The noob perspective on Biowares newest MMORPG
OK, so you need to read this review in context – I’m a huge Star Wars fan. I have played every game, I regularly quote the films, I’ve read the books – I even have a Jedi tattoo. I love it. So, I’m bound to have a polarised opinion, and that needs to be known before reading this. Just thought you should know. Star Wars: The Old Republic is the latest Bioware title to the table, and is a new direction for the developer – the snagtastic world of the MMO. Following on from the brilliant Knights of the Old Republic single player games, the gameplay style, combat, mission structure and lore all follow the world created even longer ago in galaxy far, far away. Set thousands of years before the films, but several hundred years after the end of KOTOR2, TOR has the wonderful ability to create it’s own worlds and ideas within set canonical space – all your favourite species and planets are there, yet the world allows for hundreds of Jedi, Sith, smugglers, troopers and bounty hunters that fit within the expectations of even the most casual fan. Presentations is brilliant here – Bioware has taken the brave choice of recording speech for every single line in the game, and actually having conversations makes a huge difference to the level of immersion (which, as we all know, is key to a good RPG). It looks great too – it’s not going to compete with the likes of the CryEngine 3 titles on the way, but still looks nice, if a touch cartoony. There’s definite AAA credentials form the get-go – just watch the introduction clips and I promise you’ll be blown away. As an MMO, it tweaks rather than replaces most of the standard tropes – there’s less grind, but classic fetch questing abounds. Trading and crafting are huge, yet the methods for mining materials has had a facelift. There’s also space combat, companions, and a rebalancing of the classic Trinity of Healer, DPS, and tank – most classes can now balance between classes, and often switch roles on the fly. Companions definitely need a mention – in classic KOTOR gameplay, you can drag around a computer controlled mate to help you fight your way through the worlds. Whats great about this is that those of you who hate to play with others can solo most quests in the game – you’ll still want to team up for the FlashPoints (TORs raids), but by and large you can tootle through the game levelling nicely all on your tod. You’ll benefit from playing with others, certainly, but you don’t have to. Space combat is good for quick levelling, if a bit simple: your ship flies into the screen, and you steer about and aim with the mouse. Most missions involve blowing up loads of a certain thing (ships, guns, antennas, etc.), or perhaps protecting an objective. It’s a bit simple, but a nice break from ploughing through fetch quests for some handy experience. The only shame is that the space missions are identical whichever side of the war you join. So, onto the classes, and the variety and balance is brilliant. Fancy up close wailing on enemies? Go for a Jedi Knight or Sith Warrior. Like to cast attacks from range? Troopers, Bounty hunters, Consulars and Inquisitors are good for this. Healer? Again, Consular can make one, as can an Inquisitor, as well as a smuggler or an Imperial Agent. The selections you make are permanent, but a level ten choice lets you specialise into a more defined role. For example, my Imperial Agent is primarily a healer, but can also deal some excellent ranged damage when needed. Using my companion as a tank, I’ve basically got the Trinity covered on my own. As always, try em all to level 10 and you’ll quickly settle into a favourite. The balance here is well thought out, and no one class seems better than any others – the key distinguishing factor is the storylines. I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect it, but the least popular classes seem to have the best stories – Jedi and Sith are a bit predictable, and Bounty Hunters get repetitive, but rising through the ranks as a trooper, or the subterfuge of the Imperial Agent lead to some truly brilliant gameplay sections. The agent in particular gets you some brilliant storylines, playing as a republic character when secretly allied to the Empire. It’s absolutely riveting, and open to a lot of decisions that have far reaching effects. With each character having over 200 hours of gameplay, you’ll be kept busy for a long time.
this really could be the first proper contender to the might of WoW
One other areas that rocks is the Flashpoints – basically the TOR equivalent of raids, these are self-contained one- to two-hour stories to be tackled by groups of players collectively. The classic joys of bosses, teamplay, and storylines are great, but in truth, the best bits are the conversations – each player picks a response and a random diceroll determines who says what. You can quickly find your group performing an evil deed you didn’t want to do, and the dynamics of the flashpoint can change as a result of someone else’s actions. It adds a certain amount of replay value, and I think if the consistency can be maintained then the FPs could be the real gem in TORs arsenal. There are downsides, however. Firstly, it’s a full price monthly subscription, which means that you’ll be shelling out around nine pounds a month to play, which seems a touch steep in todays free to play marketplace – even WoW allows a certain amount of free play, and TOR is only open to paying customers. Secondly, the weekly server downtime falls across the daytime for EU players, which isn’t ideal either if you like to get a go in when the servers are quiet. And finally, in the same vein, often there is queuing to get onto the main servers, and Bioware are proving somewhat slow to assist. However, all these should be fixed soon, and I’m sure there will be some kind of free play coming in the near future. But what do I really think? Honestly, it’s a real blast to play. I found WoW very repetitive, and dabbled in LOTRO until the epic storyline became ridiculously disconnected from the core LOTRO tale – yes, my fanboy love does help, but this is a seriously playable MMO which should really appeal to those who haven’t really fancied it before. For a start the community rocks – get yourself into a guild that matches your playstyle and you’ll make some really good friends. Then add in the wonderful Republic/Empire conflict, the choices that can make you a Dark Jedi, or a Light Sided Sith, and everything inbetween, and there is a lot of deep content with a sweeping array of gameplay styles and storylines and theres tons
of stuff to see and do. And I’ve still yet to play PvP, or see some of the endgame stuff, or really level much above 30 – theres still tons to see and do, and two weeks hasn’t been long enough to really do much more than scratch the surface. As a relative MMO noob, I’m sure my love of the lore helps me enjoy the game, but in truth, it’s still an excellent RPG in the vein of many Bioware titles. By taking the best aspects of popular MMOs and applying the developers magic touch, this really could be the first proper contender to the might of WoW. And for that alone, only the most ardent Star Wars or RPG hater should stay away.
The Bad: Early teething problems are annoying; won’t appeal to Star Wars haters; not a huge step forward in the world off MMOs; still using a premium subscription template despite many games moving to F2P