Star Wars: The Old Republic
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: 12/20/2011
Every once in awhile, a game come along that you know you’re going to be devoting a lot of your time to. For me it was Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic and Jak and Daxter a few years back, followed by the Mass Effect series and Uncharted this console generation, Dungeons and Dragons Online gave me a good solid two years, Guild Wars I’m still playing and moving forward it’s looking like it’s going to be a certain MMO set in a galaxy far, far away, Star Wars The Old Republic. I got a chance to participate in both beta events back in November, rolling up a Jedi and a Smuggler back then, knowing I’d play Republic mostly and really liking the game enough to go from being on the fence to pre-ordering it that first beta weekend, and then upgrading to the Digital Deluxe Edition when I got all my launch stuff set-up later even though I’d passed on it initially. While not perfect, it has been one of the smoothest MMO launches I’ve ever seen, and even with the glitches and errors I’ve come across, has to be one of the best-running MMOs I’ve ever played. BioWare has said that this isn’t just a sequel to the Knights of the Old Republic games, but is the equivalent of KOTOR 3 through 10. With eight different storylines, companion sets, and an intricate weaving of all eight storylines into something cohesive and personal for each player while still having a in-game impact for everyone, I’d have to agree to a point. But how does the game really stack up? I mean I loved Skyrim, but it was a letdown as far as bugs and playability went. How can 3 years of hype stack up with the live version of BioWare’s game? Let’s take a look.
First I want to touch on that fourth pillar, that reason I play BioWare games like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic; Story. While Star Wars The Old Republic isn’t the first MMO to have an ongoing storyline, Guild Wars comes to mind, Star Wars The Old Republic is the first to make it so that each class has its own personal over-arching storyline that has side quests that the other classes can do that help tell a story for the worlds your visiting. The developers had said that this was the equivalent of having Knights of the Old Republic 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 in one game, and after playing through large chunks of each class, I have to say while they may not quite have achieved that goal entirely, the stories that they do have in this game pack quite a punch.
Each class has its own storyline with it. Your starter planet is shared with one other class, and while you’ll encounter quests on each that both classes can do, you main quest lines are untouchable by the other unless you’re grouped, but even then the other person only gets to watch as a spectator during your class quest story scenes and only can interact during combat. To break it down, the Bounty Hunter and Imperial Agent start on Hutta, Smugglers and Troopers on Ord Mantell, Jedi Knights and Jedi Consulars on Tython, and Sith Warriors and Sith Inquisitors on Korriban.
I’ll start with the Imperial side of things to kind of break it down a bit more. The Bounty Hunter and Imperial Agent both end up working with the Hutts but for differing reasons at the start. The Agent is trying to convince the Hutts to throw in with the Imperials, while the Bounty Hunter is looking for sponsorship to get into the Great Hunt to make a name for themselves. While both talk to Nem’ro, one of the more influential Hutts in the area, they do it for very different reasons and have very different dealings and conversations with the giant ugly slug. The Sith Warrior has been brought to Korriban to elevate a Sith there looking for power because they have heard you’re a capable lightsaber user and warrior. The Sith Inquisitor is a slave in a group of slaves who have Force Powers, but the Sith don’t just train anyone and you’re being weeded out so only the most capable and deadly get to move on to serve a true Sith Master. Once you leave your starter planets for the main Sith homeworld, the class story lines split even further. Though they share similar locales, they are definitely geared towards providing a totally different experience for each class.
Things work similarly on the Republic side of things. Ord Mantell is in the middle of a war and the Smuggler is trying to make some, er, honest credits, by delivering guns to the Republic troops fighting the Separatists there, when they get hijacked along with your ship and you have to trek all over to clear your name and track the slime who stole your ship. The Trooper is on Ord Mantell to join up with an elite squad that’s working to track down the equivalent of a UMD that the Separatists have gotten a hold of through the help of the Empire. Both Jedi classes start on Tython, reporting to their respective masters. The Jedi Knight is concerned with stopping an outbreak of violence from the native species there against both the Jedi and Twi’lek encampments that also spills over a bit into the Jedi Consular story line. The Jedi Consular is looking to research and preserve the Jedi’s history as Tython is the planet where the Jedi were first founded but things end up going a bit deeper than that.
