Star Wars the Old Republic MMORPG Review

TLDR: initially promising, ultimately disappointing.

(Original feedback to Bioware in plain text, tonight’s reflections in italic)

Biggest problem: on minimum graphics the game causes my two year old Gateway P-79 laptop to shut down from overheating.  This has damaged the graphics card.  At best I can get 20 minutes of play now, which is insufficient to do group activities.  So I’m choosing to play less demanding games instead.  Ultimately I went out and got a new gaming laptop, but it would have been nice to have held off from that purchase for another 6-12 months.

Launch: pre-launch guild creation was good, however the chat bug which disabled Guild, Party, and Officer chat on my account was vexing to say the least.  I didn’t feel well served by customer support in resolving this.  This bug prevented me from leading my guild, or engaging in group content.  Lesson learned: do not try and set up a guild when you still have an ongoing guild commitment elsewhere.  Its hard to find time to do both justice.

World design: the lower level worlds are the best. By the time I reached level 40+ worlds, the design was feeling stale and repetitive.  When I reached Corellia, I was forcing myself to finish quest lines just to see the next bit of my class story.  Playing the game had become a chore, rather than fun.  On Corellia, being surrounded by buildings I couldn’t enter, made the game feel fake.  Also, it feels weird that I am not sharing the same game universe with the both Empire & Republic players on all the worlds.  Levelling my second toon into the 40s, the process feels a little easier, but I’m still dreading Corellia.

Travel: is tedious.  First, running through starports is really dull. I often reach a starport, think about the long run ahead of me, and then log out of the game.  Second, speeders look weird, travel slowly, and don’t let me bypass mobs that I dealt with on earlier quests. Being constantly pulled off my speeder by mobs I defeated in earlier quests ruined any sense of progress and accomplishment in the game.  This has been slightly improved in terms of travel through Starports now being possible while mounted on a speeder.

Grouping: I don’t have time to waste hanging around the fleet hoping to find a group for instances.  Watching trade chat is not compelling gameplay.  If I’m waiting longer than a few minutes, what I want to do is log out of the game and switch to a game where I can do stuff.  They still don’t have a good Looking for Group tool, consequently you will mostly miss out on heroic (2 or 4 man world content) or instanced content while levelling.

Starship mini-game: the low level scenarios were interesting.  I was able to identify mistakes in my gameplay, and correct them.  When I realised that completing mid-level scenarios required grinding commendations for ship upgrades I stopped playing them.  Three months later – its still tedious and I’m still avoiding it.

PvP: I have avoided this entirely.  I don’t find WoW-style pvp gameplay compelling.  I play World of Tanks for an hour or two each night instead.  None of the scenarios available at launch appealed to me, and the concept of not being able to avoid Hutt Ball was a big turnoff.  World pvp looks broken to me, and I was quite surprised that you made it so broken, given that the problems Blizzard has had with designing open world pvp zones are so well known.  My flatmate put it best “I’m grinding through gameplay I don’t enjoy playing to get better gear that will enable me to be more effective at gameplay I don’t enjoy.  Why don’t I just stop grinding…”

Endgame: I started the questlines on Illum and the prison planet and died of boredom.  When I looked at the amount of grind required to acquire upgrade modules, I rebelled, and just said “No” to daily missions.  I also found that I just didn’t enjoy playing my class, so once the class storyline was done I was finished with it.  I still have not gone back to the Assassin.

Companions: I don’t regard the robot that comes with the ship as a companion.  Companions have been a big disappointment.  Levelling an assassin tank I really wanted a healer companion, but had to wait until Hoth.  Levelling a Bounty Hunter healer, I really want a tank companion, but I don’t have one yet.  I was really disappointed at the companion story for the Inquisitor’s medic companion, maxing full affection resulted in …. some obsequious dialogue.  I remember sitting in front of the screen thinking “That’s it?!”  Once the Bounty Hunter got its tank companion, it was far superior to the Assassin tank player character + companion.  Maxing out companion favour does now result in a small in game boost (+20 presence with other companions).

Talent trees: design feels old and dull, the approach Blizzard is taking in Mists of Pandaria just blows the SWTOR talents out of the water.  Choosing talents that boost my effectiveness in a single ability by 1% really doesn’t feel like an interesting choice.  With the Bounty Hunter, perhaps 3-4 of your talent choices result in gameplay changes, the other 35 odd choices just make you 0.5% better at what you do.

