The Lifting of the SWTOR NDA: Only One Thing Left To Say

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:

5 thoughts on “The Lifting of the SWTOR NDA: Only One Thing Left To Say

  1. Very nice write up! I have to agree with you on the survey pop ups, they do seem to always appear at the worse possible times! I’ve filled out so many of those I don’t even bat an eye now when I close them when one of them pops up like RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF A BOSS FIGHT.

    And graphic glitches…yeah there are a ton. Recently they were still in the process of plugging in textures and voice overs, so there were a lot of situations where the quest giver either had no voice, or they didn’t animate correctly. Water also didn’t act and sound like water until recently.

    And group tools, I completely agree. They haven’t made any leaps and bounds with it, unfortunately, even though they’ve been asking for feedback on it for months. It is currently less than ideal and almost useless considering it’s so much more effective just to ask in general chat if anyone is LFG.

    And music, I love it! I could swear they improve on music and ambient sounds with every build. And I normally hate “combat music”, like when you get into a fight, how the music changes? But in SWTOR, I actually find it epic. When you get in a fight with a strong or boss mob, it just kicks in and I just get so pumped. Or if you suddenly activate a long cooldown and that classic Star Wars fight music comes on…love it.

    Voice overs…I realized I didn’t add a section in my post for this and in retrospect I should have, since it’s such a huge part of the game and I loved it. They really bring the characters of the game to life…

    Anyway, enough hijacking from me here too, lol. Again, great write up.

    And I agree, there will be people who dislike this game, as is the case with anything really, since nothing can be to everyone’s tastes. But in general, I think most people will be very pleased.

  2. Oh by the way, very sure that the lifting of the NDA applies to everyone now. I was quite paranoid too, based on the dev post by Dr. Z, since it specifically stated “from last weekend” and I was wondering if general testers could talk about the game too. A message to David Bass the community guy on twitter clarified that though. The reply was that it applies to anyone and everyone, so as soon as I got that I got working on my blog lol.

  3. Before i left WoW, the lfg options of finding a tank, dps, or healer made things very convinient, i’d hope to see it make an appearance in SWTOR, but i wont shed one tear if i never have to think about seeing other people from other servers. This game is shaping up to be the end of life for me. I just can’t wait to sink my teeth into every class. At this point, the only thing i contemplate is exactly what AC i will play, and which alts of a class i love will be the opposite AC…that and my own personal morallity, i’m such a Grey-Sider at heart that situationally, my toons would definitely be hard pressed to be full darkside of full lightside in their decision making.

  4. @MMOGC

    I’m glad it applies to testing in general, and not just the weekend. I look forward to taking some pics and posting them up on here in a week. I’m already chomping at the bit to get my hands on the game again.

    In all honesty, as much as I miss the LFG feature simply for the convenience, I hated what it did to the community of WoW. There is almost zero communication between the community, unless you belong to a high end guild. It used to be you ran content with people on the same server. You would look through /2 and, though it took longer, it gave you a chance to interact with your community. I made dozens of friends through it, simply because they liked the way I tanked, or I liked the dps they threw out – or vice versa. Whenever they needed a tank/dps, I would see a pst pop up asking if I was down; that has all but gone away in the current version of WoW. If convenience comes at the expense of strong community, I would much rather have to use /2 and build relationships with players I know I will see in a week.

    Agreed on the music. I’m hoping BioWare will put in the option to loop the music at launch. Ambient sounds are wicked, but I also miss having that one consistent track that gives an identity to an area. Especially when that identity is the music that plays when you approach the Senate in Coruscant, or the House Organa music on Alderaan.

    I said this a few times in the article, and I’ll say it again: Kath Soucie rocks my socks.

    I was pleased with all the main voice actors. They did a great job of giving the characters their own flavor. I heard the voice actor for the Sith Inquisitor has never done video game voice acting before. If that is true, his first vg vo project is a resounding success. Also, while I did not mention him in the write up, the voice actor for the Imperial Agent deserves a round of applause. He captures the feel of a James Bond-esque agent perfectly.

  5. @Travis Holland

    I agree 100%. LFG is very convenient, but if it never comes to SWTOR I won’t shed a tear over the loss.

    LFG did some pretty substantial – in my opinion – damage to the community of World of Warcraft. Apparently, I’m not alone in thinking that, since a large portion of the community raised concerns to the point Blizzard tried to change the system so you would be grouped with people from your own server more often. Frankly, I still don’t notice any changes (I play a little on trials).

    Choosing AC is harder than I ever really thought it would be. I already know I’m going Gunslinger on my Smuggler, and Jugg on my SW, but after that everything is up in the air. I still don’t know which direction I’ll go with my BH (though I’m leaning Merc), or which road I will take with my Inquisitor (no leanings).

    The way I tend to shift in my morality decisions comes from my characters morality, not my own. It’s not easy to separate your own morality from your character’s, but I always try to make that happen when possible. For instance, I try to decide before I make a decision what my character is to me, how he would react. Once I have that visual image in my head, I try to put myself in their place – ‘How would I answer if I was a Pureblood Sith who was always told how awesome he was?’ Easy – I would answer like a bit of a spoiled brat… Maybe a violent spoiled brat as a result of the environment in which he was cultivated. Next time you feel your own morality tugging away at you to make a choice, try to envision your character, and ask yourself, honestly, would the character have your same moral objections?

    Having said that, realize that I am a huge lore hound/nerd. I like exploring the complexities of my characters. :-)

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