The story lines get much deeper for each class as you go, picking up companions that can run with you, and while you share areas, you go into them for entirely different reasons and objectives. If you’re running with a full party of players though it’s better to have a mix of classes. You can’t enter story areas together if you and your buds are all playing smugglers. There is only one base class per instance there, which can be a pain, but if you know before hand you should be ok. Having other people along will not affect your class quest line either except for combat. People entering your story instance go into Spectator mode where they can watch the cutscene and your options play out but can’t choose any. This is a bit different than flashpoints or shared quests where whoever wins the roll on the conversation choice gets to choose how that part of a scene plays out. You won’t get the dark side points if you choose a light side response, and vice versa, but if the dark side choice wins the roll, that effect still happens, like leaving someone behind, or shooting them dead.
This isn’t as big a deal in quests you can repeat, like Heroics or Flashpoints, as you can do them over to get the result you want with a different group, but if you’re trying to craft your character a certain way, it’s something to think about. Overall I like how almost all of the classes main story lines play out. The only one I didn’t really like much was the Imperial Agent, but I know a lot of other people that love it, so I think that’s more my personal taste. The additional quests that everyone can get involved in on planets have interesting twists and some of them are even part of quest chains that lead you from one area to the next, making you feel like you’re actually accomplishing something on the worlds you visit by having an impact. You can really tell they took their time in crafting the story lines and making them weave in and out of each other and it really helps make you think of this more as an MMORPG than just an MMO.
Visually, the game looks pretty impressive, even without anti-aliasing or a few other bells and whistles that are going to be turned on in a patch or two. Instead of going hyper-realistic with it, which only seems to last a few years in terms of dating a title, they went with a more stylized look that fits Star Wars and still works with what was established in Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic. In fact, I’d go so far as to say Star Wars The Clone Wars current run on Cartoon Network had a big influence on how the characters finally look as well as the world, but looking different enough to be BioWare’s own design. There are a few graphical glitches here and there that take away from things, like the random green walls on Tatooine that pop up in the middle of nowhere but disappear when you turn your camera around, or people’s mouths not moving at the start of their dialogue but picking up after a pause. Overall though, it’s solid. The clashing armor issues of most MMOs is handled by the designers picking color schemes for the classes that usually won’t clash with different armors. You won’t get a pink top with a bright blue bottom and brown boots for example. I’ve seen that in other MMOs and it looks awful, but you do it because it’s the best gear you can get for your level. The class with the biggest issues visually was the Trooper, as most of their armor starts off white, and then has different accent colors on it which can look a bit off, but the rest of the classes stick to a set of colors that really work well together and don’t make your eyes bleed. Some people aren’t liking the art style choice and I can see where they’re coming from, but I think it was a good decision to give the game some longevity without looking insanely dated five years from now. It works well in cutscenes and moving around the world, and I cannot argue with the results you get in space combat.
If you think the planets look good though, and the characters look good, the space missions, will blow you away. The space missions are a set of mini-game style rail shooters with some very impressive visuals. The explosions when you blow up enemy craft look fantastic, the ship glow from the engines follows your ship a bit as you move within the confines of your rail, the targets on the other craft are identifiable without going so overboard they look tacked on. Some of the most amazing visuals are when you first pop in to an ice field raining down on a planet or an asteroid field, or a sun that is especially close to a planet and moon with the sun’s rays being blocked out by the planetary bodies.
Audibly, the game is incredible. I’ve encountered MMOs that use voice acting in the past, but usually that’s reserved for CG or in-game cutscenes for major quests and are very generic. The amount of voiced dialogue in this game is staggering. Even accounting for the random alien that doesn’t speak Star Wars basic and is instead talking to you in their own language, the voice talent alone assembled for this game never ceases to impress me. Just to list a few of the voice actors you’ll encounter in the game, Jennifer Hale (Mass Effect), Jamie Glover (Dragon Age II), Lacey Chabert (Mean Girls), Tara Strong (Batman: Arkham City), David Hayter (Metal Gear Solid), Nolan North (Uncharted), Brian Bloom (Dragon Age II), and so on and so on. You get the picture. Voice Talent – this game has it. If you’ve played an ‘A-rated’ video game in the last ten years, chances are you’ve heard at least one person’s voice from this game in something else you’ve played. The direction works well because not only are they great voice actors but they deliver the lines and they fit the scene, selling the story choices you’ve made to keep that immersion going.
