REVIEWS -- Star Wars: The Old Republic -- PC
The Old Republic. The New Standard.
by Gregory Aiello
Fun factor: Fun
Worth to: Buy
All other MMOs now live in the shadow of The Old Republic, and I mean ALL OF THEM.
It delivers. Thatís exactly what The Old Republic does.
A little back-story: I beta tested this game a month before its release with over a decade of MMO experience behind me. I played a few characters up to level five and stopped and waited for my early access to the game. I knew this game was going to be good.
Itís good. Itís REALLY good. It is so good that itís very difficult to think of it as an MMO. Itís so good that it will keep you up late at night. Itís so good that it will make you late for work in the morning. It defies the regular formulas, scraps the endless scrolling and scarcely-read text, and substitutes in some new and fresh ideas while maintaining the old tried-but-true methods. In other words, it also does exactly what a game should do upon release: improves the gaming market. This is the new standard.
These days, other MMOs are all the same kind of thing over and over again. Itís hard for even one of them to stand out, especially in an online game market dominated by fantasy themes. Usually a game will be released and get a nod from the gaming community for a neat thing they did with their mechanics or some new way of advancing a character. I applaud Eve Online because it is so very different from most other MMOs out there, however lonely playing it can feel. Despite the rare exceptions to the rule, I think most MMOs begin with a few Dungeons and Dragons game producers sitting around in a conference room, and then one of them says, ďHey, Iíve got an idea for an MMO.Ē From this we get the entire clone series of MMOs and the half-baked MMOs that seem like a neat game, but never make it.
Successfully breaks ground
Now, itís important that itís clear that The Old Republic does not rewrite the entire book of rules for an MMO. It does not abandon all the old formulas and traditions. A tank, healer, and varieties of damage dealers are still in this game. There are potions, there is still plenty of junk loot, and there areÖ wellÖ other people. BioWare has simply streamlined many of the traditional mechanics and make them more enjoyable and faster to progress than other games have in the past. Most importantly, The Old Republic stands out, and will continue to shine above all others, because of the story involved.
The Old Republic wraps the player in a continuous narrative, tied directly into the progression of each character, with a caliber and frequency of voice acting and cut scenes never seen before in an MMO. As a result, the experience of this giant online game is bolstered in new and exciting ways. The improvements on the old ways and formulas, upheld by MMOs for decades, make this new and groundbreaking game seems more reminiscent to a single player role playing game than the genre it is grouped withinÖ and it works!
The reason is works so well is because The Old Republic is the meat sandwiched between two great stories. One story comes from the Knights of the Old Republic games, namely the first one. The second great story is the general idea of the Star Wars movies, excluding the prequels if you have a brain in your head. BioWare canít undo the story in either direction. The general universe is already set because of the overall Star Wars story. It canít be broken or changed radically. You can never eliminate the Sith, and you canít wipe out the Republic. The plot is already established because of Knights of the Old Republic. The path towards the future, or leash on creative directors going too insane, is made by the fact that everything that happens NEEDS TO lead up to the original ideas we all saw in movie theatres when we were kids.
In a way, BioWare is stuck and set in the ways in which they can approach this gameís story. This is good. This is very good. We all know what other MMOs are willing to sacrifice and modify in their own lore in order to keep the story alive. The Old Republic canít do that without contradicting themselves or the IP. In the end, this creates consistency. We will never see something wild an unfathomable come down the pipes as an expansion or DLC. Banthas will never be a playable race. There should never be some random adoption of some random ideal. It all has to make sense.
This will keep the game strong.
How to improve missions? Give players more control
Now, within this strong narrative, you will find the familiar. The old formula for dungeons is still there, for example. The Old Republic calls them flashpoints now. It seems like every MMO has a new name for these things, but essentially itís a dungeon. If youíre an experienced MMO player, or even if you have just experimented, you will see all the similarities to the age-old design. It usually goes: trash mobs, long hallways, trash loot, and a big boss fight. Yeah, well, this has been improved upon.
When you enter a flashpoint, or even just before you enter, you are introduced to the story within. In the past, you would get some story via a box full of text and maybe the boss at the end of the dungeon would talk, more likely text-talk, some smack. Not in The Old Republic! It got better.
Frequent and exciting encounters with NPCs allow players to really see a story within the flashpoints and make moral decisions on how things should go. Decisions manifest in random rolls during conversations, the same way a roll for boss loot happens. These rolls indicate who takes the lead during the conversation, and which decisions are made. No matter the outcome, players are rewarded with social points, which allow access to social items to use or wear. On top of that, the players can also control how the flashpoint story is going to pan out. One player might decide to evacuate and entire shipís compartment into space, killing those inside, while the other three decide itís a needless sacrifice. Well, if the homicidal player wins the roll, guess who is going for an unexpected spacewalk...