Abilities: at low levels I got abilities too quickly to figure out what I should be doing with them.  For the Inquisitor, signature abilities that make the class cool either looked dull in tank spec (force lightning) or were worse than useless as tanking tools (overload). Visually it ends up being a really dull class to watch in combat. Stab. Buzz. Stabby. Bzzt. Yawn.  Ability overload is a little easier to deal with now you can adjust how the UI displays action bars.  I still think having 30-40 abilities you use frequently is on the order of 10-20 abilities too many.

Music, Sound effects and Voice Acting: all good/excellent.

UI: I know you are overhauling this. My main feedback here is that I find it really hard to identify the abilities my opponents are using. I see strange coloured symbols and I’m not sure I should interrupt or not, and then its too late to interrupt anyway.  The setup for healing also feels awkward.  After years of using Healbot, Grid/Clique or Vuhdo in WoW, going back to pushing function keys to target party members feels painfully slow and prone to error.   I still find it impossible to determine which ability I should be interrupting.

Sith Inquisitor/Assassin feedback: This is the class I really wanted to play, as the storyline pitch of a slave rising to power really appealed to me.  In tank spec I was unable to complete the class questline solo, requiring help from other players on Voss (the dream boss) and Dromund Kaas (the fight with Zash).  I was unable to identify what I was doing wrong in these encounters, and after the second set of armour repairs I gave up all hope of figuring out what to do as I simply couldn’t afford the credits to keep experimenting. This made me feel incompetent.  The assassin does not feel heroic or awesome, when I fight mobs they die very slowly, and in an unspectacular fashion.  In play, I found myself forced to watch a small display of buffs right above the action bars, rather than being able to focus on the onscreen action. I’m still sad about this, and I screwed up the characters name when doing the server transfer when Dalborra was launched.

Specific turnoff points in the Inquisitor story line:

– I liked Khem Val, until I realised a tank companion was useless to a tank spec class

– I liked Zash, and I felt the betrayal came too early

– Not being able to defeat Zash solo (I never felt competent to do anything challenging again after this)

– Not being able to choose a more useful companion to face Zash with

– I did not like Zash/Khem Val in one body

– I didn’t feel like I earned the big ship superweapon, I just had some NPCs walk up and say “push the button for us, please”

– last act confrontation just felt like grind, grind, grind, I was always reacting to the bad guy, never setting the initiative.

The Bounty Hunter storyline has been better, at least insomuch as that I never been forced to beg other players for help in finishing my class quests.  It’s the Bounty Hunter that I will be doing a few more instances with, and trying to see some of the endgame content.  In the end I’m just too comfortable being a healer than trying to be a tank in a system that makes it really hard to know what the hell your tanking abilities do, and forces you to look away from what the mobs are doing on-screen so the buffs that keep you alive do not expire.

Many things are executed well in the game, although the Auction House is painful to use.  It looks good, and sounds great … but I struggle to want to play it more than 1-2 times a week.  So it’s not going to replace WoW for me.  It is nice that they launched servers based in Australia … but the maintenance schedule is such that they are offline most of Tuesday night, so its only a game ANZACs can play six nights a week.

SWTOR Unofficial Oceanic Servers

PVP: the Swiftsure

PVE: the Harbinger and JekkJekk Tarr. if you want a population breakdown.  Its roughly down the middle in terms of initial assignment by Bioware.

JJT has a smaller number of larger guilds, with a greater proportion of US based members.  Harbinger (Har-bin-jer) has a larger number of smaller guilds.

Carpe Jugulum was assigned to Harbinger, so we’re staying there.  Some guilds are going to move to Harbinger, others will form a guild on each server.  I think the numbers favour Harbinger, so go there if you want people playing in the New Zealand/Australian time zone.  Harbinger also has an alphabetical order advantage, and is possibly a ‘cooler’ name.

It was interesting being in a long vent meeting with 30+ guild masters.  Lots of talk, much of which hit control problems, in that we can’t control what individual guilds and players choose to do.  Conversation was friendly, and I hope the community sticks together.  There was a resolution to go and tell the forum trolls to STFU.

