Game Review: The Old Republic

December 20, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Posted in Star Wars: The Old Republic, Video Games | 1 Comment
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FINALLY.

Today’s the day, everyone. After years of waiting and angsting, Bioware’s The Old Republic launches officially to the gaming public.

I’ve clocked in about thirty hours between the beta tests and the early access for pre-orders, taken copious amounts of notes, and unintentionally skipped several meals because I was too busy to look at the clock to remind myself that sustenance is a good thing. So without further ado, let’s jump in and take a look at the newest entry into the Star Wars gaming library and the MMO market.

To the jump!

Creating Your Identity

First thing’s first, who are you aligned with? Breaking it down into the general Good Guys versus Bad Guys, your options are the Galactic Republic and the Sith Empire. From here you can select one of four  broad classes per side. In the Republic, it’s Trooper, Smuggler, Jedi Knight, and Jedi Consular. In the Sith Empire, it’s Bounty Hunter, Sith Warrior, Imperial Agent, Sith Inquisitor. Each one has a different story crafted for it. For more information on the class breakdowns, you can read about them on the official Old Republic page here http://www.swtor.com/info/holonet/classes

The next step is deciding on race, gender, and appearance. I have to be honest, this was somewhat of a letdown for me. Given the sheer enormity of the Star Wars universe, the lack of available species and races you can play is a bit disappointing. The biggest issue, though, is the relatively small palette of physical attributes you can choose from for your character. Characters are going to be somewhat generic looking, but the good news is that’s not going to get in the way of the game experience at all. It’s merely an aesthetic quibble.

Combat:

For those of you who played Mass Effect and cursed Bioware for removing the Dungeons and Dragons style dice roll system, good news! It’s back.

The system is vaguely similar to what appeared in the original Knights of the Old Republic. Mouse over your target, select it, and then choose a combat action either via a number keystroke or by clicking on icon on the bottom action bar. If this sounds familiar, chances are you’ve played an RPG by Bioware or Blizzard sometime in the last ten years. New ground isn’t really being broken here, but it’s a setup that works for the most part.

Things can get repetitive, especially after you’ve figured out just what kind of a character you want to play. For me, that meant following a precise set of commands. Select a target, go into cover mode, lob a thermal detonator, and spam either Charged Blast or Quick Shot depending on how far away the target is from me. Occasionally I’ll get into a situation where a different action is warranted, but for 95% of combat instances, this is the quickest and safest path to success.

This isn’t to say that ground combat in The Old Republic is bad, per se, but it might not be for you. If the last Star Wars game you played was The Force Unleashed, this could easily feel like you’re watching paint dry. If you’ve played dice-style RPGs before, you’ll be right at home.

TOR also features space combat, but the unfortunate thing is that there’s not much to write about. It’s an on-the-rails affair that is entertaining for the first few minutes. Unfortunately, before long you realize that you’re playing something that feels like it was out of the mid-90s school of game design. I only played with it briefly in the beta, but my initial impression was that the designers had taken the old Rebel Assault games and spliced it into an MMO. That’s not a good thing.

In all, I’d say that combat as an overall package is average. It’s not broken or frustrating, but it’s not especially noteworthy.

Flying Solo or Team Play

If you want to play by yourself, you’ll have plenty of chances. Much of the content is single-player story driven and doesn’t require you to team up with others to succeed. If you’re determined to go it alone, you’ll have many opportunities to do so. I’ve found the solo quests to generally be fun and enjoyable, though occasionally it can feel somewhat grind-y.

For those that want to put a bit more of a social aspect into their experience, The Old Republic offers several large areas designed to be played with groups of two or more. At the low-end of the scale are Heroic quests, missions that are typically too tough to get through by yourself but can be accomplished with the help of two or three other players.

The next step up from here is my favorite feature in the game, Flashpoints. These group events are a bit more story-driven and features numerous interesting bosses and even more interesting loot to acquire. Ideally, Flashpoints are accomplished with four players.

