Comprehensively reviewing an MMO is a difficult thing to do at the best of times and it is doubly difficult when the MMO in question offers personalised story lines for each class and two very distinct factions. That would mean to play every quest and experience every story in Star Wars: The Old Republic you would need to level at least eight characters, four from each faction, to the level cap. So basically I’m not going to bother. However, I will let you know what I thought generally about Star Wars: The Old Republic based on what time I did spend playing it.
For some context here’s what I achieved: A level 18 Sith Sorcerer that barely left Dromund Kaas, the seat of the Empire and the first planet you visit after completing your training. And a level 35 Sith Juggernaut who had not long left Taris, which crops up not too far in to Chapter 2. I appreciate that’s not a wealth of experience and I didn’t touch playing on the Republic side at all but I did play for a couple of months and that was long enough for me to decide if I would continue to subscribe.
Obviously, I chose not to. The Old Republic is a fine game and I have no doubt it will improve as it grows and Bioware release further updates. In fact, I am fairly confident I will re activate my subscription at some point in the near future, if only to see out the remaining story for my class. But, as far as MMOs go it is nothing groundbreaking. Despite the word ‘revolutionary’ being bandied about prior to release there’s nothing particularly new or exciting, in reality The Old Republic is about as revolutionary as a twelve-year-old girl reading a copy of the Communist Manifesto.
What the game does offer is a set proven MMO features that work well together along with the added bonus of BioWare storytelling. The interface, classes and combat will all be familiar to anyone who has played World of Warcraft, Everquest, Warhammer Online, Lord of the Rings Online or almost any other MMO released in the last ten years. There are four basic classes for each faction, each with their own specialisations that fulfill the tank, healer or damage roles. Combat functions by selecting your target and using the abilities in your action bar and you will be moving from quest hub to quest hub collecting loot and experience points to level up. I imagine it all sounds very familiar.
Companion characters that will travel with you throughout the game mean that you can level your character to match your play style and play like that throughout the game. Leveling as a healing class you can play entirely as a healer with your companion playing the role of the tank and taking the brunt of the attacks, or vice versa if you want to swing light-sabers in faces yourself. I know from experience that leveling as a healing class in World of Warcraft is possible but hardly ideal. The fact that Star Wars allows any player to play the entire game in any specialisation is certainly worthy of praise.
The much-lauded full-voiced interactive quest givers is also an impressive addition. Each NPC you speak to will trigger a conversation controlled with the now familiar dialogue wheel. The idea is to give some greater context to your actions while out questing. Do you remember why you slaughtered all those Raptors in the Wetlands? I don’t either, and that’s probably because I didn’t even read the quest text. The Old Republic attempts to alleviate that problem by having you engage with characters who request your assistance, rather than text boxes.
The conversation stuff is particularly impressive during your class specific quests. Playing as a Sith Juggernaut my story revolved playing apprentice to Darth Baras and assisting him in hunting down his Jedi nemesis. Conversing with regular characters like Baras or your companions becomes genuinely enjoyable and the story itself is engaging enough to want to see what happens next. These quests act as the driving force of the game propelling you from planet to planet and linking everything together in an overarching plot. The problem is that for every other quest you receive you are undertaking the same tired MMO tasks. Collect ten droid parts, kill twenty Jawa’s, take uncle Ben’s underpants to the cleaners and so on. Having voice acting and cut scenes envelop them doesn’t make the quests themselves any more enjoyable or interesting.
Flashpoints take the place of dungeons in The Old Republic but in all but one instance they are completely self-contained and have no lead in stories or quests and have little bearing on the overall story either for your class or for any of the planets you visit. Heroic Quests in the regular game world, which require groups of people to band together to tackle more difficult enemies and bigger challenges, helps compensate for this somewhat. There are also world bosses on each of the planets that will need a full raid of players to successfully defeat. There’s plenty of stuff to keep you occupied as you progress through the game but if you become bored with running around down on a planet’s surface then you can take your ship out for a spin and shoot lasers at things. These space shooter sections are entirely on rails and require very little input from the player. Just point your mouse at things and click to fire. It’s totally basic and an occasionally entertaining distraction at best.
There’s a lot I enjoyed about Star Wars: The Old Republic while I was playing it. Combat is fun, swinging lightsabers at people and force pushing enemies around is obviously very satisfying. The main story, for my class at least, was genuinely quite engaging and the closing few quests of Chapter 1 were absolutely fantastic. Unfortunately moving into Chapter 2 meant a slowing of the tempo and a return to a more humdrum questing experience. I’ve no doubt it will once again ramp up as the chapter progresses but it was rather jarring to go from the genuinely thrilling encounter that closed the first chapter to being ordered around the Imperial Fleet to speak to people for no real reason.
A lot of what I really enjoyed are essentially the single-player elements and unfortunately I think some of the MMO part is a little lackluster. Environments are very static with very little NPC movement or interaction outside of quests. There is no flavour text or ambient conversations, which is a shame considering the wealth of potential Star Wars lore that could have helped to pad out the environments and make places more interesting for you to be in and to visit rather than feel like just levels you are passing through.
Encounters with other players while out exploring the world was also strangely infrequent for me despite being on a high population server, although when I did manage to group up and work together on Heroic quests I enjoyed them quite a bit. It’s a shame that Warhammer Online’s Public Quests didn’t appear, especially as Warhammer developers Mythic Entertainment merged with Bioware during The Old Republic’s development. Hopefully they will turn up in an update at some point.
The Old Republic doesn’t break the mould as much as it might have wanted to but what it does it does well and is continuing to improve. The second major content patch is due in the near future and includes some extensive changes to class balancing and trade skills as well as adding new dungeons, raids, PvP war zones and the much hyped Legacy system which works like a family tree for all of your characters on a server and will eventually yield special Legacy abilities and unlocks.
At the moment The Old Republic has a few flaws but despite all of them I do plan to return and see out the rest of the game. Particularly to continue the story of my character and probably to start a few more. I genuinely look forward to getting back, fully exploring what I’ve missed out on so far and hopefully discovering that some of my gripes with the game are either unfounded or fixed.