Tag Archives: SW:TOR

Another one bites the F2P bullet

Welcome again to Random Waypoint, home of cobbled-together overused stereotypical expressions.

In case you’re living under a rock, or in the Outback of Australia, where I will go to for a week soon, driving 2000km through nothingness, all Easy Rider and such – I bet that will be awesome… Where was I? Oh, right. If you’re living far away from all civilization, and by some freak accident, your only tether to The World(tm) (not The Secret One) is this blog, let me tell you: SW:TOR will be going free-to-play at some point in the near future.

Well, that escalated quickly.

Oh, the sadness! The told-you-so! The bitterness! The rationalizations!

Oh well.

What? How I feel about it? Hm. Hmmm. I guess a bit smug? But only a bit, because I never cared much about the game. The smugness comes from the perceived attitude by Bioware and EA to do the best thing since sliced bread, Azeroth style. Here was the savior, riding on the white horse (or at the very least an AT-AT) of the bestest intellectual property (a term that I dislike to start with) ever conceived. I mean, their IP has princesses, and robots, and magic, and swashbuckling smugglers who might or might not shoot first. Though it always felt a bit silly to me. (As opposed to Star Trek, which I always found to be very silly with all the techno-babble and planet of the week, but at least they had Patrick Fucking Stewart. Can’t argue with an actor that actually knows Shakespeare. Not personally, though. Or maybe? Who knows? I don’t.) Problem is: EA is known for producing terrible games out of IPs. The whole EA Sports lineup is basically the same boring heap of crap released every single year, just with new names on the rosters. At least it was during the time I actually tried them out, before I swore in disgust never ever to touch one of these again.

That is not to say SW:TOR is a horrible, horrible game. I guess it’s Bioware’s work that saves it from that fate. It actually had a nice idea, combining Bioware’s story-driven solo RPGs with an MMO setting. It seems that didn’t work out so well, though. At least for me, it didn’t. And neither for another 75% of their player base. I’ll assume that many of them did not reach end game and got bored there, although there are no numbers on that. It is much more likely, though, that many of them stopped playing while they were still supposed to be engrossed in their story. I’ve been trying to figure out why exactly that happened to me, too.

It came at a bad time for me

This is probably the most flattering reason I can give: It was just not to be. In late November, I picked up Oblivion on a Steam sale. During the Beta weekends, I was in the land of my dreams. And after Christmas, I was busy playing Mass Effect 1 and 2. So I was quite distracted, and actually playing other Bioware games during the first month after release. Later on I picked up the game on sale, but by that time I had been accepted into EVE University, and that was that. (You might have noticed I never wrote about the game again after my “I bought it” post.)

That reason is a bit of a cop-out, though. Of course, it was some rough sailing, but a really good game would have prevailed and come out the winner. It turned out to be Batman in the ultimate showdown of ultimate destiny: hanging on for some time, but in the end crushed by Chuck Norris. OK, maybe in this case it wasn’t Chuck Norris but rather EVE Online, but hey, Chuck Norris sounds more flattering, right?

The graphics engine sucked

That’s a technical irk I had with the game. The graphics really weren’t much to phone home about, and the game still made my graphics card sounds as if my computer was going to lift off any minute, especially during the conversation scenes. Maybe it was an optimization problem and has gotten better now, who knows. I’m not sure whether the game uses the same engine as RIFT, but it had the same weird “aura” effects around targeted enemies and flora in some areas. I’m not a big fan of that.

Graphics like this should not have taxed my graphics card as much as they did. Incidentally, that is the only screenshot I made during the time I played the game… so I couldn’t even show you a cut scene one that made it go completely crazy.

The storytelling is actually not that good

That might be a controversial opinion, but I realized that the main selling point of the game, the class-specific story lines, didn’t grab me the way they were intended to. One of the reasons for that might be that I never was a big Star Wars fan. When I was 13, and our always-behind-the-technical-curve family finally got a VCR, I watched the movies a couple of times and liked them, sure. But they never grabbed me the way movies like Dune did around that time (and let me tell you, a LOT of people hate Dune for being a David Lynch style movie). So the “OMG but it’s Star Wars” selling point just never was one for me.