So now I’m waiting to see when I get an e-mail telling me I can log on.  So I spent some time tidying up my inventory stocks in WoW, selling off the last of my merchandise.  At the end of it all, I have just over 1.5 million virtual gold.

Texarkana’s Top Ten Tips for Star Wars the Old Republic

This advice is based on the mistakes I made in a Beta weekend, and the most frequent “WTF?!” questions in general/guild chat.

1. Advanced Class

At level 10 your character will get an option of choosing one of two classes (e.g. the Sith Inquisitor can choose between the Sorcerer or the Assassin).  This is a permanent, non-reversible choice.  While you can reset your class talents in the game, the ability to change Advanced Class is not in the game, and might never be an option in the game.  If you get this choice wrong, you will have to replay the character from level 1.

Related to this, make sure to train your advanced class skills when you level up.  Advanced class skills are not displayed on the same page as your standard class skills, you need to hit a tab to bring up the advanced class skills.  Don’t be the guy in a mid-teens heroic group/flashpoint, who has to spend twenty minutes running back to the trainer.  Speaking of which, its probably worth checking the first time you do a flashpoint that everyone in the group has trained their advanced class skills.

2. Modifiable Gear.

You want to keep modifiable gear.  Its called “Custom Gear” and its identifying colour in game is orange (yes, that’s the same colour as almost-impossible-to-get legendary gear in WoW).  By adding modules into modifiable gear, low level items can remain competitive as you level.  So if you like the look of something, you can keep it, rather than having to vendor it two levels later to equip something with better stats.  You should get a class weapon that is modifiable on the way to Level 10 (for Jedi/Sith its a lightsabre).

To get modules, you will need an appropriate crafting skill, be friends with a crafter, or be willing to spend credits on modules for sale in the Galactic Market Kiosk (the Auction house).  You may see people refer to the Galactic Market as “GM”, which in other games would be a “Game Master”, well, not here.

3. Bind Point Reset.

When you move to a new world, your bind point (what would be a hearth stone in WoW), resets to the bind point at the new world’s starport.  So if you move from Coruscant to Taris, and hit your quick travel ability to jump to the bind point, you will end up on Trais, not Coruscant, even if Coruscant was the last place you deliberately set your bind point to.  Quick travel has a 30 minute cooldown, so wasting it is annoying. Edit: bind points appear a bit more useful, when you use quick travel you get to choose which bidn point you want to go to on that world.

4. Time is Money.

One of the most effective things you can do to boost enjoyment of an MMORPG, is to ensure your character minimises travel time between locations on the game map.

Your starship is free, all you have to do is compete your class quests, and you should get it around level 15-16.  Upgrades will cost you a bit though (see below).  At Level 14 you will also get a 35 percent sprint/run ability while you are not engaged in combat, so its worth handing some quests in and going back to the class trainer when that happens.

At level 25, you can spend credits to purchase a speeder from a vendor (on most worlds or at your faction’s Fleet Headquarters).  Rank 1 training grants a 90 percent speed boost and costs 40,000 credits, so you will want to have that much cash on hand when you reach Level 25.  The speeder itself costs 8,000 credits (and if you purchased the Collector’s Edition you may want to save for the VIP speeder that costs 1.5 million credits).  At Levels 40 and 50, you can purchase Rank 2 and 3 training for 100 and 110 percent speed increases (and you’ll want to have a pile of credits for this too).

Somewhat related, its worth spending a few credits on increasing your inventory space.  The more you can carry the less often you have to stop questing and run to the vendors (and if you have your crew busy crafting and missioning while you are questing, your bags can fill with stuff quickly).

5. Ships, Ship Upgrades and Ship Quests.

My main advice here, is don’t try a ship combat mission without spending a few thousand credits on basic ship upgrades.  Having more health, shields and weapons makes the missions significantly easier.  Every quest I tried without upgrades installed was a complete failure.

While ships act as player housing, customisation is limited, the interior is unchangeable, but you can buy upgrades to improve your odds in combat.  These are purchased from vendors at your Fleet Headquarters, but you actually need to take the upgrades back to your ship and then click on them to install them in your ship.

