Right out the bat, the game is a bit overwhelming. I figured on a story mode and an arcade mode, but there was quite a bit more. I went right in the story mode, picked a chick (I always play the girls in fighting games - ever since I found I could kick butt with Chun Li in Street Fighter), ignored the somewhat lame text and began fighting. Without reading a word in the manual I was able to figure out the basics and actually win a few fights. The story mode mixes things up a bit with multiple opponents per level, which is cool. I also like the sword play, which I haven't really seen since Dark Rift on the N64. Not all the fighters have swords of course, some have staffs but the weapon combat works great and is really enjoyable (especially with some of the longer range weapons).
The arcade mode has a series of 8 battles, each getting progressively more difficult as you advance. I haven't actually been able to beat the arcade mode yet, mainly because I keep getting my butt kicked by the Dark Apprentice. (More on the Star Wars marketing later.)
There is a character creation/edit mode that seems pretty deep. You can either start a character from scratch (gender, fighting style etc) or work with one of the main characters. This goes way deep and I was surprised the docs (yeah, I did actually read them after a few hours of play) didn't seem to cover the entire process. So for example, along with picking equipment (which are both cosmetic and possibly stat boosting), there is a skills system that can change how your character plays. The skills system seems to have a concept of points where you have to balance the skills against a limit that goes up when you get a 'style' advance for your character. Like I said, the docs only give partial coverage to this feature, so I'm still a bit lost as to how the process works exactly. I guess if you really, really want to get deep into the game, this would be worth the time, but I can't see doing that.
The graphics are good, and are the level designs, but I was hoping for a few more levels than what I got. (I'd guess around 8 or so.) I will give credit to the game for making the levels have unique aspects. One level has a row of advancing knights that slowly shrinks the available playing space. Also most levels have a drop off or cliff that you can push an opponent off. That adds an edge to the fight as you have to be careful to not get too close to the edge - or do what I do often - push an opponent to the edge, than accidentally switch places.
One of the main reasons I was excited about this game was the Star Wars influence. It's pretty funny how they shoe-horned Yoda into the main story line, but ignoring that, it works ok. Yoda is a great fighter (as we all saw in Attack of the Clones) if you ignore the fact that a light saber would typically end a fight in about two seconds. I was surprised to also see the Dark Apprentice in the game as well. It feels a bit forced (pun intended). It's almost like Soulcalibur acts as an ad for The Force Unleashed. (Speaking of ads, there is also a coupon for fried chicken in each copy of the game. In case you want to put some weight on while sitting in front of the TV.) It all kinda comes off like underhanded marketing, but since it's Star Wars, I'll ignore it. (And in a game with music/sound that is mostly forgettable, I have to say I love fighting to the "Duel of the Fates" song.)
So is it worth picking up? I think so. As I said, my only other fighter for the platform was Dead or Alive, and Soulcalibur definitely beats that. (But to be fair, DOA came out close to two years ago I think.) I'd be curious to hear from folks who have played earlier incarnations of the game and can speak to how the game compares.