The story is also spread quite thin in some areas. (And early on to boot, because that’s the only part of the game I’ve seen.) A lot of the “kill 10 rats” and “collect 20 rat droppings” quests were uninspiring, and the full voice-overs helped surprisingly little with that. I expected that it would help form a bond to the quest givers, but at least the way it’s set up, I still don’t care about that pixel guy or gal I will interact with exactly twice in my character’s life. The class story line seemed ok, but I rarely felt really captivated. At times, it just dawdled along.

Finally, the game made me realize that I don’t even like the Bioware implementation of “meaningful choices” all that much. I do like the choice; but the choice is limited much more than I would have expected by the conversation options that you are given. I lost count of how often I chose an option, only to realize that my character would say it in a completely different tone than I intended, or even completely different words, which undermined my choices. I never encountered a surprise BSOCK, but I’m sure I would’ve stumbled into one had I played for long enough. There was choice, but frighteningly often, it was not meaningful: all I could do was choose between several options without any real knowledge about what each option was.

In that respect, the strange implementation of voice-overs in The Secret World feels more satisfying. You are talked to, but never say a word yourself. That way, at least your character cannot say anything unintended, and you have full freedom to project your own thoughts into the knowing silence of your character.

Fake “languages” are horrible

I just have to say this again, because it annoys me so much. Wilhelm talked about how point-blank blaster shootouts were a deal breaker for him. For me, it was the alien languages that just consisted of some canned sound bites repeated ad nauseam. Come to think of it, that was already one of my gripes with the movies. In a game that focuses so much on storytelling via audio, I could not ignore it enough to not be annoyed.

Will I play for free?

Good question. I think I’ll have to find out whether the couple of friends who went to play SW:TOR are still playing. That might lure me back. Then again, it’s not like I didn’t play with them until now because I was too stingy to pay 15 Euros a month. I didn’t play with them because I didn’t enjoy the game enough. So, I might not delete SW:TOR from my disk yet, and might check out the game from time to time; maybe depending on the specifics of the F2P implementation even eventually finish a story line. But I wouldn’t bet on it. I’m more motivated to return to LotRO at the moment. At least that’s a setting I care about. And it has real fictional languages to boot.

I love it when a plan comes together

I said in my not-so-enthusiastic review about SW:TOR that I would probably buy the game if I could get it for less than 30 Euros. I’ve been checking amazon.de every now and then. The box price kept inching slowly, Euro by Euro, to the 30 Euro margin. Not without a few strange setbacks – sometimes, it would cost 3 Euros more than the day before. Finally, I found this price yesterday:

So I kept true to my word and ordered it. I won’t have much time to play at all in the next week or two. I might not even sign up with the free month until then. Actually, the main reason I ordered it now and not at a later point is logistics: there will be some troubles with receiving parcels for me, starting from next week. I won’t go into the details, because they’re utterly boring, but bottom line is, my convenient way of picking up orders that were delivered during the day on my way home in the evening is going away. The alternative would be to pick them up the next day in the main post office, which always has at least a 30 minute queue. So order last night it was.

Thuul: if you read this, I’ll probably be up for a bit of TORing soon.

SW:TOR: Second Impression

Good things first: I tried out a few characters, and brought an imperial agent to level 10, and a Sith sorcerer to 14. I liked the stories for the most part, playing full-of-themselves characters. The dark/light mechanic is a bit strange though, it seems quite random at times what qualifies as dark or light; as an effect, I ended up with a relatively even distribution, which seems to be a bad thing, stat-wise.

The game is also quite polished. It didn’t crash on me at all during the weekend, though I had to close it manually once when I got disconnected and the game didn’t recover properly. My server lagged badly for some time on Sunday, though; not sure whether they were overloaded by the amount of people during the trial weekend. Then again, there were a lot of people, but not that many that it should influence the server like that.

Performance is a bit of a problem overall. I heard in December that responsiveness was pretty bad, and I still had problems with that and the spell animations at some points. In addition, SW:TOR seems to use the same engine as Rift (Hero, or something like that), which… I’m not a huge fan of. My GPU fans go crazy during the game, not only, but especially during the cut scenes. Not sure why the cut scenes are that demanding. During “normal” play, the Hero engine has these weird lighting effects, where every character and much of the fauna seems to have this strange glow around the outer edges, which looks very out of place, like things were sprinkled with fairy dust. Then again, I could complain about most other engines used for MMOs, too, so eh.

I’ve already talked about the huge distraction that the alien gibberish is for me. That seriously degrades my enjoyment of the game. I hate to make this such a big deal, but it is for me.

