Star Wars: The Old Republic review Pt. 1
22nd Dec 2011 | 14:35
There's no score at the end of this review. Even though we've been playing The Old Republic for 30 hours (and counting), giving a definitive verdict is basically impossible at this stage. But what we can do is tell you whether it's worth playing it or not.
Even if you've never played an MMO before, or fear the very idea of them, you might be surprised by BioWare's take on the genre. We'll be playing the game all over the Christmas break, so will return in January with a score. For now, here's what we think.
People play MMOs for a lot of different reasons. Some are compelled by loot and leveling, others by playing the numbers and exploiting the system. Some are in it for PVP, others for raiding with friends.
But nobody plays an MMO because they want to get immersed in a rich story - and that's where Star Wars: The Old Republic comes in. It's everything you expect from a modern online RPG, but with a few crucial differences: the addition of a meaningful plot arc for each class, moral choices and full voice acting.
The game weighs in at a lumbering 25gb, and it's clear why within minutes of playing. Every quest, no matter how inconsequential, has a number of dialogue options, and every character - including your own - has a voice. The quality of the writing and acting varies, but it gives you one important thing: motivation.
In other MMOs, quests often feel like pointless errands. The Old Republic's are, structurally, no different, but by book-ending each one with a plot with multiple outcomes, every objective - no matter how mundane - feels like it serves a purpose.
The dialogue system is pure BioWare; think Mass Effect or Dragon Age. As you talk to NPCs you're given three ways to respond, each of which steers the conversation in a different direction. Your choices also affect your standing with the light and dark sides of the Force, which fans of the Knights of the Old Republic games will appreciate.
Don't expect a quest system that completely rewrites the MMO rule book. It's still essentially killing and collecting, but the story really does bring it to life. Quests often have humorous or unexpected outcomes, and the class-specific missions offer a constant, running story that's genuinely compelling. It also means you can comfortably play the game solo without being numbed by boredom.
Convnience is another thing The Old Republic brings to the table. Whether it's something as simple as the 'area loot' option, which automatically loots all nearby fallen enemies at once, or the ability to send your companions on errands, like collecting materials or crafting items. There's still busywork, but less of it - and if you really don't want to delegate to your crew, you can do it all yourself.
But let's rewind. Your first, and most important, choice is what class you're going to be - and whether you'll side with the Republic (the good guys), or the Empire (the not-good guys). Here's a breakdown of the classes for each side, and the different types of gameplay each one offers.
First up, the Sith Empire.
Starting planet Korriban | Advanced classes Sith Assassin, Sith Sorcerer | Races Human, Rattataki, Sith, Twi'lek, Zabrak | Personal ship Fury-class Imperial Interceptor
Basically a mage. They can use lightsabers, but their specialisation is in the Force. They can fry enemies with powerful lightning, trap enemies in whirlwinds and sacrifice their companion for a health boost.
Starting planet Korriban | Advanced classes Sith Marauder, Sith Juggernaut | Races Cyborg, Human, Sith, Zabrak | Personal ship Fury-class Imperial Interceptor
The Empire's tanks. They're best at wading into groups of enemies with their lightsabers, protected by heavy armour. They can also dual-wield lightsabers if they opt for the Marauder advanced class.
Starting planet Hutta | Advanced classes Operative, Sniper| Races Chiss, Cyborg, Human, Rattataki, Zabrak | Personal ship X-70B Phantom
These guys use tech and stealth to defeat enemies. They can take cover, use portable shields, and score critical hits by sniping. Later, they're able to poison foes and use bots to increase health regen.
Starting planet Hutta | Advanced classes Powertech, Mercenary | Races Chiss, Cyborg, Human, Rattataki, Zabrak | Personal ship D5-Mantis Patrol Craft
Bounty Hunters also favour tech, but combine it with brute strength and heavy weapons. They can torch enemies with flamethrowers, toss wide area explosives and fly with their trademark jetpack.
And now for the Galactic Republic.
Starting planet Tython | Advanced classes Jedi Sage, Jedi Shadow | Races Human, Miraluka, Mirialan, Twi'lek, Zabrak | Personal ship Corellian Defender-class Light Corvette
The Jedi equivalent of the Sith Inquisitor. They can hold their own with a lightsaber, but prefer to use Force powers like Project, which throws debris and heavy objects in the world at enemies.
Starting planet Tython | Advanced classes Jedi Sentinel, Jedi Guardian | Races Human, Miraluka, Mirialan, Twi'lek, Zabrak | Personal ship Corellian Defender-class Light Corvette
Jedi version of the Sith Warrior. Mastery with lightsabers, backed up by Force powers including Master Strike which hits an enemy three times in quick succession and stat-boosting combat 'forms'.
