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There comes a time in your life where you’ve seen enough, and you realize you have to make a decision. Should you share what you have learned, even if you fear they, ordinary people, won’t understand? Do you run and hide under a rock with your newfound knowledge to hoard it ravenously like an unearthed jewel?

No. The only human thing to do is share what you’ve learned, and allow others to derive their own meaning from it.

Life is made up of a bunch of tiny fragments of ephemeral joy. Small tapestries that, when pieced together, form into a great scene that may or may not have some significance in your human journey. Maybe these scenes, once revealed, mean nothing; perhaps they mean everything, and you will only discover this fact after careful study (and if your rational mind allows).

If your rational mind will allow, perhaps you will glean something wonderful from what I have to share. You may even find something in it that you can take with you on your journey – something that will put the chaos of everyday life into its crystal clear perspective. I hope this beautiful moment serves as a beacon for you – that you find in it as much majesty, as much purity, as I did.

Thank you.

Ding

So… Funny thing happened to me on my way to an Imperial base on Corellia today.

 

 

Ding

Doctor Lokin: "Does it feel like something has changed to you, too, Bal?"

* * *

As big moments in life go, this is merely a trickle. But as gaming goes, reaching cap is a pretty big deal. It is cause for celebration (you could even say it demands one).

It doesn’t seem like it was all that long ago that I was jonesing for this game hard. Even wondering – somewhere in the back of my mind – if it would EVER come out.

Today, I have reached the mountaintop.

As I look down at all the tiny flecks that are, in fact, people, I take this moment to reflect.

With my head swimming in the clouds, I wish you all well.

May your individual journeys to this mountaintop be as eventful, as entertaining, and as enjoyable as mine was. Take care all.

-Jara

* * *

Since this is a celebratory moment, it only seems appropriate:

In BioWare games, companions are quite possibly the most unique, not to mention vital, components to the success of any title.

When you look back at BioWare games, at first glance they may seem like little more than your average RPG’s. Especially in games like Dragon Age, people can look at it and think – foolishly -’Oh, another fantasy game with castles, dragons, and knights.’ However, what has made BioWare such a giant in the RPG genre is not that they make a familiar fantasy world for you to explore. It is their ability to make you feel like your character is a part of the grand story that makes a BioWare RPG something different from the norm. Most RPG’s place you in the narrative, place you in the world, but few developers give you the chance to really make it your own. In a BioWare game, not only are you a focus of the story, you – Revan, the Grey Warden, Commander Shepard, etc – are the epicenter.

Everything you do has impact in a BioWare game. Not just on the environment, but also on the people closest to you in the game – your companions. Anyone who has played a BioWare game can tell you, NOBODY will let you know how your actions are affecting things more loudly than your companions. They are often your moral compass, but more importantly they are always your emotional compass. They pipe in their disgust with you when they see you do something reprehensible, or else throw in their sinister approval. They applaud your virtuous decisions, or else have no qualms pointing out your “weakness” in the face of taking the harsher action, and so on. Overall, companions really make the BioWare experience. Ask any veteran BioWare player and I’m sure they can reel off any number of companion names that made their lasting mark.

And damned if they don’t worm their way into your decision making… Sometimes whether you want them to or not.

I will admit right now that I’ve often allowed my companions to completely shift my ingame personality to a lighter or darker shade than it would otherwise have gone.

I just can’t be as big an asshole as I want to be knowing that Leliana will be standing just behind me watching my every move.

On the other side, sometimes I want to refrain from driving my lightsaber into a person’s skull – but Khem Val would think I was a little soft wuss (he already calls me a “little Sith” too much for my tastes, as it is).

When you throw romance into this mix, you get an interesting concoction you simply cannot get in any other RPG.

Romancing companions is one of the most fulfilling parts of a BioWare game. Not only because of the implications for your ingame character, but also because they often lead to the most entertaining, hilariously awkward conversations you will ever experience in an RPG.

 

While I am feeling the same familiar companion uncertainties (which choices to make in order to appeal to x or y companion) as I have in previous BioWare games, somehow in SWTOR the phenomenon has made a drastic and interesting shift.

