The next MMO I decided to try out was Star Wars the Old Republic created by BioWare. The Old Republic was released on December 20, 2011 and reached 1 million subscribers in 3 days (though these numbers did not hold). When it was released, it was rumored to be the most expensive game ever made with a budget possibly topping $200 million. The Old Republic now has a free to play option (F2P) that costs nothing but places restrictions on the player (or gives perks to players who pay for a subscription). BioWare is known for RPGs such as Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic and the Mass Effect series, which besides being highly regarded among critics and gamers (minus the end of Mass Effect 3), were noteworthy for their ability to let gamers make meaningful choices during conversation (depending on your expectations). Many of these choices were broken down in to three options: moral, neutral, or amoral. The morality of the choices selected by gamers ultimately made their characters good or evil, which could lead to further opportunities and restrictions later on in the game.
The free to play model of the Old Republic has led to some controversy among players. Bioware has chosen to restrict non paying players (non subscribers) in some unique and often aggravating ways. For instance, subscribers automatically receive sprint, and get more experience and money. Even more irritating are restrictions such as limiting the number of chats you can send (not as in one every 30 seconds, but as in one every minute) and quest rewards that basically state that if you were paying for the game you would be getting a reward now instead of nothing. I understand that you want to create an incentive for people to subscribe, but these devices just seem blatant and silly. Players have also complained that late game progression is very difficult, if not impossible, without the perks provided by subscribing.
One of the first things I want to mention is that the loader does not always work. Sometimes the loader just freezes or crashes when you try to launch the game. This is not a good first impression for any game.
Choose either the dark or light side of the force
You start the game by choosing either the light or dark side of the force, a natural starting point for a Star Wars game. This choice impact things such as starting location, how parts of the story unfold, available equipment, and classes and abilities available for selection (though the light and dark classes seem to mirror each other in general). Choosing one side does not make you the enemy of players on the other side, as choosing between Horde and Alliance does in World of Warcraft. You then select your class and design the appearance of your character. The character creator just has some very basic options for customizing your character, such as picking a face and simple body type adjustments.
Class selection screen
Classes include a warrior, a healer, and two ranged DPS (damage) classes, one who is more brute force and one who is more finesse (stealth, manipulation). The game does provide some interesting options rather than the typical tank, healer, and DPS classes. The healer for instance has healing abilities but also attack magic (sort of a mixed magic user). It feels like the creators wanted to build a game where all the classes can be fun when playing solo and have a mix of skills rather than some classes being almost entirely support. I chose to play as a Jedi Counselor (healer/magic class) for my first play-through.
Main game screen
The game starts with an excellent and exciting cinematic that feels very Star Wars like and shows the excellent production values in the game right from the very beginning. From what I have played so far, the story of the game involves a massive battle raging between the noble Jedi and the evil Sith, which the Sith are currently winning. On the planet where you begin as a Jedi, someone discovers a mysterious ancient text that could reveal a great destructive power if it falls in to the wrong hands. The player needs to find out what mysterious knowledge this text contains and make sure it stays out of the hands of the Sith.
The game has good visuals, not great by modern game standards, that move smoothly, have a decent amount of detail, and look polished. The sound effects and music are also very good and once again feel like they are pulled out of a Star Wars movie. Weapons such as light-sabers and laser blasters sound just like their movie counterparts. All the dialog, as far as I am aware, is presented with voice actors, something that makes The Old Republic stand out when compared to other MMOs (and probably another factor that drove up the cost). The voice acting overall is done well, feels natural, and helps to pull the player more completely in to the game’s universe.
The game has a familiar MMO interface (though arranged differently than WoW) with a character status bar and skill bar on the bottom middle of the screen, shortcut icons on the top middle, a map on the bottom right, and a quest log in the top right corner. The interface feels like it is well sized and organized. The game features a wonderful tutorial interface where a question mark icon appears whenever new content is found. Clicking on this icon brings up a screen explaining this new content to the player. This system makes learning the game simple for new players but can easily be ignored if you don’t desire the information.
Tutorial Screen is well implemented and helpful
The game’s map makes finding quests locations and other resources simple due to providing a wealth of information, and also opens as a separate window on top of the main screen instead of taking up the full screen (a greatly welcomed improvement over WoW).
The Game map gives lots of useful information and can be open while still playing the game
Combat looks lively and smooth, but why does everyone seem to have a sword?
Combat follows a typical MMO pattern where players select attacks from a skill bar to use against their enemies. Combat in The Old Republic has some fun animations that make battles more exciting to watch. Players can see characters and enemies actively engaged in sword or laser while they battle. This might give the impression that the combat involves more timing and reflexes than it actually does though. Some of the abilities make the player almost feel like a Jedi in a Star Wars film, such as lifting and throwing enemies and other objects around on the battlefield. Players can also recruit companions during the game if the player’s ideologies are in sync with certain NPCs . Companions fight alongside you and provide commentary and companionship as well. The companion system appears to be much more in-depth in The Old Republic than in other MMOs available. I even believe you can also become romantically involved with some companions in the game as well.
Some abilities make you truly feel like a Jedi
Turning in completed quests, typical MMO stuff
As with other MMOs, game-play largely involves picking up quests and completing them for NPCs found in the game’s world. Once again quests are largely composed of collecting items, going to locations, and killing enemies. The one catch here is that some quests require you to make decisions which are either moral or amoral and this changes your characters overall morality. Your morality can potentially impact what gear you can equip, how people feel about you, and what quests are available. Like other Bioware games though, some have said that these decisions are there more to draw the player in to the story rather than have a large impact on the game’s story. I think they add a fun and personalized element to the story either way.
I did run in to some annoyances while playing The Old Republic. For some reason the game drops a lot of ‘trash’ loot that is only good for selling and nothing else. Players can only fast travel to a location every two hours (possibly different with a subscription), which felt even more annoying since quests seemed to be sending me all over the place. The game does provide vehicles which allow players to move quickly between cities and towns though. Some quests felt difficult to complete if several other players were also killing enemies to finish their own quests. Also, the difficulty seemed to randomly spike after playing for a couple of hours.
As far as end game content the game has raids (called operations), hard mode dungeons and instances, up to 8v8 PvP, and a unique mode where players fight in their own star ships in outer space in up to a 12 v 12 player battle. Players have complained that overall the game is currently lacking in end game content.
Overall The Old Republic has a fun feel, plays well, and has great production values. If you enjoy MMOs and are a Star Wars nut, I think you should check this game out. I enjoy the Star Wars movies but would hardly call myself a Star Wars geek/nerd. With that in mind, I didn’t really feel that pulled in to the universe of the game like someone who is a bigger fan might. I think this game is a solid contender to satisfy my MMO appetite, but I would like to check out some other contenders. Next time we will check out a game that is not really an MMO but adds MMO elements to a first person shooter. See you all next time on the Planetside. Thanks for reading!