Friday, November 18, 2011

[SWTOR] Thoughts on Beta

These are some thoughts about Star Wars: The Old Republic, written after the beta test weekend of November 12. The NDA has dropped, so here is the post. It's probably missing a lot of clarifying details, though.

Overview

I played a Sith Inquisitor and Imperial Agent, both to about level 10. I did all the quests in the starting zone.

Technical Aspects

The game performed very well. No lag, good frame rate. The only issue I saw was rubber-banding on other players when going down a lift.  There were some minor tooltip problems, and some missing or incorrect gear icons.

All in all, I think the game is in solid technical shape for release.

Story Line

The quests and stories are amazing! I liked the voice acting for all the various NPCs, and even my own characters.

I really like the use of seamless phasing/instancing (areas where access is controlled by green/red forcefields) that separate important story points from the world at large. That was very elegantly done.

I would particularly like to single out the support for playing a Light-side Sith. It was very well scripted and written. It is a particularly unique experience to play a good guy working for the bad guys, and lying to everyone for the greater good.

In some respects, it's even better than Bioware's single player games. In the single player games, there's always the sense that I can save and restart this conversation if it goes badly. I found that having only one try at the conversation to be much more immersive, and it felt like conversation choices were more meaningful.

I think having repeatable group quests very early on (around level 4 or so) was a neat idea. However, the implementation where you can group and converse in General Chat with people in different instances made assembling groups a bit of pain. After a few tries, I gave up on forming groups and just did the quests with my companion.

Graphics

I like the graphics. They are clean and good looking. In particular, they look very good when in the conversation screens.

The animations are all excellent. Combat animations are great.

The only problematic animation is the humanoid female running animation. It is slightly incorrect. Or more accurately, it's correct when viewed from the side, but when you view the character from behind, the elbows sort of disappear, and the character looks as if she is running in an awkward or "prissy" manner. Lord of the Rings Online has this same issue.

Chat Box

The chat box is pretty good, it's easy to talk to people. However, there are a few too many system messages being sent to it by default. In particular, selling items is a particular bad offender. Going to a vendor makes your chatbox useless. Also when you die, there's this "8 4" which is sent to the screen and chatbox, which is very confusing when you look back at the box a bit later.

In general, the cardinal rule of chatboxes is that they are for talking to other players. The less game messages that are sent to it, the more useful the chatbox will be.

Mechanics

As is normal for Bioware games, here's where the problems start.

Self-healing

Before I start in on things I didn't like, I would like to mention that I really liked the ability to quickly heal up outside of combat. All classes get a variant of this.

In particular, Seethe (for Sith classes) is amazing. It's the pacing that Darth Maul does when he's fighting Qui Gon Jin in the Phantom Menace. It just works, looks awesome, and makes your character seem like a total bad-ass. I look forward to pressing the Seethe button whenever I can.

Number one reason to play a Sith: you get Seethe.

Auto-Attack

The decision to not have an auto-attack is interesting. However, I think giving a zero-resource attack at the start was a bad idea. It takes up an extra button slot for an ability that is hit somewhat infrequently. You use it enough that you need it on your bars, but it really doesn't do enough to justify its placement.

More importantly, there are a lot of players who seem to use that zero-resource attack exclusively. I found this especially problematic with Agents. I grouped a couple times with "quiet" players. People who were in the same area to do a group quest, and didn't talk, but accepted an invite when I sent it to them. I found that these guys seemed to use the zero-resource attack almost exclusively (well, they also used grenades). They never went into cover, never sniped.

These types of people are going to perform really poorly in groups, and I'm not certain I can blame them entirely. The whole "cover" thing takes getting used to, but if the zero-resource attack is good enough, combined with your companion, that's what people will use entirely.

In some respects, it might be better to delay giving people a zero-resource attack until a later level. Let them get used to managing their resource, even if it means waiting for the resource to regenerate. Most early fights end before the resource bar is exhausted entirely.

Edit: I am not 100% sure about this critique anymore. I did not realize it, but the resource bar regenerates non-linearly. The closer it is to full, the faster it regenerates. I still have to think about how this works.

