When World of Warcraft hit, Star Wars Galaxies, Lucas Arts’ MMORPG set in a Galaxy far, far, away became a dinosaur almost immediately. Nearly a decade after its release, Galaxies’ servers have closed up shop and the RPG geniuses at BioWare have the Star Wars license in their clutches. It’s time for a new game, and much like Star Wars Galaxies before it, Star Wars: The Old Republic doesn’t reinvent the wheel. The good news is, the game is one of the most accessible MMORPGs on the market. With a more modern design combined with hundreds of hours of content, the game can certainly turn eyes away from WoW.
GAME NAME: Star Wars: The Old Republic
PUBLISHER(S): Electronic Arts, LucasArts
RELEASE DATE(S): December 20, 2011
We’ll just get things out of the way now: yes, this is WoW with Star Wars lore. Everything from the character creation up to the party quests reeks of WoW’s tried and proven game design. Even if it looks like a WoW clone, there’s a lot here to take in, and if anyone is using Blizzard’s formula the right way, BioWare certainly is. To its credit, it takes some chances here and there, but for the most part it plays things safe. You still make an avatar and character class and take them across the galaxy instead of an European fantasy world. You still have a gazillion fetch quests to complete, and you still are going to bogged down by endgame-but ToR still does things better than all the other clones.
The storyline to ToR is your standard MMORPG set-up. The Galactic Republic is at war with The Sith Empire and your avatar will be joining up with one of these two sides. Obviously with both factions hating each other, expect involvement in quite a few skirmishes in your travels across the galaxy. Not one for getting ganked? There are servers available for both player vs. player and player vs. environment. Choose PVE and you’ll find less death at the hands of over-leveled jerks while PVP will have you looking over your shoulder as you venture into unguarded territory.
While the story is something we’ve seen quite a few times before, ToR’s class storyline is something new. Each class has their own storyline, complete with cutscenes and the dialogue wheel BioWare games are known. The story is expansive, continuing through your career until you hit endgame, and it certainly keeps you interested. Prior to accepting and after turning in each quest you get to decide on your own responses and listen to some top notch voice acting praising or scolding your decisions. The storyline itself could fit into a console RPG on its own, and it’s very welcome here to keep things fresh and moving. It’s ambitious, it’s got scope and it’s probably the best thing this game has going for it.
The problem with the storyline is that it’s swallowed up in ToR’s hours of content outside of the main story. You won’t be able to proceed with your individual storyline unless you’ve hit level requirements, and the only way to do that is through the hundreds of quests scattered through each zone you’re in.
It doesn’t help matters when the story itself isn’t exactly original. Starting out, it seems fresh; go stop a resistance (sith inquisitor), go help out the new people your mercenary contract is with (bounty hunter), but it quickly turns into standard RPG storylines: You need a bunch of macguffins that hold a secret to ultra power. The storyline can hold the game together, but the quests it and every other NPC offer are the standard fare you’ve already done hundreds of times: Kill this, get 15 of that, analyze this, blow up that. The leveling structure is time consuming like all MMOs so expect to find yourself thrown out of the main story and lost on several occasions, especially if you’re someone who wants to finish every quest in each zone to net the best gear.
Regardless of how much of a retread the quests may be, just the sheer interactivity in the quests themselves offers something fresh. The developers knew we’re done hitting “accept” for every other MMO quest out there because the new way to do things is awesome. We like being absolute jerks to our superior officers until we reluctantly accept whatever task he needs us to complete or acting like a friend to the enemy prisoner, only to get the info we need from him and assure he gets executed, even if his intentions were good. ToR allows this and developers should take note, these small decisions on the dialogue wheel immerse us into the game far further than anything the text box standard of MMORPGs can, and this interactivity is found in every quest. Oh, that’s a a few hundred hours of content you get to listen to by the way.
Like any MMORPG, the first order of business is to create an avatar to adventure with. The race choices here have the common human race, but beyond that, Star Wars fan favorites come into play. Zabracks, Sith and others are available, as well as some races those familiar with the expanded universe will no doubt appreciate. The overall features of your character like hair color/style and facial features bring slim pickings. Your character is always going to be a toned out body builder, just one that’s taller or shorter than everyone else. The lack of variety doesn’t stop there. Hairstyles, eye color, facial hair, etc, while diverse, lack enough variation to differentiate a character from thousands of other players. More details would have been nice, especially when we’ve seen the wealth of features in several other BioWare titles, not to mention the sheer amount of races that populate Star Wars lore.
Once the features of your character are ironed out, it’s off to choose a class. You’ve been here before: ranged damage dealers, melee damage dealers, healers and every thing needed to make the standard MMORPG party complete are up for grabs. For the harder intstance runs with parties of three or more, you still need a tank to absorb damage and draw enemy fire, you still have fragile yet explosive melee damage dealers, and you still have the always needed healers. It’s the same party structure you’ve come to expect; everyone needs a tank and a healer while DPS is left on the chat channel to find that *one* open spot for an instance. After you choose your class you’re into story mode and doing what you do in every RPG: grinding.
