Ok today I'm going to do a quick "blow by blow" on the characters I've worked on so far. I've hit all four of the starter planets and leveled four characters past level ten to get their advanced classes. I will try and avoid story spoilers to the highest degree possible, but I will be discussing class mechanics and play styles.
For the moment I still intend for this character to be my long-term "main" and primary investment. Nothing (yet) has changed my mind about that. That said, I found Ord Mantell to probably be the most frustrating of the starting planets. I felt like I was running around a LOT on side quest objectives and the side quests themselves were not particularly interesting. In addition, for a planet designed to be used by the "cover class," I found many combat situations where cover was not readily available. So as a zone I have to give Ord Mantell a bit of a thumbs down.
As far as the Smuggler itself goes, I am enjoying it so far. My only complaint is that the Scoundrel advanced class is more melee focused, but as a healer I prefer to try and maintain range. Time will tell if this is feasible over time or if Sawbones is designed to operate at a bit closer range than I am used to as a healer. And honestly that's fine, if that is the case. My issue at the moment is that I can't tell if that is true or not yet and begin adjusting my style. A melee-range healer is an intriguing prospect, but not one that has been used in the MMO's I have played previously. Other than that, I am enjoying the class.
Bounty Hunter (Mercenary/Arsenal):
My enjoyment of this class really surprised me. It was the last of the four characters I leveled, but in terms of sheer "fun factor," it was the one I enjoyed the most. Also I found Hutta to be the best of the four starting planets. Quests seemed more abundant here than on any other planet, as well as more heroic quests. And I will note here that so far I've found that any quest marked "Heroic (2)" can easily be completed with your companion and you don't need a group. I don't know if this will hold true at higher levels, but it is certainly true at the beginning. So don't let the "grouping" scare you off, even though there will be TONS of people looking to do them at this point in SW:TOR's life.
As far as the Bounty Hunter class, it was just a blast to play. You feel like a walking "Swiss army knife." You've got melee range skills, ranged skills, stuns, knockbacks, you name it. I never got tired of Rocket Punching mobs that got up in my face and yelling "Sho-ryu-ken!" at my computer screen. Between that, the KILLER voice actor for this class, and the fact that I get Blizz, Jawa of Doom later... I am sorely tempted to switch this class to my main. But no need to be hasty at this juncture. I deliberately took this advanced class for the ranged DPS potential with dual blasters. This guy just feels like a total badass.
Sith Warrior (Juggernaut/Immortal):
For those times when I just want to play something purely sadistic and evil, I'll have my Sith Warrior. Korriban was a fun starting planet, perhaps the most interesting in terms of questing and storyline. Overall both Imperial starting planets were easily superior to their Republic counterparts in my mind. I never felt like I really had to go "out of my way" for side quests here, and the heroics were easily doable with a bit of back-tracking once my companion became available. I suppose that is one very small gripe. If I were Bioware, I wouldn't even offer the heroic quests on the starter planets until you get your first companion. Most people on these planets just want to get them done so they can move on. Even if they like grouping, they may prefer to bypass it at these levels simply for expediency.
The Sith Warrior is a fairly straightforward melee class, nothing too much out of the ordinary. But the combat seems to flow well in terms of building and consuming rage and once you get a few more abilities, various combinations make themselves apparent quickly. Nothing like Force Charging into a group of mobs and laying them all out with a quick Smash. The class feels powerful in all the right ways for a dark side fueled melee fighter. This will be my full-time tank so I will probably keep him on the "back burner" for a while. If SW:TOR is like the other MMO's I've played, tanks end up as the default "leaders" of groups, and I want more familiarity with the content before I'm expected to lead anyone else through it.
Jedi Counselor (Shadow/Kinetic Combat):
This poor gal is probably going to be left in a bit of limbo. While I do find the potential combinations of abilities for the Counselor interesting, I really have no sense of direction with this character right now. Tython was also rather disappointing as a starting world. I found a significant lack of general questing in comparison with the other planets. This was the only planet where my character did not reach level 11 before leaving. In fact I barely got to level 10, which had me concerned for a while as I certainly did not want to leave before hitting that milestone. The only reason I'd place it above Ord Mantell is that the questing it DOES offer is more cohesive... minimal back-tracking or going out of the way is needed. There just isn't enough of it, in my opinion, and only a single heroic quest that I could find.
The Counselor itself is still a bit of an enigma to me, which is why I took the melee based Shadow. The Sage seems pretty straightforward in that it is your typical mage/priest archetype. But the Shadow is a sort of... rogue and tank. RIFT tried the rogue tank thing with limited success. They were generally seen as inferior for endgame instances and raids, due to the way they tanked from a mechanical perspective. I am curious to see how SW:TOR gets around these potential issues, and so that's why I started down the tanking path. But I don't know when I'll get around to leveling her. I don't really feel much "attachment" to the character, or interest in playing it. So it may be a while.
I went back to my Smuggler tonight and got a group for the Esseles Flashpoint. On the first night of early access there simply wasn't a "critical mass" of players to get groups formed easily, but tonight it was pretty painless. Some people in chat even commented on the lack of players on Tuesday and I told them not to worry at this point. Wait until all the pre-orders are in, wait until the live launch, THEN look at your server numbers. It's way too early to "panic" and say servers aren't full enough or that groups are hard to find. That said, I had to take the initiative and form the group myself, which is something I haven't had the courage to do in a long time. WoW of course made this unnecessary with their LFD tool and in RIFT I purposefully avoided showing such initiative. Well I told myself that in SW:TOR that would not be the case. So I grabbed a bunch of people who were looking, made the group, and got it done.
Two observations about the run... first, they definitely tuned this place down from when I ran it during the 11/11 beta weekend. I couldn't play during the Thanksgiving beta due to family commitments, so I can't say when it was changed. But this was a change for the better. I'm all for hard content, but content needs to be designed with the abilities of the players in mind. At level 10-12, your "healers" have one or two basic heals at most, and the "tanks" have no real Taunt or aggro-maintaining abilities yet. It only makes sense to design the content with these things in mind, so I have no problem that they made this place a bit easier. The other observation is that while my group was polite and competent, they were very quiet, much more so than the groups I had during the beta. This does concern me a bit as I do NOT want to return to the "silent runs" of WoW where you'd complete an entire instance with NO ONE saying anything to anyone else.
So there you go, some initial impressions and a look at four of the classes. To be honest, I'm kind of "keeping my head down" right now in terms of SW:TOR news on the web. I'm kind of avoiding what other people have to say about the game and am just focusing on building my own impressions of it. I know that sounds odd to say as here I am sharing MY thoughts on it with all of you. But I know some folks just want as much information as they can get their hands on... and I am here to provide.
How is your SW:TOR experience going so far?