World of Warcraft has fallen a bit out of favor with me this current raid tier as of late. I have growing frustrations with both my main and my primary alt. For my druid I’ve just been unhappy with the state of druid healing and while I can put up fairly nice numbers (I don’t rank that often given our strong healing core) and I stay viable I generally have to bust my butt to do so and even then I don’t look stellar when you subtract my tranquility numbers. To the frustration of my guild I’ve sworn off of loot entirely this tier. I will buy VP items and take loot that is going to rot but I haven’t been putting my name in to the loot council for any gear since the staff I picked up. Sure I’m a tad jaded and maybe there was a loot kerfuffle I didn’t like earlier this tier but in the end my logic is that if other classes can scale and benefit more from gear (be it DPS or healing) then why not let them have it. Before you chastise me I understand this is highly flawed and extremely detrimental to my own cause but I have a hard time caring much these days. I keep showing up but I don’t know how much of my heart is in it. I love my class and am in no danger of quitting WoW I am simply disenfranchised for the moment.
My shaman is currently healing in a 10 man alt run which has been a lot of fun. We only have heroic Morchok down and plan on pushing more bosses this coming Sunday now that the holidays are. For normal modes though the healing is so tame that our discipline priest and holy paladin completely dominate me. Perhaps I’m “doing it wrong” and I’ll completely accept that but healing as a shaman for 10 man normal modes doesn’t feel so fun these days with two very strong and better geared other healers in the mix.
What to do then? Well Skyrim had eaten up a huge chunk of my time for a while until the LFR system showed up. That was a colossal time sink with four (I know some of you have many more) active 85’s that I like to get in there. Realizing that I hadn’t touched Skyrim in some time I decided to do something else for a bit besides it and the LFR obsession.
So this long weekend I decided to download Star Wars: The Old Republic
I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. The game is an MMO sure, but it has an honest to goodness plot. No I know that WoW “technically” has a plot but I’m talking about one that feels personal and directly tied to your character as well as the war as a whole. In WoW the opposite faction sometimes does a few silly things here and there to make you mad but the faction interaction in SW:ToR really gets your blood boiling and I like that very much. Here is my current list of pros and cons for the game so far:
Voice Acted Dialogue – the VO really does enhance the quest experience immensely making you really feel like you’re in a quality RPG story doing good deeds for people and advancing the plot. Originally I poo-poo’d this as merely window dressing for “Go kill X guys” quests but it surprised be greatly. The reason for this is if you actually go and think of side quests in games like Dragon Age 2, Witcher 2, etc. they’re actually not that different than the ones in this game. The voice acting makes things feel authentic.
Graphics – let’s be honest having really nice quality graphics makes your experience enjoyable. I have a decent enough PC to run the game on “high” though I could probably push farther. The cartoon style seems reminiscent of the Clone Wars cartoon but significantly nicer of course. It doesn’t detract from the game and lets it maintain a level of seriousness it needs to achieve its goals. I rate this a major benefit to the games experience if you have a nice enough computer.
Story – as mentioned the stories for each class make the game feel personal. I like that it’s MY story (even if other people are also experiencing the same story). I really wanted to catch Skavak more than any other villain in WoW while questing at lower levels. The excellence of the story in this game is further enhanced by the following feature
Phasing – making solid use of phasing improves the gameplay experience immensely. Having quest zones or areas phase for just you and your party makes experiencing them a lot more fun and realistic. Why would there by 20 other smugglers running around the dock where YOUR ship is parked? Similarly having 2 to 4 person quests that take place in phased areas act as mini impromptu dungeons and some are of fairly decent length. These are not to be confused with Flashpoints which are the full on dungeons complete with bosses and require tank/dps/healing roles. Similarly the game’s ability to phase WHOLE ZONES when they become overpopulated is a magnificent idea. Imagine if, for some reason, Uldum was completely overrun by players leveling that it was unmanageable from mob shortage to server latency. IF the game could spawn a second or even third copy of the Uldum area and distribute the players evenly among them you don’t need to worry about that at all.
Companions – leveling as a healer, despite the fact I can do decent dps, is much easier with a tank/dps companion by my side. This feeling of never being alone really does make the story work as they are often people from your story arc anyway. My companion, Corso “Bugged harpoon of aweful” Riggs, was my buddy from nearly the first moment I stepped into the game he just didn’t fight by my side until level 7.
These are all fairly broad categories and in each one I think the game excels over WoW in some aspects. WoW clearly has better endgame balance in both PvP and PvE and will continue to be my raiding game of choice (given its pedigree) but SW:ToR clearly has a lot going for it. With the positives come negatives though
Voice Acted Dialogue – you’re probably thinking “what? He listed that as a Pro” and you’re right I did. The VO however are also sometimes a bit of a downer as well. The alien language gibberish sometimes ends a LONG time before the next string of dialogue is scheduled to begin leaving some really awkward pauses. Sometimes the quest dialogue is way longer than it needs to be for something simple. In those cases I sometimes press escape out of frustration only to be forced to sit through it again. Edit: I want to add you can press spacebar to skip past dialogue rendering this a non issue unless you’re strict about letting it play out. A few people made a good point I should include this note.
