Star Wars: The Old Republic Review
It's been almost two years since the release of Bioware's galactic MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic, and it's come a long way. As well as the usual patch updates bringing new content for both PvE and PvP players, the updates deliver improvements to the game as a whole. UI and character customization, new races, and the ability to change the color of your armor are just a handful of the updates Bioware has introduced. Since the launch of the free-to-play option back in November 2012 I've been skeptical about whether the game would last another full year, but it's confounded all expectations by continuing to thrive. I decided to see what all the fuss is about and have been blown away by how much there is to say about this game. To sum up the outcome of this long review in a nutshell: I played it for one day, then I subscribed.
Storytelling 101 with Bioware: Doing it right
There are a lot of things Bioware has done right and the easiest place to begin is with the story. Play almost any Bioware game and you're guaranteed a polished story with memorable characters and some incredible gaming moments. SWTOR is no exception, offering players what many MMORPGs seem to lack—the RPG element. As someone that's played World of Warcraft for a very long time, I can safely say I never bothered to read any of the quest texts from any quest giver, and I couldn't have cared less about the overall story. SWTOR is completely different; even when I've created an alt character I still let the quest conversations run their course. Yes, the quests are ultimately the same no matter what class you choose, with the exception of class missions, but the dialogue is different for each class. Even then, you can choose between 2-3 responses to give to NPCs, which makes your experience feel that much more unique. Ever wanted to play a soldier in the Republic who doesn't play by the rules? Or a Bounty Hunter with a heart of gold? Now you can. Some responses inherently favor either the light or dark side of the force, yet all classes across the factions have access to both, meaning you can be a Jedi that sometimes strays to the dark side, or a Sith warrior who wants to join the light. Bioware has made every effort to make your game personal, and in my experience no other MMO even comes close to rivaling it. Perhaps the greatest thing about SWTOR is how many ties it has to the Knights of the Old Republic series, with some quests and characters related to events that occur in those games. For example, you learn the fate of the Outcasts living in the Undercity of Taris and about their search for the "Promised Land," and you have to deliver Darth Bandon's head to the Ulgo family on Alderaan, which Trask Ulgo was a member of. All these little nuances and references give SWTOR a great level of depth that will appeal to fans of the original games.
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Be whoever you want to be
I'm playing as a Smuggler, because everyone knows Han Solo was the best character in the original trilogy. My story begins when I land on a planet to make a delivery run. Moments after arriving, my ship is stolen, and for the next 15 or so levels it is my mission to find my ship and take it back. Once I get my ship back I'm off to find rare and valuable treasure with one simple goal—to become incredibly wealthy. It's the perfect story for the type of character I'm playing as and Bioware has gone to great lengths to capture the spirit of the "rogue." For example, when talking to women I sometimes have the option of responding by flirting with them, and yes, I do this every chance I get. My character may be arrogant, but that's exactly what a Smuggler should be. I've played other classes, and I can safely say their storylines fit the type of person they are. Troopers are noble and duty-bound, Bounty Hunters are only interested in completing hits, and Sith Warriors? Nutjobs, all of them. At first I thought I'd be lured by the promise of a lightsaber, however, after playing both the Sith and the Jedi starter areas I was disheartened. Their stories, while true to their classes, just felt too cliché. I had no fun running around with a fake lightsaber freeing stupid padawans from traps or gathering artifacts in dusty old tombs.
Questing has never been so fun
Bioware has also made improvements on those elements that made some previous MMOs incredibly dull. Questing can be a boring affair, yet these quests are enjoyable, mainly because of the story and how they unfold. Thankfully, quests that have you killing x-number of enemies are not compulsory quests. Rather, some quests have a "bonus" component which requires you to kill several enemies. Once you've killed the required number of enemies a new objective will appear, such as finding and killing a specific target or retrieving an object. It makes questing more dynamic as the objectives flow from one to the next, rather than making you run back to a quest giver only to be sent back to the same place you were moments ago to kill yet more enemies. There is certainly a lot less back-and-forthing than in other MMOs. Heroic quests are also available, sending you into areas filled with stronger enemies. These quests cannot be tackled alone and come in 2-man or 4-man variations. They are great ways of getting players to interact with each other while leveling with suitable rewards for those players willing to interact with others.