Number of Abilities

You gain too many abilities in the early levels. It completely swamps your hotbar. As well, these abilities often seem contradictory. Why am I getting knife attacks when I snipe? Why do I have so many cooldowns? Two types of lightning attacks and saber attacks, which should I use?

It was somewhat hard to figure out exactly how my character was expected to play. I ended up picking a couple of abilities and using them exclusively, ignoring the majority of the hotbar.

It was only after I hit level 10 and the advanced classes that I understood the logic behind the early game. Bioware gave us two sets of abilities in the early game, to get a feel for how each advanced class will play. But you don't know that when you get the abilities. It just seems like you're getting overloaded with abilities you rarely use. And if you try to use all the abilities together, you feel less effective.

I think the early game would work better with fewer, more cohesive abilities. Every time you get a new ability, you should be able to add it to your rotation and perform better than you did before.

Advanced Classes

The transition to advanced classes at level 10 is flat out terrible. There is almost nothing about this process that I can say was done well or done correctly.

First, you can leave the starting planet before level 10. In particular, the Sith Inquisitor story line doesn't seem to give enough experience. So I left at level 9, realized that I needed to be 10, and came back and ground out the rest of the level by killing random mobs.  But it seemed really easy to end up missing the advanced classes quest line and keep going when you really shouldn't.

Second, the advanced classes are sprung upon you with almost no warning. You get to make an irreversible choice that affects the rest of your game. There isn't even a confirmation screen! Misclick, and you've wasted hours.

Third, having your advanced classes abilities be in a separate tab in trainer screen is non-intuitive. I chose the  Sorceror so I could heal, and then could not figure out how the game expected me to heal. I only noticed the new separate tab in the training screen after 15 minutes of searching for any way to heal another player.

Why not just combine the two ability lists at the trainer? I don't particularly care if an ability is a Sorceror ability or an Agent ability. All I care about is if there is a new ability to train or not.

The entire experience of getting an advanced class should be a reward. Instead, it's a process full of perils and pitfalls, where it feels like you are making an enormously consequential decision on very little information, and you're not even sure you did things right.

Healing and Flashpoints

I don't really have much experience with the flashpoints. I only tried one Black Talon.

I chose Sorceror so I could heal, and I saw a group advertising in General for a healer, so I joined them. They were partly through the instance, at some sabotage droid boss.

I tried healing, but the one heal I had was so small compared to the health bar and incoming damage. I'm not sure if I should have tried to do damage as well/instead, but healing took all my Force and my time. We ended up wiping and the group dissolved.

I'm not sure if there was something else I was supposed to do, or if the other guys just didn't do enough damage, or if the tank was playing badly and taking too much damage or what. But all in all, it was a pretty lousy experience. When you fail, you should kind of know why you failed. I have no idea what went wrong in that group. I only had the one heal and I was spamming it with almost no overheal.

The main thought I had after the flash point experience was that I should have chosen Assassin so that I could have gotten back to regular quests.

Conclusions

TOR is a Bioware game. It has all the strengths of Bioware games, and all the weaknesses.

The quests and storyline, and general solo play is amazing. I really enjoyed that and I look forward to fully exploring the game when it releases. Also, I'd like to reiterate that I loved Light-Side Sith.

But mechanically, it feels like there are a lot of design issues. These don't really matter for solo play, but I think the crucible of group and endgame play will expose a lot of flaws.

14 comments:

Wilhelm Arcturus said...

Heh, on the regen, my smuggler standing in the middle of a field of aggro mobs flipping a coin as his heal animation seemed... dumb?

I guess it could be worse, he could deal a hand a sabacc or something. But it was a little too casual for something I am going to use between fights in an aggro zone.

Kring said...

> I found that having only one try at the conversation to be
> much more immersive, and it felt like conversation choices
> were more meaningful.

That doesn't surprise me. :)

http://blessingofkings.blogspot.com/2010/01/actions-and-consequences.html

> The less game messages that are sent to it, the more
> useful the chatbox will be.

Unless the Ice Stone has melted!

Howard said...

