A long time ago, in what feels like a galaxy far far away, rumors of a new Star Wars MMO began to circulate. The star systems of Star Wars Galaxies had all but been abandoned and the thought of another MMO would have been tedious and redundant. Soon to follow was the confirmation of the project along with the news of BioWare’s involvement, and that’s when things got interesting.
Three long and painful years later the day has arrived: Star Wars: The Old Republic was released Dec. 20, 2011 to a sea of ravenous fans, just before the 3D releases of the movies put the final nail in Star War’s carbonite coffin.
Star Wars: The Old Republic makes the bold move of separating itself from Galaxies and the popular movie timeline that many of the other video games have followed, by instead picking up largely where the popular but lesser-known The Knights of the Old Republic I & II games left off 2,000 years before the rise of Darth Vader.
BioWare has brought its unique console style of gaming to the MMO genre. Though many comparisons have been made to World of Warcraft, some perhaps warranted, Star Wars: The Old Republic is a step forward for MMO’s all together.
One of the few complaints about The Old Republic would be the selection of races to choose from. Beginning at launch the game has 6 races: Human, Cyborg, Twi’lek, Zabrak, Miraluka (Republic only), Sith Pureblood (Empire only), and Chiss (Empire only). It’s mildly disappointing considering the large amount of races that exist within the Star Wars universe. This doesn’t exclude the other races from the game however, as many of them are spattered across the systems and become your companions.
The characters’ faces feature plenty of subtle detail, which helps since faces are consistently shown close up in nearly every quest cinematic. Still the range of different characteristics often feels slim and too many of the available traits are too similar to each other. Body sizes are restricted to only 4 preset representations, and though it may seem silly, aliens apparently don’t grow facial hair, leaving only scars and bone structure to give them defining detail.
Both the Empire and the Republic start with four individual classes: Trooper, Smuggler, Jedi Knight, & Jedi Consular for the Republic and Bounty Hunter, Imperial Agent, Sith Warrior, & Sith Inquisitor for the Empire. Each class is fairly unique, with an array of ranged and melee abilities. Select classes like the Smuggler use a cover system, revealing another action bar with abilities only available while in cover.
Beginning at 10th level, each class makes an irreversible decision about which of two styles of combat the player wants to go. This is where the usual Controller, DPS, Healer, & Tank roles come into play. For each style, there are 3 different talent trees that are available, much like older WoW talent trees. Every level rewards a new talent point for one in any tree, used to increase aptitude in the tree’s specialty. This makes multiple playthoughs of the same class and even the same combat style potentially very different.
Also unique to The Old Republic are the companions that come with each class, rather than restricted to only some of them. As the player levels through their story they acquire companions of different backgrounds and combat styles, usually filling a gap that the player has when solo questing. The companions are invaluable as combat sidekicks and mules for crafting and farming, but they are also rich additions to the players experience. More than meat shields and slaves, they’re genuine characters.
Easily the greatest thing about The Old Republic is BioWare’s use of decision-based storytelling. This combined with fully animated and voice acted cut scenes add a depth to questing that hasn’t been implemented in such a way before. By interacting directly with the quest giver a player’s character is given a more realistic personality rather than being a stoic hero for hire.
Also increasing playability is a de-facto karma meter built into questing. Decision points allow a character to be played as more heroic (earning Lightside Points, or more cruel (earning Darkside Points). Both directions offer different benefits such as gear and titles. The NPC’s will also treat players differently depending on their disposition.
When it does actually come to questing though, TOR uses a lot from the familiar Warcraft model and Everquest before it. Quests still ask to kill 6 of “A” or return with 10 of “B”, this seems to be a fundamental of MMO’s that no one has yet to think around. It’s part of the reason why Old Republic has earned comparisons to the MMO grandfather World of Warcraft.
Another reason TOR invites comparisons to Warcraft is its similar fighting system. With a list of different attacks, defenses, and buffs, the layout is much like what people have seen from other MMO’s. One notable difference is a cover system integrated into the Smuggler’s combat style as well as those of enemies. Cover boosts defenses and allows access to special attacks; cover-dependant characters stay mainly stationary for most fights and have to reset their cover when forced to move.
BioWare wanted to make combat feel heroic, and for the most part they have succeeded – maybe too well. Most fights feel a little easy, and only occasionally will you have to step back and re-think your attack. The hardest fights are usually found in Heroics (group quests) or Flashpoints (dungeon crawls). However, combat is entertaining and visually appealing, as lightsabers are flourished with grace and blasters hit with unrelenting force.
The Old Republic breathes some invigorated life into not just abeloved-but-tarnished world of techno-sword and sorcery but a genre that some people felt was getting stale. It’s not the game-changer people may have hoped for, but it’s a much-needed refresher to what people have been playing – and a wake-up call to other developers.
By streamlining some of the more tedious aspects of MMO’s like crafting and farming, adding traditionally single-player elements like karma meters, companions, and a protagonist with a personality, and letting the player feel like a meaningful story contributor, BioWare has gotten people back on the MMO wheel.