The NDA has been lifted, so I can write about my Star Wars the Old Republic (SWTOR) beta experiences.
To sum up: it’s great fun for what it is, but don’t expect radical differences from other themepark MMORPGs already on the market.
I took part in the Oceanic test, which I think was specifically to test how the game worked with latency and lag out to places like Australia and New Zealand. I don’t think the servers were too stressed out by the number of players we had taking part, but overall I had no problems with latency/lag. Latency in general was lower than I usually see in WoW.
I only played a Jedi Consular, taking the Sage (healer) advanced class at level 10. After the starter zone on Tython, I went to Coruscant and then Taris, completing all those zones, before logging out in Nar Shaddaa. In play, it was a little like a WoW Paladin who also had substantial ranged DPS and crowd control options. Certainly by Level 15 I felt that the healer talents I had chosen were making a big difference. What was awesome though, was that even as a healer I could complete quests as easily as a damage dealing class thanks to the companion system.
I’m counting down the days to when I get to play the game again.
Opening sequence. You get the classic star wars yellow scrolling text, then a cut away of a ship landing scene, unique for each class, and it felt very cinematic.
Music. Its great, very star wars, and I love the way it swells up when you engage mobs. Audio, lightsabres went snap hiss and blasters went pew-pew-pew the way you would expect them to.
Companions. As a consular I picked up a “lizard” who was part of a mystic cult of hunters, so when I went healer, it developed into a tank. The AI is smart enough that your companions will not break your crowd control, it’ll kill all the other mobs first, then wait patiently for the CC to expire or for an attack order. The default AI settings were pretty good. At level 20 I was able to engage a world boss with over six times my combined health (companion + me) and defeat it after a fight lasting several minutes. Given that I accidentally pulled the boss when I used a Force Wave talent that bounces enemy mobs away from me, and it took me a minute to realise what was happening, I thought that was really cool.
Class story quests. I found the storyline engaging, although I stayed to complete all quests I could find in a zone before moving onto a new world. The moment when you craft your first lightsabre is very good. The large chunk of class-specific quests means that there is a lot of replay value for second and subsequent characters.
Visuals. Worlds were pretty. I liked the feel of post-apocalyptic Taris, a good moment for anyone who played the first KOTOR game.
Gear modification. With upgrades it was possible to keep your best low level items for quite a long time, rather than upgrading them a few levels later.
The Galactic Republic is so corrupt it made me laugh. Almost every Senator or officer I ran into was on the take somehow.
Combat. No auto-attacks, but the system seems good at turning to face when you execute an attack. Past level ten I would engage normal mobs at 5:1 odds without blinking, a nice heroic feel.
Jedi force powers … from time to time the game system would let you do things that were not in your standard ability list, like giving you a dialogue option for force persuasion or force lifting a broken door. That and the republican mooks tend to go “Oh thank God, a Jedi, we’re saved!”
Voice acting, I only hit space bar to fast forward through the voice acting a few times. Mostly excellent, I did find a few stock phrases grating after a couple of days.
Mob Grinding Quests are optional. Most of the “Kill Ten Stormtrooper” quests trigger when you start in a zone, but are not essential to finishing the main story quest. I like this feature a lot. Still, if you do complete all the kill quests, there is usually a nice reward at the end of it.
No macros, no addons at launch. Maybe later.
Starship combat is “on rails” rather than being in a full 3D environment. Its been compared to Starfox. That said, its completely ignorable as the quests are optional and it can be a fun way to pass time while waiting.
The default text is a light blue on a dark blue background, and its tiny. I stopped reading fluff text because it was too hard on my eyes.
Flashpoints (instances/dungeons) were hard. When you become eligible for the quests, you simply were not powerful enough for them. Both the Esselles and Bringing Down the Hammer were awful wipe fests for the groups I tried them with. The Hammer in particular had a boss fight on par with the difficulty of Cataclysm 5 mans in WoW (the boss had three different mechanics that would wipe you: adds, direct special attack, plus a random aoe attack) which I found impossible to heal – people simply died before I could complete the targeting/casting sequence – and I know I’m not a scrub when it coms to heals (I once made sixth for Heals-per-Second in World of Logs for my paladin).
Crafting is stuck in the old “make a thousand things no one wants” model to grind up towards the skill cap. On the plus side, your companions will farm for you, and can craft or carry out gathering missions for you while you do other things. The weird bit, the crafter on board your ship can only craft from the mats your character carries, and the crafted item appears in your bags, not back on board the ship.
For five man content, the UI is pretty much what you had in Vanilla WoW back in 2005. For tanks/damage dealers, this is okay, for healers its going to be a world of pain as you slowly click to target the person you want to heal, then click the heal you want to use. Compared to the one click healing of state-of-the art healer addons in games like WoW … it sucks sharp flinty ones, and is a major reason why I will not turn my Sith Inquisitor into a healer at launch.
That said, I did not get a chance to play with the raidframes, which look better in the gameplay videos I have watched.
It was fun filling out bug reports, not too much else I can say. I look forward to seeing my fellow testers in the game once it goes live.