Random rolls for conversation control also lead to funny and interesting combinations. Smugglers have witty and sharp lines, bounty hunters are smug, Sith are vicious and cruel, and Jedi are reverent and coolheaded. Each dialog can really feel like a scene out of the original Star Wars movies. Obe Wan might share some wisdom, but itís followed by Han Soloís satirical point of view and then Lukeís endless whining. With random rolls, the conversation combinations are often changing given which classes are present, sexes, and who comes out with the highest roll. It would be very rare to see any flashpoint story go exactly the same way twice. This is what keeps flashpoints fresh and exciting to do again and again. The monotony of MMO dungeon crawling is dwindled, if anything, and just being a part of the story is enough to bring a smile to the payerís face every time.
Not perfect, but as MMOs go pretty damn close
One of the other features that The Old Republic includes is a companion system. I have to say, it works really, really well. Companions are easy to use and, most importantly of all, are not a pain in the ass! Theyíre not dumb, theyíre not inconvenient, theyíre not useless, and they never get in your way. They are exactly what companions should be. They have utility and skills of their own; they take some of the tedium away from an MMO by crafting and gathering for you, and they all come with personalities that you need to balance in order to make them as effective as possible.
Another feature The Old Republic showcases is a series of space battles. I was skeptical about this at first. I thought: ďIf my ship blows up during a battle,Ē and I assumed I would have spent millions of credits on buying the thing, ďIíll be without a ship for the rest of my life, horribly depressed, and driven to never play the game again.Ē Actually, space combat is more like an arcade game thatís on rails and has no consequences for failing. As an added bonus, the ship comes free once you complete a bit of the main storyline. Double bonus! So not only is playing space combat a fun time, but you donít have the extra stress of huge archaic MMO penalties for failure. Pure awesome.
But having a ship isnít just about blowing things up. There are other qualities that your own starship can provide you. Once youíre got your ship, you are free to explore the galaxy and land on any of the planets tagged on your galaxy map. Each planet is as original and exceptionally crafted as was advertised in the creation of this game. Each planet has an artwork that is individual and distractive from the rest. Zones are never too big, and quest location and direction is relevant and well placed. It is as much of a joy to stand in one spot and have a look around as it is to draw your blaster and turn some hapless creature into smoldering ashes.
You know, overall, as I sip my green tea and write this, I canít think of much negative to put down in my review. I mean, even glitches are rare; Iíve never come across a broken quest; and the big bugs that came out with the release were squashed quickly. Graphically, itís original and solid. It sounds great. It plays great. Itís easy to use.
Hmmmm. Could this game be perfect?
Well, no, wait a second. I did play Hutt Ball and I donít like that. I donít like that one at all.
Hutt Ball is part of the PvP system of The Old Republic. Out of all of the PvP scenarios Iíve played so far, that is the one I did not enjoy at all. It doesnít fit. It feels strange to play and low level characters are always at a major disadvantage because they lack the abilities to help them get around faster. Other PvP areas are a bit better, but boil them down and you see a lot of the same stuff featured before in other games, just with a new name. This isnít totally bad. The scenarios still feel fresh and can be exciting and addictive, but thereís nothing in this aspect of the game that sends any force lightning up my spine or is cause for a great deal of raving.
And if I were to make a suggestion for questing, I would put in a larger variety of things to do. Many of the quests can be a little too formulaic. Walk from point A to point B and kill/talk to/collect whatever. It would be neat if a player could jump into a turret of a speeder that was flying through the air traffic of Courscant or maybe control a small army of droids in an effect to clean up Taris, or even just build some stuff that becomes persistent in the game world. Maybe this will come in future expansions?
Alright, letís just get down to it.
The Old Republic has everything an MMO needs. Addictive gameplay. Progressive rewards. Social interaction. Player versus player. Interesting character classes. A story that actually has some relevance to what youíre doing, and more. Gone is the way of randomly falling upon an NPC who has an incredibly dull and tedious quest for you to complete somewhere completely irrelevant to where youíre standing. Every single quest comes with a story, long or short, and every decision comes with a reward or consequence. Thereís no quick save, thereís only progression.
No, this game is not perfect. No, this game does not completely innovate and rewrite what it means to be an MMO. BUT this game does take the standards expected from an MMO and place them way, way, way, way, way, higher than they have ever been before. For that fact alone, The Old Republic has earned a great deal of my personal admiration and applause. The new standard is set. I look forward to all the future content that comes with this game. See you out there.
May the force be with you.
Okay, I know the ďforceĒ thing was clichťd, but, seriously, you should play this game.
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: December 20, 2011
Review Date: 19-02-2012
Numbers of Players: ---
Players Online: Massive Multiplayer
Notes: Downloadable Content
Every world is fresh and differentiated, every character class is easily recognizable from a distance, the feel of the Star Wars universe is there, and the stylization is unique.
The overhaul and polish of the old methods makes the game very enjoyable to play and the story boosts quality. Itís only missing the verity of new type of quests the genre really needs.
Sandwiched between two concrete storylines, living up the hype, solid engine, hardly a glitch to be seen, delivering all the joy and goodies that an MMO should... yeah itís all there.
I only come across a weird overlay of sounds and glitches every so often. Otherwise, I feel like Iím listening to the movies.
Yes. Itís there. This game has plenty to offer players to keep them busy, and it looks like the promise of new things on the horizon will keep us all hooked for years.