A galaxy far, far away comes home
MMORPGs have never really appealed to me. Sure, I spent some time poking around World of Warcraft and even took EverQuest for a whirl back in the day, but as a gamer, I gravitate toward the single-player experience. I don’t like trying to coordinate time to play with others—and when I feel like playing a game, I certainly don’t want to wait while a group gathers.
Still, I was interested in Star Wars: The Old Republic from the outset, as were most Star Wars fans. Moreover, I trusted BioWare to create a compelling game on par with its single-player RPGs—and I’m pleased to report my faith was not unfounded. Star Wars: The Old Republic absolutely lived up to my expectations, and it’s successfully swallowed more of my time than any other MMORPG before it. And I’m not done yet.
For those interested in the particulars: I played through the entire Jedi Consular storyline, raising my character to level 50. I tackled nearly every sidequest thrown my way, played through every available Flashpoint once, two Operations, and about half of the space battles. I maxed out two of my crafting skills, found about 10 Datacrons, and helped take out two World Bosses.
From a PvP standpoint, I tried each of the different Warzone modes and briefly visited Ilum; though, since I’m not really a PvP fan, I didn’t concentrate on this aspect. I also started a secondary character, a smuggler, but only leveled him to 10, never leaving the beginning planet. I quickly decided I didn’t want to keep playing on a dedicated Role-Playing server, which is when I left and started my Consular on a PvE server. I haven’t yet started a character on the Empire side of the conflict, and I haven’t played on a PvP server. In total, I’ve racked up nearly 150 hours of gameplay, wanting to experience everything the game had to offer before embarking on this review.
Choosing a Path
Like most RPGs, The Old Republic first tasks you to create a character. Unlike most MMORPGs, your choice here is paramount to your experience. Every class has its own storyline, and while players of different classes will cross paths frequently, each storyline provides a specific motivation and outcome. In effect, you’ll find eight different single-player games squeezed into an MMORPG shell. You can choose to rarely interact with other players and still have a satisfying, if incomplete, experience.
The Old Republic has two conflicting sides—the Republic and the Sith Empire—and each side has four available classes. Each class has a doppelganger on the other side of the fence, The coordinating classes are as follows: Jedi Knight/Sith Warrior, Jedi Conular/Sith Inquisitor, Smuggler/Bounty Hunter, and Trooper/Imperial Agent.
Additionally, at level 10, each of these classes receives the choice to become one of two advanced classes, giving players the choice of concentrating on any one of the MMORPG trinity: Healer, Damage-Dealer, or Tank. This way, you can play through every storyline while choosing your primary role as you please. Once you’ve decided on a class and designed your character with the usual array of sliders and options, you’ll begin on a starting planet (each side has two) and jump into your story in earnest. And that’s one of the few places the game falters.
Those familiar with other MMORPGs will have little problem jumping right into The Old Republic. The interface, while fairly static, doesn’t stray far from the WoW model. But those who are new to this type of game will find themselves lost in sea of icons and menus that make little sense. Tutorials are nonexistent, so players either have to feel their way through the interface like a blind man learning to read Braille or read up on online tutorials before venturing out.
Learning curve aside, the game draws you in immediately though superbly acted cinemas, introducing you to characters and setting up an overarching story that will take you across the galaxy. When you start receiving quests, you’ll again find yourself in familiar territory. Deliver the package, retrieve the object, kill X number of beasties—all of the familiar tropes are here, but to BioWare’s credit, it never feels like you’re merely filling time and grinding levels; even secondary quests flesh out the story and help bring the game to life. One nice addition is the secondary objectives that open up once you enter a quest’s territory. Usually, these appear as “defeat X number” of one enemy or another—and usually provides a nice XP bump. Some even feature several stages, ending in a boss battle that can yield some nice loot.
Interacting with NPCs uses the same sort of dialogue wheel used in Mass Effect. Your responses help dictate the flow of the story, especially when given the choice to go with the Light or Dark side. Regardless of your faction or class, all players will be given a moral choice. You can be a Sith who veers toward the Light side of the Force, or a Smuggler with a heart as black as Jabba the Hut’s. Your path determines not only the outcome of certain story branches (do you kill the evil doctor or turn him over to the Republic for trial?) but also what equipment you can use later in the game. This adds yet another nuance to the experience, making your story feel more personal.
