Perhaps the most shocking finding is that SW:TOR has exactly the shortcomings that have been predicted by the blogosphere for two years now.
Since the official release I played a lot of The Old Republic. I also made short notes whenever something noteworthy crossed my mind. When I started to think about a blog post then, I realized that the list was far too long. That's why I decided to write a very short paragraph about most points and a
conclusion with the most important point at the end.
SW:TOR requires a lot of suspension of disbelieve. Even more than other MMORPGs. This not only applies to classic gameplay vs simulation problems, but also to the story. Most stories are simply very hard to believe. I find myself thinking “This doesn't make sense” all the time.
The sound is sometimes buggy or not well polished. As a Sith Sorcerer my companion emits crackling lightning sounds for seconds after combat finished. It feels wrong.
My Sith Sorcerer is all about lightning. This makes the entire experience a bit monotonous. In original Star Wars only the Emperor could use lightning. It was the sign of total overkill. I was in awe when I saw it the first time. In SW:TOR you almost start throwing lighting shocks at level 1. And since almost every attack ability is about lightning, too, it soon feels underwhelming and boring. The Emperor's lightning in original SW wasn't so impressive, due to the graphics (although they were nice). It was impressive because he was the only one capable of it. Lightning should have been a high-end ability. Generally the class requires more diverse graphics and sounds while fighting.
The graphics are a bit worse than Rift's as far as I can tell. Sometimes they are nice, but just as often they feel bland. Generally, the graphical style of the game is not really to my liking. Many areas seem to be exessively large without any specific reason. I'm a bit puzzled about the why, honestly.
However, I have to admit that I do prefer the standard fantasy setting to a space setting in a MMO, anyway - even though I like Sci-Fi as well as Star Wars.
The light/dark points feel out of place to me. It seems like Bioware wanted this feature, but it doesn't really add anything to the game. First, I have yet to meet a light side Jedi who chooses dark side options in dialogue (and vice versa). Secondly, it's just odd that whether you are light side or dark side is a question of what you say and not a question of what you do. If you kill harmless (yellow) NPCs - nobody cares. But being impolite is the path to the dark side. This is the typical Bioware problem. Since light and dark need to be equally powerful, you never gain anything from being “evil”. The dark side means being impolite and arrogant - the light side means being overly selfless and emotionless. Funnily, the selflessness is irrelevant. If you choose to give a poor child some money you don't actually seem to lose it. If you sacrifice your own power to save your master's life, you gain light side points but you don't actually lose any power.
Perhaps the most shocking finding is that SW:TOR has exactly the shortcomings that have been predicted by the blogosphere for two years now: Good story, not-so-good gameplay.
Generally, I feel like level 1-10 is great fun. Level 10-20 is fun enough. But level 20-50 seem to be just bland. And the reason is the story. As long as you have one focused story the game is fun. That's no surprise. Most expensive games nowadays use the formula of satisfying gameplay + story. But after level 10 and especially level 20 the story becomes more and more unfocused. The alternative to gameplay+focused story is great gameplay. More about this later.
I don't really care about the voice-over if the actual story isn't interesting. And it can't really be interesting if it's just a single quest. The worst quests are the ones with alien voice-over. The aliens talk gibberish and you need to read the translation of what they say. Often it is translated as if they were talking bad English ... . I can see why this seemed like a good idea at the time, but it's an example where gameplay >> simulation - even though going with the simulation was obviously cheaper this time.
My native screen resolution is 2560x1600. But the reason I bought this monitor wasn't that I like things small. Unfortunately that they are in SW:TOR because Bioware forgot to add a scaling interface. This is unforgivable in my opinion. At the very least there should be standard UI-settings for all common resolutions. Right now I sometimes feel like playing Eve Online when I need to lean forward to read the text on the screen.
What the player actually sees on his screen is the most important thing in a computer game! To ignore it means that Bioware probably employs too many engineers and not enough designers. Generally, the customizability of the UI is sub-standard. This needs work!
