I have got serious Star Wars on the brain lately.
TOR has just about dominated my free time (and even some time that shouldn't be free).
A few months ago I commented on how I was worried that underneath all of the Star Wars glamor and tons of voice-acting, the game would be just like every other MMO I've ever played (mechanics-wise). And as it turns out... it is, in a lot of ways.
But what's blown me away is what a profound difference having all of that story and voice-acting makes on what are otherwise some very safe MMO design choices. Questing has meaning because you know exactly why you're doing what you're doing, and more importantly, who you're doing it for.
I have no doubt that a game like WoW has some really great writing in its quests, but when you walk into a new area and you see a dozen exclamation marks around you, it's far too easy to just grab them all up without reading the text, skip to what your objective is, and go start checking things off like it was a shopping list.
SWTOR brings the story alive, and not only that, manages to make you feel like the hero of your own story, even when there are three other people questing with you. It's so addicting that when you pick up a tiny little sidequest, even if you've outleveled it you still want to go and complete it, because it's more than just quest text. You talked to this person, and you know they need your help. It's a much stronger connection to the game world than I've ever seen in an MMO.
And this permeates into all aspects of the game, even the instances. A couple of nights ago I did a series of Flashpoints, Taral V and Maelstrom Prison, back to back. They were long flashpoints, and I don't want to give away any spoilers (if you've done them or when you get to those missions you'll see what I mean), but they were pretty epic. I've had more fun in these two Flashpoints than in any of the dungeons WoW ever put out.
And I love space combat. Yeah, I know it's on rails, but so what. I love StarFox, and that's on rails. Space combat in TOR is fairly shallow, but it's a fun little side activity that you can do inbetween other stuff. The experience from the space dailies is fantastic, and it's a nice little change of pace. It's a solid foundation that I hope someday to see Bioware build on, either with multiplayer space combat, or even areas of the true, full-on 3D flight that everyone wants.
SWTOR is new, and the launch has not been without hiccups. There are UI restrictions that drive me nuts, weird little quirks and a lack of certain features that are commonplace in MMOs these days (Dual Spec, anyone?). It's an MMO, and as with all MMO launches, it will be 3-6 months before anyone can really guess if the game is heading in the right direction, if Bioware is addressing the needed issues, and regularly patching in new features.
But I can definitely say I'm a fan of where things have started. It's a fun game as it is, but there is a lot of room and a lot of possibilities for improvement and expansion, and I'm excited to see what happens.