While on your beginning planet, you’ll also find your first companion. These companions allow you to explore the universe while not feeling quite so alone—and they also provide some complimentary skills to help you make it through some tough spots. Raising the level of affection your companion feels for you will open up new quest chains and can even lead to romance. This isn’t always as easy as it seems, though. My initial companion, Qyzen Fess, didn’t always appreciate my philosophy of following the Light side no matter the situation. Apparently, I was too much of a goody-goody for the honorable, lizardlike hunter. Still, whatever affection I lost, I tried to make up for by buying him gifts. It worked better with him than it does with my wife.
By the time you finish on your homeworld, you should be at least level 10. You should have chosen an advanced class, be familiar with all of the game’s basic controls, and be ready to start exploring the universe.
Leaving the Nest
Your first sojourn between planets sends you to the Fleet for transport. From here, you can decide to head directly to your next destination or answer the call to your first Flashpoints. This is the chance for your first real taste of multiplayer. Small, daily “Heroic” quests become available on your starting planet, but these instances rarely take more than about 15 minutes and don’t offer much in terms of story development.
Flashpoints are more akin to dungeons in other MMORPGs. These are accessible only from the Fleet and take on a grander scope than the run-of-the-mill Heroic missions. You’ll always want to take a party of four players into these flashpoints (though I did manage a couple with three players and one companion) and will want to balance your party with a combination of character abilities. Flashpoints don’t skimp on the storytelling, but when you’re with a party, each of the characters get a chance to participate in conversations. This is done with a virtual dice roll, similar to the one used when vying for loot. The player who gets the highest roll gets to do the talking for one response, and snags you some bonus social points in the process.
While Flashpoints are optional, they provide one of the best chances to interact with others as well as grabbing some great loot, so unless you are violently opposed to interacting with others, you should give them a shot. Be aware, however, Flashpoints will generally take between 45 minutes and one hour to complete, so leave plenty of time to enjoy the experience.
Once you’ve conquered your first Flashpoint and have moved along to the next planet, you’ill discover the joy of Crew Skills and crafting. In one of the game’s most innovative twists, your companions handle most of your secondary skills. I chose archeology, treasure hunting, and artifice; these allowed me to gather resources and create lightsaber crystals and mods.
Instead of spending endless hours standing at a worktable cranking out items, you can assign these tasks to your companion, who will accomplish these tasks while you take care of other business. Since you don’t need your companion standing next to you while you purchase skills, talk to vendors, and even go through story sequences, your companion can be off searching for materials or making objects. It’s multitasking at its finest, and it eliminates the most tedious aspect of these games.
By now, you’re in the thick of the story. Secondary missions are flowing like water, and you’re becoming accustomed to the intricacies of combat. This is where most MMORPGs lose me. Once I’ve learned to navigate the world with confidence, the game degenerates into a repetitive grind.
Without the refined story progression, The Old Republic would be no exception. But the drive to see where the story’s going next is enough to keep you pressing onward. And, at the end of the second planet, you receive your next big motivator: your own starship.
Giving Yourself Some Space
If there’s a more convenient way to travel, I haven’t found it. There’s just something about having your own starship that screams, “I’m special!” Just like every other player in the game. Having your own ship is a fantastic benefit, though. In addition to providing transportation between planets, it also gives your companions a place to hang out when not accompanying you—and a means to engage in space missions.
These basic, arcade-style shooting sequences make for a great diversion. The controls are simple—just use your mouse to turn and the mouse buttons to fire lasers and missiles. Navigation is limited, with turning mostly useful for avoiding oncoming ships and asteroids, but the shooting can be fun and frantic, and completed missions are good for some nice XP. Ships do cost money, though, so you’ll have to save up enough for some ship upgrades to succeed in the tougher battles.
Unfortunately, you can tell that this area of the game wasn’t paid the most attention. Longtime Star Wars fans might be looking for something closer to the stellar X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter games, but this plays more like the old rasterized Star Wars arcade game, just with nicer graphics. In other words, don’t buy the game for these limited battles.
Having your own craft allows you to travel between planets at leisure, but at this time, the biggest reason to revisit old locales is to search for Datacrons; these ancient artifacts provide permanent stat boosts or Matrix Shards, which you can use to build relics. While a few of these Datacrons are out in the open, most will require serious exploration (or use of the strategy guide, which is how I found most of them).
The ability to fly between planets is also important if you’re the type of player to doggedly pursue the main storyline, since it gives you the chance to go back and complete the bonus missions that open up after you finish a planet’s main quest lines. Overall, the progression between planets—with the additional bonus and space missions—all point back to the care that BioWare took to assure a solid, well-crafted experience. Everywhere you go, on every mission, you feel like you’re taking part in a Star Wars movie, which is what fans have been clamoring for all these years.
