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SWTOR has flexible classes, and just about all of them have multiple roles they can play. Each faction has four basic classes, each of which turns into one of two advanced classes at level 10. Both the Sith Empire and the Republic have Force-wielding characters (melee DPS and tank, along with caster roles) and blaster-wielding characters (ranged tank and DPS, healing). In most cases, every advanced class can simply be re-speced to fulfill a new role. Jedi Guardians can tank or DPS, while Sith Sorcerers can DPS or heal. What you won’t find are any classes or builds dedicated to debuffing/CC or pets. This is in part because every class has CC abilities, making PVP more interesting (you really have to coordinate CC because of how the resolve system works), but it’s also because every class has six companions. These are more powerful than pets in most MMOs, and between all six of them, they fill every role you would need in solo or small-group content. This obviates the need for a pet class, since everyone has a “pet” they can call upon to fill any imaginable role.
But companions are much more than pets, since they serve you in more than a combat capacity. Crafting and resource-gathering is mostly undertaken by your companions; after all, you’re the hero of the story. Why sully your hands with harvesting plants or mining crystals when you can have your colleagues do it? Once you’ve earned all of your companions, you can send them out on resource-gathering missions, order them to craft items on your ship, or even send them back to town to sell vendor trash. They can even run missions and craft while you’re logged off. They’re also involved in your roleplaying experiences. Every companion has a set of actions they like or dislike. Taking certain actions in various missions increases or decreases their affection. The more affection a companion has, the more efficient they get at crafting and resource-gathering. They also have their own subplots, and every class has a romance interest for both genders. You’ll find their likes and dislikes don’t mesh well with either alignment; even the most demented Sith companions are three-dimensional enough to have interests beyond kicking puppies all the way to the Dark side. No matter what moral outlook you decide upon, gaining affection with your companions is tricky.
There is gear aplenty in SWTOR. In addition to crafting, gear is acquired in Flashpoints and Operations (raids). These instances also drop crafting materials needed for high-end gear, making them useful for both crafters and players who just want the gear. There’s also a system of modifications, allowing you to customize your gear to some extent. There’s an entire system of PVP gear that increases Expertise, a PVP-only stat. This means PVPers have their own gear to pursue, while PVEers have theirs. Neither side of gameplay is really required to excel at the other. Luckily, PVP is easy to join so that you can take a break from PVE content to fight other players. Warzones (PVP instances) can be joined from anywhere on the server by simply queuing at the press of a button. Open-world PVP takes place on a couple of planets, and depending on your server’s rules, it can happen in designated areas or all over the place. And since PVP warzones make all participating characters level 50, new players have plenty of reason to try PVP, leveling up and gaining gear just like if they were running solo content. Some gear is reserved for people with high alignment to either the Light or Dark side, but you shouldn’t worry about it too much. With the current build, the best gear is available to anyone, regardless of alignment.
I have to give credit to BioWare for how the various parts of SWTOR are put together. Most players of MMOs want different things from a game, and to its credit, SWTOR doesn’t try to clone World of Warcraft or Lord of the Rings Online in all of its mechanics. However, this means certain kinds of gamers aren’t going to find what they’re looking for in SWTOR. Some players are only interested in end-game PVE raids and whatnot. If you just want to quickly power-level to the cap and bypass half the content, this isn’t going to be your kind of MMO. There’s so much good material while you level up, and a good chunk of group content even at low levels, that it’s worth taking your time to go through it all. And since Light and Dark-side choices change both solo and group experiences, you can redo the same sections and see how they work out with different choices. Then there are players who just want to PVP and who don’t care about PVE or crafting. They might not get their money’s worth because, while there’s some good PVP, there’s so much more to the game than just fighting other players. But if you enjoy doing both PVE and PVP, and if you’re willing to spend time exploring the stories in the game (both solo and in groups), then you’ll find that BioWare has done things with an MMO that I would’ve thought were complete hype had I not played through it.
The only things about SWTOR that I don’t like are game functionality that I would expect in an MMO produced in the last two years. Interface elements cannot be resized or moved around very much, a feature that seems to be missing for no reason. Also, it’s currently impossible to transfer characters to a new server. If you don’t like your current server, or have friends on another server, you are stuck rerolling a new character. Why BioWare refused to tap the revenue potential of charging a couple of bucks for server transfers is a business decision that makes no sense to me, especially considering the widely varying server populations (some are practically empty, while others have login queues all the time). There are also the currently unimplemented features of the legacy system, which should tie all your characters on a server together with special abilities and familial relationships. But it doesn’t currently do anything, so it’s just this bizarrely blank feature about which you receive periodic messages. I also hate the way quick travel is implemented with regards to the Imperial and Republic fleets. You have a 20-minute cooldown for swift travel between various points on individual planets, which is great. However, this version of quick travel won’t take you to the fleets. Each faction’s respective fleets are important hubs for Flashpoints and Operations, to say nothing of the Galactic Trade Network (auction house), crew skills training, gear purchases for both PVP and PVE, and practically any service you might need. Yet, unless you use the special Emergency Fleet Pass with its 18-hour cooldown, you have to go through three to six loading screens to get to the fleet. This makes it a needless chore to get to the most important hub in the game, which is a poor design decision as far as I, and half the game community, is concerned. And finally, there’s no way to change your appearance once you create a character, nor is there any system for cosmetic gear. Considering the roleplaying emphasis of the game, I’m flabbergasted that these features were not implemented at release. These issues are more of an inconvenience than game breaking, and most of them are slated to go away when the next major patch is released.
When you put it all together and examine what BioWare has produced, you realize that at the end of the day, Star Wars: The Old Republic won’t kill WoW. Luckily for us, it isn’t even trying to be the same kind of game, so you don’t have to worry about comparisons between the two. I’ve picked up two SWTOR subscriptions, replacing LOTRO as my MMO of choice, and that’s saying something. As it stands now, it’s got me hooked, and I can see myself subscribing for some time. I can’t predict the state of future content, but if BioWare can keep this level of quality, then the sky’s the limit.
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