First Impression: Star Wars: The Old Republic

And thus, after almost 4 years of known development, what is probably the year’s most anticipated game has finally been released.

Star Wars: The Old Republic has launched on the 20th of this month, and is here to give you all our first impressions of the game.

Why just some First Impressions? Well, you must understand dear readers, this game is HUGE. While we were invited to the pre-launch of the game, just a week of play is a meager amount of time to scratch but the surface of the content of this beast. Also, keep in mind that most of the contributors have active lives and jobs to keep up with, which helps us keep our reviews in a more grounded and casual perspective, but also reduces the amount of time we can dedicate to a game such as this.

With this all said I will not postpone our first impressions anymore…

As you may already know, I’m kind of a Knights of the Old Republic fan, and a big Star Wars fan on top of it, thus I cannot ignore the huge weight that SWTOR has to carry on it’s shoulders. It not only has to be a satisfactory Kotor 3, but also, a satisfactory MMORPG.

Does it succeed? It is difficult to say at this point as, in many regards, it will depend on your personal perspective.

I will keep comments on the setting itself here to a minimum and focus on the gameplay, as many of those interested in these first impression will be probably more worried about the game itself than it’s background.

Each character type has their own personal story arch

First things first, SWTOR is definitely the sequel of the Kotor series. While the gameplay is definitely different, what made Kotor special, the story, is again the focus of this game. Bioware didn’t lie when they repeatedly said during development what a big focus on story and character development they had. From the moment you pick a character class, you have a succession of story missions that advance the plot on your personal arc with involved conversations and some branching arcs. The inevitable (this is SW after all) light side/ dark side choices are there too of course.

The story is quite involving, and the characters are well written and marvelously voiced. You can even watch (but not participate) in the story development of other classes, provided you accompany a friend through their quests chains as an spectator (you do get to take part in their fights, but you can’t participate in their conversations), making the experience quite involving and interesting.

However, all is not rosey on this galaxy far far away… as the story and characters feel involving in spite of the gameplay, not thanks to it…

This is not because the gameplay is bad, as it’s not, and I’ll get to it in a minute, but rather, because the MMORPG side of the game seems very tacked on.

If you've ever played World of Warcraft then you'll know what to expect from The Old Republic

Gameplay wise the game is, and you can take this as you will, a World of Warcraft clone. The controls are pretty much identical, with keyboard based movement, power bars and cool-down based abilities (although classes also have depletable energy or resources in addition to the cool-down). However as a WoW clone, it’s an excellent one. The interface is clear and has a lot of functionality, class skills and abilities have a feeling of impact and power that WoW really lacks, and multiple tweaks to the model make the game quite comfortable to play, though still a tad slow for us people with just a couple of hours of daily game time and more used to single player games.

The game is also quite “soloable”, indeed, my initial impression is that you could play almost all of the content single player, thanks to well deployed and tweaked mobs and the addition of companion characters, NPCs that can support you and that also play a part on your character’s storyline.

That said… it still does not feel right. While Bioware has taken great pains to make a lot of phasing zones that keep players on different points of the storyline separated, has made the companion characters somewhat customizable and mobs keep respawning tied to player populations (so you rarely have to re-kill most of your mobs) it’s painfully obvious that your “galaxy spanning quest” is far from unique.

You constantly see NPCs you just killed respawn, same-class characters standing like idiots (since you cannot see their conversations) in front of quest givers and story items and really silly things such as a queue of characters waiting their turn to blow up the same generator.

Thus, the experience is devalued, and the immersion completely lost. Ironic as it may seem to some, a MMORPG is not conductive to a deep and engaging story based game.

MMOs and intricate stories just don't mix!

Not all the failings are there because of the gameplay though, but they are also there because, again, of the MMORPG framework. For example, as mentioned before, there are light side/ dark side choices for your character independently of its class or background… which does not really make sense story-wise in the SW universe. According to the back story if you start using the dark side following it’s path should be easier and easier, while coming back to the light should be more and more difficult. Also, simply calling on it for your powers should corrupt you, the force is alive and the dark side is definitely evil, there never was any subtlety with the force in SW. However this obviously does not bode well with gameplay and story progression, thus it was already somewhat ignored in the previous Kotor games… but here it’s just jarring.

It feels silly and completely implausible that you can, for example, keep helping people in need, saving the downtrodden and defending the innocent while being a Sith Inquisitor and frying your enemies with force lightning. Realistically, as Jedi or Sith moved from light to dark and vice versa, their allegiances should fluctuate, and while not in a 100% of cases, they should change sides because of their new outlooks. Obviously this does not work in a MMORPG with two clearly differentiated sides a la Alliance and Horde in WoW (even though here it would be extremely simple since it would just mean changing the characters home planet and class to its opposite!) and thus your Jedi will stay well into the service of the Republic even after he’s so corrupt his dark aura could be used to attend cool goth parties. It’s not so jarring with the non-force users though, but will still leave some people scratching their heads.

With all that said, I’m content with the game for the moment, playing with friends makes it quite fun, and the story, while diminished by the gameplay, it’s still Bioware level and thus quite interesting on it’s own right.

However, as mentioned, I’ve all but scratched the surface of this immense game. In future weeks I will talk about other parts of the experience, such as Space Combat, Flashpoints (the SWTOR equivalent of group based dungeons) and other bit and pieces that will give you a better idea about what to expect if you’re still on the fence.

May the force be with you!

 - Jose Luis Perez Zapata

Wed, December 21 2011 » PC/Mac, Reviews

2 Responses

  1. Jordy January 4 2012 @ 11:08 am

    Nice review, liked it.. What class are you currently playing and what spec?

  2. obsidianrazor January 5 2012 @ 11:14 am

    I have several characters to check the game a bit, that’s why it’s taking me so long to do a full and proper review!!

    I have a Gunslinger Smuggler (my main), a Vanguard Trooper, a Powertech Bounty Hunter, and a Sith Warrior.

    I’ve teamed up with several Jedi to check on their storylines and class quests, and I really dig being able to do that, even as an spectator :P

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