Although it's still early I think I've seen enough of TOR to offer some opinions about how it compares to the previous Star Wars MMO.
Actually, they're incredibly similar, at least on the low quality settings I run SWTOR at. Running around SWTOR it's easy to forget which game you're in if you're a SWG veteran. I think the graphics are fine although I do want to gripe about performance. For a game that looks rather dated SWTOR is a beast. When I first started playing it defaulted to low on everything which was borderline unplayable until I turned shadows off. It still chugs and loads slowly.
I sometimes fantasise about running a games company and one of the things I would do is put a Computer of Death into the office. This is the weakest machine we want our game to run on, an old Pentium I found in a jumble sale. And all the staff would spend a week on it at a time. Chosen by drawing straws on Friday afternoons. Because if the people developing these games didn't have state of the art overclocked beasts to work on all the time then maybe we would see games that are play decently on a normal machine.
It's particularly disappointing after Bioware recognised that too high systems specs had previously been a problem with many games (notably Age of Conan and Vanguard) and made a special effort to ensure this game would "run on a toaster".
To be fair SWG released as a horrible buggy mess that crashed to desktop and bluescreened so SWTOR wins on graphics, just.
These are very well done, beautifully produced and well acted. Some of the plot twists are amazing and some of the dialogue are clever. The acting is genuinely brilliant, you can read a subtitle and think that's not an impressive answer, then hear it spoken and think "oh yeah!"
SWG hardly had any cutscenes, just a little bit with Han Solo at the beginning as I recall and the iconic scrolling slanting text so SWTOR is a winner here. It's a good feature, beautifully made.
That does however bring me on to a serious criticism of SWTOR, in fact what may be it's deepest flaw. The game is badly paced. Cutscenes are great but they come so thick and fast it's hard to tell whether I'm playing a game with lots of film or watching a film with interactive bits. It gets too much. I found myself space-barring them after a few days because I'd had enough of cutscenes.
More importantly there's an overall rush to SWTOR that is very unappealing. People got to 50 in a few days. Now barely 2 weeks in almost everyone in my guild is 50. You don't really learn and explore a planet because you're only there for a day or two. You don't really learn and explore your skills because you get new ones every few hours. It just scrolls by too fast.
As players we optimise ourselves to beat and push the system but we need the system to also push back to create a fun dynamic. Push at SWTOR and you win, you max out, you save the universe. It lacks substance.
WoW, remember built itself up as a game where it took on average about 6 months to max level. There were people who still hadn't maxxed out a character by the end of Vanilla despite playing regularly. When we did Stranglethorn Valley we spend a fun 3 weeks there. Now although WoW isn't like this now, and you can level very fast, that early slow leveling played a crucial part in establishing WoW's popularity. It seems people look at WoW and copy what it is now without realising what it had before that got it to the top.
SWG, despite being remembered as a sandbox, was very much a leveling game and quite a slow one. It took months before anyone mastered an Advanced Profession if we don't count Architects who mastered because a whole guild gave them Ore. Those months were some of the most enjoyable times I've ever had in a MMO.
I think SWTOR loses on this aspect as do several other recent MMOs like Rift. Content becomes meaningless when it zips by in a flash. WoW can get away with it because WoW is established but WoW established itself on a game based on slow paced leveling.
I've been disappointed with SWTOR's group content because it's quite hard to get groups. I'll admit to having been spoiled by LFD tools but I can't be bothered to send out tons of tells and slowly build a friends list in the old-fashioned way. It's annoying enough that I was thinking it's probably best to let my sub lapse and come back when they've put one in. I really like doing group content as I quest through the solo content. There's no chance of finding a group while out questing and it's a tedious process hanging around the Fleet space station spamming.
SWG on the other hand despite not having proper instances did have some fun group content that emerged out of classes interdependence. The Ranger class for instance had to make camps for people to progress so Ranger players tended to organise interesting expeditions for other players. It had caves like the Squill Cave on Tatooine which attracted crowds of people in very chaotic public raids
To compare these two games we need to look at the rails, the system where the game channels you towards the content it chooses.
In SWTOR rails are firmly in place but nicely crafted. You can only do what the designers had planned for you to do but it's good enjoyable content. In SWG the designers had a sandbox philosophy, they put in stuff that could be interacted with but didn't necessarily know how players would interact with it.
Each side has its fans but my concern with regard to SWTOR is that the rails may simply run out. What happens when the train reachs the end of the line? You can roll an alt or raid or pvp but none of those things are quite enough for me. The sub-based model implies that the game will be your main or even your only game and will endlessly immerse you. Where I think SWTOR is heading is what I saw in my Rift raid guild. At the end of a raid people would ask "when's the next raid?" be told Tuesday then say "cya Tuesday" and not log on until then. There was no point playing.
That's a serious flaw in an MMO. SWG always had something to do so it wins clearly here.
SWG had asymmetrical spontaneous pvp where SWTOR has pvp battlegrounds that you queue up for and where you face a matched team. I'm miles in favour of asymmetrical pvp. It feels like pvp as war, with strategic depth, rather than pvp as sport.
I probably shouldn't assign SWTOR as the loser as many people prefer that instanced sanatised safe form of combat. Let me just say it doesn't particularly appeal to me, for me pvp should feel dangerous.
OK, the design teams have come from completely opposite poles and I'm going to plunge in and say that SWTOR's philosophy here was half-baked and terrible.
In Galaxies economic professions were a fundamental part of the economy and almost everything was made by players. Resources were rare, searching them out was time-consuming, the top crafters were astonishingly hardcore. Later on this philosophy, as with many aspects of Galaxies became diluted but in 2003 the economy was fascinating.
In SWTOR the philosophy is throw it all at the players so they won't whine. Have unlimited money with a gathering profession that literally just gathers cash. Level to max in a few days. Have 5 crafting characters on one with your crew of willing slaves working 24/7. Oh and the Auction House is a worse database than one I could build on Open Office freeware in an afternoon.
Some elements of it are well-designed. The crafting/missions/gathering division is elegant as is the reverse engineering mechanic and some of the item design. But the whole thing more ressembles Kid in a Sweetshop than Economic Simulation. Bioware have profoundly failed crafter players.
SWG of course had one of the most interesting and admired crafter economies ever done.
SWTOR wins hands down. I really like the space combat minigame. SWG launched with none but then added a space game that was just too hard for me.
Player housing and cities
One of the outstanding SWG features. In SWTOR you get a ship which serves as a player house and is nice but it really feels barren without the ability to fill it with junk and decorate it.
SWTOR is too generous, too casual and simply too finite. It feels like a single-player game, like there's a point where I'll say "Done!" and I really will be done. It's very worth playing for a time, an improvement on the KOTOR series which were very good single-player games. But that's the thing - it feels like a massively single-player game. All the elements that should encourage interaction are absent or half-baked. There's a lack of cool things to find because it's all on rails. There's a lack of groups because there's no LFD tool. There's no economy. There's no war.
SWG will remain a high point of my gaming experiences. Hopefully its demise will catalyse other products that suit the people who liked it. It's a very strong influence on Dominus which I'm looking forward to more than ever now. And I feel that when SWTOR fails to retain the numbers it was built for, when it fails to "kill WoW", people will look back to older game designs and see if there was anything there that can be delivered in fresh ways to modern audiences.