Interface – It’s clunky. REAL clunky. I get what they are trying to do but I can’t say I’m a huge fan of how its set up. There’s no level of customization and the party frames are tucked away in the bottom left corner. As someone who is leveling as a healer it is increasingly irritating not having that level of control i’m used to in WoW. I don’t like having my critical buffs as tiny icons with no duration numbers visible to monitor. I don’t like having to look in the lower left corner of the screen to monitor allies and my companion. From a healing perspective (though only level 20) I give the interface a big thumbs down.
Quest Bonus Objectives, the GOTCHA moment – the game avoids quests that are directly “go and kill X dudes” by adding that in as simply a bonus aspect to an existing quest. If you need to recover 8 cannisters in an area you might get a message that pops up after killing a guy there “Bonus objective: Kill X dudes here”. This I think is fine and makes things easier to swallow. The follow up sometimes kicks you in the junk though. After killing those X dudes, sometimes a stage 2 to the bonus pops up with much higher requirements. e.g. stage 1 might have been “kill 10 dudes” and stage 2 is sometimes “kill 40 dudes”. It almost feels like i’m being Rick Rolled at times. This is hardly a critical flaw though.
Running and speed – there is a lot of travelling and running in this game. The zones are huge and you do not move nearly that fast so you can expect a LOT of time spent hoofing it from area to area. At level 14 you get “sprint” which lets you move faster out of combat. Gating a non-mount speed increase in a game this size is a terrible idea and i’m disappointed that it isn’t accessible much earlier in the game. Even with sprint the world is huge and there need to be either a.) more speeder locations available to players or b.) significantly lower cooldown of fast travel (50% perhaps). I understand back in older MMO’s like everquest and its ilk and even vanilla WoW players were forced to spend a lot of time traveling and running to flight points as a way to offer a time sink. In this day and age that level of punishment isn’t required and time is a very precious thing. Do not make me spend any more time running on foot than I have to. (Coruscant is also really really big and I hated every time I had to run into the tower to talk to a senator). Note: thanks to a comment below reminding me to put this gripe in here
Thoughts on the Scoundrel
So I’m playing as the smuggler healer who uses energy to heal which I find fascinating. There is a considerable amount of depth to the gameplay though and I wanted to share a little of that and compare it to WoW somewhat. The scoundrel uses an ability called “Upper Hand”, which is a 10 second buff that stacks to 2, as a secondary critical resource for casting spells in addition to the 100 energy. Your basic direct heal costs 25 energy (quite a bit) and grants one charge of Upper Hand. Your primary HoT, Slow Release Med Pac for 15 energy, has a 30% chance of granting Upper Hand per tick via talents and can stack up to two times on a target. Upper Hand may be used to cast a cheaper and faster direct heal called kolto pack (1.5s versus 2.0s, and 20 energy versus 25) or an instant and free heal that doesn’t hit as hard called Emergency Med Pac (think of swiftmend to some degree). Scoundrels also get Kolto Cloud which is effectively Wild Growth in its functionality. What makes this system interesting is that your energy has variable regen rates. At 60% or greater you gain, assuming Pugnacity, 6 energy a second however if you dip below 60% you get proportionally less energy returned. If you bottom out your energy bar it gets really rough. Scoundrel’s have an ability on a 2 minute cooldown that restores 50 (66 talented) energy which can be utilized very similar to an arcane mage’s burn rotation followed by Evocation if necessary to get back up out of the red. Managing your resources is extremely important and makes the player feel like they are working hard to maximize throughput. There is a right and a wrong way to heal to be sure.
The scoundrel also does quite a bit of rogue-like duties which is pretty interesting as a healer. Scoundrel’s can stealth and have tranquilizer (sap) for organic targets and can overload (general CC) droids for some time. Having a stun in the form of Dirty Kick (sp?), an interrupt, and an AoE blind effect make for some really excellent in combat decisions. In a raiding scenario I am not usually fond of being tasked with doing all of those things and healing however I think it will work somewhat decently in this model as healing isn’t super spammy.
This isn’t an advertisement for the scoundrel or for SW:TOR in general but it is a little bit of a PSA for the game. It is in fact very good and definitely worth giving it a shot. Try any class you like and take it for a spin. I do want to thank Beruthiel, Tokudama, and a whole slew of the WoW druid blogging community for their recommendations and support via twitter conversations. It helped me stop waffling and take it for a spin.
One last thing of note that I wanted to include here: my girlfriend does NOT like MMO’s. I genuinely respect that as not everyone loves to play with strangers online and deal with the general awfulness that goes along with that. She has played (or watched) just about everything Bioware and loved the KOTOR games. To see her genuinely interested in the game and actually willing to give it a shot speaks volumes I assure you. Sadly SW:ToR does not offer a free trial at this time so she may wait a little while but the fact she is considering it and interested means a lot to me.