PC Review: Star Wars: The Old Republic

A long time ag….ah, screw it. The iconic Star Wars opening text is too overdone.

It’s been about three years since the rumors of Bioware developing an MMO based on the Knights of the Old Republic franchise first found their way onto the Internet. Those rumors made me ecstatic from day one. The original Knights of the Old Republic was one of my favorite games of all time, and Star Wars is definitely my favorite IP. To add nerd cred to my profile on that, I actually read the books, graphic novels, and comics. So, for anyone that knows me, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I was eating up any juicy tidbits that developer Bioware and publisher EA threw my way over the past three years about the game.

Lucky for me (and an estimated two million others who picked up the game on launch day), Dec. 20, 2011 marked the end of our wait. And worth it it was.

Now, you won’t be in for any big surprises with how the game controls. Bioware did a very good job mimicking the overall feel of most modern day MMOs. Everquest, World of Warcraft, Everquest 2, Vanguard, and countless others all use the standard “WASD” movement with “1 through =” for your hot keys. This makes it extremely easy for any MMO veteran to dive right into the game. The movements are very fluid and combat flows very well because of it. While the user interface may seem a bit clunky at first, it’s very easy to get used to. The main aspect that bothered me was the top-of-the-screen placement of the chat box, but it’s easily moved to the bottom where it feels more comfortable.

The lack of a full customization of the overall UI, though, really does hurt the game a bit. By the time you hit level 50 you have almost too many abilities, potions, and stims to fit on the maximum number of four hot bars. According to Bioware, there is a big UI customization update coming in the near future, so I do hold out hope that this will be fixed very soon.

Another guaranteed aspect of any MMORPG these days has to be the PvP, and SWTOR performs admirably. From level 10 on, players can compete in three different Warzones, similar to World of Warcraft’s Battlegrounds. These include Alderaan, which is a capture point system similar to Arathi Basin or League of Legends’ Dominion map; Voidstar, which is a Plant the Bomb and move to different objectives map; and a very unique mode called Huttball, which is basically an updated version of Mutant League Football.

The Warzones aside, there are also two areas in the game that are strictly for open world PvP: Ilum, a planet dedicated to the insanity of PvP, and Smuggler’s Den, a Free-for-All area on Tatooine where anything goes at any time of the day. Both of these areas help fuel a fairly health Open PvP environment that hardcore players are looking for.

A very neat addition to the MMORPG genre that is found in SWTOR is the implementation of Companion Characters. These NPCs are your brothers and sisters-in-arms that join your crew as you progress through your personal story arc. They can definitely hold their own on the battlefield and they bring a whole new perspective to solo leveling and even grouping without a full party.

Crafting is also dependent on your Companions. Instead of the normal MMO crafting system where you gather materials and spend time standing in front of a forge or loom to make your gear, SWTOR has you send your companions out to gather materials and making things for you. At the end-game, you can actually have five of your six companions all out working while you go out and quest or PvP. This takes a major stressor for some people and reduces it down to a couple of button clicks instead of a giant time sinck. As a person who absolutely loathes crafting in most other MMOs, I truly enjoy the system in SWTOR.

While all of the previous systems and gameplay mechanics makeup the basics of SWTOR, the real backbone that Bioware built the entire game around is its phenomenal story system. In most MMOs, you get a quest from an NPC and go out and kill things and return for your reward – never really reading what the quest giver had to say. In SWTOR, every single dialogue sequence is fully acted out for you in a cut scene (and yes, you can skip if you choose to). This really helps to make you feel like you have an impact on the world around you, and that your story matters.

Every class in the game has their own personal story. I have played completely through the Sith Warrior and Bounty Hunter stories, and am well on my way through the Sith Inquisitor story at this point and can say that each one has blown me away. They flow so well that I want to keep playing just to see what happens next. I cannot say that about any other MMORPG that I’ve experienced. On top of that, the actual voice acting is top notch. Bioware really spared no expense.

End-game is another spot that I feel the developers really nailed. Right out of the gates they had two Raid Zones (Operations as they’re called here) in place. The first is Eternity Vault, and the second is Karagga’s Palace. Both of these offer three modes of difficulty: normal, hard, and nightmare modes. As of right now, our guild is full clearing hard mode on both, and working our way through nightmare, so I have seen most of what these have to offer. We are having a total blast clearing these out, and the difficulty scales well, allowing for new raiders and veterans alike to experience the content at their own skill levels.

Many might argue that Star Wars: The Old Republic isn’t a breakthrough for the MMORPG genre. While I agree that the basic gameplay takes aspects from the other MMOs on the market, to say that it doesn’t change the way that gamers will look at MMOs from now on would be a lie. The superb story arcs, the changes to the generic crafting system, the updated PvP system,  companion characters, and voice acted questing all add new aspects to an aging subcategory in the gaming world.

SWTOR is one of my favorite games released in the past few years by far, and is definitely my favorite MMORPG since I first picked up Everquest back in 1999. There are some bugs in the game that need to be worked out (and actually lead me to lower the score of the game a bit), but the overall feel of SWTOR is that it is an MMO that is here to stay, and sets a new bar for what other companies need to aim for.

Pros

  • Story that is the best of any other MMORPG
  • Companion characters
  • Re-worked crafting system
  • Fun Ggameplay
  • Great replayability with different classes
  • PvP is well balanced

Cons

  • Lack of UI customization
  • Annoying post-launch bugs
  • No guild bank
  • Inexcusably clunky guild and auction house tools

Overall Score: 4/5

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Author: Jeremy Goodson View all posts by
Jeremy is the Managing Editor for Vagary.TV. He has been gaming since the days of the NES and has no desire to stop anytime soon. He's also a veteran Blogger and Podcaster. When he's not writing, recording, or playing games, he loves spending time with his wife and son, reading, and watching a good movie or TV show.
  • http://twitter.com/ShalimarTroy Troy Christensen

    Great review. One aspect that has held me back from playing is the “openness” of the game, sometimes referred to as the “Sandbox”. I have been told that it does not allow you to just be in the world but constantly drag around by the story; is that true? If I just want to hang out in some seedy bar on Tantoine killing womp rats on occasion, can I do this? If my friend who plays the exact same avatar wants to go right and I want to go left, can we do that or do we find ourselves standing in line with all the other same level classed characters?

  • http://twitter.com/_JWGoodson J. W. Goodson

    Well, the story definitely does take you by the hand a bit. Unfortunately, and unlike SWG, the game is very Themepark-ish in that respect. As you advance through your story, it tells you which planet to head to next. Once you get your ship (around level 15-16, depending on where you are in your story), you can go to whatever planet you want. Some are not safe for low level characters though.

    When it comes to going left or right at certain points, if you’re at the same point in your questing, you could go to different objectives, but for the most part they are in the same area. There aren’t really a “line of people” doing it, as everyone is on a different step. On my server at least, the planets are all populated well, though, so you always have someone to group with if need be.

    With that said, if you WANT to sit in the Cantina on Tatooine and go out and kill Womp Rats from time to time, you can. In fact, the Womp Rats are right outside the main cantina. =p