Instead of allowing my companions to dictate which way my character shifts, I find myself struggling to decide which ones best suit the direction my toon is heading.

For as long as I’ve known I would play a Sith Warrior for my main when the game came out, I’ve known exactly how my path would play out.

With all the certainty of a person who knows next to nothing about (the launch version of) a game he claims to already have his path mapped through, I was deadset on seeing my carefully considered trail through to its end. I would begin dark side, then somewhere along the way I would rebel against my dark ways and start to redeem myself. I would traverse the galaxy saving kittens and little bunnies with my goody goody blue lightsaber, as well as Vette, by my side.

Fast forward to the present and where do I stand? Dark III… Murderer of innocents and guilty, alike… Solidly in the midst of my very own Betty vs. Veronica situation.

Vette slave bikini

"Come on, let's go hit the cantinas on Nar Shaddaa! It'll be fun!"

Jaesa dark side

"Come on, let's go murder Jawas on Tatooine! It'll be fun!"

A month ago I would’ve said Vette all the way, end of discussion. Now, with this character… I don’t know.

"Romance is tiresome. Things are so much better when you can just murder people and be done with them."

Truth be told, my Sith Warrior is nothing like I thought he would be when I started – and I’m not entirely unhappy with the way he has turned out.

The Empire is a far different place than I had ever considered. A blue boy would have been chewed up like wad in that world. The Sith are conquerors, and their world is an ever-changing one. The option may be there for someone to be the lone holdout, vehemently opposed to this world from which he was spawned – but somehow that didn’t seem terribly real to me.

The further I got into the SW story, the more I started to feel like the most logical, believable path for a pureblood Sith wanting out of the current ladder system would not be to become a hero type, always making choices for the sake of justice. That almost seems too cheesy. Instead, it seemed more believable to me that a pureblood Sith wanting out of the current system would just rewrite the current system – and pin under his thumb all who would stand in opposition. After all, Qin Shi Huangdi didn’t rebel against the warring states system by becoming an independent, pacifistic patriot – he subjugated (brutally) the states and unified them under one banner (China, fyi).

As a byproduct of this change in philosophy, my romance options have also changed. Throughout the course of the game, I’ve miraculously managed to keep Vette’s affection for me up, despite all the innocent people I’ve slaughtered along the way (and with the help of a few companion gifts *ahem*).  That said, after obtaining my second romance option, the former padawan turned evil apprentice, Jaesa Willsaam, I am not so sure I want to end up with Vette as I had first decided.

To say that Vette and Jaesa are coming from vastly different places in SWTOR’s version of romance would be an understatement.

Without giving away too many spoilers, I’ll just say Vette is no angel (she has been involved in her share of heists and petty crime), but she is also far from a devil. She prefers non-violence overall, but is happiest when whatever I am doing brings in the cash.  She hates seeing innocent people murdered, and hates ME with a vengeance whenever I succumb to bloodlust. Vette also seems to enjoy seeing me act like a dick to people in charge. Whenever I mouth off to people in authority, I have gotten used to seeing that familiar numbered “like” tab pop up on the bottom left of my screen with Vette’s portrait. I sometimes get the vibe that, while she is somewhat appalled by the world from which my Sith Warrior was forged, she can at least appreciate the fact that I am making a place for myself instead of blindly serving my (current) masters. For my character, who wants nothing less than the galaxy itself, she is a pretty ideal companion for my Sith Warrior. She is probably the only person in my crew that would never turn against me, could never turn against me, and doesn’t want to turn against me – in a world where betrayal is as common as breathing, that has to count for something.

Jaesa, on the other hand, can be a devil – but you have to read between the lines to get the full story. She is happiest when I tell everyone to fuck all and just do my own thing. As a dark side companion, she loves indulging in the vices that she had no access to as a Jedi or even growing up before she was found by her former master. That said, she has a somewhat naive approach to being Sith that I actually find refreshing. Don’t get me wrong, she can be as wicked as a scorpion, but she also picks and chooses which precepts of the Sith to follow and which to challenge (such as the practice of an apprentice eventually killing their master). She also seems loyal to my character above all else, which appeals heavily to my Sith Warrior. That kind of loyalty is uncommon in the world of the Sith – especially by a fellow Sith.