Oh - I can already see all the badge loot. I know this is supposed to motivate me. To make me want all the shiny epics. Very honestly: it demotivates me - no mystery, only grind. I've done that before and I don't even care at all about my equipment in this game. Maybe that's just me and a consequence of too much experience with MMOs. But good stats that make my character 0.5% better at something just don't do it for me. I'd rather like to see a few upgrades every now and then with items that have a lore background and interesting names. This may also be connected to the overly small UI on my screen which makes it stressful to read a new item's name or stats.
There are Jedis everywhere here. Maybe this will later balance out. Maybe not. I seriously considered making a smuggler, but at the end of the day my favorite class in MMOs always was the wizard and there's only one wizard-like class in SW:TOR.
Of course, all classes are as powerful as Jedis/Siths. Which doesn't make any sense, but it's of course not unexpected - just ridiculous.
I made a Sith Sorcerer who played like a wizard. He almost never uses his light saber other than for show. Sometimes he deflects an incoming blaster shot (10% chance). But mostly he just sucks the shots up - doesn't feel like in the movies.
I later switched my main to a Jedi Sage. That's the mirror class of the Sith Sorcerer. Constantly being impolite and arrogant to gain dark side points was going on my nerves. Unfortunately the Sage has a terrible, terrible Lizard companion. This one easily tops the list of worst RPG-companions of all time! He's so stereotypically boring, he looks so ugly - he only speaks gibberish that is translated into broken English. ... Terrible!
But even if the companion was better I don't think I'd like the concept of companions for everybody. I understand why Bioware did it, of course. It makes balancing the solo play much easier in a game with healers, tanks and DDs.
But my companoin constantly confuses me while he randomly moves between the camera and my character. It's quite possible to get a headache from this. Guess why the companions in WoW always run a few steps in front of your character ...
Last but certainly not least, the companion constantly blocks anything I want to click-to-activate!
I actually think that people being extra cruel to gain points can be considered problematic. I've seen a few conversations where all players chose the cruel/torture options. If educating children with gamification works even a tiny bit, this is troublesome!
The character models the game uses are not good. First, all races are actually just humans with tiny modifications. Second, they come in three forms: super-small, normal, super-big, fat. Many - especially those on the dark side - are just ugly. You don't want to watch them for hundreds of hours. Moreover the chest is wrong.
Space combat feels out of place to me. The game doesn't need this. I'm not even certain the game profits from it at all. It severs the link between you and your character by turning your avatar into a spaceship. And, maybe I am wrong, but that space game doesn't seem to have much depth. You either move the cursor at what you want to kill or you move it randomly to evade shots. The only question seems to be what to do when - not even the execution seems to make much of a difference.
The fact that the style of the light-saber is fixed by class is a terrible decision, in my opinion. Me, for example, I never liked dual blades or the two-bladed blades. In my opinion they are overkill - next we get a light saber trident! I would like to play a 'rogue-like' Jedi. But I won't do this as long as they use the large two-bladed light sabers!
Choosing a class at level ten (3 hours if you skip dialogue) without any possibility to undo this click is not good game design. No further explanation needed.
This is not SW:TOR related. Even though I try to play in English, German servers are better. I switched when I made the Jedi-Sage. The main reason is that most people on German servers are capable of speaking German. On English servers half of the population doesn't seem to be able to talk in English properly.
Testing a trooper I found that shooting four times but seeing only one damage number feels a bit weird. Furthermore, enemies react to my shoot powering up the second I activate it. This also applies to some spells. This feels wrong. They should start to react only when the shoot reaches them or when they see me. I identified the general feeling of feedback as the major problem of SW:TOR and write about it further down.
The attribute system doesn't make much sense to me. “Cunning” and “Aim” for example seem to be pretty arbitrary. I don't feel like being able to aim better when I get more 'aim' - because depending on my class other attributes improve aim more than "aim". You can't remove this concept so far from the simulation. Either you use a different concept - or you use attributes that make sense.
