SW:ToR. Taking aim at the market?

So I’ve had a few days to let the new SW:ToR video sink into my head.

Initial impressions of things I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere else.

1) The UI seems designed primarily for widescreen aspect ratios, which I guess is a safe assumption these days. I know this was something of a big deal when Pirates of the Burning Sea did it a few years ago, but I suppose since 16:9 is sort of de rigeur these days, it makes sense.

2)  The game will be using “ranked” abilities in the traditional spell rank model used by EQ2 and WoW, which seems to imply it won’t be a “use it to rank up” feat-type system employed by LOTRO and other games. How can you tell? Look at the dialog boxes that pop up when the abilities are moused over. They’re in yellow over on the right of the screen. “Force Choke (Rank 1)” is one of them.

3)  The game uses the global cooldown model that WoW uses so successfully to create its pseudo realtime combat. How can you tell? Watch the abilities gray out with a little clock-hand wipe for about a second after they’re used. I’m a fan of WoW’s combat, so I think this is probably a “good thing.” I tend to get frustrated with combat systems that involve queueing attacks up or mashing a button repeatedly until a slow attack is off cooldown.

4) The dialogue, while amazingly well recorded, doesn’t lend itself to repeatable content. Strictly speaking, Everquest 2 is a (nearly) fully voiced MMO (if you download the optional quest voiceovers), but honestly it becomes rather tedious to listen to a quest giver go on for a paragraph and a half every time you talk to them. I loved KOTOR, but after a while, I would skip the line readings and just scan the subtitled version, and I can’t imagine doing any different in an MMO. I like voice, and I think it adds immersion, but I’m worried it’s a lot of effort for something most people will skip most of the time.

5)  Targeting and ability use is also in the WoW / EQ model of tab it and fire an ability, and nothing revolutionary along the lines of Age of Conan’s swing system or Tabula Rasa’s pseudo-shooter combat. Again, fine by me, but I like a lot of WoW’s systems.

6)  Speaking of aping WoW, check this out. Near the end of the clip, there’s a Sith player character doing some combat against some Republic troopers. Now, in a previous IGN interview, SW:ToR developers have said that Sith and Jedi will use energy / combo point based systems, not unlike WoW rogues.  Well, check out the Sith player’s unit frame — a little slowly ticking upward energy / combo point bar, again strictly in keeping with WoW practices (though employed elsewhere, to be sure.)

What am I driving at with these observations? Simple — I think the Bioware folks have very deliberately tailored their game expecting WoW players to want to be comfortable. They appear to be gearing up for an Apple-style “switcher” campaign: Our game has everything you love about WoW, plus you can force choke.

I could be wrong, and I know that will peeve the hell out of some of the more virulently anti-WoW folks out there, but it really seems clear to me.

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