My character, Lord Oktavian, holds true to the Machiavellian principle of ruling through fear – but also giving enough (gifts, compliments) to his subordinates to keep that fear from turning into hate. The decisions I make with the character tend to border on a sort of Sith version of the Conan/Norse methodology (strength above all). I don’t murder for the thrill of murder, so much as I take delight in battling strong foes (and killing those who really deserve it, in my toon’s opinion). I also don’t spare people out of a desire to be righteous, just whenever I feel like killing or cruelty would serve no purpose. Oktavian the Sith Lord has no redemption policies. If you betray him once, you won’t have the chance to do it again. No excuses. No mercy. Having said that, I should point out that “Ok” is not devoid of humor. Whenever I have been given the chance to act like a smart ass, I do it.

When you put those three in the same room, I’m not exactly sure what will happen.lol Vette appeals to my character’s lighter nature (which is there, just buried beneath the inherent darkness of a pureblood Sith forged in the belly of the Sith power structure). Meanwhile, Jaesa is a newborn Sith, still unsure of which way is up, still learning restraint, but also with enough self-awareness to follow her own instincts when they conflict with centuries old Sith teachings. That sort of pick-and-choose philosophy really fits well with a Sith who isn’t interested in becoming just another step in the current ladder.

I had thought that this particular choice would be clear by the time my character took shape – but it couldn’t be murkier.

Damn you, BioWare for doing this to me. :-P

If that doesn’t get you pumped up, you must have a cold, dead heart.

That is right ladies and gentlemen, the day has finally arrived. Within a few hours, zero hour dawns: the launch day of Star Wars: The Old Republic.

After years of waiting, of anticipating. Months – for some of us – of being teased by short spoonfuls of weekend betas. Days of being tantalized by the promise of being able to progress a character you know won’t be wiped in a few days. Finally, our long journey comes to an end. At a time like this, there is only one thing to do, really…

Radio, video. Boogie with a suitcase.

In case you are wondering, that would be a screenshot of myself on the left, and my best bud on the right, doing our best Pop Muzik imitation (after several tries, we managed to get our moves synchronized).

To say that I’ve had a blast playing SWTOR since the beginning of early access would be an understatement — probably of the century. I have been having a fantastic fucking time. From running BT (Black Talon for the laypeople out there) more than a dozen times on different toons, to leveling my profs, to climbing all over the buildings of Mos Ila like a spider monkey, as well as riding through the deserts of Tatooine with a few good buddies like our own version of a Star Wars biker gang — it would take too long to relate all of the awesome things I’ve been a part of in just the past week. I even managed to co-raid lead my first SWTOR operation group to take down Trapjaw on Tatooine (big ups to all the guys and gals on Iron Citadel that were there to share in the joy with ol’ Balthezar that day – you rock, every one of you).

I have literally taken hundreds of screenshots since I hit early access last week. Because of the sheer volume, I couldn’t possibly post them all up — but I will post up the ones that hold some nostalgia for me. The one above is just the tip of the iceberg.

If you notice the chat in the top left corner, you can see just how amazed Vette was by my dancing.

On the same day I co-lead a raid on Trapjaw, here is a screen of myself and a few groupmates riding through the sands of Tatooine like bosses.

I didn't expect to like the "Segway" as much as I did, but I have to be honest: I dug it (and still do).

The pictures I have of this datacron on a rooftop above the Market District of Mos Ila will forever hold a special place in my heart. I managed to find a way to get this datacron without the help of guides -- just hours of careful deduction, meticulous climbing, as well as trial and error.

When I created my quasi-main Imperial Agent, Balthezar, I chose to make him more like Arnold in True Lies over a James Bond ripoff. Here, Balthezar shows off the benefits of Imperial Intelligence's rigorous fitness regimen.

I swear I must have stared at this NPC for more than ten minutes -- laughing my ass off the whole time. (For those who aren't familiar, this guy -- and another on Tatooine, I hear -- exists as an homage to one of the funniest SNL sketches ever.)

SWTOR has many landscapes that made my jaw drop. The first time I came upon the vastness of the Dune Sea, when I stepped out of the space port to the snow-capped mountains of Alderaan. However, I think Nar Shaddaa hit me the hardest. I have always been a sucker for city lights.