But, wait—we’re not done yet!
As noted, it’s possible to play through The Old Republic’s entire story—all eight stories, in fact—without spending much time playing with others. But if you decide to do so, it won’t be because BioWare didn’t give you the chance. Like any self-respecting MMORPG, The Old Republic has plenty of features for those who like to travel in packs. The guild system, while not as refined as the one you’ll find in WoW, makes it easy to coordinate groups for Flashpoints, general questing, and—once you get that far—Operations, The Old Republic’s version of raids.
Though it’s possible to get through each planet without help, you’ll bump into the occasional “Champion” standing off in the middle of nowhere that requires a party to take down. It’s easy to figure out which ones they are. In addition to being labeled Champion, they’ll usually kill you without as much as thought, grinding you and your companion into paste before you can say, “What happened?” Oftentimes, these Champions are protecting a chest filled with great loot, so if you want your hands on some of the game’s best equipment, be sure to find a friend.
You’ll also find some Heroic Missions and World Bosses that require teams to conquer, if you want to get the very best rewards. Note that for World Bosses, you’ll have to enable Operation group type in order to gather the 24 (yes, 24) required characters of the required level to take down one of these monsters. Even if you aren’t a social gamer, I recommend getting in on one of these fights as it’s the most fun I’ve had in an MMORPG.
The game also offers a variety of PvP challenges, even for those on PvE worlds. Warzones are the games dedicated PvP zones, with three types of challenges for players to try their hands at. Success in Warzones gets you Valor points that increase your valor rank. Building your rank up allows you to do equip some fantastic exclusive equipment. Huttball was my favorite of the Warzone games. Taking place in an arena, two teams face off in a football/rugby hybrid trying with the simple task of getting a ball in a goal. Of course, you’re doing this with fire, acid, and other obstacles in your way, with another team trying to stop you. It’s also the only PvP mode that allows players of the same faction to challenge each other. I spent hours having a blast with this diversion.
I wasn’t as keen on the other two Warzones: Voidstar and Alderaan. The former’s a variation on capture the flag, where players must protect a ship’s Data Core from the other faction’s assault; the later’s an all-out battle to gain control of turrets in order to knock your opponents ships out of the sky. Both of these are fun for a while, but I usually lost interest pretty quickly, yearning to get back to the story missions.
Finally, the endgame content contains some fantastic multiplayer, both in the form of Operations and on the planet Ilum. Operations come in eight- and 16-player flavors and present some of the most challenging areas in the game. These massive raids contain multiple bosses and will take several hours to complete. The planet Ilum offers some solid endgame PvP, with the game’s final quests. However, balance issues kept me from doing much here—one of the few letdowns I had playing The Old Republic. But as you can see, even after you finish your story, there’s plenty left to do in the Star Wars universe—and that’s without trying another character class.
A Galaxy of Options
Star Wars: The Old Republic is easily the largest game I’ve ever reviewed in more than 20 years of covering games. At first, it felt like a daunting task—assigning a score to a game of this scope. And then I realized, “I’ve played the game for 150 hours, and I’m ready to start a new character and experience a new story.” That says something.
Although it certainly isn’t without its share of bugs, for a new MMORPG—one that features eight fully voiced storylines, a complete complement of multiplayer features, space warfare, and more—the whole package is remarkably polished. True, when it comes down to the action and mission structure, BioWare doesn’t stray too far from the established formula, but the story will propel you forward before boredom can take hold.
The only fear is that with an ambitious game like this, expansions could be slow in coming. But that’s OK. I still have seven more stories to play through, and I believe if I pace myself, I’ll be able to stretch it out until the first major expansion comes my way.
SUMMARY: One of the most ambitious and expensive game projects comes to fruition with Star Wars: The Old Republic. A fully realized MMORPG, The Old Republic proves that World of Warcraft doesn’t stand alone online. Best of all, the game is undeniably a BioWare production. The story progression for each class—eight in all—would make a respectable standalone game. Put together in this massive shell, it’s a revelation. Whether you’re an experienced MMORPG player looking for a new experience, a Star Wars fan wanting some solid role-playing action, or a newbie just looking for a great game, Star Wars: The Old Republic is worth your attention.
- THE GOOD: Some of the best RPG storytelling in recent memory—eight times over.
- THE BAD: The occasional bugs. Something to be expected in a game of this size, but difficult to deal with when a mission won’t complete.
- THE UGLY: The amount of time this game will suck from your life. Let’s hope you have an understanding family.
Star Wars: The Old Republic is available on PC at the time of this review.