It sounds so exciting and official. I’d never beta tested anything in my life before. And, of course, in my excitement I completely neglected to take any screenshots. So, get ready for a lot of text. Boy, do I mean a lot. In fact, there’s so much, I think I have to split the post into two. I’ll try to keep out as many plot spoilers as possible and, if I do run into one, I’ll find a way to make it less spoiler-y.
Previous Star Wars gaming: Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR) for computer
Class: Smuggler— Gunslinger
Level Achieved: 20
Personalized loading screen
When you log into your character, a special loading screen pops up after you select your character from the list. Being the Star Wars-y thing it is, it tells you the story so far: your story. Yes, your character has its own general story arc within the MMO. How you play it out, however, is up to you. At first, I thought the trademark yellow text on my screen was just more lore stuff, but then I noticed my name! Well, it was my character’s name, but you get the idea. The opening scroll (the text you see at the start of all Star Wars movies) is specific to your class, which is, by itself, pretty cool. Zoning in and out of places, however, still give you the usual loading bar and “Useful Advice of the Day” sort of thing.
You don’t just get a class quest. You get a whole series of class quests. When you start, the presence of a class quest explains why you’re even there in the first place. As you pursue your story arc, you bump into the multitude of other things the Republic needs you to do. And so you go and take care of that stuff, like a true member of the Republic, and try to accomplish your own tasks as well. Essentially, the developers have added a single-player element to an MMO.
Oh, did I mention you have your own nemesis?
At least, for smugglers, one of the main driving points of the class story is an NPC whom you’ve learned to utterly loathe. The awesome thing? Your story isn’t mutually exclusive from the events of the galaxy. Goes to show one person really can make a difference.
The only caveat is that two people of the same class can’t complete their objectives together. That’s how personal the story is supposed to be. You can have others in your party present if you wish, but only one of that specific class is allowed into a class-instanced area. It’s stuff like this that makes the levels fly by and less of a mere experience grind to the next big thing.
As someone who is very lore-centric, this was a major thing for me. Oh, and as a smuggler, everyone refers to you as “Captain.” Consider it an injection of “happy” for your ego.
Your loyal companion
Speaking of personal… Every class gets a companion. They’re the first person of your eventual crew. Something will happen along the way (usually in the class quest chain) that convinces the NPC to toss their lot in with you. This is nothing new to those who have played KotOR.
What is new is the fact that you get a choice of minor customizations for your companion, stuff like hair and the sort. You also get to choose your companion’s role in battle. Depending on how you outfit your companion, there’s a button for aggro and a button for less aggro. It’s as simple as that. And it’s for that reason, your companion counts as a member of your party. PCs count first, however, so if the party is full for a particular segment, your companion is automatically dismissed until there’s room for him again. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill pet mechanic. It’s not even a mere pet!
Companions have this little gauge called affection. For some class/gender combinations, that term is literal. (I told you it was personal.) In others, it’s a matter of how much your crew has come to trust you. My gunslinger femme fatale found out about the former option rather quickly. -cough- What? I couldn’t say no to those deep blue eyes, handsomely rendered face, and cowboy-like chivalry. The important thing to note is that, like in KotOR, your companion(s) may eventually have a side quest for you, which will likely have an effect on your friendship depending on the outcome.
Your companion crew also serves as your crafters and gatherers, depending on which trade skills you choose for them. And, if that wasn’t enough, you can tell your lackeys to sell off any items you cannot use!
Heroic quests and mini-instances
Some quests you pick up may require more help than your companion can provide. The quests can be anything from your usual elite bad guy to an actual mini-dungeon with multiple stages and an elite bad guy at the end. The latter often has an instance screen in the doorway— which you become accustomed to seeing with your class questline— that says anyone can enter when you mouse over it. This is where a somewhat single player-oriented game becomes multiplayer.
Yes, you have to find your groups the old-fashioned way, as well, by hitting up the planet’s general channel to look for a group. During my two grouping experiences, I was lucky to find some great, friendly people and had an absolute blast. The best part about being in a party for such quests? Quest conversations.
Another continued tradition from the KotOR games is the presence of conversations. You do not merely go up to an NPC and receive quests in this universe. Receiving quests is often prefaced with an interactive cutscene where you chat with the NPC. In group settings— as mentioned in the section before— you actually have conversation rolls to see who gets to say the next bit and decide the next stage of the conversation and, possibly, the quest. Where escort quests ensure all party members are on the same part, the quest conversation makes sure everyone’s on the same part.
The neat thing about conversations is the morality aspect. What you say actually can make a difference in the way your game plays out. Unlike KotOR, if you say the wrong thing, there’s no going back to your last save for a do-over. Once it’s said and done, it’s done forever. This also means you can be a Dark Side member of the Republic, or a Light Side member of the Empire. I have a feeling that, like KotOR, the game, even for a specfic class, may not play out the same way twice. Ever.
In addition to your Light Side/Dark Side alignment, your companion’s views of you can also change during a conversation. They may gain more affection/trust in you for agreeing to save the refugees; they may also lose that affection if you turn a blind eye to a senator’s corruption. The conversation choices are, sometimes, a no-brainer for those who know how they want to play their characters (Light/Dark, impressing your companion, etc). But sometimes the choices aren’t always so clear-cut. This is just another way of the game becoming more personal to you and I like it.
Instead of just accepting and completing quests, you’re allowed to have a say. If someone wants you to smuggle, say, spice drugs, and that’s against your morality, you’re allowed to tell the NPC off. Like life, you get a learning experience out of every conversation you hold, and this ultimately forces the player to think carefully about what they’re doing and why.
As if molding your character’s personality via game mechanics wasn’t enough, you get a gazillion feature customizations for your character. That statement is only a mild hyperbole. For example: My female cyborg had a choice of 41 hairstyles. (By the way, it seems like there is no such thing as “flowing long hair” in the galaxy. Your only hint at long hair is having a ponytail.) Rather than just choosing a set of facial features, you choose both head/face construction in one setting and your complexion/features on another. Oh, and there are about 20-25 of those, too. Each.
What cracked me up during the beta was seeing a ton of stocky male Twi’leks running around. There is something incredibly refreshing and funny about a Twi’lek being something other than lithe. My female cyborg also had the option of looking like She-Hulk or Big Barda, which may be an enticing choice for some. The NPCs also come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Some Republic army commandos look like the image of Superman with the barrel chest and small waist; others look like the stereotypical “Sarge” who happens to have a little more girth.
The story so far…
So far, it’s turning out to be an awesome game with lots of neat tricks and quirks. Admittedly, there are a few things I like because it reminds me of something else and gives me a good dose of nostalgia. But if something works, why not use it, right? Tune in next week as I wrap up my experience on beta testing the game.