on my feed that many of my Twitter pals also attended this panel. I tried to see if I could spot any of them…and lo and behold, I caught sight of someone I thought might be Pete from Dragonchasers, just from the description he provided me of himself earlier last week. But see, I wasn’t sure. How embarrassing would it be if I was wrong? But I saw a woman with him who I thought might be @g33kg0dd3ss, and just went, ah, screw it, I’m gonna go ask!

I go, “Hi, excuse me, are you…” then wondered what the heck should I say? If I said “pasmith” his Twitter handle and it turned out not to be him would I just look like some random whackjob? So I quickly finished with, “on Twitter?” And when he said “Yes, I am!” that was when I finally relaxed and realized I was right. It sure was Pete and @g33kg0dd3ss! I also got to meet @Scopique briefly before I had to go to dinner. But I knew I was going to have a chance later that night to get to chat more — I was going to the PAX East 2011 tweetup!

So glad I made it. It was so much fun, meeting with some of the people I’ve known on Twitter for what feels like ages — @Scopique, @girl_vs_mmo, @adarel, @sera_brennan, @kylehorner, , @Hawkinsa1, @_jwgoodson, @g33kg0dd3ss and @pasmith. I wonder what my husband and brother-in-law made of it. I think to a certain extent it might have amazed them that some of us are only meeting in real life for the first time, the conversation was so lively and cheerful. Everyone had such a great day and we were all sharing our experiences and stories, and I just couldn’t help but think wow, this is the spirit of PAX.

It was almost 1am when I left the meet-up. As reluctant as I was to go, I knew it was getting late. It was also the night to “Spring Forward” and we were going to lose an hour of sleep. I had to be rested, for I had a BIG day ahead of me tomorrow. My husband is going to make me get up bright and early to make it into the SWTOR line again, after all…

Sunday

Sunday was light compared to Saturday. I hadn’t even originally planned to do much on this day, before I got roped into my promise with my husband. Thought maybe I’d sleep in late, walk around the exhibition hall a little, visit the gift shop and just have a relaxing day.

So I was not a very happy camper when I was dragged up at 7am in the morning, after only 3 hours of sleep. I sat bleary-eyed in the passenger seat while we drove to the convention center once more. I fought the urge to curl up in a ball and fall asleep on the ground while we waited to be let in.

Long story short, as early as we showed up, we still ended up in the SWTOR line waaaaaay near the back, to the point we weren’t even sure we were going to get to play today. I turned to my husband and asked him what he wanted to do. It was his day, I promised him. So I was going to let him call the shots. He figured we could afford to wait a little and see what happens.

It turned out he was right to follow his instincts. Within half an hour, the line had shrunk and we were bumped up to only a few hours wait. Being a Sunday and the last day of PAX East probably had a lot to do with that, with people taking today to do everything they had missed and of course, those with day passes would be reluctant to spend half their day in a line.

I had wanted to save instance content for when the game is released, but you know, when you’ve waited hours in a line and you’re suddenly faced with the opportunity to play it, I was just like, ahh screw it, gimme flashpoint NAO! So that was how I ended up being able to play the Taral V demo.

Again, I’m just going to have to sit on the write-up of my experience for now. It’s going to take some time to gather my thoughts during that whole time while I was being bombarded with so much stimulation and information. It’s not just about my excitement and anticipation while I was playing the game; the atmosphere around me itself was just chaotic and insane. Imagine trying to play with your group without any effective way of communication, while hundreds of people are talking and shouting around you and watching and commenting on your performance being shown to the crowd on a big TV screen. Add to that, you’re thrown into this instance as a level 32 character you’ve never played before and know nothing about. And if that wasn’t enough, you literally only had seconds to familiarize yourself with the ability set up in the action bar, as well as the really clunky gaming mouse they provide you with.

We were given some time before we were seated to learn our abilities and decide on our class and discuss strategies, but it’s just barely enough. It’s no wonder we saw so many groups flounder on the boss. During our briefing, we were told only about 15 groups have made it, as in killed the boss, which is about 1 in 5 or 6 groups. However, the BioWare employee helping us out at our station told us it was probably less than that, closer to 1 in 7.

I am so proud to say that our group consisting of me, my husband, and a two guys that we got to know who were beside us in line, got to be in that minority and beat the boss! We didn’t exactly do it gracefully, as it was one of those really hectic encounters that leave you wondering, “Holy crap, did we seriously manage to survive that?” Actually, our tank died. Usually when that happens, it’s a wipe. I had no idea how we managed to hold out, but at the end, we were so shocked we actually made it that we didn’t cheer for victory until our booth assistant cried out, “You guys did it!” I think even our audience watching our TV screen was a little shocked. The instance was already awesome, but the way we ended it just made it EPIC.

All in all, we got 45 minutes to play. There are some people questioning why they just don’t decrease the amount of time the demos take, so more people get a chance to play. It’s a nice thought, one that I’d entertained many times myself while I was in the line, but at the end of the day, there was just no other way to get so immersed in the flashpoint experience. To be able to play through the content, utilize your abilities and enjoy the combat and story dialogue, you simply required that much time. I have to admit, any less wouldn’t do it justice.

We got kudos for being able to “complete” the flashpoint, and received posters as a reward. Since my husband and I were both in the group, plus the poster I got yesterday, I now have a set of Republic-side and Sith-side posters, plus an extra Sith poster. Methinks they will look good in the game room once we set it up in the new house.

After our demo, we went around and took some pictures, did some last-minute things. For example, I desperately wanted to look at a 3DS and see what this glasses-free thing is all about. Instead of heading for the Nintendo booth, I found a much smaller crowd at the Capcom booth, where some of their games were being demoed on 3DSs. I didn’t really want to play; I just wanted to look. And the effect I saw was sort of…underwhelming. After all the great stuff I heard about the 3D effect of the handheld, it wasn’t at all what I expected. But hey, maybe it’s just my screwed up eyes. I’m probably doomed to never be able to enjoy 3D technology, until I suck it up and wear my contact, or get laser eye surgery.

I didn’t stick around long after that. I was pretty exhausted. I went home and — what else? — fell into bed and took a nap. Like I said, this is the first time I’ve managed to power up my computer and get online. What a crazy weekend, but it was one to remember. I’ll definitely never ever ever forget my first ever PAX!

Now, I shall crash. I’ll try to post about my thoughts and experiences with the Bounty Hunter origin and Taral V flashpoint demos tomorrow, if I can. Good night!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,400 other followers