The largest group-based instance you can get into are Operations, described as “large-scale multi-group missions where you will join your Republic or Imperial allies to confront the most dangerous threats in the galaxy.” By large-scale, Bioware means missions of eight or sixteen players working together to accomplish generally challenging missions.

There’s plenty of different possible play styles to suit your need.

Presentation and Story

This is where the review gets tricky. I’ve put in about thirty hours of gameplay between the beta tests and the early release, but I’ve barely scratched the surface of this game.

To get the UI and graphics stuff out of the way, I’m happy to report that the interface is pretty slick and easy to navigate. The one issue I had was figuring out how to summon a companion after I had dismissed them to do a group mission (answer: click a button at the bottom-left of the screen). Everything else, however, was fairly intuitive. The worlds are colorful, which is a nice change-of-pace from the usual brown-and-gritty that seems to be a bit too overabundant in modern gaming. While the graphics as a whole aren’t groundbreaking, it remains a somewhat pretty game.

This leaves us with the story, and this is where I have to be completely forthcoming and say there’s no way I can touch on nearly enough of it. With eight classes on four unique starting worlds and a bunch of ways for the story to branch out, there was simply no way I’d be able to experience enough from every class to write a thoroughly detailed review. What I can do is talk about the smuggler class, which starts you off by throwing you into the fringes of the Galaxy. Long story short, a thief has stolen your freighter and you’re on a mad dash to get it back.

The characters and primary quests for the smuggler track are entertaining. Unfortunately, the issue I ran into was that if you are doing a lot of side quests at the same time as you’re doing your primary quest, it can be easy to lose track of what the story is. This could be solved by changing the way one plays the game, I think, but it’s something to keep in mind. It is worth pointing out that twenty-five hours in, the Smuggler story is a decent tale, but it isn’t nearly as gripping as the plot in Knights of the Old Republic or other Bioware single-player games. On the other hand, it’s a massive step up from other MMOs, which can be plot-less grind fests.

What truly sets The Old Republic apart and what makes this game so very special is that Bioware brought in the best voice talent out there to record an unfathomable amount of dialog. This is the element that creates a true sense of immersion. Your character is speaking- actually verbalizing!- to non-player characters through Mass Effect-like dialog trees. For a long time we’ve been hearing about how much the voice acting adds to this game and, perhaps surprisingly, it actually lives up to the hype. All of this carefully written and recorded audio elevates this from being just another run-of-the-mill MMO to something that can draw you in and keep you playing for hours on end.*

*Seriously, on Saturday I sat down at noon to play and when I looked up it was seven. I haven’t been a marathon-gamer in a long time.

Conclusion

There’s a lot to like about The Old Republic, but there’s also areas that still need some polish. It would be nice to see additional races appear at some point and for combat elements (particularly the space variety) to separate itself from the rest of the MMO pack. Still, this is a game where it’s clear that a lot of love went into it. There are plenty of moments where Bioware’s signature writing shines through and the voice acting helps to magnify that further. That goes a long ways to mitigating the usual MMO grind that is somewhat unavoidable in the genre.

For someone hoping that Bioware managed to slip in a gripping single-player plot that’s on par with the original Knights of the Old Republic games, it’s not quite there. That isn’t to say the story is dull, it’s quite entertaining in many places. It’s just not at that high bar that the predecessors in this franchise set.

If you’re a single-player RPG aficionado unsure about this game, should you give it a shot? Right now I’d say yes. It’s worth a 30-day try to see if you like it. I was as skeptical as anyone, but I’ve seen enough to want to dive deeper into the game.

If you’re a fan of massively multiplayer online RPGs? You definitely should give this a chance. It’s perhaps the only MMO on the market that’s got the atmosphere and story to put a dent in the formidable World of Warcraft. At the very least, I can say that thirty hours in that it’s the best science fiction MMO out there and it oozes the potential to be so much more.

Go give it a shot. I give Star Wars: The Old Republic four out of five metal bikinis.

Written by Lane for Roqoo Depot

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1 Comment »

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  1. Great review, Lane. We owe you for those 30 hours. lol


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