Aside from the great voice talent, the usual sound effects from Star Wars are here, the lightsabers, the blasters, ships, all fit with what you’d expect from the film. They’ve done a great job making sure it moves right, which is really helpful in space missions so you know when the enemy ships are roaring up on you and from which side to expect them. Which brings me to the score. There are a lot of familiar music cues here, not just from the films, but even back to Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic and its sequel. While they are familiar and you can recognize where they’re from they are changed a bit to fit this game. Some of the space missions you can clearly hear the start of “Hyperspace” from The Empire Strikes Back, but after some of that musical cue, the music changes subtly to something a bit different so it’s not exactly the same and for the most part it works. I did cringe a little when I realized the music I kept hearing on Ord Mantell and Taris was some of the music cues from Paragus, the doomed mining facility from Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II, but I’m starting to associate that more with this game now and it really fits those planets well.
Control-wise you have some options. Now long time MMO players won’t have access to macros in this game. I’ve never used them, and to be honest, I don’t think you need them. Controls are the basic third person controls, WASD for movement, mouse for looking around. To interact with just about everything in the game you use your right mouse button. Dialogue options are chosen by a dialogue wheel like Mass Effect, but you can enter in the corresponding number on the wheel and don’t have to use the mouse. If you don’t like your options chosen in conversations you can hit escape to bail out of it and then go back in and pick the choices over again, unless you finished through the conversation. The interface at the moment is set, meaning you can’t move the map around or anything like that, however, you can expand you bottom skill bar to two rows and add a column on either side of the screen to house your skills. The reason I mention not needing macros, is that each of these skill bars can actually be set to a set of combo keystrokes so you never actually have to use your mouse to activate them on your menu, which is basically what you’d be doing with macros in the first place.
Space combat is pretty straightforward. You’re on a rail, so really all you’re doing in moving your ship around to avoid obstacles using WASD and your mouse. You can also do barrel rolls by hitting the space bar. You target using your mouse, the left button firing your ship’s lasers, the right button firing off missiles. All of the space missions have a set timeframe they run in. There are a variety of missions, escorts, seek and destroy, and assault or defend. The escort is pretty straightforward. There’s a ship going from one end of the map to the other and your job is to wipe out the turrets and fighters trying to blow it out of the sky before it reaches its end point. Seek and Destroy missions have you going after a specific target or series of targets moving around the map. Several have you taking out major turbo-lasers on Capitol class ships or hunting down a specific type of ship moving through the battle. Assault missions basically have you flying around a space station taking out key points on the station to weaken it, and later in the game you have the opposite, trying to defend a remote station from bombers. There are bonus objectives depending on the mission along with the required ones. If you don’t hit all your targets on the required goals you fail even if you survive the mission. These can all be completed for rewards daily and you get commendations, money and exp for all of them to varying degrees based on your class level. The first set of space missions I completed with my Smuggler after leaving Coruscant I managed to get a full level’s worth of exp out of just those before I moved on to Taris.
While the space missions run fairly easy, at first it might start hard as you have no mods done to your ship. These are available from ship vendors and are level based, so you can upgrade your ship as you level. I’d recommend running your first space mission before buying any mods though as you get an armor mod as a reward for completing your first space mission. You can and will get mods later for beating missions that are a higher difficulty level, but I’d recommend upgrading your ship as you can as these can be a little sparse.
