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.