Dungeons and krayt dragons
The game's version of dungeons, called Flashpoints, are lengthy affairs that typically have you fighting off hordes of enemies and bosses. Every time you run through a Flashpoint you have to watch the same dialogue, and even though you can skip it, you can't choose your response until the rest of the party has caught up. Every player chooses their response and a random roll occurs to see who gets to speak. It's a good system, yet it can make for some frustrating moments. Sometimes your party is faced with a light or dark side choice, and even though you may want to choose one option, the winning roll could be the opposite. Although you get the light side points for your choice, you are forced to go along with the dark side response and the consequences it brings. The boss battles are incredibly tough at all levels. The bosses have a lot of health, they hit like trucks, and have mechanics that keep every class/role on their toes. One boss, for example, puts a damage-over-time effect on a random player rendering him practically dead. The healer must quickly pick up on this, while maintaining the health of the tank AND the rest of the party which is compromised due to floating orbs that damage players. Each boss seems fine-tuned and it brings a good level of challenge for players of all levels. The one thing I will say with bosses, and indeed enemies in general, is that it doesn’t seem as though a great deal of imagination went into their development. Games like WoW or Tera throw massive bosses that look like the stuff nightmares are made from. SWTOR, on the other hand, is fairly limited. From what I've seen so far, I've fought standard Mandalorians, Sith warriors, robots, and something that resembles a triceratops. For a world we know is inhabited by the weird and wonderful, there's not a lot of creativity.
In terms of combat, the game plays like any standard MMO. You have an action bar and have a vast array of abilities at your disposal: casted, instant-cast, and channeled—they’re all there. It seems like almost every class has the same basic array of skills: they all have an ability that knocks weaker foes to the floor, or a channeled ranged attack that varies with your class. Yet they do all play differently. My Smuggler, for example, can roll (though often awkwardly) into cover, which is necessary to use the majority of my abilities, yet the cover provided also gives a boost to his defense. If no cover is available he simply crouches, allowing me to use my abilities, but without the defense bonus. Troopers, on the other hand, simply stand still and unleash volleys of blaster fire, while Jedi Knights charge right up close to the enemy. The class roles are fairly predictable: Jedi Knights are typical tanks or melee dps, Consulars can be ranged dps and healers, and Smugglers generally play the role of the rogue with their stealth ability. Troopers, oddly enough, can be ranged dps, ranged tanks—which took me a while to get used to—AND healers. One of their healing abilities shoots healing bullets at your ally. It's the single weirdest healing class I've ever seen in an MMO, yet strangely, it makes sense. Smugglers can also be healers, by using medicines from the black market and whatever they can find. It shouldn't make sense, yet it does.
On my horse. Wait, no. What IS that?
I have only one major complaint with SWTOR: the gear, weapons, and mounts are uninspiring and bland. Thankfully this is a surface-level issue and doesn’t interfere with the mechanics of the game. Force-users have lightsabers, and that's pretty much it. Sure, you can get fancy color crystals and the hilts look different, but these are minor details that you won't ultimately notice. Blasters also look dull, and half the fun I had with WoW was showing off my badass-looking weapons and summoning a giant flying dragon as a mount. Mounts in particular in SWTOR fall far short of my expectations. Although Tauntauns have recently been added, the slew of general mounts available is disappointing. Some of the rarer mounts do look incredible, but the speeder-bikes, car-things, bug-faced-looking-speeder-things...I don't even know what the hell half of them are supposed to be! The one good thing to be said is that the good-looking mounts are truly awesome, and they are rare enough so if you have one you CAN show it off without every other player jumping on theirs too.
What to do with your free time
And that's just the basic gameplay. There's also a detailed crafting system, which is where your companion characters really get involved. You can send them on real-time missions to gather resources or craft items to use, as well as use them in everyday combat to help you along in your travels. Crafting is incredibly detailed with various different professions available, and Bioware has added possibly the best feature for crafting: you don't need to have the mats on your character in order to craft—if it's in your bank, then you can craft. It's a brilliant feature which saves a lot of bag space and time, and it's a feature I'm amazed I haven't come across before. Companions come in a variety of classes, so you can pick and choose what will complement your class best. Outside of crafting, there are also space missions to fill the gap. These missions have you flying your starship through a linear, fixed course of enemy ships, fleets, asteroid fields, and more. The space missions are beautiful, and although the enemies are in the same places every time, they are nevertheless difficult to complete. It's no Rogue Squadron, but it's still fun.
Seriously, play this game
Of course there’s still a lot I haven’t covered, but my Smuggler is only at level 20, so I've barely scratched the surface of what this game has to offer. From what I have experienced, I can safely say Bioware has truly created an epic and brilliant MMO world with SWTOR. Although the number of subscribers/players will probably never come close to the likes of WoW, it deserves every player it gets and more, and I'd happily recommend this game to anyone that's a fan of Star Wars, or a fan of MMORPGs in general. It’s completely free to play, so what's stopping you?