I was recently given the opportunity to play the Bounty Hunter class in an origin world experience at the first ever Bioware Fan Site Summit. It was a fun time indeed and I am thankful for the opportunity. It has answered a lot of questions for me personally about more than just the class, but on a broader level of having to do with my views on the game.
I want to preface this article with the statement that what I played in this stage is in no way what I expect to be set in stone come release. Things are in flux with game design and class balance every day and things change. We were also told that the game build that we played was not even up to date with what is currently being tested and that a lot is already different and has been tweaked in the current beta test version of the game.
Also keep in mind that I only got to level 9 so the experience was just a taste actually of what is to come at release. I am sure that as the character advances and get to a higher level it will play completely different once the origin world is left behind and other mechanics like companions and crew skills and advanced classes and other things are added in.
With my background in industrial manufacturing QA, and having beta tested at least 15 different games to date though, I feel that my eye is trained enough to spot any issues that might seriously effect this game. So I feel confident in my opinion that I am going to speak on. I have played this genre for over 15 years now to this point. Not trying to sound like a hot shot or something I just want the readers to have a frame of reference so you know that I am a REAL MMO GAMER, and not a console player trying to review and speak on a game genre I am not familiar with like some of the articles I have seen lately in the print media about SWTOR.
This experience has been extremely fun for me personally because I just couldn’t resist playing the class I thought I wanted to play come release day. I weighed the options of not playing the class so as not to spoil my story chain before release but I just couldn’t resist because I just have to know whether I am going to be happy with this as my main or not.
For me personally, floundering on a class choice at release is not an option, I want to have it set in stone in my mind so I can begin at minute one of server opening and progress with that class from the get go as my main. Republic or Empire for me is really not a choice because like I have said in other articles I have written, “I play Vader or I don’t play” is where I come from when I try to answer that question for myself. Empire all the way baby.
I had also thought I had decided on the fact that from a game play mechanic standpoint, DPS was the role I want to fulfill as it is what I choose most often and I feel most comfortable playing usually. It is the role that allows me to progress in other areas of the game like I feel most content doing. Whether it be gathering or PVP or PVE or just whatever, it always seems to me that the way to be the most successful overall is to make stuff dead, and to do that I need more DPS. “more deeps”
I am going to come at the Bounty Hunter part of my impressions from three different angles. Story impressions, general Bounty Hunter game play impressions, and then give a general impression of how the game affected me as a whole.
STORY IMPRESSIONS OF THE BOUNTY HUNTER CLASS
Something I have come to realize in the last two years of following this games development is that the story of my character and all the work Bioware has put into the voice over is going to be way more important to me in this game than it ever has been for me personally from a MMO style standpoint. When I play a single player computer game based on the type that I normally play (RPG or RTS style) I expect a high level of story to immerse in, especially from a Bioware game.
When I play a MMO it is different, I don’t normally hold to those standards because I find myself gravitating to completely different play styles and different things interest me like crafting, exploring, PVP, and the list goes on. There are humans involved with the other characters and that usually changes everything about how I play those style of games versus single player software.
From what I saw from the story of the Bounty Hunter I am extremely pleased. Without ruining the story for anyone (no story spoilers from me, sorry) and laying it out piece by piece, I will be general and say that it was what I totally expected, it fit the character in an iconic sense as a Bounty Hunter, and it gave me the opportunity to play what looked to be a fabulous story in many different ways due to the choices of options I had whether they be evil, neutral, or good-ish.
What I saw of it was very compelling and I found myself really getting into the thought process of what might happen if I choose this option versus the other in how I respond to the quest NPC’s. It was fun to actually be able to play that evil “kill em all” mentality and see it acted out once I chose that option. So needless to say that all my choices I made were of the darkest nature possible, and it was fun. It scratched an itch I haven’t been able to feel in a MMO before.
Oh sure there will always be those that will say if I wanted to play that way in any MMO I could have done it just by using role play, it and it can be done I agree. To actually have it affect my options and my game play however, based on the choices I make and visually getting to see it and audibly getting to hear it delivered to me, is a whole other thing.
The voice overs were flawless, minus some small facial bugs that were said to be fixed in the next build already, and the characters emotions that were visible when making responses was very good. In my honest opinion I am sold on what they have done so far and I have no reason to think fourty more levels of it will be any different in a negative way. I totally expect the story to rock, immerse me, and captivate me all the way through based on what I have seen so far.
Let me describe it this way, Serge Stanarevic, my partner in crime at this event, leaned over to me during the play test and said
“oh man you have to do this part of this quest because I just did it and it gave me chills and almost made me tear up at the ramifications of what story option I chose”
He then went on to tell me to
“be ready for it cause it was intense”.
Honestly, we wouldn’t even be having that discussion if it weren’t for a captivating and enthralling story.
Bioware wins on story.
MECHANICS AND GAME PLAY IMPRESSIONS OF THE BOUNTY HUNTER CLASS
From what I played the mechanics were solid for the most part. Only got to level 9 though so I didn’t really get a full scope of the action. Would gladly test this game again at anytime, seriously.
The skills I had were effective and I felt like I could fulfill my perceived role of DPS fairly well. I could take on mobs of my level easily, one was no problem, two was no problem, three was do able and slightly a challenge, four mobs at my level was starting to make me keep a escape route handy using a standard rotation.
I felt like I had plenty of skills to use and as my level increased I found the Bounty Hunter trainer to buy more, pretty normal to other standard MMO’s. I don’t think I even came close to dying until I got to around level five or so. But by that time I was already antsy and was trying to kill stuff three or so levels higher than me for a challenge, which I could do but it was only one at a time I could handle.
