I would have had this post out earlier, but I've interspersed writing it with a conversation I'm carrying on with a fellow gamer/work-buddy.
So I got into the SWTOR beta this past weekend. I just want to leave my general impressions on things I saw and did. I only got up to level 11 or 12 on one character and played another one just to get a feeling for the different classes. I also let my lovely bride play, because SWTOR's NDA has nothing on my marriage contract to keep her happy. When Momma ain't happeh, ain't nobody happeh. (Lub you, sweetums.) I did watch as she played, and she watched me. I don't think any spoilers are below, I want to discover as much as I can about the game from actually playing it. If you're looking for story spoilers, this is not the blog for you.
So how was it? In a word, engrossing. I am still thinking of the Trooper story that I only played myself to about level 5 for an hour and a half before the event ended at almost midnight local time. My hunny played her Trooper to level 10. I totally want to continue my Trooper's story now, despite the fact that it was probably the least appealing class to me prior to this event. It's really the main reason I played one, because I figured it would be the last one I'd play after launch. I am very interested in playing one now. That's how well-crafted the story is.
I also played a Jedi Knight, another class low on my post-launch priority list. I found out that the "rage" mechanic for the Knight is called focus, which makes sense. It functions much like rage for a warrior in WoW: certain abilities build focus, and other abilities spend it. (The trooper mechanic is "ammo," a little like mana, but more discreet amounts.) I made Light side choices with the Knight I took to 11, and Dark side choices for another one to about 7, just to see the differences in story. Some differences are subtle; other times choices open or close quest lines. I'll have to see if and how that develops further along in the story, meaning I may have to play the same class twice, if the stories diverge tremendously. (Yes it would be worth it.) I am one of the people Scarybooster mentioned who would like to be able to be chaotic in my moral choices in the game without having to worry about the meta-game of racking up Light or Dark points. If what he says is true and BioWare is endeavoring to keep the middle road as rewarding as the extremes, this player at least will be very happy.
Were there issues with the game? Yes: some graphics glitches; one time when the conversation wheel screwed up and gave me an invalid choice that stalled out the conversation and I had to start it over, this time with different, valid choices on the wheel. Some gameplay aspects were just the other side of the handholding-vs-learning-curve spectrum from where I would like to be. But again, they're trying to strike a balance. Suffice it to say you have to pay attention to the story. This is not going to be a game where you can pick up ten quests at a hub without reading anything and successfully complete them. The biggest single issue I don't think I can talk about, between the NDA and my own reticence about spoilers. I don't think it can be fixed in the way I think it should, certainly not before launch. Was it a show stopper, though? No. I will still play.
I didn't get much chance to see the companion relationships develop. I will save my thoughts on that for another post I have researched but have yet to write.
I won't compare my experience to other games I've played. Plenty of others will draw those comparisons, both positive and negative. Let me just say this, the fourth pillar is alive and well in Star Wars: The Old Republic. [EDIT: The Story is good enough in this game that Chris over at Levelcapped, who only a week ago declared he didn't like story, got sucked into his character story.] If you have read this blog for any length of time, Dear Reader, you know that I place Story and Characterization pretty much at the top of my list of reasons to continue playing a game (beyond an ineffable "absorption" factor--does the game make me want to continue playing?) This SWTOR beta did just that, I want to keep playing. Story, story, and story will keep me coming back for more in this game.