Finally, EA puts a massive limitation on trial characters: they can neither whisper other players nor talk in chat channels. Grrreeeat. Especially if you are a healer, and see a group looking for one in General for 30 minutes, and you can’t do anything about it because you can’t contact them. I understand that EA probably wants to reduce chat channel spamming from bots, but there must be some other way. Put a severe rate limit on how often you can talk on trial accounts if you think you need to (though I don’t see how this is a big problem with a game that doesn’t even have a free trial yet, outside of friend passes and weekend events), but having no way of communicating with people unless you happen to stand right next to them is quite silly. I wasn’t able to test any of the group content because of that. It further underlines the lingering notion that SW:TOR is more of a single-player game that happens to run on a server so you can be charged 15 units of your local currency every month.

Overall, I have to say it is a cute little game, and I’d probably continue playing it if either 1) it was box-price only and no subscription (preferred), or 2) the other way round. I probably would see this differently if I cared about Star Wars, but whatever little interest I had in that series died with Jar Jar Binks long ago (I was young enough when I first saw the Ewoks that they didn’t ruin it for me). That pretty much leaves me with a slightly boring vanilla gameplay, with story line elements that seem nice enough that I would play through the game once or twice to see a couple.

If EVE doesn’t work out, I might pick up the game after all to tide me over until TSW is released. If I can find a good deal. I’m not keen on paying more than 30 Euros or so for the box, considering I’ll also have to pay the monthly subscription. Even if I don’t buy the game, I might pick up my good friend Thuul on the offer to play another 7 days on a new EA account at some point. I’m still a bit embarrassed I totally forgot to ask him before or during this weekend trial, seeing how I told him in January I might get the game at some point to play with him for a bit. Sorry Thuul!

Star Wars Needs More Tolkien

…and I don’t mean more elves, pointy ears or not. I mean somebody with a fundamental understanding of languages. Tolkien was a linguist, and it shows in the languages he created for his world (or, as some say, the world he created for his languages).

I can’t sugarcoat it in any way: the “alien” languages in Star Wars are just stupid. They don’t seem to follow any rhyme or reason. It’s just a gibberish of random syllables. They don’t even have to start from scratch with a grammar, but if somebody talks about a place or a person, chances are you should be able to hear the names in the flow of language. “Berlin” in English is “Berlin”, and “New York” in German is “New York”. A sentence that is translated as “See you on Dromund Kaas” should contain the words “Dromund Kaas”, because it’s a proper name.They might be pronounced a bit differently, and every now and then, another language might have a historically grown name that is totally different, but those are rare exceptions. If you can never, ever make out any name, it makes you think somebody just rolled their face over the keyboard to create random gibberish.

In that respect, SW:TOR would have been a lot better off without voice-overs. They just make me cringe. Not that the movies were any better, if I remember correctly…

SW:TOR: First Impression

And I mean “very first”:

Downloading, downloading, downloading. 21 GB for a demo, yay. Full voiceovers and all, I get it, but 21GB? Alright, it just looks like you download the whole game, so oh well.

Oh, I’m ready to start. Ah, an intro video. With some talking, and then, immediately the Sith attack. Lots of fighting. And more fighting. Shooting and lightsabre battles. And more of them. And more. This video is quite long *twiddling thumbs* I want to play finally!

Ah, finally. I get to choose my allegiance. Oh… another intro video… for my faction. More lightsabre-fighting ad nauseam *yawn*. I’ll get a drink. Alright, I’m back with my drink, and they’re still not done fencing it out? Now I know why this game is 21 gigs.

Ah, time to create my character. Cute options overall, though 90% of the faces are kinda ugly, and the scars are mostly so overdone they don’t look useable. But I’m ok with the result. Oh look, another cutscene! At least it’s in-game and not another video. Right, “agent, go infiltrate the planet”, yadda yadda. Alright, finally, off I go!

“The servers will be shut down in 10 minutes for a 2-hour maintenance.”

While I’m waiting in the queue…

… and probably for a bunch of days, I’ll use EA’s offer to test-drive SW:TOR this weekend for free. I’m skeptic, because I’m neither a big Star Wars fan, nor eager for another hyper-streamlined theme-park  MMO, but a free chance to see the best parts of the game (the low-level areas and first two instances)? I’ll take that and then probably walk away again.