So the first ten levels of Star Wars: The Old Republic teach you the basics behind your class, questing, and how to handle quest hubs, but once level ten rolls around things change pretty dramatically. Players get shipped off from their first world into the classier part of the galaxy and are exposed to the real content drivers of SWTOR: Flashpoints, Warzones and the overarching class quests.
Getting level ten immediately grants access to the game's PvP instanced content which can be queued for from any location. At this point in time the content consists of three different maps, each with their own game type. Huttball is a game played between two teams in an arena intentionally designed for players to use the field to their own advantage. Raised platforms, acid pools and pillars of fire are all dangers that must be navigated while trying to make it to the opposing player's side carrying the Huttball. Each time the ball reaches the opposing team's end zone a point is scored, and the team with the most points at the end of a round wins. It's the most complex of the three warzones by far due to the Huttball mechanic, which requires more than just typical attacker-defender mechanics, and as Huttball features passing the ball as a mechanic, players don't necessarily need to do lots of damage or crowd control in order to win.
Alderaan Warzone alternatively has players fight for control of three turrets which are used to focus fire on the opposing team's capital ship. Each turret has its own local power-ups which can be snagged by offensive and defensive players, with the middle turret featuring an underground tunnel that players can traverse to make sneak attacks (or a hasty defence). The mechanics are simple and fairly straightforward compared to Huttball, but it works extremely well given how small the arena is. Unless one side is completely locked out there's very little time wasted between reaching each objective. Likewise Voidstar will also have players gunning for objectives, as an attacking team will work to plant explosives on doors to blast their way from room to room. Two rounds means that should the defenders fail they'll have an opportunity to win by successfully completing an attacker run, albeit with a smaller time frame.
Getting into queue for a warzone means waiting for any of the three, as there is no way to individually select which instance you'd like to participate in at this time. It also means waiting as the game decides to draw together a random group of players, regardless of any class or level composition. Whether you're a minimum or maximum level to be in a warzone anyone can participate, which does raise a few issues. All stats are bolstered for lower level players to ensure that they'll be able to do decent damage to opponents, in addition to surviving the DPS that a higher level class can naturally output. This means that while it may be harder to do, it's completely possible for a level 10 to kill a level 50 player in 1v1 combat while in a warzone. Not to say that a level 50 doesn't have a natural advantage, but the advantage is somewhat slimmed down by the fact that most good teams should be operating in groups and working in conjunction anyway.
Outside of PvP, players will find their levelling experience largely guided by their class quest, which will take them from planet to planet following a core storyline. Each planet they arrive on naturally has its own quest line and side quests to pursue, split into individual zones much like the first quest world players start in. Keeping with the theme of story being the driving force of each levelling experience, these class quests are extremely grounding, and give firm direction to what could otherwise be a pretty dizzying quest hunt. Instead the result is a theme that's passed on from planet to planet via character, rather than a zone simply having an internal storyline that 'concludes' per say. Most of this is due to the amount of detail put into class quests, some of it has to do with the ship players get.
Flying the ship in the game is a hit or miss experience that can be an amazing amount of fun, or extremely boring depending on how much you enjoyed playing Star Fox. Travel from planet to planet is instant, but missions will be given to players that take them off the beaten path, engaging enemy forces in the less neutral parts of space where the Empire and Republic still wage fairly open warfare. Best described as an on-rails shooter, each class gets their own specific ship that can be given upgrades as the character levels and as more ship missions are completed.
Being perfectly honest, I found (and still find) the ship portions of the game to be amazingly engaging, but it's easy to see where some people will find them dull. The enemies never change, the scenarios replay themselves in the exact same format, and (much like other rail shooters) things become fairly predictable after the second or third run. But that being said, there's still just something magical about seeing multiple Republic cruisers hammer down on an Imperial fleet while in mid-orbit, dozens of tiny enemy aircraft peppering you and your allies. The events are scripted, but done amazingly well, and though BioWare would have naturally done better making the flying mini-game something a bit more open, what we've got for the time being is pretty darn good. Anyone who hates repetition (or Star Fox) should probably avoid grinding it for experience or cash, but is it worth trying at least once? Absolutely.
Strangely, Flashpoints sit in a similar situation as they are well narrated stories, isolated from the rest of the major Star Wars plot points. Players enter the instance with an overall goal, such as overthrowing a rebellion, recapturing a military base, or defeating an Imperial/Republic leader. As players progress through a dungeon they naturally encounter mini-bosses, but scattered between the events are (generally) plot points that each player can affect. Meant to be tackled by 2-4 players cutscenes that have everyone participate means that each player's character has a chance to shape the way an instance occurs, from killing off major characters to engaging the enemy in a specific manner. These different outcomes may not change the loot, but they certainly change the flow of the story and of the light side/dark side point distribution per individual player.
Both Republic and Imperial players have access to a starting unique low level Flashpoint, but once the early 20s hit, players will find there are quite a few additional Flashpoints to engage in. Some are extremely low on interactive quest content but more engaging when it comes to boss fights, while others draw more attention to an overall plot and allow players a lot more flexibility to interact. There's a decent balance between each one either way, as the fine line between 'boring extended torture' and 'engaging and fun action' can be a rather fine. And when working with any instance it's nice to note that BioWare has done a good job.
Next week we'll be sure to cover a few of the finer details of the various classes, some common bugs and in-game issues, in addition to answering any other questions you may have about the state of the game at this time. Until then I'll try and level as fast as conceivably possible to the big 5-0.