For sheer ambience - of the night life persuasion -, Nar Shaddaa really comes across like Vegas x1000. The Smuggler's Moon really does live up to its name. What freewheeling, double dealing smuggler wouldn't feel at home amid the neon painted cityscape of this Hutt jewel?

You meet the most interesting characters traversing the galaxy bringing down terrorist cells and criminal syndicates. This was taken from the scenic vista provided by the Jawa balloon above the Dune Sea. We were on our way to a few datacrons -- sadly, our ride glitched out before we reached them.

The funny thing is, I would probably not be writing this if it weren’t for the fact that the SWTOR servers are down for the night for maintenance. Writing about a game isn’t nearly as fun as playing it.lol

For one of a handful of times in the last few years, I am able to play the game instead of pine for it at a distance. That option makes the wait seem worth it. The game has been what I hoped it would be and much more — a story-driven MMO that has me hooked on the storyline like crack. Whether it is chasing after that fucking asshole Skavic, trying to forge my power while under the knuckle of the ruthless Darth Baras, hunting down terrorist cells across the galaxy in secret, or attempting to secure myself a position in the Great Hunt, SWTOR has me hooked.

This is the story-based MMO I was waiting for all along — and that it is Star Wars only makes this Christmas gift sweeter.

To those who will be getting their first taste of this amazing game tomorrow — live it up, drink it in, don’t rush through. Savor. Every. Flavor.

Think back on the long wait and rejoice.

Go back in time to the first time you heard that this game even existed. For some, it was before the game even had a title. For others (myself included), it was the first time Deceived melted your face off after E3 2009 (thanks D), etc.

Look back on all those Fridays you were waiting breathlessly for on the official site, just for the chance at even a scrap of information.

Think about all those Fan Fridays that sometimes seemed superfluous, even though they really were a great showcase for the talent of the SWTOR fanbase.

Recall all the conventions where you were hyped for the information coming, hoping against hope for a release date — or even a hint of one.

Think back on that time and remind yourself of one all-important fact:

Tomorrow, Star Wars: The Old Republic will be upon you.

Can you feel it? The storm brewing just over the horizon? The black clouds gather in the sky in voluminous, sinewy masses – a herald of what is to come.

2 days… In 2 days, the long wait comes to an end…

 

 

 

 

Ok… Now to break up the melodrama.

Now pretend that big, scaly motherfucker is the NDA, and you get the gist.

That’s right, folks. As of today, per the statement of one half of the Doctors BioWare, Greg Zeschuk, himself, the SWTOR NDA has finally been lifted – but there may be just a bit more complexity to this than I first considered.

For the sake of confirmation, I’ll post the official statement below:

Folks,

As of now, the non disclosure portion of our Game Testing Agreement is officially lifted. While all players must still accept the Game Testing Agreement, from this point on testers may now freely talk about their experiences this past weekend in the game, as well as post screenshots and gameplay videos of their testing experiences. We encourage you to come join us on the official Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ Forums to share your experiences!

The Star Wars: The Old Republic community site will have a copy of this message on the forums and it will also appear in the Patcher. Players may not talk about nor reprint posts from our testing forums as they are still fully covered by the confidentiality portions of our Game Testing Agreement. And all players who want to participate in the upcoming Beta Test Weekends still have to accept all terms of the Game Testing Agreement. So, other than that, free feel to talk about and share your experiences in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

My thanks go out to everyone who has beta tested and continues to beta test the game. It has been with your help and feedback that Star Wars: The Old Republic is where it is today. We really appreciate your efforts.

May the Force be with you!

Greg Zeschuk
VP, Electronic Arts, BioWare Austin, General Manager

Now my analytical side always goes into overdrive when matters of business are concerned – that is why I am going to take the part about “this past weekend” to heart.

I will not discuss anything here that I did not experience this past weekend. That’s just a safety measure, to be honest.

However, there is plenty to discuss about what I did experience. But first, I need to clear the air a bit here by making one purely emotion-filled, honest, from-the-heart declaration.

THIS. GAME. FUCKING. ROCKS.

That’s right, I said it.