The game plays like a more traditional MMO other than the dialogue scenes. The worlds are pretty open with some smaller instanced areas closed off unless you’re either on the quest or of that class, or if you’re with someone who’s on that quest or of that class. They did this to really help with the feeling that its your story as you’re playing. Combat moves pretty well even if there is no auto-attack. Part of that design choice I think has to do with a few of the classes being dependent on certain attacks to build up power for your other attacks and as such there is no default attack. You have to use one of your skills to attack a mob or person. If you right click on your target you do attack with that click but that defaults to the first skill in your bar, so if you have a heal skill there, you’ve not only aggro’d your target, you just healed yourself. Some classes have a full ability bar that depletes as you use skills and others have to build up that bar to use their skills. The smuggler has a full bar for skill use that depletes and has to recharge. The Jedi Knight however has to build up power levels using one or two specific attacks in order to use his other attacks. It’s not like chaining attacks, more like building up an amount of ki to unleash your stronger attacks. Dungeons and Dragons Monk players will totally get that reference. Bounty Hunters work a little differently, they build up heat. They have access to all their attacks but like Battletech, their gear heats up as they use it and you have to flush that heat or cool off a bit for some attacks as you fight.
Partly because of the way you build up or use power, but also due to skill selection as well as advanced classes, each class plays very differently. The Bounty Hunter and Trooper are basically ranged tanks/DPS but have some up close and personal attacks as well and if you go a different route can be really good healers. The Jedi Consular and Sith Inquisitor can both do healing or ranged DPS through Force Powers, but both classes can also become stealthy rogue-like assassins that can do some interesting up close lightsaber attacks. The Smuggler and Imperial Agent fill the ranged DPS or healer/rogue roles depending on their advanced classes. The Jedi Knight and Sith Warrior fill in the remaining melee two-weapon DPS or one handed tank roles. While the Knight and Warrior have buffs for the party as tanks, they are the only classes that don’t have any real form of party healing.
While you start off with base classes that define your storyline, much like the defunct D20 Modern and Future, you have advanced classes that really define what you can and can’t do in the game as far as combat goes. You pick these after leaving your starter world and before you head to your factions Capitol world. You can’t change these at all. So if you’re a Smuggler and decided to go DPS with the Gunslinger Advanced Class but want to try the Scoundrel instead after a few levels, you’re out of luck. Since I’m an alt-oholic anyway when it comes to MMOs, I’ve actually gone through and created two of each class, one of each gender for the romance options, and each of them will be a different Advanced Class. While this won’t work for everyone and I’ve heard grumblings all around about wanting to be able to change this, it takes about one afternoon, four hours or so, to go through your starter planet and get to your fleet to pick your Advanced Class. Now BioWare hasn’t ruled out offering the ability to change this at some point, for right now, you’re stuck, so plan accordingly.
What you can change is your skill tree. For every level beyond ten you get a skill point to put into three different trees. You’ll only ever have enough points to unlock one tree fully and dabble into the other two a bit, and they’ve done this on purpose. It lets you excel in your chosen role while giving you the ability to make yourself more durable or capable of damage from one of the other trees as a back-up. If you’re unhappy being a healer for example, you can always go back, shell out a few credits and retrain your skill tree as one of the options in your skill tree instead. You’ll still have access to your healing ability as its part of the advanced class ability set, but you won’t be as good at it, and that won’t be the role you’re set up for at that point anyway.
Most quests and areas are geared for the solo player and a companion. Flashpoints, instanced quests available from your Fleet, are designed with a group in mind, some for as little as two but most are for four. Heroic quests you can find on each planet in two and four players varieties. Both Flashpoints and Heroics are repeatable once a day for rewards. Companions come in different flavors, but every class ends up with five (Six if you include your ship’s droid who can only heal and not attack) relatively similar class companions, healer, tank, DPS, etc. You do get these at different times and different rates. My Jedi Knight had his two droids and Jedi companion for two worlds before my wife playing the Jedi Consular picked up her second non-ship companion. The Bounty Hunter gets a little bonus here though picking up a healer companion before you leave your first planet, which in my opinion, makes it a lot easier to get through the game alone if you’re playing it that way. Like Lord of the Rings Online and World of Warcraft, most of the game can be played alone, but goes much smoother and is alot more fun, in a group. A team of two players with their companions can actually do most everything. I would hesitate to recommend Flashpoints and Heroics designed for four players to the duo playing together though as the boss mobs in those tend to be too much for a group of two with their companions depending on your base and advanced classes.