Ship quests can be picked up on board your ship.  Ship quests are rail quests, and have been likened to an old computer game called “Starfox” (not one I played, but maybe you get the reference).  Your ship follows exactly the same path through the mission zone, you have a limited ability to move up/down or left/right to avoid debris/asteroids/attacks, but mainly its about effectively targeting all the enemy ships and turning them into pixelated explosions.  Hold the mouse button down to get continuous fire, unless you enjoy clicking mouse buttons three times a second.

Battles are short (under five minutes), not really PVP, earn you credits/XP and can fill time while you wait for other people to do stuff.

6. Crewskills

First, take a look at the guide here: Its the best one I have seen so far for gathering/crafting/mission skills in SWTOR (also called crewskills, as you get your crew/companions to do the work, as the designers said “Darth Vader doesn’t farm”).

“If money is all that you love, then that’s what you’ll receive.”

If you want to make easy credits, take Slicing.  I have seen several people say that its the fastest way to make easy credits while levelling.  Edit: the credits from slicing appear to have been balanced in line with other professions.  Otherwise you can choose to be able to make yourself weapons or armour, but not both (at least on the same character, profession self-sufficiency is a major reason to level alts to support a main character).  For the other skills my advice is:

Mission skills – don’t take these if you can’t stand unpredictable outcomes.

Armormech/Armstech – don’t take these if you are a force using class.

Artifice/Synthweaving – don’t take these if you are a non-force using class.

My expectations of the early game economy is that it will resemble a frontier/mining camp economy.  Prices for everything will be ludicrously high in the first few weeks as people level their craft skills as rapidly as possible, while flicking the junk they have made onto unsuspecting marks for rip-off prices.  I would recommend not buying anything off the GMK until you have you first speeder.

7. Companions

You should have one companion by Level 10 and a protocol droid companion on your ship when you get that around level 15-16.  In my experience, companions work well out of the box, but its worth taking the time to learn a bit about your companion and what it can do.  This pays off in social conversations, as you will have a better idea of what will gain/lose you favour with your companion.

Remember to upgrade the armor and weapons your companion has equipped (your protocol droid probably does not have a weapon when you first get it).

8. Quest rewards

You will often get a choice between an item of equipment, a lock box, commendations or equipment for companions.  I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer here.  Going for commendations will usually allow you to get one or more blue quality items by the time you finish a zone.  Commendations can also be exchanged in at vendors, on a 2:1 basis, for a higher tier of commendations, so they are not completely wasted if you forget to spend them. But a solid green item upgrade now, can be worth more than a blue upgrade later.

A lockbox will get you a random item, could be good, could be crap.

Companion items can be useful, in that they will change the appearance of your companion, so that it does not look quite so much like the thousand other identical looking companions wandering the galaxy.  In beta, I found it hard to find upgrades for companions, so be careful about passing over companion items.

9. Courtesy. 

Treat others as you would like to be treated.  Unlike WoW, SWTOR does not have an anonymous tool for quickly forming random groups for instanced content.  If you spend a lot of time and effort alienating the other players on your server by acting like a dick, you will end up sitting alone in your spaceship.  Remember that the behaviour you choose to display in game can get your account suspended or terminated.

My two specific tips here:

(1) in groups, do not roll need on an item unless it is an item you can use, and which is optimised for use by your class (if you pay attention to your quest rewards, you should figure out quickly what stats are optimal for each class).

(2) if you say you want to do a flashpoint/heroic group with someone, go and do it with them, do not make them wait for 30 minutes while you “finish just a few more quests”, “hand in just one more quest”, “Ooops, forgot to go to the trainer”, or “Hey, I forgot I have to make dinner, BRB”.

10. Patience.

Enjoy the journey in SWTOR, but have a Plan B for when the servers fall over/go offline for maintenance, or you have to wait for other people.  I’ll be downloading a few extra books onto my Kindle to cope with any SWTOR withdrawal symptoms.

I am in one of my phases where I write up some game mechanics, then delete them for being too derivative.  So while I am doing work on the “Xmas Game” I do not know if I will actually get one finished.  In the mean time, some notes on games I have been playing and games I am looking forward to playing.

Star Wars the Old Republic Beta

Not much I can say here due to the NDA. Bioware did a short beta test just for testing the Oceanic connections and I was lucky enough to get an invite.  I am not regretting my pre-order from Amazon.

