So Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) has been getting a lot of coverage at this year's E3. Despite some of the less than excited comments I've made on this blog about the game, it is a game I'm looking forward to. As the promised 2011 release looms, of necessity, ever nearer, my interest in the game and the amount of attention I'm paying to its hype machine is increasing. If it doesn't slip, I figure we'll see SWTOR in December of this year. That's a good thing, since it means they've got six months to continue improving their game, and from what I've seen in the videos there are some pretty basic things that need improving.
The first thing is pretty nitpicky, but it bugs me so I'm going to get it out of the way. I hate, hate, HATE, the way vehicles are "summoned" in the videos. The vehicles themselves seem cool enough, pretty much what a SWTOR "mount" should be. The swirling "magical" cloud that "poofs" into a vehicle makes me want to foam at the mouth, though. Could we maybe, I don't know, try something not entirely genre breaking? Don't bother with all this interactive dialogue crap if you're going to throw immersion right out the window. What's wrong with having the character whip out a datapad, punch in a code, and then have the vehicle swoop in from off-screen? See, nitpicky, I know, but it's stuff like that that drives me crazy.
My next concern is about combat. In most (all?) MMOs, enemies (mobs) are essentially bags of xp and loot waiting for you to beat the squishy goodness out of them. That's fine, that's a convention, we all understand that. Does Bioware really need to cram that fact down our throat by having mobs seem so stiff and lifeless though? I'm hardly going to claim I've seen ALL the SWTOR videos out there, but in the ones I have seen combat seem very stiff, with everyone standing around trading blows like good little piñatas. Maybe it's less noticeable if you're playing the game instead of watching it, but it seems very archaic. Star Wars Galaxies had the ability to kneel and go prone to at least make it LOOK like you were trying to avoid incoming fire. I never thought I'd be saying SWG did something better than SWTOR, but there you go. Even Knights of the Old Republic (which is how many years old now?) seemed like combat was more dynamic, though admittedly it suffered from "stand and trade blaster bolts" syndrome as well.
My final immediate visual concern is that the world seems very lifeless. Everything is very static. You don't see NPCs pathing around. You don't see things going on in the background. There seems to be very little animation going on in the game unless it's the player character. Maybe those are little touches that will be added over the coming months -- I certainly hope so.
I want to end on a more upbeat note though, by pointing out the things that I think look good. The adventuring areas seem pretty large, and that's definitely a plus. Nothing could ruin a game like this more than being cramped into tiny little tubes and boxes like Dragon Age 2 or Final Fantasy XIII. The voiceovers and conversation wheel look like they'll actually work. It seemed much like most Bioware single player RPGs, except your character gets right to the point instead of beating around the bush (simplified choices). I think people will be willing to listen and pay attention rather than skip through everything because it will be interactive instead of passive (like quest text) and it looks like players will generally only be following one main quest at a time. When you have 24 quests in your journal and go to add your 25th, who cares? They're all errands of run here, blah blah blah, ka-ching!
Despite my misgivings, I think the game still has a chance to be good. It may not be a great MMORPG, but I think it will be a fun RPG regardless. If Bioware can work over the coming months to bring their game world to life that should go a long way to making SWTOR a game environment people want to stay and play in.