Wednesday, December 14, 2011

SWTOR: Seven levels of bounty hunting

Holy cow, there's a new Star Wars MMO?!
Unless you've been living under a rock you probably know the release of Star Wars: The Old Republic is imminent - just next week in fact.  Early access for pre-orders has started, and along with piles of other people I got into it yesterday.  Due to an unfortunate cancellation of our Tuesday Night Gaming Group I ended up having time to play, so created my Bounty Hunter, joined my guild, and started adventuring.

I didn't touch any Empire characters during my brief beta stint, and so right away I was struck by just how different the starting experience for a Bounty Hunter is from the Jedi Consular.  The entire feel and tone of the setting is different, and appropriately so, although my Bounty Hunter seemed to have to do a lot more talking before getting to the shooting than my Consular did.  New Bounty Hunter's arrive on Hutta to try and earn a place in the Great Hunt.  If you played the Knights of the Old Republic games you've probably heard of the great hunt - it's a bounty hunting competition the winner of which walks away with fame and fortune.  The Mandalorians are pretty into it.

You arrive on Hutta and make your way to a building where a team of bounty hunters are waiting -- your team.  They go on about what a bad ass you are, and indeed, all the conversation options and NPC reactions reflect your status as a bad ass.  You are a level 1 bad ass, but it doesn't matter, it works.  The fact that I'm playing a hulking Chiss with glowing red eyes doesn't hurt either.  Eventually you go out and start collecting bounties.  Yes, you're not killing random mobs (not at first anyway), you're killing criminals with bounties on their heads, or their minions.  In the first two hours of the game I've taken out several named bounty targets, double crossed several quest givers, crashed the financial accounts of a rival Hutt, and even freed some slaves.  What the heck, right? I'm a bad ass.  You slaves can go, I don't care.

So the Bounty Hunter story seems good so far, but how does the class play?

The Bounty Hunter is the master of combat options, and I'd say the combat style is one of damage and disruption.  I was bothered by the fact that Bounty Hunters/Troopers don't seem to pay any heed to blaster fire -  Jedi and Sith try to deflect it with lightsabers, and Smugglers/Agents take cover, but Bounty Hunters just stand there and take it.  Turns out they don't.  A Bounty Hunter's defense is a disruptive offense -- enemies who are on fire, trying to get explosives off them, or getting knocked down by rockets aren't shooting at you, and within your first couple of levels you can do all of those things.  Attacking groups of enemies became a thing of beauty as I'd open with an Explosive Dart which would stick to a target and distract them for 3 seconds as they frantically tried to claw it off.  The dart would then explode dealing a large amount of damage and knocking all nearby enemies down.  All the while I'm taking shots with my blaster, follow with a rocket when they get back up (which knocks them all down again), and finally use Unload on any survivors that have a lot of health.  Most of the time I could take out the whole group without them getting more than a couple of shots off.

I'll admit that even with that I still tend to try and stand behind cover.  It doesn't actually do anything of course, but it makes me feel better and lets me believe the combat is making sense.  I'll also tend to charge forward, which isn't as insane as it sounds, as the Bounty Hunter has a powerful rocket-assisted punch for melee so opening up with everything you've got and then charging to melee is a good way to deal with powerful targets.  Plus, in the real world it's harder to hit a moving target so running also makes me feel like the combat isn't just "stand there and shoot each other in the face with blasters".  The fact that so far all non-channeled abilities I have can be used while on the move is a big plus in my book.

My Bounty Hunter is level 7 and sitting in a Hutt's cantina earning some rest experience.  I don't have a companion yet, but have several Heroic 2+ (group areas) to explore, so I'm looking forward to tackling both of those things tonight.  So far SWTOR has been the most enjoyable MMORPG experience I've had in years.  Time will tell if it's my favorite MMORPG ever, or if the shine wears off as I play more, but either way I'm looking forward to a good ride.

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