I generally agree with all of that. I was level 10 when I hit the station and so instantly got the AC quest and it worked for me, but I'm sort of an old hand at this. I suppose I should expect more, but I just alt-tabbed out, looked up my choices and went about it. It was a bit of a letdown however, and there were A LOT of questions/complaints in general chat about the whole mechanic. Honestly they should give you the option to irrevocable choose your AC at 10 and go on your way (like "Skip tutorial" in single player) OR allow you to run a series of instanced quests that shows off the strengths and weaknesses of both ACs.

Professions were confusing to figure out. I spent a bit of time just trying to figure out what crew skills I needed in order to be able to make anything at all. Again a little more quest introduction to crew skills would be nice instead of the quest to "go find the trainers"! "Oh, and read some codex entries!" Wheee.

I'll add that I did experience fair spurts of locational lag in PvP (Out of range when they're right next to you, or being able to use a melee attack on someone who appears 50 yards away). This occurred with 90ms latency and average of 50+ fps. Seemed to wax and wane but I'll chalk it up to being a stress test weekend for now.

I played a Jedi Knight and found the zero resource attack to work well for them since it is actually a resource builder. Fairly intuitive then to use a weak attack to build up focus to use stronger attacks. It does start to feel dirty sometime after level 10 when you get another melee attack that builds focus but it has a cooldown. This leaves you in a situation where you only *need* the starter attack once in awhile when everything else is on CD, but infrequently enough to question if its worth having on the bar.

Also, I got a channeled melee attack that left me a little frustrated. High damage made me want to use it, and it functions great on NPCs... unless my droid pulled it off me, then I'm left swinging at air. This also lead to my realization that damage is inconsistently modeled. Sometimes that channeled effect would hit even if the mob ran to the other side of the planet. Other times if it moved a half inch it would miss. I had no indication if this was because *I* missed or because it moved.

PvP balance is still a little out of whack. Healers seem to have too much self healing for the quantity of damage they can dish out. Knockback, stuns, snares, and every other form of CC I can think about was being flung around 1000 times a second. Spending atleast 1/3 to 1/2 of my time without control of my character was a little tedious.

Getting a little long winded here.
Overall I'm impressed. Some polish needed. Some tweaks, but still very impressed. I was unable to stop playing for something like 8 hours one day, so that's a good sign for me ;)

Nazaniel said...

My experience was similar to yours, it sounds like. Loved the story, wasn't so impressed with the combat.

I tried to heal Black Talon as an Imperial Agent and had the same issue, by the way. One tiny heal isn't enough. Our group got past it by kiting the boss around the room.

As an Imperial Agent, by the way, part of the problem was that unless there is a conveniently placed box (which sometimes there isn't), take cover and then snipe takes 3+ seconds to execute. I found that the mobs were usually dead from the light sabre wielding maniacs by the time I got cover setup. The take cover mechanic for hiding behind boxes etc was sometimes a little buggy too and you would put up a portable cover when there was a box right there. It made things a little difficult and auto-attack and grenades were often all I could bring to the party.

I had issues with the chat box disappearing too fast - my friends wouldn't see my messages and I would miss theirs because the chat box disappeared after something like 5 seconds.

The lack of info on tradeskills and on advanced class selection was appalling - I hope they just haven't fully implemented that bit yet.

The map was neat though, and I loved the bind-point implementation. The bounty hunter storyline was brilliant! I'm really looking forward to playing it

Redbeard said...

You gain too many abilities in the early levels. It completely swamps your hotbar. As well, these abilities often seem contradictory.

This sounds remarkably like playing a Lock in WoW. Unlike some classes, you're overwhelmed by all of the selections before you can leave the starting zones.

The entire game sounds like it might have some staying power.

Anonymous said...

Dunno if it's still the case, but in earlier beta versions you could hit Escape to restart a conversation.

texarkana23 said...

I played the Jedi Counsellor (Sage/healer) to L21 in a beta weekend. The way I describe healing group content in SWTOR to people is "Imagine the WoW 2005 UI, with the boss mechanics and incoming damage of WoW in 2011".

Kauket said...

Yes, texarkana23, completely agree with your description.

However, crowd control is being overlooked here. It's like the early days of ZA/ZG in Cata or like being back in the BC dungeons: you CC or you die. Unfortunately, there aren't icons to mark mobs so there's no easy way to communicate what is getting CCed and by whom in a party. I often found things easier to solo because I could accurately manage my CC and companion.