One of the nicer options is to not fail an instanced quest area if you’re in a group and have to start all over. I’ve seen some story areas where you’ll get kicked out when you’re alone, but grouped you’re good to go. So if that group of mobs was just too much but you’ve whittled it down to one or two guys you can go back in to try and take them again instead of having to redo the whole instance over again. While this might seem like an easy button, I’ve been in too many other MMOs where lag, connection issues, people dropping, etc, have killed the quest where you have to start all over again. It’s frustrating and annoying as hell and I think this was a rather simple solution to those possible problems.
Once you hit Level 50, there are a number of quests referred to as Dailies by most players, that you run once a day (clever name I know), which are composed of Heroics and solo quests to help gear your character up for the endgame content. These can also be used to gain more influence with your companions as well. Your influence level with your companions determines whether they like you at all and for the romance-able companions, whether or not you can pursue a romance with them. Like Dragon Age you can give your companions gifts to raise their influence level and each one has different likes and dislikes as far as gifts go. You get these as quest rewards and you can buy them as well. Not only do your companions provide a buffer for whatever you’re missing in combat situations, but they are also how you craft. The crafting system is broken down into three sections, all of which you can choose. You have your gathering skills which you use to gather raw materials for crafting as you run around the world, or you can send your companions on missions to get items. Crafting skills are just that. Whatever your crafting skill is what you can create. Mission skills provide another way to get materials and rewards by sending your companion out, but while they work like the gathering missions, you get varied missions rewards. You’ll be able to change these out if you’re unhappy with your crafting set-up so feel free to experiment here.
While you can craft and create items, one of the neat things I really like is custom armor and weapons. Some gear has the option to modify it. There are between three and four mods you can change out on any given item, as low as one on some crafted items. So say you really love the first mod-able armor you find. As long as you keep up on the mods for it, it can be better than pretty much every other random armor drop you find. Both my Jedi and Smuggler are using gear dropped on the Esseles Flashpoint with the best mods I can find. You don’t have to turn to other players for mods either if you’d rather not screw around on the auction house. As you play through planets and space missions you earn Commendations for each planet that sit on your currency tab. These can be turned into vendors at the fleet or on their respective planets at certain vendors for mods or special named gear, or if your just feeling lucky, a random armor or weapon. You can’t trade Commendations, so it only makes sense to use them and mods are a great way to spend them.
I’ll be honest, one of the parts of the game I don’t play much at all, are the Operations, raids, and the Warzones, the PVP areas. It’s not that I don’t like them, but like the Flashpoints, you have to leave the world you’re on to go to them. I’m having more fun just leveling up through my class quests and since all of the above are repeatable later, I’ll just do them then. I do most Flashpoints because they are really good exp at level and some decent gear, but if you miss them it’s not the end of the world either. Operations, the same ones being available to both factions, unlike the Flashpoints, use a raiding system. You can do the Operations in groups of 8 to 16 players, and a variety of difficulty levels. They play a lot like Flashpoints do as far as instancing and moving through them. Warzones are a bit trickier. Now you do have other options for PVP other than Warzones, challenging other characters to a duel, or the open-world Territorial Zones where each faction tries to control a base there. PVP uses another ranking system like influence or your social ranking, called valor, which also has its own set of items you can unlock by participating in PVP.
Where was I? Oh yes, Warzones. You participate in these by queuing yourself up to participate where they dump you out with other players in, what should be, fairly evenly matched games. Each one is objective based, there currently only being three, but each has its own distinct flavor. Alderaan’s Warzone has the two factions fighting over a battlefield on the world, with reinforcements being dropped from troop transports there. The objective is to wipe out the enemy’s transport before yours goes by taking control of laser turrets placed on the ground. Just because you get a turret, doesn’t mean you keep it, so there is a bit of back and forth as the battle plays out. The second one is set on a lost Imperial cruiser called the Voidstar. It takes place over a few rounds with one group trying to defend the data core and the other side trying to take it and there’s a best two out of three ruling to win the actual Warzone. I actually really like this one the best, but I think the next one, Huttball, is fairly unique. Huttball puts you into an arena known as The Pit, where teams battle for a ball that pops up in the center of the arena. Traps litter the arena and the goal is to try and score on the other team with the ball while avoiding not only the traps, but also while trying to get through the enemy line. Huttball is the only Warzone where you can see same faction PVP going on. For me, this is more than enough PVP. It’s not why I play this game or most MMOs, but it’s a neat diversion and has some good rewards if you’re willing to stick with it. Some players are looking for more though, but for a launch title, this is a well-crafted start.
