Everything’s better with lasers…?! My first weeks with SWTOR

I spent some quality time with Star Wars: The Old Republic during the past weeks and want to share some thoughts on Bioware’s fresh-faced MMORPG. Although I did not expect a revolution of MMORPG game design, I was surprised that Bioware took very little risk by sticking to many well-known and established MMORPG standards. On the other hand, Bioware did a great job of capturing the atmosphere of the Star Wars Universe. Sound, art and character design are top-notch, although the texture quality is some years behind. Another thing that bothers me is that in the vast openness of the galaxy, the space combat runs on rails (here’s my hope that Bioware will release a full-fledged space combat add-on).

Surprisingly, Bioware did not so well with the whole graphical user interface (GUI). There are only a few options to modify your GUI, but it is far away from the freedom of interface modifications within games like World of Warcraft. That wouldn’t bother so many players, if only Bioware delivered a great GUI right from the start. Here are some examples for what went wrong:

The sum of your characters’s and companion’s actions grows fast and with them the need to organize all the fancy little icons across the screen. With only three control bars on the left, right and in the middle, Bioware offers only little room for placing all those action icons or additional items like medipacks. Especially the companion’s standard interface is far away from being intuitively understandable and easy to control.

Several pop-up menus like the inventory or the skill trainer options feature tabs, which can be found at the bottom of the pop-up window and not – as most users would expect them – at the top. Futhermore, they are comparatively small, with a dark font (cause it is a deactivated tab, right?) on a darker background and for this reason quite difficult to spot. It took me 10 minutes of searching and asking other players to find the mission items in my inventory (which have their own tab).

Another flaw is the button for leaving a flashpoint (instance) – it’s so tiny, that I wouldn’t have registered it without the help of my guild mates. The beauty of an MMOG is that you can ask people if you do not find the right button or option (which people do a lot in the general chat), but especially for MMOG newbies it would have been helpful to provide a more intuitive GUI.

But there are also some interface improvements in comparison to other MMORPGs. I really like the vertical beams of light, which direct you to the NPC’s loot.

After some weeks with SWTOR I have mixed feelings about the game. On the one hand I really enjoy the whole Star Wars atmosphere, the great character and art design and the dialogues. But on the other hand the characters and dialogues cannot draw off the attention of the fact that this a standard MMORPG that has a lot in common with the last generation of MMORPGs – except the great Star Wars license. In addition, the interface is neither intuitive enough for beginners nor offers enough modification options for experienced players to adapt their interfaces to their play style. Hopefully, Bioware will fix this soon – because if there is one further common ground in MMORPGs, it’s the regular updates.

How to clone a GUI

Yesterday saw the release of the free-to-play MMORPG ‘Runes of Magic’ and after installing it I gave it a short test run. Anyone who played ‘World of Warcraft’ (WoW) before (and that includes me) will notice that the game looks in many ways like Blizzard`s successful MMORPG. The colourful comic graphics, the avatars and the graphical user interface (GUI) look like the developers tried to stay as close to WoW as they could. Take a look at the screenshot I made during the first minutes of play:

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Character portrait, health and mana bars, target info, minimap, chat window, experience bar and the character`s abilities are easy to recognize if you are familiar with WoW. Even most of the pre-defined hotkeys work in the same way.

My first impression: This game is fairly easy to pick up – especially when you are not new to the genre of MMORPGs. I made 4 levels in about 10 minutes of play by killing some creepy fungus monsters and talking to lot of NPCs. As this is a game which shall entertain for days and months, I have to play further to get a better idea of the gameplay and the more interesting features like the hybrid character classes. Till now it seems like ‘Runes of Magic’ is not a revolution in terms of gameplay but for a free-to-play game it looks quite good.

Although, the first minutes of play showed already some downsides of the free-to-play business model: Not enough slots in your inventory? Buy some more. Hey, you have a mount for one day. If you wanna keep it longer, buy one. So micropayment is there from the first minute and it will be interesting to see if you can get around without buying stuff and how the game experience will differ between players who pay for bonuses and the ones who don`t.