Keli'i Martin said...

Choosing your advanced class was worse in earlier beta builds. Before, you couldn't even choose your AC until you got to the second planet. It made the first flashpoint pretty difficult because no one could heal at that point.

They've since made the station more of a central hub, which is good. But it still doesn't help when you blow through your quests on the starting world and still don't hit level 10.

I've played a Jedi Sage to level 25. Healing gets a little better, but it definitely sucks in the beginning. I always felt like I must be doing something wrong, but it seems everyone has the problem of running out of Force quick. Hopefully that gets addressed soon.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoy playing SW:TOR. It's enough like WoW to make it easy to jump into, but also different enough to make it interesting.

Nobody said...

i had similar issues with the AC intro and found it by accident on drommund kaas while turning in my class quest.
i also had issues with tanking at L10. i chose juggernaut and was stupefied that i didn't have a taunt or a single ability that hinted at aggro gain. so i switched to my L9 bounty hunter and tagged along with 2 others while a L18 bh ran us through black talon.
i would love to hear some explanation as to bioware's philosophy for group play at that level.

bugzapper55 said...

I would add a few things about the group dynamic. The biggest problem with grouping is that there is no explanation on tanking. I don't believe that many of the encounters were designed with the idea of one tank or one tank standing still in the middle of the room and getting pounded on. Many of the groups that I had we did very well in moving the bosses, putting them behind objects avoiding several of their attacks. I don't think that many of the boss are designed for one person to sit still and tank the whole fight.

Khaz said...

alot of the damage from the first boss in that flashpoint is avoidable, if its not avoided? people die.

Thing is no one really knows what to avoid, or even how, so you get situations like the one you're in.

also keep in mind that you don't have all your healing tools at level 10.

Sean said...

General feeling of agreement with most of the OP here, definitely think the group mechanics could use some tweaking to make it a bit more group friendly.

I've played a number of classes beyond lvl 10, both Alliance and Empire and I'll have a tough time picking out my "main" upon Release.

This: "In particular, Seethe (for Sith classes) is amazing. It's the pacing that Darth Maul does when he's fighting Qui Gon Jin in the Phantom Menace. It just works, looks awesome, and makes your character seem like a total bad-ass. I look forward to pressing the Seethe button whenever I can."

is SO spot on, it just feels so freaking COOL while you're playing, lol. Love it.

Also, "In some respects, it's even better than Bioware's single player games. In the single player games, there's always the sense that I can save and restart this conversation if it goes badly. I found that having only one try at the conversation to be much more immersive, and it felt like conversation choices were more meaningful."

This was probably what I liked most about the entire game, except for, obviously, LIGHTSABERS! lol

SWTOR will be a very fun change of pace for me when I'm not raiding in WoW.

RJ said...

My impressions as I played through the beta weekend was two-fold:

First, I was pretty impressed that BioWare continued their single-player skill so strongly in a multiplayer environment. If it wasn't for all the other people in the world, or some of the concessions made for an MMO, I could have said it was actually KotOR 3. That said, making new content in that style is expensive in both time and resources, so I'm a bit wary at how fast new stuff will be added.

Secondly, I was strongly stuck at how many things TOR was doing that were things Blizz was intentionally moving away from. Having skill ranks and making people pay for them at level ups. Dropping people in head first with very little explanations. Hiding so many mechanics and how stuff applies. If I had instead gotten in at the start of the beta, I could have accepted it as them just wanting to get the mechanics out there for basic testing first. But the game is less then a month from release, and unless this weekend's test is a MASSIVE shift in these things, the game is going to be a mess until theorycrafters get their hands on things.

I'm just amazed, really. It's like they decided to start from the way WoW was two years ago and copy from that, instead of looking at how things have evolved. I'm not sure that players are that interested in divining arcane runes to figure out how they're supposed to play anymore.


That said, while I can't speak for Flashpoints since I never got a chance to try the level 10 one, I did get into a PvP match. And other then some amusing bugs, I actually found the experience nice. I liked that they automatically boosted everyone to what I assume is level 50; it makes them a lot easier to get into.