Fans of Knights of the Old Republic, rejoice! Bioware has returned to the Star Wars Universe and entered the Massively Multi-player RPG arena with the highly anticipated Star Wars: The Old Republic.
It’s almost impossible these days to talk about a new MMO without acknowledging the 500 lb. gorilla that has been dominating the massively multi-player market for the past seven years. Many new games have been released with promises of innovation, and being the almighty ‘WoW killer’ only to fall into the same patterns before fading into obscurity. So before we begin, let’s just get something out of the way… Star Wars: The Old Republic has a lot in common with its cousin from Azeroth. One could take the extremely narrow view and call the game a “WoW clone” but that would be a disservice to anyone looking for a new MMO experience. Fans of World of Warcraft may recall it being referred to as an ‘Everquest Clone’ when it launched, but like SWTOR, it still had enough new ideas to push the genre forward.
Given the huge number of subscribers playing WoW, it makes sense that Bioware would want to build their game on the foundation of the most successful MMO of all time. Most of the user interface features and the default key mappings are one to one. WoW players testing the waters in the early hours of the game will experience no learning curve whatsoever, allowing them to immerse themselves in the story and lore. Moving around the environments will feel very comfortable and the combat system is nearly identical to what has become standard for MMOs. That said, the game also does a nice job of teaching first-time MMO players the ropes. No doubt this was a deliberate attempt to entice (Re: Addict) hardcore Star Wars fans that might not have any experience playing MMORPG games.
SWTOR allows players to choose a place in the Republic or the Sith Empire with each faction offering four classes that ultimately fork into eight different Advanced Classes. Each Advanced Class then features three distinct talent trees allowing players to play the in varying styles. While SWTOR does retain the Holy Trinity of RPGs (Tank, Healer, DPS) there is enough flexibility in class customisation to allow each class to fill multiple roles.
There are a variety of familiar humanoid races to choose for your character, though it would have been nice to see a greater variety of races in the game. Since all of the available races are humanoid with a finite amount of customization there tends to be a lot of identical players running around the universe. While this isn’t an issue that is unique to SWTOR, we think a solution would have made this game even stronger.
One of the biggest innovations Bioware brings to the Massively Multiplayer RPG table is their famous style of story-telling, quest design and branching dialog decision trees. The stereotypical MMO quests like “kill 10 monsters” or “collect 20 items” take a back seat as bonus objectives while the emphasis is placed on completing more substantial tasks. This should come as good news to fans of the two previous Old Republic games from Bioware, as well as fans of the Mass Effect series.
Your character’s story is told through fully voice acted cut-scenes that allow the player to choose their dialog responses. These choices often affect the players Light/Dark-side persuasion and impact the relationships they have with their companions and quest-giver NPC’s. This adds an entirely new dynamic to the genre and creates a greater connection with the quests you’re completing.
SWTOR also features a companion system that will feel very familiar to fans of the previous Old Republic titles, as well as games like Mass Effect and Bethesda’s recent single-player RPGs. As you make your way through the story you will encounter new NPCs that you can recruit to join your crew. These companions fight by your side and perform many other tasks on board your ship. You can instruct your companions to craft items or head out on gathering missions while you continue to quest and progress your character. As you build your crew you can send them out individually to complete multiple tasks freeing your character up even more. This is a huge addition as it offers an optional alternative to the grinding of trade-skills.
Another fantastic aspect to SWTOR is the player’s ship. Each player earns their very own ship as part of their progression. The ship fills the role of Player Housing which is a common feature in MMORPGs. Players have access to their own storage within the ship as well as the ability to complete space combat missions for additional loot and credits. While these flight missions are not as robust as the space combat games from Factor 5, they do offer a fun experience that is radically different from the rest of the game. The space missions actually reminded us of Panzer Dragoon in a strange way. Coupled with the fact that you can upgrade your ship’s weapons armor and gadgets, this is a feature that will undoubtedly appeal to players of all skill levels.
Graphically, SWTOR has some really beautiful environments. Each planet has a distinct atmosphere with interesting wild-life and landscapes. Bioware took another page out of the Blizzard playbook by going with a more stylized look rather than a hyper-realistic approach. This was a smart move as it allows the game to scale to older hardware while still looking great, which translates into more potential customers. However, this could be a turn-off to players expecting a huge graphical jump from previous MMOs. Low-resolution textures are visible throughout the game which is a bit disappointing. Certain features such as Anti-aliasing are currently missing in the Video options, though it stands to reason that Bioware will patch them in soon.
It is important to note that a $15 monthly subscription fee is required to play SWTOR after the initial 30 days that come with the game. Longtime MMO players will find this relatively standard but it might provide a barrier of entry for gamers that are new to the genre. It would have been nice to see Bioware and EA go with a more competitive pricing structure, especially with so many high-profile MMOs adopting the Free to Play model. Time will tell if this strategy pays off for SWTOR during its lifespan.
So the question is “should you give Star Wars The Old Republic your time and your money?” If you’re already a seasoned MMO player and a fan of the Star Wars Universe chances are you’re already playing SWTOR anyway. If you’re simply a fan of Star Wars or Bioware games in general then you still may want to give this game a try. It should be stated that there is more than enough to do in the game that you will get your $60 worth out of the 30 days that come with the purchase of the game. After that, the decision about an on-going subscription is yours to make.
We should point out that most MMOs release a free trial in the months following their initial launch. We would encourage the most skeptical players to give the game a try through a trial version before spending their hard earned money on the game. Even if you’re someone that has disliked MMO’s in the past you might find that SWTOR does enough different to earn your affection.
It’s great to see Bioware’s triumphant return to the Galaxy Far, Far Away. We’re looking forward to watching this game evolve even further over its lifespan and fulfill it’s… destiny.
Name: Star Wars: The Old Republic
Available on: PC (Windows)
Developed by: BioWare
Published by: Electronic Arts / LucasArts
Release date: December 20, 2011
EG Score: 4 out of 5 / “Worth Buying”