Now the game isn’t without faults. Sometimes quests get bugged. Rather than having to abandon them though, you can reset them which usually just resets the leg of the quest you’re on. For example, on Taris for the Republic, you’re trying to get infected by the Rakghoul plague at one point to try and help cure it by using the old cure you scavenged up from a hospital that you probably created in Knights of the Old Republic if you played that game. Every once in awhile the quest goes sideways and you’re not going to get infected no matter how many of the red breed of Rakghouls you let chew on you. Go in and hit the reset button on that quest in your quest journal which resets the timer you have to get infected and then go forth and get chewed on some more and you’ll get infected. I’d only noticed this particular glitch when I was grouped with another person, but some of my guildies have had that issue before while running alone too. Reset button is an easy fix for that and a lot of quest issues I’ve come across.
Yet one more thing to keep track of is your alignment and your social points. Social points you get from, well being social. If you’re grouped up and doing quests with other people and participating in the conversations in cutscenes, you get social points. These can unlock gear and other options for you as you level up and give you options to visually separate out your character even more. Currently as far as alignment goes, you have two real viable options, light side or dark side. Part of this is high end gear requiring certain levels of light and dark side points to use the gear which you get from playing through your quests normally anyway. They are looking into gear for people who like to walk that middle road and see things as more grey, but right now, at end game that’s how it is, which is a little limiting but you can make up for it for the most part, with mods and other gear.
There are a few odd design choices that I think could have really helped this game, one of which is being developed but isn’t in yet, and the others have been brought up on the forums. Say you trade character names with a friend. He gives you his server name, pops on and tries to add you to his friends list, but can’t. Why you ask? You’re not online. You can only add people to your friends list if they are online. Their names stay in the list, but you don’t have any more info on them than that except when they’re online. The User Interface can’t be customized. The layout isn’t bad, but people like to be able to move these things around for their own preference. I do it all the time in DDO and LOTRO and especially in Star Trek Online. This is something in the pipeline, they even have video of it, but at the moment it’s not in game. One other thing that has bothered me and I wasn’t a fan of LOTRO‘s system either, but is the LFG/LFM system. There isn’t one. Sure you can look at the who list for people tagged as looking for group, but not everyone uses it, or they forget to unflag. So when you’re trying to join a group or start a group you do a lot of talking on general which is generally annoying to everyone else who isn’t looking for a group. (see what I did there?) I like how DDO handled it, with an actual group panel, listing the group, who was in it, what quest they were doing, what level range, etc. This made things amazingly easy to get groups together for raids and even regular questing. Shouting out in general feels like standing on a street corner hoping some passerby will help you go slay the evil Sith or crush the Republic. It just doesn’t work very well.
Now, I understand that the Empire and Republic are at war. But there’s another bit that is really quite annoying, but could make sense from a game setting standpoint, if there wasn’t so much rampant corruption and defection on either side. You cannot, as a Republic player, e-mail in-game an item or credits to a Sith character, at all. Even one of your own. The same holds true for Sith characters. They also have a separate auction house, with one exception, the Hutt controlled world of Nar Shaddaa. There you can access either auction house and get items from them or post them there. This is the only world that does this. They say it’s because of the war and the split, but on every planet you go to there are opposing agents, living and working on those planets, and I guarantee you they don’t fly to Hutta every time that they want to use the black market. It adds some flavor to the game, but not being able to send items to your own characters is pretty annoying if you’re running two factions on one server. I actually didn’t notice this until this week as I have my characters split on servers, 8 on my Republic server and the other 8 on my Sith server. I believed my guildies when they told me that but had to try it for myself, and that is the case. So that dark side or light side equipment you just found? Junk it out or take it to Nar Shaddaa. Most of these will end up as vendor trash though I imagine.