I had a vent heat ability from the start that got rid of my built up heat from using my skills but could only be used in non-combat situations. It had a self heal associated with it as well and I found myself using it more and more between battles as the mobs started to get harder to manage. I also had a heal others skill, and a buff that I could apply to all party members to increase the damage they dealt in combat.
The strength of the mobs my level was normal but I can see how inexperienced players might have found them hard to deal with, especially when four of them are all beating on you. I really think the balance of how hard the mobs are in the starting area is ok, some have said they were too hard but I found them to be average power wise.
I felt the skills DPS output was slightly lower than I had expected, and I think they need to bump it up slightly for this class, (very slightly) to make me feel like I was primarily a DPS machine. When I started getting into areas where I had multiple groups of mobs in the immediate area and the content was a level or two above me it got difficult, but manageable. I did feel slightly heroic when taking on groups of three or more as it required quick skill usage to make it through.
The animations on all my abilities up to level nine were awesome, very fluid and I loved them all. Can’t make up my mind whether “rocket punch” or “death from above” was my favorite, probably “death from above”. My cool downs on some of my higher end abilities seemed like it was a tad too long, I wanted to be able to use them a little quicker than I was able too. I think this needs adjusted down to less time on the cool down (just a tad) for certain higher end skills at this level. The lower end skill cool downs were fine allowing me to rely on my blaster shot ability, flamethrower, and arm rocket when everything else was on cool down.
The aggro range on the mobs bothered me because I felt they were a smidge to nosey as they started chasing from what I felt was too far away. I think these aggro ranges need backed off a bit to allow me to find holes in the coverage so I can run through a zone avoiding mobs when I want to. Maybe it was just the area I was in because it was kind of tight with terrain features like trees and logs and stuff all around and it was not like a open plains zone or anything but it still felt off. Being able to find holes in the coverage and sneak through zones when I am busy exploring is something I enjoy and a useful mechanic and I would like to see that supported better.
Bioware from my experience wins on Bounty Hunter game play.
GENERAL GAME IMPRESSIONS OF OVERALL GAME
The game world itself was vibrant and awesome to behold. Even in this build it was something I enjoyed looking at. The world designers have done a very good job making things interesting looking and I like the direction it is taking. Honestly, I would be satisfied with its look and would play it in this stage it is in now, can’t wait to see what it ends up being at launch after they have had even more time to tweak.
The inventory was spacious and I did see the option to upgrade your personal storage for 1500 credits. I killed and looted for over an hour and was in no danger of getting full with drops. On average each thing I killed dropped some credits and a item. The average credit drop I saw at this level was about 15 per kill at around level four.
Found some crew skills stations in the open world at Hutta, unfortunately I could not use them because I did not make it to the level I needed to get a companion. It sucked to be so close to finally being able to see one of those workstations and then not having the ability to use it.
I also saw Item modification stations where “crystals” could be added to various weapons. Judging from the recent release of the mission skill “Archaeologist” I am thinking the crystals they supposedly get as drops is what you use on these items to do weapon modification, that’s my guess as to where they come from anyway.
The main map console was very nice with lots of features, I especially liked the zoom/magnifying glass feature I thought that was neat. Also the standard opacity setting were there, nice features.
The codex was nice, I did get codex entries with lore on special mobs when I encountered them for the first time. There was special lore totems in game that when clicked on gave you other lore style codex entries, I also can confirm that I got codex entries when I found new unexplored areas, plus exp for exploration.
The other UI features were nice as well, the character panel, the skills panel, stats panel (with six available character stats that I saw like “presence” and “strength” and etc) they were all pleasing to look at with so many options as to what you could do and play with. The character equipment slots section had many spaces for gear, that was nice because that ensures to me that I will have plenty of different types of items to equip and I am all about having plenty of gear options.
The hot bar set up was good, it had a lot of features built in and it seemed functional. I had the ability like most MMO’s to bring up some more item or skill hot bars if needed so don’t worry about that. It had a functional design.
one of the last things I will mention is the datacron Serge found and then directed me to. When I found it, it was accompanied by a little graphic on my character when I used it. It was kind of like a power up in design and it looked great with your eye’s lighting up and the power flowing through you. The one I found on Hutta gave me a +1 to agility, I could not choose the ability to get the bonus in but it still was very cool, one use per player type of thing.
Overall I honestly think Bioware wins again with general game play.
This game is so fun and has so many things to explore and investigate I can only imagine how fun it will be for me once the other game features are released. I can not understand how anyone could not like this game actually but I suppose there will be a few. I know for me though, this play experience has answered a few questions that have been nagging at me.
Will I love the look of the game? ( totally )
Will I love the feel of the combat? ( oh yeah )
Will I have plenty to do in game to keep me from getting bored? ( It appears so, the jury is still out on this one until I see the rest of the features planned )
Will the Bounty Hunter satisfy me as my main starting class? ( I am thinking so, but honestly some of the other classes are starting to look really nice as well to me )
Will story be as important to me and as enthralling as I had hoped? ( heck yeah! )
Will I be happy playing this game for a long, long time? ( Resounding yes, but to really knock it out of the park for me there are still key systems that need to be seen, Crew Skills being the most important to me )
So with those questions answered I sit back and wait. Wait till I get my chance to get my hands on the game again to hopefully answer the rest of the questions I have about SWTOR. Unless something unexpected like a beta invite shows up in my email box, the next time I will touch it is in June at E3.
I look forward to that adventure as this one closes, see you there!
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