There are also a few good things about SW:TOR which I want to emphasize.
The various difficulty levels of different mobs in the open world are a huge step forward from nowadays WoW - even though the step is not so huge compared with classic WoW. And it still boggles my mind how professional game designers can/(could?) think that having one standard-difficulty mob only in an open world makes sense.
You can actually die while leveling - and you can do some heroic areas alone. My Sorcerer never grouped until level 15. With a tank and the ability to heal and dps he was able to solo everything - but it sometimes took half an hour and longer ;).
I like the abstract crafting-concept. It doesn't make much sense from a simulation PoV, of course. But the pure abstract gameplay is very good. Definitely something to remember.
I love the socketing of items. This provides an alternative to transmogrification that doesn't suffer from the immense simulaton-credibility problem. All future games should use this if they want any item-power-progression at all!
Walking and Running animations are mostly good or very good.
The Smuggler's cover ability works surprisingly well. I'm not sure whether it was worth the effort, but Bioware has my respect for making this idea work.
Even though I alt-tabbed extensively while making notes, the game ran 10 hours and more without any problems at all.
The phasing alternative, which are story zones, are technically very good. I don't like such concepts in MMOs but I have admit it's well done.
They changed quest markers. No more question marks. The new ones are nice.
The frequent group content which usually can't be soloed after level 15 offers great incentives to group up.
Voice-over is great (Alien gibberish is not!). I expect voice over from all AAA-games from now on.
Class-specific content is always a win.
No LFD/G/R !!!
My by far biggest problem with SW:TOR is the gameplay as in contrast to the story/simulation. I don't have as much fun playing my character as I have in WoW. Without a satisfying and focused story line I don't see myself playing this for long. In fact, I fear SW:TOR requires a focused story like a drug addict requires his drugs. And the reason is the inferior gameplay.
I spent some thoughts on what is the problem with the gameplay. After all it is technically perfect. My conclusion is that the feedback of hitting a button is sub-standard. This mostly applies to the acoustic feedback, but often also applies to the graphical feedback.
When you hit a button a MMO must provide an instant, clear and memorable feedback; SW:TOR doesn't do this! Often my abilities feel completely boring due to this. If you remember my posts about the rhythm of gameplay, SW:TOR misses this rhythm almost completely. It's like playing a piano with randomized delays after the press of an ivory.
Compare the sound of the Sorcerer's / Sage's healing abilities in SW:TOR with the healing abilities of WoW's priests! I didn't do that comparison yet but I am certain that WoW beats SW:TOR dramatically here.
Graphically my experience certainly suffers from the very small UI - including the cast bar. I already explained that this is a consequence of my large monitor and the not-scaleable UI. The problem isn't so much that it's hard to read, as that it is too small to make up for the lack of feedback, which it potentially could (to a degree).
Another reason the gameplay is not as fun is probably that the classes I played so far are completely cooldown-driven. You basically have 4-6 abilities of which one is the best, one is the second best , ..., and one is the worst. You go down that list and simply activate whatever ability is available with the current GCD. This is viable but boring gameplay. One doesn't need to look far to find better gameplay, either. WoW does it. ...
Just as predicted, storylines alone aren't enough for a MMO. The gameplay needs to be satisfying enough to play even in the absence of a good (focused) story! The gameplay problems can still be corrected if Bioware really wants! In my opinion this is necessary and may even be sufficient to 'safe' SW:TOR.
Edit: There is a good and much commented post on the official forum about this.
Overall, everybody who likes to play RPGs or MMOs should buy this game. It's certainly worth some 50 euros. You should also make sure to never be subscribed because the probability that you will not play this for more than 250 hours is very high, in my opinion.
As for WoW: It will probably have taken a huge hit with SW:TOR's release. A significant number of players will come back. An even more significant number, however, will simply stop playing MMOs.