BioWare’s announcement that they would be joining the MMO scene was met with not only enthusiasm, but with a considerable amount of doubt too. It wasn’t that BioWare couldn’t offer a worthwhile experience – thanks to their RPG roots, but more so, could they do the Star Wars fanbase justice after numerous let-downs? TGL stepped forward to find out…
With every high profile game that’s released, gamers will inevitably talk graphics; truth be told, almost before anything else. So how does The Old Republic (TOR) shape up? One thing that’s evident from the start is just how much effort has clearly gone into the development of textures, characters, environments and everything else that helps to represent/nurture the worlds within the Star Wars universe. As good as it looks and feels, there’s graphical/development choices that really bug us – but they don’t impede on gameplay at all. The game also comes complete with some stunning sound design which will not only soothe you through subtly, but will also roar through your speakers during battles. Another thing about Star Wars: The Old Republic that will impress you, possibly above everything else, is just how loyal to the franchise the entire experience is; BioWare have mastered traditional authenticity down to the smallest elements.
Starting out on your journey feels fresh, it feels new and it feels important. Within the first 10 minutes of booting up the game, there’s an endless list of boxes already ticked for the Star Wars fans thanks to the authentic music, voice and characters present. In fact, those that favour RPG gameplay over the authenticity of the Star Wars universe don’t have to wait long either to feel part of the game. After a brief introduction, players are encouraged to create their own character. While the customisation was not as progressive, or innovative as we might have wanted, BioWare have still managed to embody a character with a virtual soul – one that you now own. Moving on from how your character looks, you can also choose a class. Classes vary greatly, with each having their own perks, but fall between under the basic sets of a Jedi Knight, a Smuggler, Bounty Hunter, Trooper, Sith Warrior, Sith Inquistion and even an Imperial Agent. If the class itself doesn’t sound so attractive to you at first, there’s also a sub-class beneath each of the classes to pick from – so there’s a strong sense of variety present. Unbeknownst to many gamers setting out, each class is book-ended with its very own dialogue and unique missions. That means, your campaign as a Jedi is simply not the same as your campaign as a Sith. This not only encourages several playthroughs, but it really gives you a sense that your story is an individual one – a unique one.
The unfolding story, depending on the class you pick, will vary greatly; in respect to your chosen character. Players that have initially sworn allegiance to the Jedi or Sith could be surprised to find their moral compass swaying beyond the moral boundaries they one drew. When choices are made, they are written in stone. This inability to simply load up a previous save means the path you carve out in this virtual world is in fact yours, and yours alone. As found in previous BioWare games, The Old Republic utilises a branching tree system for dialogue which essentially offers you a good, medium and bad response to all questions and situations. When mission(s)/deeds are completed, the game will visually remind you of exactly where that deed stood on the moral compass by means of simple, but intuitive, screen gradients. A mission that ends in a positive fashion will result in a gradient of blue washing over the bottom of the screen, while a negative result means a red haze appears – these subtle indicators work a treat.
Combat is unavoidable, and although experienced MMO players shouldn’t have trouble understanding fundamental character abilities and the importance of weapon rotation for example; those that are new to the world will be met with a wall of frustration. Take for example the cool-down time needed for a Bounty Hunters’ pistol – when fired (using an overburst), the weapon will be out of use for a small time frame. There’s no indication that the cool-down is needed before proceeding, other than a darkened icon – so it can be easy to spot those new to the MMO scene as they hammer the keys back and forth while their characters simply stands there and soaks up damage. Unbeknownst to a lot of new gamers, there’s no auto-fire, so you need to be quick with your fingers and predict how combat will go to successfully attack and retreat when needed. Dying during combat means you can return to a medical facility (you will be removed from that area), or you can wait 30 seconds to return to combat. BioWare have introduced plenty of camps scattered across the worlds you will visit. These camps, acting as safe zones, allow players to mingle, chat and regroup after time spent out on the battlefield. These safe zones are a great place to plan attacks and prepare your team for another outing. There’s also basic, but story-driven missions, to be found in the majority of these safe zones which offer exclusive items, XP and much more. You can find shops at many of the safe zones which you can use to purchase upgrades and items. While purchasing may be the easy part, there’s no clear indicators or direction when upgrading items. You can of course follow tutorials, but for younger gamers, the static screens, acute with arcane materials and text might cause serious confusion. It’s a real shame to see a lack of assistance to such a crucial element to the game; a noticeable gap in the learning curve that begs for more attention.
The Old Republic can be played as a single-player experience without any real problems, while those looking to gather a band of Sith/Jedi can create groups and form an alliance together. There’s plenty of perks and incentives to do so, but none arguably more rewarding than the “Heroics” and “Flashpoints” missions. The Heroics missions are very similar to regular quests, but BioWare have beefed them up with stronger mobs and a bounty of mini-bosses. Completing these missions means there’s a share of loot for each member of the team (usually 4), while XP will also fill those that are hungry for a greater award. Flashpoints on the other hand act like standalone missions that come complete with a unique story that’s designed around a group. These unique missions come peppered with cut-scenes and rare loot so it’s worth creating a group – if not for just these moments. BioWare haven’t introduced any forceful elements that aggressively aim to place you into a group, so the option to expand your experience is always there, ready and waiting. If you choose to do so, it can be as easy as entering a public chat and asking for help/group. Strangely, there’s already groups that run “initiations” online for prospective members; so prepare to jump through hoops if you wish to join a specific groups.
TOR offers a single and a multiplayer MMO experience. For those that want to experience the world themselves, but crave the idea of a friend by their side – it can be simulated in many ways thanks to companions. Companions in TOR are a little different to what you’d expect from general MMOs as they can directly impact and engage with the situations in the story. Some story arcs will see your companion asking questions, proposing ideas and much more. Companions are about as “real” as you could want them to be. In fact, thanks to investment made with upgrades, sharing of equipment and more, the companions can completely enrich your experience. That said, sometimes the companions will in essence just flail around in combat. If, like us, you are veterans of older BioWare titles like KOTR, you might feel frustrated without the stark ability of commanding your troops. Armed to the teeth, the companions prove to be a great bullet sponge, but a relief when combat is overwhelming too.
There’s an exhaustive amount of details in the game to run-through, so many in fact, it would be bewildering to explain them all. With the game receiving regular updates and patches, the face of The Old Republic is completely different compared to when we first started out back in December. This isn’t a negative point in the slightest, but it does mean that, for your money, you’re getting not only one of the most ambitious titles on the market, but one that is changing, updating and being supported constantly.
With the standard edition of the game coming with one month of playtime, the subsequent playtime will set you back $15 per month. Is it worth the investment? It’s hard to say really. If you are new to the scene, and you happen to be an MMO enthusiast as well as a BioWare fan – it’s a no-brainer. If you’re a hardcore MMO player, you might find the lack of true innovation frustrating.
In many respects it’s hard to distinguish between where the BioWare line ends, and the Star Wars line begins; the game is unashamedly loyal to the franchise. Containing some of the more traditional elements present in older golden BioWare titles like Knights of The Old Republic, the game also embellishes the Star Wars space opera theme. While it might not revolutionise the entire genre, Star Wars: The Old Republic offers a engaging experience that will entertain those that are versed to the MMO scene – but delight those who aren’t.
TGL Score: 8/10
Release Date: Out Now