Like many, I recently spent a weekend exploring the Star Wars: The Old Republic beta. All of Fri/Sat and most of Sunday were devoted to the MMO I intend to play come December 20th.

The official SWTOR forums have since exploded with multiple threads praising or criticizing the game, with many being particularly negative. Impressions are, of course subjective, and what one person finds to be an absolute mess is another’s paradise.

What many of these forum threads lack is the ability to present an opinion which isn’t argumentative, accusatory or downright hostile, and unfortunately they drown out the more measured criticisms of those who enjoyed the game, but found certain areas lacking. Today, I’m going to present my own critique of BioWare’s much hyped MMO in what is hopefully a considered and thoughtful manner. This also means this is going to be a long article, so you might want to get yourself a refreshing beverage before you continue.

To begin with, I should say I only leveled two characters, a Smuggler to 18 and a Consular to 11. I have no personal experience with mid, late, or end-game content, although I do know people who have been a part of the Game Testing Program for quite some time. Therefore, these impressions are largely based around pre-20 Republic content. With typical style and flair, I was so engrossed in the game that I forgot to take screenshots, so nearly all screens in this article come courtesy of Reddit user bic_lighter, who had more presence of mind than me.

Without further ado, let’s launch into the first point of discussion, that being:

Graphics and Visuals

If you read the official forums, the loudest contributors of the opinion that SWTOR’s graphics are awful for a game which is to all extents and purposes a 2012 MMO. The truth is, the visuals are fine for an MMO.

No, they’re not Skyrim standard, but they couldn’t possibly be to that standard without sacrificing hundreds of thousands of potential players. Skyrim is a beautiful game and my GTX 570 is capable of realising that beauty, but for every one of us with the latest generation graphics cards, there are ten more PC users who are still running on a card and processor that are much, much older.

Time for an upgrade, you might say! Unfortunately, your ‘average’ MMO player has little inclination to upgrade and in many cases also lacks the funds. MMO’s succeed because they can tap into a base that games like Battlefield 3 and Skyrim cannot. As much as they may be maligned by certain quarters, casual players provide the bulk of subscriptions for paid MMO’s, and the bulk of microtransactions for F2P’s.

That being said, SWTOR’s stylised graphics provide a significant upgrade on World of Warcraft’s. There are plenty of players who found their old rigs struggling to run the beta efficiently even given that SWTOR’s visuals aren’t cutting edge. For the most part, environments seemed to be rich enough, cutscenes were nicely rendered and the game certainly has a sense of scale which prior MMO’s have lacked.

Stormwind’s Cathedral seems positively mundane once you’ve wandered around inside the gigantic Jedi temple on Tython, or the halls of the senate on Coruscant. Comparably, Rift’s city hubs are more like tiny settlements compared to the Republic Fleet.

Anti-aliasing was also disabled for the beta, so users can expect some graphical improvements and smoothing of jagged edges come launch.

UPDATE – A bug in the graphical settings resulted in high resolution textures not being available during the beta. The game looks much better with those higher settings enabled. Observe the below screenshot.

If there is an area where the graphics are obviously lacking, it’s the textures. Some textures are fairly low resolution (pazaak tables, for example), and your PC’s armor and weapons aren’t always particularly crisp if you zoom in closely. Speaking of PC’s, that leads us nicely in to…