Is this game the messiah of the MMO genre? No. I won’t lie. I love this game, but mechanically it feels similar to another 900lb gorilla of the MMO franchise (I say that as a compliment, because the gameplay I experienced on the weekend of Nov 11th-13th was smooth like silk).

Is the story as good as advertised? I would argue it is better – it certainly was for me. I cannot accurately recall how many times I sat back in my chair and pondered verities in dialogue. I’ve never played an MMO where I consciously took note of my wishes for my toon’s personality.

Do I want to be a complete bastard, or do I want to cut this quest giver a break?

Do I want to kill the dad in front of the kid and take him back to his witch of a mother by force, or do I see the dad doing something out of love for his son and let the two of them escape?

Do I spare my master by taking his hand back to Lord Baras, or do I just gut him and mock him, even after he showed me kindness (if self-serving).

Nevertheless, I did just that while playing SWTOR - I was always aware of the moral direction my character would be going if I made a certain choice. I loved that feeling.

Don’t get me wrong, I saw a few things that I pointed out when filling out my little surveys that always seemed to pop up onscreen at the worst possible moments. Texture glitches were the most abundant bugs I saw, though many were resolved within the weekend (among my favorites were the elongated fingers when wearing gloves, and the flaps hanging off armor). I also noticed more than a few instances of what I call the “ventriloquist bug” (i.e., audible voice with no mouth movement). That said, I neither saw, nor experienced, anything I would consider game breaking; in my opinion, the game is probably 95%-97% ready for ship. I can only wait in anticipation of what has been tweaked and changed between the last beta weekend and the one coming up next week.

One thing that did leave me feeling a bit wanting was the lack of some of the group finder tools to which I have grown accustomed in other games like WoW. However, at the expense of convenience, I found myself interacting with the community more than I did in WoW. I would not be exaggerating if I said in one weekend of SWTOR I interacted with and befriended almost as many people as I ever did in WoW since the group finder was implemented. No joke. I can’t remember 9/10ths of the people I ran content with through group finder in WoW, but I’ll always remember the Imperial Agent with the fat body type I ran all that heroic content with on Hutta (big ups to you, big man). Even though we constantly died as we tried to two-man the content, both playing dps specs (BH Merc, here), it was a blast. This also carries over to other groups. I still laugh about having to do the 4-man “Deed” quest on Coruscant 4 times because the quest item only spawned for the owner of the heroic instance (another bug I hope gets fixed). We learned a little more each time. By the 4th run, we each knew our roles and punched through the content like a boss. All that I just posted seems to get lost with a group finder system. You never get a chance to make friends, because often you’re from different servers and you’ll never see each other again. A sad side effect of that particular convenience feature.

Music was another aspect of the game with which I had a slight love/hate relationship. When it played, it took my breath away. That said, there were times when no music played, only ambient sounds of the city/jungle/village, as well as the blaster fire from nearby players. While I do not dislike ambient sound, I sometimes felt like the areas didn’t get as much of an aural identity as they could have – at least on a musical level. I do wonder if BioWare decided against a constant musical track like in other MMO titles, in favor of musical cues set to begin whenever you entered a specific area. I will say this does work to an extent, as I personally loved hearing the violin-driven music on Coruscant when first approaching the Galactic Senate, or the cue that played when inside the Senate, itself. It had a regal quality to it that fit the place like a glove. Having said all that, what was in the beta may not be the final product. It is still very possible they just haven’t gotten to the point of inserting all the music into its proper place, yet.

Since I mentioned ambient sounds, I suppose now would be a good chance to detail another of SWTOR‘s strengths: combat sound effects.

The sound effects for the skills in SWTOR are sick, and absolutely iconic. The Bounty Hunter’s rocket has such a punch when it connects you can almost feel it; the first time you ignite your lightsaber, the reverb just brings to mind all the beautiful Star Wars memories a nerd could ever ask for. I found myself igniting it and de-igniting it just to hear the reverb. I also held particular fondness for the Smuggler’s barrage from cover ability. The explosions, whether from guns or grenades, were intense and, again, very satisfying.