Starting planet Ord Mantell | Advanced classes Gunslinger, Scoundrel | Races Cyborg, Human, Mirialan, Twi'lek, Zabrak | Personal ship Corellian XS Stock Light Freighter
Smugglers can use grenades to blind targets, and favour a blaster pistol in combat. They can also resist stun and fear attacks and can use Barrage to spray a wave of blaster fire at groups of enemies.
Starting planet Ord Mantell | Advanced classes Commando, Vanguard | Races Cyborg, Human, Mirialan, Zabrak | Personal ship BT-7 Thunderclap
Troopers are all about blaster rifles, grenades and fast melee attacks. They can fire explosive rounds, equip heavy armour and use Full Auto to fire a continuous stream of blaster bolts at enemies.
Your race is purely an aesthetic choice; there are no racial bonuses. The important thing is your class, as it determines how you'll be playing the game. You have to decide whether you want to specialise in ranged combat, supporting other players with healing and buffs, tanking, or any number of roles - all determined by how you progress through your skill tree.
Bad to the bone
We've tried every class, but our main character is a Sith Juggernaut. Their class quests see you training at the Sith Academy on Korriban, then eventually becoming the apprentice of a Darth and doing his evil bidding across the galaxy.
Sith are generally bad guys, but you can still veer on the 'light side' - being fair, diplomatic and helping your fellow Sith. We, however, have gone fully evil. We've stabbed friends in the back and screwed people over for credits, all of which contributes to our dark side alignment. Like in KOTOR, this affects your appearance, giving you sunken eyes and palid skin.
One of the best moments was when we first received our lightsaber. You don't just get given one as a Sith - you have to earn it. In our case, we had to fetch it from the enemy-ridden tomb of an old Sith warrior. This is part of the class' main quest, and up until now we'd only been using training blades. Then we finally got our first saber - about ten hours into the game - and suddenly we really felt part of the Star Wars universe, albeit thousands of years before the events of the films.
The setting is a big part of the game's appeal. The world's design and atmosphere is beautifully realised, and Star Wars fans will be overcome with nostalgia when they fly to familiar planets like Hoth and Tatooine. The game is initially linear, but by following your class quests you unlock your starship and are able to travel across the galaxy at will. Planets are ranked by level, so you won't be able to do quests if your skills aren't high enough, but you can still explore and socialise with other players.
Flash in the pan
Ah, yes. Socialising. This is, after all, a multiplayer game. One of the best features in TOR are the Flashpoints, which are the equivalent of World of Warcraft's instanced dungeons. These story-led missions last upwards of an hour and can only be completed in groups.
What's cool about Flashpoints is that during conversations, each player chooses their response, and the game 'rolls' who gets to answer. It brings a multiplayer element to BioWare's established conversation system, and it works really well - although it can get a bit confusing when you have multiple characters of the same class, as they all have the same voice.
The earliest Flashpoint you'll encounter is The Black Talon. It's designed for two people, but you can play it with four. It sees you and your buddies trapped on a starship that's being attacked by invading enemies (which side they're on depends on whether you're Sith or Republic). You travel through the stricken vessel, fighting enemy soldiers, defeating bosses, scoring high-level loot and completing side-quests.
It ends with a battle against either a Jedi or a Sith Lord, which will be your character's first encounter with a powerful enemy from the other side. It's a tough battle that requires smart teamwork, and a good spread of roles - someone healing, someone attacking from afar, someone up close 'tanking'. The fantastic score, which uses pieces from the films including the epic 'Duel of the Fates', only adds to the excitement.
Flashpoints have their own self-contained story, and elite enemies will always drop quality loot. If you don't have any friends playing the game, or aren't in a guild, it's worth seeking out other players to help you with these - they're a big part of why The Old Republic is so much fun. Luckily, there are always people in the general chat channel looking for groups.
So, as you'll already be aware, this is not the definitive review of The Old Republic. Not just because we've only played for around 30 hours, and have barely scratched the surface of what the game has to offer, but because MMOs are constantly evolving. With patches and future content, the game will be unrecognisable by the end of 2012. Think about the leap from vanilla WOW to Cataclysm and you'll get the idea.
End game content is also important for an MMO, and we're hours away from experiencing any of that - and we haven't even tested our mettle in a PVP arena yet. So we won't be scoring TOR yet. After the Christmas break, and hopefully after we've dinged our character to level 50 (the cap), we'll come back and give the game a score.
But until then, if you still want an answer to the question "Should I try The Old Republic?", we'd have to say yes - if only for a month. It's a game worth experiencing, not only as an MMO, but as the spiritual successor to Knights of the Old Republic. If you want a quality, story-led RPG set in the Star Wars universe, this offers that, but with the bonus of a persistent world full of real players.
As for that final score, well, you'll have to wait until January.