Lord of the Rings Online

Over the last year I have slowly levelled up a level 30-ish Guardian character in LOTRO.  Its a free-to-play game, but I did spend some cash on a mount and opening some questing zones.  While the Lord of the Rings lore is good, its very, very grindy.  Two points stand out here: advanced combat abilities that are only learned after you have used a basic combat ability a few hundred/thousand times, and the crafting system, where you effectively have to relearn prior tiers of skill in order to master each new tier.  Tactically, the levelling game is more interesting the World of Warcraft, as failure is quite possible if you attack on elite mob or pull too many trash mobs.  I only tried an instance once, and the combination of inability to generate multi-target threat combined with rapid mob respawns turned me off trying again.  After playing the SWTOR Beta, I don’t think I’ll be spending more time in LOTRO.

Dragon Age (tabletop)

My once a fortnight tabletop campaign continues, with the players having reached Level Six.  In the last session, they ran into an interesting moral challenge and my amoral mage jumped a different way from that which I was expecting (he refused to take the Red Book of Monsters from the time-shifted Ebon Tower after a fragment of a God told the party the book could be used to summon monsters that could sunder the world).

Some quirks in the game engine are now becoming apparent.  By Level 10 a character will have at least doubled their health from Level 1, if not tripled it, as well as improving the ability to avoid being hit and to mitigate incoming damage … but their outgoing damage will only have increased by about 1d6 per round.  So against a similar group of “heroes” the chances are that a combat would take an entire game session to resolve.

The Rogue class is annoying, as in each and every combat round they have to make an opposed bluff check in order to gain an attack bonus and 1d6 damage.  Without the bonus damage the Rogue is not competitive in damage dealing.  The extra die roll each round is time consuming.

Mages are annoying, definitely glass cannons, which makes them either overpowered or vulnerable.  If an NPC mage uses a crowd control spell, they can eliminate a player character from an entire combat (which means a bored player), but in return solo enemy mages are not viable as foes – they simply cannot survive without a small horde of minions to intercept/disrupt the players.

My rough rule of thumb now, is that for an enemy to concern my players, it needs to do a minimum of 6d6 damage per combat round (after accounting for missed attacks and armour absorption), otherwise the fact that the party mages can pump out 6d6 healing per round means most combats end with the players on full health.  While I have given out the odd health/mana potion, I don’t think anyone has ever had to use one of them.

Still, the core engine still appeals to me and I am tinkering with reworking it into a SF setting – I am mucking around with ideas for Sidhe, Fomorians and Stargate style Egyptian monsters all turning Earth into a post-apocalyptic setting, with some bright ultra-tech human colonies out in space.

World of Tanks

This is an online “lobby” game, consisting of 15 minute player versus player matches in which each of the 30 players controls one World War II era tank.  Between matches you repair and research.  The tank capabilities and vulnerabilities seem faithful to history, although there are a few fantasy tanks in play which never got off the design board and onto the historical battle fields.  At the moment tanks are limited to US, Russian, and German designs, although I expect we will eventually see British and French designs as well.  The game has been sufficiently successful that we can expect to see World of Planes and World of Ships in a couple of years.

I chose to play Russian tanks, and have slowly worked my way up to my first heavy tank, the KV.  Unlike my previous tanks, its slow, really slow, and the turret is also a slow traverser.  Historically, it was a killer when it ran into German Panzer IIs and IIIs, but in WoT I am as likely to run into Tiger IIs and IS-4s, which I can’t really damage and which can one shot me in return.  Tactically, rather than moving constantly at max speed as you do with light tanks, the KV needs to work in formation with other tanks to avoid being flanked and also needs to skulk from bit of cover to bit of cover.  Out in the open its easily spotted and immobilised by artillery.

Overall, I find WoT to be a really good way to spend 30-60 minutes of spare time.  It also goes well with listening to some heavy metal music.

World of Warcraft – Firelands

My guild has lost two DPS players (rogue/hunter) but continues to raid.  We managed 6/7 boss kills before the content was nerfed, then 7/7 shortly afterwards and are now 1/7 for hard modes.  I’m not sure the content nerf was good for us.  We do not have the throughput in DPS/HPS for many of the hard mode fights, but now the normal mode fights are so trivial as to be boring.