As far as being replayable, you do have the repeatable quests, PVP, space missions, for when you hit level cap and complete your storyline. They’ve also already got their first new content in the pipeline to come down in the form of a story based flashpoint. There are 8 different classes to play through, and while the classes play a similar role they play very differently and have very different storylines going on. On top of that you can play different alignments, so you could have that dark side Jedi or light side Sith, the Bounty Hunter with a heart of gold, or the Smuggler only looking out for themselves. There are a lot of reasons to play through again even as the same class or to keep coming back to the game. Along with that, you don’t actually have to complete every quest on a planet before you move on. Basically you can land, do your class quest, and then take off. This leaves a large number of quests behind but you can reach 50 doing this. So going back and taking care of enormous quest logs to make some quick credits or earn more alignment, social or influence points is always an option. Considering they’ve mentioned in interviews that they have planned content up through 2015 at the moment, I don’t think a player will run out of things to do any time soon.
I admit I was skeptical of this game at first. How could BioWare possibly deliver on the hype? There’s a delicate balance there between delivering the next new MMO hit and managing to make it familiar enough with other MMOs that you’re not entirely alienating players from other games. You want to make sure you have content, that the classes aren’t terribly over matched to each other, especially if you have PVP, that there aren’t a ton of game-breaking bugs, and more importantly that your players feel like they’re getting their money’s worth.
As far as content goes, this game has it in spades. I’ve put in over 150 hours in the game since launch across 8 characters (8 of them were created and I just haven’t played them much) and the two factions. I’ve put less time in Mass Effect and I thought I more than got my money’s worth there and I beat the game multiple times. I’ve only managed to really get one character up into the higher levels so far in this game and have 7 more character stories to progress through as well as world content. And I’ve been skipping quests on my main character as I had just gotten too high a level for them at the moment! This was all within my first free 30 days of game time. Even if I stopped now and didn’t pay that monthly fee to keep playing I’ve more than got my money’s worth out of The Old Republic. I am however going to keep putting my money into it because I love being a part of this amazing setting that BioWare has crafted around the main Star Wars mythos. If I didn’t feel I wasn’t getting my money’s worth I’d mention it, but I think I’m getting more out of this than I did with most of the other MMOs I’ve played. It’s a solid game, the classes are well balanced with each other even with the standard MMO tropes of Tank, Healer, and DPS. If you’re finding the game too easy there are harder difficulty settings, or if you’re in a regular normal area you could run without a companion or on your own. Try taking an elite mob on without back-up and under level and tell me that the game isn’t hard.
Where the game suffers is that while they were trying to make it accessible to people who hadn’t played an MMO before or for people who had played Everquest or World of Warcraft, they haven’t done much different than anyone else as far as the basic mechanics of the game go. I could take any player from Lord of the Rings Online or Star Trek Online and drop them in this game and after a minute or so they’d be playing fine. Where they set themselves up as being different was most definitely in the class stories. While other MMOs have had over-arching plots, they felt generic and could be for any class in their games. This isn’t the case here, and that is the single biggest thing that sets this apart. While it is something they’re known for with their other games like Mass Effect, the way it works is a bit different here as they have eight different stories being told in this game, as opposed to just Shepard’s story, or Hawke’s story from Dragon Age II. It’s more like the first Dragon Age game in that way, but even then Origins still had that over-arching main plot for every origin with a few personal ties to customize it a bit. This game makes every class feel very personal.
As an example, my wife and I were running on Taris on our Jedi, back in an underground area where the Priomised Ones had ended up, and there was a vault marked off to the side. She asked me what it was, and told her we don’t go in there, that’s part of the Smuggler quest. Now, we could poke around, but there was nothing going on in there for us to really do because we were both Jedi. We’d gone in to take care of some Imperials and the rakghouls, when my Smuggler had gone in it was simply to find the vault and get information and maybe get some revenge on the guy who stole her ship. Same area, totally different goals and very tailored to each class. My smuggler had no idea what the Jedi were doing on Taris and vice versa. So while we do have some new mechanics introduced into an MMO, ala Mass Effect and Dragon Age, the story is still steeped in Star Wars lore, and while there are a few neat new things here, it’s also not re-inventing the wheel either.
