I will admit up front that I originally did not intend to play Star Wars: The Old Republic this close to launch. I had not heard a lot of good things about SWTOR so I fully intended to wait 6 months or for news that the game was a total bust and not waste my money. I wanted to play eventually because a combination of World of Warcraft + Dragon Age in the Star Wars universe is just too intriguing to pass on. I managed to hold out for 6 days.
After playing for 8 days I managed to get to level 21 on one character so please don't take this as a review of the game. Instead, these are just my first impressions of my first week playing SWTOR.
Character Creation - While not as complex and customizable as the one in Eve Online, making my avatar was simple and I had a character I was pleased with. One thing I noticed is that each of the attributes on the slider bar has a number so I just recorded the numbers in case I want to duplicate the look on another character. That actually came in handy because I didn't understand how names are created in SWTOR.
When it comes to last names, SWTOR is like EverQuest 2 in that a character does not receive a second name at creation. That's not quite right either. SWTOR has something called the legacy system. So if I want a last name then I need to finish chapter 1 of the story on a character. Once a last name is picked, that is the "legacy" name for all characters on a server. And for those interested, the maximum number of characters on an account is 40, with a maximum of 8 on a server. The description from BioWare is 40 characters on 5 servers, so I do not know if that indicates an account can only have characters on 5 servers.
Classes - The classes come straight out of Star Wars lore, with both the Sith and the Republic having mirror classes. I chose the Smuggler class because the class fits in with how I play in Eve Online. I like flying through low security space in a cloaky blockade runner, so the Smuggler class was a natural. Each class actually is composed of two sub-classes that are acquired from a mission giver at level 10. The advanced classes for Smuggler are the Scoundrel and the Gunslinger. The two remind me of EQ2's Assassin and Ranger classes. My blockade running pilot in Eve favors getting up close and personal with autocannons as well as buffing others with gang links so choosing the Scoundrel felt right. Besides, I played a ranger in EQ2 and playing an assassin-type character would make my first experiences in SWTOR more different.
Companions - The companion system feels very much like that found in Dragon Age, at least in combat. The combat system is not exactly the same as only one companion can accompany a player and players cannot jump into the companion's body and take direct control. But companions left on the ship don't necessarily remain idle just because they do not accompany the player. They can engage in independent missions and actually craft all of the player-made items, which is nice to restock items while I'm running around adventuring. At this point, I think the way that companions are implemented may be the biggest type of innovation that SWTOR brings to MMOs.
Ground Combat - In general, the combat at times is not smooth. I found that by changing the Ability Action Queue Window value (found at the bottom of the Controls window in Preferences) down to 0.0 helped with my own attacks but I still saw enemies performing death flops a second or two after I killed them. Looking at my Scoundrel's skills and abilities, the combat is pretty brutal looking. One of my favorite moves is to have my companion lasso an enemy to us, then I kick him in the groin, hit him over the head and then place a shotgun to the back of his head and pull the trigger. At least that is what it looks like. The Scoundrel also has crowd control abilities. So far I have an 8 second area of effect stun and a tranquilizer ability that keeps an enemy out of combat for 60 seconds as long as I conduct the attack before combat begins and no one damages the mob. I am really enjoying the combat. I would rate the combat excellent if the graphics just worked better.
Space Combat - I have only attempted to do one space combat mission. If I don't have to, I won't do another. I had very little control over my ship, which might make sense since I was part of a squadron being guided by a commander. The combat in SWTOR felt like I was in an 80s arcade game. The space combat in Eve Online is much more satisfying.
Story - BioWare placed a lot of faith in presenting the story which they called the "fourth pillar" of role playing games. One of the reasons I chose not to wait is that I wanted to see the story told in the cut scenes. I loved the scenes in Dragon Age and I wanted to see how BioWare did with the Star Wars universe. So far I am really impressed. The desire to see the next part of the story is leading me to play a bit more than I really should. Players who skip the cut scenes are cheating themselves of the best part of the game.
Conclusion - Despite the flaws in the game listed above, I love playing The Old Republic. I haven't felt this eager to get back to playing a game every night since I started playing World of Warcraft back in 2005. The question is: how long will the game keep my interest? BioWare is concerned about that, which is why they came up with the legacy system. So for now SWTOR is the biggest western sci-fi MMORPG. Will it last til the end of the year?