by Daniel Murtha
I should start my review by saying I had unreasonably high expectations for Star Wars: The Old Republic. With the name Bioware on it, and my desire to fill the void left in me when Star Wars Galaxies was ruined, SWTOR was sure to be a winner. Bioware, after all, had made some of my favorite games of all time including the Knights of the Old Republic series, which SWTOR is a continuation of, the Mass Effect series, and the first Dragon Age game. Aided by my love for MMORPG's and everything (almost) Star Wars, I was ready to be lost again for countless hours.
What Bioware tries to do differently with their iteration of the MMORPG is to add the fourth pillar of story to the three main pillars: combat, exploration, and character progression. Each of the eight different classes in the game has their own unique three act story arc, complete with fully fleshed out, excellently acted voice dialogue. Bioware also included companions in the game to help aid you on your adventures. Each class once again has their own unique companions with their own motivations and reactions to your character. Companions have different combat abilities to help compliment your character in battle, but also can be used to craft and gather resources while not fighting with you.
I have to say that Bioware really knocked it out of the park with their story and companion additions to the MMORPG formula. I can barely recall the story lines in some of the other MMO's I've played. I know they exist, but are either poorly written and seem like an afterthought or are buried in long chat bubbles that I was in too much of a hurry to read. My level 30 Republic Commando however, is fully immersed in a story of betrayal and revenge that will be at least as memorable (if not more so) as the first Knights of the Old Republic. Along with the main storyline are countless side missions which traditionally are a boring affair of fetching and killing. But with full voice dialogue I actually find myself caring that some villagers were forced out of their homes by killer droids. It really helps immerse you in the game and makes you feel like you're doing some good (or bad) in the universe.
I'm currently trying to win over the heart of my favorite companion so far, Elara Dorne. She's a former Sith Empire officer who defected to the Republic after questioning some nefarious orders given to her by her superiors. She's cute, a little uptight, and by the book with rules and regulations. Then there's Aric Jorgan of the Cathar species, former member of a high ranking Republic sniper squad, who was demoted to be under my command after the defection of Havoc Squad to the Sith Empire. These are just two of my companions, I have two others whose stories I haven't really even gotten into, and more to come later in the story. That's quite a bit of content right there. As far as gameplay, Elara is invaluable to me with her healing abilities; I'm able to tank and do damage without worrying about health unless we're in a really tough fight. While not active in the field of battle with me, I have Aric craft armor for me and my other companions, and make extras to sell while I have my two droids head off to gather resources by doing Scavenging and Underworld Trading missions.
Speaking of crew skills, as they’re called in SWTOR, I like that you don’t have to take an active role in harvesting and crafting. This allows you to stay in the action and focused on the story. The only other MMO I'm aware of that did this is Star Wars Galaxies, where you could have machines harvest resources and factories produce the goods.
Aside from the standard group setting, players can do instanced missions known as flashpoints; which are separate dungeons available to only you and your group of four. During a flashpoint, any dialouge is between players and NPC's is shared, everyone chooses their own response and the player with the highest “roll” is the one who's dialogue option is chosen. If you choose the option most other players in the group pick, you're awarded more “social points” (also awarded just for grouping) which can be used at social vendors to purchase items. There are a blast to play with friends especially, as it really fun to see their characters in the cut scenes responding to NPC's based on their own preferences and roleplaying.
The story pillar, which I include companions and flashpoints under, really separate this game from the rest of the MMO pack. Excellent voice acting and well written story lines will keep players interested in completing the main story, then coming back for more as another character on a different faction.
I've heard many complaints, mostly from people who weren't going to play the game, that the graphics were too “cartoony” or “WoW like.” Though the graphics in SWTOR are stylized, they are absolutely gorgeous, even on a low end machine like mine. They blow away WoW graphics in every way. Colors are bright, character models are meticulous, planets are full of detail. I do have some performance hiccups while playing the game, but coming in underneath the minimum specs required to play, I can't really complain. Granted, I have heard of some problems with lag even on higher end systems with great graphics cards, which indicates its performance optimization may be lacking. Apparently, and I can't speak about this due to not having any experience with it, the high resolution graphics that were available in the beta were turned off to allow the game to run better on a wider variety of machines. So the graphics can be even better than they are now, which is impressive.
Still, the majority of my game experience graphically has been poor to this point. Very laggy and stuttery almost to the point of being unplayable. If the game wasn't so damn good, I probably would have quit by now. I did, however, on Tatooine get a taste of what the game will be like with a better computer. Due to the lack of rendered objects on the vast desert planet of Tatooine, my game runs incredibly smooth and fluid, with virtually no lag until I get into the spaceport or some “dungeons.” The controls feel very responsive and the animations, which I don't usually get to see much of, are fantastic.
Obviously the music in the game is excellent, especially while fighting a boss battle in a flashpoint or at the end of a mission. The rousing scores and blaster fire make you feel like you're in your own Star Wars movie. All the sound effects, from swinging lightsabers to a speeder zooming by, really add to the whole experience and once again make you feel like your character is a protagonist in their own Star Wars saga.
Since I have very little experience with it, I decided to lump space battles in under graphics and gameplay. The player is given their own ship to upgrade and use a base of operations while exploring the galaxy. Due to system constraints, I only was able to do one space battle, which was so choppy I was very easily defeated. It did seem like it would be an enjoyable distraction from the main game, and felt much like a Rogue Squadron game. Some people didn't really like the “rail shooter” feel of space battles, so only time will tell if people end up spending a lot of time with it or not. I would like to see a multiplayer component added to it in the future, even if friends are just allowed to man turrets on your ship to help you out with tougher battles.
I don't really have anything bad to say about the game thus far, other than the lack of character races available in the character creation. One of the more interesting things about the Star Wars universe is the variety of species. In SWTOR the player is given a choice of nine different races, all of which only seem to be humans with different colored skin. The only seemingly alien race available is the Twi'lek, with their lekku appendages coming off their heads. Even the much older Star Wars Galaxies allowed you to play as Rodians, Mon Calamari, Ithorians, Sullustans, and even Wookies among others. I just hope that's something they look at in the future to add some diversity to the player population.
Star Wars: The Old Republic is such a good game that I was easily able to power through all the lag to play on. The added story pillar is a much needed one, and it gives SWTOR a very Knights of the Old Republic feel to it. The use of companions and fully voiced dialogue really immerse a player into the game. If you're a fan of MMORPG's, get this game; it has all the elements of other solid ones. If you're a fan of Star Wars, get this game; you'll love the pre-movie lore. If you're a Knights of the Old Republic fan but are unsure of MMORPG's, get this game; you can play through your character's storyline and hundreds of side missions without ever needing to group with others. Basically, if you have a computer that can run it, get this game. It's a solid RPG regardless of the online components and a must play for gamers.