Combat is uninspired. Much like every MMORPG in existence, you have your hotkey fixes, dozens of skills, and that fixed cooldown rotation that you can never deviate from if you want to kill some of the endgame bosses. Whether it was to add some sort of interactivity through all this, or just a programming oversight, BioWare now forces normal attacks to be manually activated. Originally, every MMORPG had simple melee attacks as an auto-fire feature. Here, you have yet another reason to click your mouse. It would have been nice if this change was to actually help something, but since the combat with enemies is more about standing there and monitoring cooldowns, it serves as more of an annoyance than anything else.
When things do get too hot to handle in a solo, you can team up as a party and tackle some of the games harder challenges. Especially when you get into the larger raids at the end game. Even if you are lacking an online buddy to complete a quest, the game’s storyline does make sure you get some companions along the way to help out whatever class you created. For instance, the first order of business for our sith assassin, a light armor wearing damage dealer, was to get him a companion tank. One joins up with him in the storyline and does all your threat generation needs. While you’ll still need humans for the games tougher challenges, it is nice that a helping hand is here to get you through everyday grinding without depending on the Looking For Group chat interface. It’s even nicer when your companion’s AI is actually quite useful.
As far as looking for actual human groups, the process is dated. Rather than a queue and a search, we were left just checking channels and looking for people to join up with us to tackle a four-man instance. While we are able to get companions in little as 10 minutes, we hope that simple LFR search tools are integrated in a future patch.
Endgame content is small, but we’re sure it’s going to increase in further patches in true MMO style. Operations, large scale dungeons for large parties of characters are available with the nastiest bosses you’ll find anywhere, useful for grinding out points for gear. The PVP side of things has Huttball. A strange take on football and capture the flag where you can get cool PVP gear. If you want to participate in Huttball before hitting the level 50 cap, you can with some smalle stat upgrades in order to compete with the big boys.
Outside of level grinding and storyline progression, you can also get your character involved in other grind-happy things like professions (ie: biochem and armor tech). Which offer hours of looking for the same plant a few hundred times or you can send your party members out to do other things like diplomacy. The party structure works well, and definitely compliments you as a character feeling like a badass sending your minions out to do your dirty work, but it usually just requires more and more hours of useless grinding to get anywhere.
When the MMO world begins to bore you, you can also take your ship (given to you early on) and start blowing things up in space combat missions, though the missions really offer nothing in terms of satisfaction. Space combat just seemed to be something the developers knew they could not ignore, and simply tossed in a PC Star Wars game engine from the 90s to compensate. It offers nothing more than a simple distraction from your everyday concerns in the real world, and easily could have been more crucial and exciting than the final product. Purists will want to do it to upgrade their ship parts, but when is it really going to be necessary?
Graphically, the game runs and looks great on cutting edge systems and while we didn’t get a chance to see how crummy of a system we could get to run this, reports have come in that it runs pretty darn well on less desirable graphics cards. The characters animate and look respective to their Star Wars counterparts as do the many planets you’ll be progressing through. Each area looks different than the last, and while there’s nothing around that is going to make you stop and drool, there isn’t anything to make you want to shield your eyes either. Character details are great, attack animations are smooth and brutal, and we’ve seen very few instances of clipping during our time in the galaxy.
The same can be said for the music. The variations on John Williams’ score are welcome and well done. While they won’t be winning any awards, they are great to listen to and easily rival the compositions of World of Warcraft. If you like those deep orchestral epics, prepare to feel inspiration on every journey.
Star Wars The Old Republic has everything you need in an MMORPG package. The game runs great, combat is fun, though familiar and the inner class storyline is one of the best ideas we’ve seen. This game easily could have been played offline as it is played online. We also have to tip our hats to BioWare for staying true to the source material. However, if you’re looking for a fresh, revolutionizing experience into the genre, you won’t find it here. Despite a few of the new ideas or tweaks, it’s still the same type of game you’ve been playing for years and aside from the class storyline, we can’t think of anything here that hasn’t been done somewhere else. Once the joy of force chokes and lightsabers destroying everything in site wears off, it will no doubt get old for a lot of players, quicker than most MMORPGs. That said, it is still a solid, solid, title and a journey Star Wars fans and gamers alike will no doubt enjoy. If you need to get into MMORPGs for the first time, are a Star Wars fan or just sick of WoW-this is the title to pick up. It’s still worth buying and playing the month free trial for the storyline mode. While we’re constantly saying “been there, done that” it’s immensely fun before it gets old. The force is strong with this game, just don’t expect any surprises.