This past weekend I had the very enjoyable fortune to try out SWTOR, thanks to their free weekend pass. And while I have played WoW for going on the last 6 years or so, let me be completely frank here: you cannot compare the two. It's like trying to compare apples and oranges; while they're both round, edible and grown from a tree they are also quite different. However, with that said, I must also confess that you cannot look at an MMO these days without at least referencing some aspects of WoW. Yet both of these games are very well crafted but they are done so in different ways. Some of these elements are so subtle that I couldn't quite put my finger on them and others are so obvious that you almost don't have to mention them(i.e. - Sci Fi theme vs. Fantasy).
The character creation system was instantly familiar to me, being very typical and straight forward. You select one of two rival factions (Republic or Sith Empire), then have 4 class options available to you. Now, there is a little point I have to make here - you may be thinking that only 4 classes available is very limited. The truth of the matter is that each of these 4 cover some of the core base of game play and allow you to move into one of 2(or perhaps more) advanced classes later. They are all well rounded and capable for their designed style of play and every single one is a blast to play.
Once you select a class you then get to pick a race available to that class and then a gender. After this step you come to a welcome breath of fresh air. While in WoW and other games you do get to customize your characters appearance to a small degree, SWTOR takes things a step farther. It is at this step you can choose a body type ranging from bean pole skinny all the way up to thick and hefty. You have full control to set your character's complexion, scars, cosmetics for females, even a very wide variety of hair colors and styles. This step was such a welcome change that on a whim I created Jedi knight who ended up looking like a rotund African American with thick bushy white beard and dread-lock like hair pulled back. He was soon dubbed 'Cornbread' and a running tag line for him became 'Cornbread; the flava of da force.' Needless to say that one was a non stop source of humor and commentary.
Another area where the game shines is in the storyline itself and how it is both engaging and inclusive. At every turn I felt completely part of the story and involved. Every interaction with an npc during dialog etc allows you choices on how to answer or handle things. Because of this the story shifts as you choose to be respectful, inquisitive or even brash as it were. You can make decisions that award dark side or light side points that of themselves mark your character, just as you can weather or not to take a mission or turn it down. The story is a master piece that you can easily get sucked into without feeling completely like it must be exactly the same for everyone else.
A couple of interesting mechanics to point out include some staple for most such games; a quick return to town ability, transportation and storage. Now, in regards to the return to town function I did love the element they names 'Quick travel.' With it you can call up a speeder taxi that doesn't just return you back to town. Nope, any town you've 'discovered' by binding with a little node there you can return to with your quick travel icon. The ability itself does have it's own cooldown but it is an expected standard of about 20 minutes or so. As for transportation I didn't make it to high enough level to unlock my own starship(something everyone does at a set level) but I did get to hire a speederbike whenever I wanted to move from site to site if walking didn't suit me. And as for storage, everyone starts out with a inventory that held easily around 30 or so slots. The real nice thing worth mentioning was below it was an option to unlock more room simply by purchasing it with credits anytime you chose to.
After trying one of every class on both factions I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the experience to the point that I found myself missing it once the pass expired. The game still has a lot of potential for growth though, but as far as I got to explore promises to be a great game in itself. Does it thoroughly trump the veteran MMO WoW? That I cannot say it does because these just are not the same kind of game. Like apples and oranges they each posses different flavors and textures to be savored and enjoyed.
One thing I would highly recommend is that if given the chance, say the next time a free weekend pass rolls around, is that you definitely give the game a try.