What we tend to do now, is spend two hours wiping on hard modes on Thursday night, then clear up to 5/7.  On Monday we go back and kill the last two, and as we get better at killing Ragnaros we use our remaining time on Tier 11 hard modes.  On Sundays I lead a casual raid, but it is struggling as several of the players there simply cannot meet the DPS requirements – we need 15k DPS and they do 10k – the fights take too long and our healers run out of mana, or the time delay makes the wheels fall off and the fight becomes a train wreck.

I am happy with my Holy Paladin healing, I managed to rank sixth in class in World of Logs for healing the fat fire spider Beth’tilac in the second week of Firelands.  Considering how Paladins 1-6 were all in Tier 11 Hard Mode gear I was pretty chuffed with the accomplishment.  My Retibution Paladin DPS though … it sucks, hovering around 12k for most fights, although on a static tank and spank it can reach 18k.  Part of the reason the DPs is low is that because I do not enjoy it, I don’t practice it.  I’m not sure why I don’t enjoy it but there are two bits of the play style I struggle with: use of cooldowns and proc dependence.

It’s hard for me not to agree with Gevlon over at the Greedy Goblin, that the sheer complexity of the “Boss Dance” in fights is making raiding less fun.  This is especially the case for melee damage dealers in any fight with significant movement, as the loss of contact time on the boss reduces DPS.  It is a never-ending race, in which Blizzard alternates between buffing classes with new abilities, then upping the difficulty of new fights.  In patch 4.3 we are being promised a buff to melee DPS … but I have to say as a raid leader, I have no desire to recruit more melee DPS into the raid group because unless their player skill is exceptional.

Over at Blessing of Kings, a comparison of a Wrath era fight and a Cataclysm era was posted to illustrate this point:(


  • One mob
  • Tanks stack on each other to split damage
  • Avoid fire
  • Dodge bonestorm
  • Kill bonespikes


  • Three mobs
  • Dodge traps
  • Burst one add with large spells
  • Heal one random target who takes high damage
  • Trap and kite one add until a stacking debuff wears off, failing this increases tank damage
  • Avoid aoe spear damage
  • Damage increases significantly as fight progresses

What I would prefer, is a few more fights that stretch my ability to play my class well, as opposed to how well I have memorised the exact dance steps for the special mechanics on a boss fight.  My own feedback on class design for the next expansion was “less is more”.

On the whole though, I think Blizzard made a serious mistake in Cataclysm by making two of the tier end bosses be recycled bosses from Vanilla WoW (Nefarian & Onyxia, and Ragnaros).  Yes, the fight mechanics are different … but it still felt like a failure of imagination to me by the Blizzard design team.

Upcoming Games

Games I am looking forward to include: Star Wars the Old Republic (December), Guild Wars 2 (2012), Elder Scrolls: Skyrim (11 November), and the Mists of Pandaria expansion for World of Warcraft (2012).

For information on SWTOR I recommend the fan site.  My Sith PvE guild is now part of the Oceanic “daisychain”, a collaborative effort to ensure as many ANZAC players as possible all end up on the same starting server.

Guild Wars 2 is attempting to eliminate the holy trinity, so all characters will have heal/dps options.  Defences will include active dodging by the players, and if you “die” you actually get a different set of combat options while knocked down.  Could be a quality of life improvement, but it might be a much stronger evolution of the genre than SWTOR is shaping up to be (several press reviews describe SWTOR as WoW with lightsabres).

I preordered Skyrim after watching some gameplay videos, especially of combat versus dragons.  It looks like combat is very sandbox, many different ways to solve each tactical problem.  I enjoyed the other Elder Scrolls games, so this will fill the gap until SWTOR is released.

Mists of Pandaria will be an oriental themed expansion for WoW.  I know a few people have gone “WTF! Panda!”  but last time I looked WoW had already jumped the shark (the Goblin starter area has a quest involving sharks with laser beams mounted on them).  I’ll be happy with MOP if I can dress my virtual dolls in Samurai armour.

Probably the most significant announcement was a complete rebuild of the talent system, rather than spending points every few levels to boost power and access new abilities, many abilities will be granted with class spec, and talents will be a choice of one of three options every 15 levels.  When you hit 30, you can’t go back and choose a second Level 15 option, as each set of options will compare like with like, you are unlikely to be forced to choose between utility or survival or throughput.  I like the sound of this new system … fits with my “less is more” preference.

Wowhead already has a talent calculator preview available at: