It’s that time of the year again. Christmas is coming and with all the joy and excitement comes a large number of game releases for all of us to enjoy. It’s also the time when all the marketing people in the world tremble at the thought of billions of dollars of money getting wasted on huge marketing campaigns for bad or incomplete games that fail no matter how brilliant the commercials and cinematics are. And considering we’re talking about Star Wars: The Old Republic, those cinematics are brilliant and probably very expensive to make. So does SWTOR brings something new to the MMORPG Games table or is it the same reheated soup we’ve been served ever since World of Warcraft has been around? The simple answer is yes and no. The rest depends on what you’re looking for.
Back in 2003, Bioware released one of the best Star Wars game ever made, as some of you surely know, Knights of The Old Republic (KOTOR). It was the game that explored a timeline that had been barely covered and which obviously offered a greater creative freedom to the developers as it happened 4000 years before the events in the movies. There’s only so much Luke Skywalker the world can take. It’s the same timeline where Star Wars: The Old Republic takes us and it’s a smart choice as it offers an unknown and interesting world to explore, especially important in a MMO. Plus they might be able to squeeze in some space pandas at some point. Since this is a first impression, I won’t make up my mind until I get the final version and play it with several classes to a higher level. This is the Story of Star Wars: The Old Republic.
One fair morning Bioware and KOTOR decided they were going to have a baby. They loved each other so much and decided that the time was right for one more game in the Star Wars universe to be released. So this is how Star Wars: The Old Republic came to be with so much potential ahead of it and an entire world of paid subscribers to impress. The first seven years of its life were spent at home with two loving parents willing to teach it about fantastic storytelling, interesting characters and why every geek out there loves the sound of two lightsabers clashing in an epic battle. And the result is a main quest line that is full of interesting turn of events and fantastic voice acting. Not one line spoken out of character, not one boring conversation, even multiple possibilities of going through each class’s quests plus the extraordinary possibility to change the way things play out with light/neutral/dark choices that make a difference in the game. Practically you can play the same character class twice and get a totally different experience based on your choices. To pull it off the game has a lot of small instanced zones accessible only at certain moments that continue the story in a different way depending on what the player has done so far. And the best part is the player never has to read through a boring wall of text, not even on the least important side-quests, to understand why he is going to go on the next epic adventure. Instead he can listen and see it unfold in front of him.
Interaction with the game’s NPCs has gotten a lot of love and attention too. In classic Bioware style, you can get a bunch of companions throughout your main quest line that you can interact with and that each has their own personality. For example the first companion for the SithWarrior is a twi lek called Vette that you can zap every time you talk to her because she’s wearing an electric collar and you only need to push a button to prove your point in conversation. (-1 to NPC appreciation, +10 to evil fun). Also if you want to satisfy your evil appetite even more, you can always indulge in the killing of NPCs as you often get the opportunity to execute them during conversation especially at the end of an important quest. I only played the on the Empire’s side but I can only assume that the Republic side offers the possibility to save a lot of people.
Upon reaching its 7th birthday, Star Wars: The Old Republic was sent to Online MMORPG Games School where it was going to learn everything it needed to know from other MMOs the market. It probably began hanging out with the less popular crowd but started hearing everyone talking about the most successful student the school had ever seen. It had graduated back in 2004 and since then it had become a teacher and everyone was trying to copy it. SWTOR decided it was going to do the same and that’s how it met the most famous teacher in school, World of Warcraft. Its parents, especially KOTOR, were not happy with this but they decided they were going to try and minimize the damage. When The Old Republic decided it was going to do boring side-quests involving gathering 10 items for that random NPC and killing 10 space-pigs for their pelts, its parents decided to at least change the presentation. Now the player would have to go and gather/destroy/activate some 3-5 sci-fi themed objects while offering a secondary objective involving the killing of some of the space-pigs in the area. Totally different! Again I have to mention that the conversation before these boring side-quests usually saves the day. Being able to flirt with a quest giver that was trying to get me to help her with recovering the body of her close friend was the most awkward and fun conversation I’ve had in the game.
For the available character classes, their abilities seem strangely familiar from a gameplay perspective to those of the classic modern clone MMO. However there is the extra gimmick of starting off with only 4 basic classes for each faction that can each be specialized in one of two advanced classes at lvl 10. Practically each faction ends up with 8 classes that are very similar to those of the opposite faction. Itemization is also practically as classical as it gets with the slight exception of modifying items which is slightly more advanced. Every item, besides its basic stats, has several modification slots where you can place the appropriate types of mods to change its appearance and the bonuses it offers. Yes, that also means you can change the color of your lightsaber whenever you want. However, you can only use some of the items and mods in the game depending on your light side/dark side choices so far.
A new addition is also the Flashpoints which are basically story-driven instances that you complete with a group of players. I only managed to do one, namely “The Black Talon” which was insanely fun. It alternated short action-packed 5-10 minute sequences with long story moments where each player would roll for the next answer required to advance the story. When everyone was screaming on party chat “Kill him!” every time an option to execute another NPC appeared, it always made me smile. There are also battlegrounds available but they were not impressive at all, just the classic domination/CTF modes with slight twists. Apparently you also get your own ship later on with which you can freely explore the galaxy Mass Effect style but I didn’t get that far as I tried to take it slowly to fully enjoy the story.
The crafting system is also standard but you can use your companions to increase the profession’s level by sending them on missions that make them unavailable for a fixed amount of time. So if you don’t feel like gathering stuff, just send the minions to do it.
As I said in the beginning, your experience with Star Wars: The Old Republic is going to depend a lot on what you want from this game, your love for the Star Wars universe and, surprisingly, it actually depends a lot on your impression of World of Warcraft and the kind of mechanics the game offers. I’ve spoken to a lot of people that have also played the beta and I did notice some patterns in how much they liked or disliked the game and in the reasons they had. I think I might have created a very inaccurate way for you to find out if you should be excited about SWTOR (feel free to use it at your own risk):
1. How much do you hate World of Warcraft (0 to 10)? (Yes it matters how much you hate WoW).
2. How much are you willing to accept World of Warcraft gameplay in another MMO ( 0 to 10 )?
3. How much do you love the Star Wars Universe (0 to 10)?
4. How much did you love the KOTOR series (0 to 10)?
5. How much do you love Bioware storytelling (0 to 10)?
Just add the numbers and based on what you get:
1. Below 20 – you’re probably not going to enjoy the game.
2. Between 20 and 30 – you should at least try it.
3. Over 30 – you’re probably going to like it.
This might seem totally random, but after asking about 10-15 people who had played in the beta apparently the perfect player for this game is someone who hates WoW for whatever reason but enjoys the basic combat/classes/quest design it offers. Also he should be a die-hard Star Wars fan who loved KOTOR and also likes Bioware games for their storytelling.
I know I’m going to get the game when it launches, with one objective in mind. I want to kill as many NPC’s in conversation as possible. When I reach level 50 I’m going to draw the line and see how many I’ve managed to execute for making the mistake of trying to make conversation. I remember my second or third Sith master (I killed the previous two by the way) telling me I would become great when I’ve killed more people than I knew existed. The scriptwriter who thought of that line should be proud that somewhere, someone has actually understood the message. Until then, use the force!
Alexandru DinuStar Wars: The Old Republic - Preview,