Anyone who follows my Twitter or Raptr account know I play this game a lot. I’m playing this enough that my wife decided she wanted to play with me because I looked like I was having a blast, and even she’s gotten sucked into it a bit as she makes more characters she plays when I’m not at home, thinking she’s doing it on the sly. I do get bored with the standard MMO formula. It’s part of why I liked DDO so much is that it felt like I was just playing a real time version of the table top before they started mucking it up this past year gearing it more directly towards the “Elite” player. I really do enjoy firing this game up, whether I’m just going in to run a few space missions or to try out one of the other classes, being immersed in my own Star Wars world is addicting. I actually feel more connected with my character here, like I would when I’m playing at the table with my own characters in Pathfinder or Rifts. You get a sense of ownership over your character that really sucks you in and I love it.
Back in 2003, BioWare and Lucasarts released an RPG that raised our expectations for Star Wars games. It was followed by a sequel from Obsidian and then never touched again. A direct sequel hasn’t been ruled out, but this game takes place only a few hundred years down the line, ties up some loose ends from both previous games, and is generally amazing. I’d also have to say that setting records for some of the highest numbers for an MMO launch has to qualify for something. There’s something for everyone in this game, whether you’re a PVP fan, just enjoy the Star Wars universe, or even if you’re just a crafting hound. There is a lot to like in this game. It has a few bugs, and I will admit it’s not for everyone. With so many free to play MMOs on the rise, and even some releasing directly as a free to play title, like the upcoming Neverwinter, it was a gamble releasing a new MMO with the older pay style of a box cost and a monthly fee. Honestly though, this game was worth every penny I’ve sunk into it, even including the bugs.
Yes, while this is probably one of the more polished launch MMOs I’ve ever played, Guild Wars being the other one, there are some bugs throughout. There are graphic glitches on Tatooine with giant green walls that pop up from time to time. Sometimes the trees in cutscenes have weird shader issues. During some dialogue scenes characters mouths don’t kick off right away. Last night while I was running through the Taris underground areas my wife’s Jedi kept falling from floor to ceiling over and over again on my screen even though she was fine. I’ve had a few occasions where I couldn’t click on anything anymore and had to log out and back in again for my mouse buttons to work. Quite a few of these visual glitches remain from the Beta, but I found a lot more while I was beta testing. The bigger issues seem to have been addressed. Most quest issues can be reset, which is great, but still annoying. On the first flashpoint I’ve had someone fall through a particular bridge on the Sith ship every time we’ve run it (or so the other players say, I’ve never actually fallen through it) which means they have to exit and re-enter the flashpoint. Overall they are annoyances, but ones that have been around awhile. The big issue with not gaining influence with one of the companions got fixed right away. I haven’t had the actual game crash to desktop once, which is amazing from an MMO launch for me. DDO still occasionally crashes out to desktop for me and that game is over 5 years old now. These aren’t all the bugs I’ve come across, just the major ones, and while annoying, they don’t necessarily wreck the experience. In a year though, if these are still there, I’ll be more than annoyed.
Control and Gameplay: Very Good
Appeal Factor: Incredible
FINAL SCORE: GREAT GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
BioWare set out to change the face of the MMORPG, and while they’ve fine tuned the elements that were there and showed us that you can in fact tell an amazing and personal story for every character class in an MMO, they haven’t done anything truly earth-shattering to the genre. All the elements to the MMO are here, and refined to work well with every element they have in the game, so if you’ve played an MMO in the last ten years, jumping in and playing this isn’t going to feel like learning to drive all over again, but you may have to adjust the seat a bit. The game is amazingly solid, and a month into it they’re already looking at adding new content in the next few weeks. Looking for a WoW killer? While I have to say I enjoy this tons more than I ever did with WoW, I don’t think it will kill it, but it will put a big dent in that already rusting armor. I can say if you love MMOs and love Star Wars or even if you’re not that fond of MMOs but love Star Wars and RPGs, or you’re just looking for a solid MMO to kill some serious time with, this is definitely the game for you.
Tags: Bioware, EA, LucasArts, MMO, MMORPG, Star Wars, Star Wars: The Old Republic