Companions, in my opinion, are going to have just as much of a positive effect in SWTOR as they have in every other BioWare game. Nobody does companions better than BioWare, and with the ability to queue up and disable abilities that your companions use as you see fit (I’m looking at you Corso, with your grappling hook that brings enemies to my face when I want them across the room), it could be argued that BioWare has done companions in this game better than they have ever been done before. That is all just the mechanics; when speaking of BioWare companions, you have to also consider the storytelling enhancement they provide. Vette, for instance, added a flavor to my Sith Warrior experience that was refreshing. Catherine Taber does a fantastic job bringing personality to the character. I enjoyed having the backup, and the occasional vocal assessment (though in character, I think maybe I got a little too much joy out of bitch slapping her with the Sith social ability…). Throw in Corso Riggs – despite his annoying grappling hook -, who endeared himself to my Smuggler with his “farm boy” sensibility (her words – p.s. Kath Soucie, you rock), and you have the beginnings of a flavorful stable of companions for each class. I only wish I could have obtained more in my time.

I want to take this opportunity to congratulate BioWare, particularly the casting director responsible for choosing the voice actors for the main classes. While I did not play every class, those that I did play had excellent voice acting. Steve Blum absolutely nailed the Bounty Hunter – the gravelly tone to his voice just makes his tough-as-nails mercenary personality feel all the more authentic. Steve Valentine also does an incredible job bringing an aristocratic air to the Sith Warrior class, while never feeling too high class to be capable of destroying anyone on a whim. Kath Soucie (unconfirmed… But come on, I know her voice) brings a cockiness and swagger to the Smuggler that fit perfectly. I played her as good-hearted, but money hungry (“Sure I’ll help… If you make it worth my while. Momma’s gotta eat, too.”) I did not find one voice I disliked among the main classes. Considering we are supposed to play with these voices for 50 levels, I consider that a major plus.

Going into the 11/11/11 beta test weekend, I felt like I had everything nicely tucked away, and knew exactly what to expect. I certainly did not expect for any of my preconceived notions to be challenged, changed, or wholly confirmed. Yet, here I sit, typing away furiously, knowing full well that many things have changed, been challenged, or were confirmed in my perception of SWTOR.

  1. Smuggler is now solidly in my top 3 classes to play at launch (I only faintly considered them in my top 10 before the test).
  2. Sith Warrior is everything I hoped it would be and more (Force Charge does not get old, plus Vette rocks).
  3. SWTOR is better than I expected (I went in cautious, I come out confident that my $150 bucks wasn’t hastily spent).
  4. Lightsabers make ANYTHING better – they just do.
  5. Finally, BioWare once again proved to me that they know their shit. They have a nasty habit of looking a little lackluster early on, then coming on strong at the end. Foolishly, that can make you think that maybe THIS time they won’t come through strong; that would make you wrong.

Now that I’ve played this game, and many other MMO games on the market right now, I feel like I can say definitively that SWTOR matches up well with any game out there (even the 900lb gorilla). Endgame will be the – pun intended – endgame, but seeing what BioWare has been able to do, and knowing their tendency to really come on strong at crunch time, I am confident BioWare will deliver quality.

I am grateful I had the opportunity to test the game, if only for a weekend. I look forward to the next testing weekend where I will have another chance to test it out.

Most importantly, I am damn glad that now I know what to expect at launch. I am already jonesing for my toons again, and internally mapping out the direction I want to take them when launch day arrives. More importantly, I now know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that my $150 dollars was well spent on a game I have always wanted, but never really expected to see – an actual, meaningful rpg experience in an MMO game.

Do I expect some to dislike the game, even with the emphasis on story? You’re damn right I do. That’s just how it goes. This game is not going to be the end-all for everyone.

But If you are a lore hound like me, SWTOR is going to hit your sweet spot from downtown like Kevin Durant.

Even if you’re not, this game has many aspects that should go a long way toward appeasing almost all aspects of an MMO base.

Now, as has become the norm on this blog, it is time for some tunes. Something to celebrate the lifting of this damn NDA.

Live it up, people. Enjoy this day – and the supermodels:

I’m going to go ahead and start this topic – but I will refrain from posting anything concrete until I have solid confirmation that this is not a misunderstanding.

More to come as info is available.

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