First Impressions – Star Wars: The Old Republic

21 Dec
Taking a taxi

Some places just can't be reached on foot in Coruscant

A Long Time Ago, In a Galaxy Far, Far Away…

I have an addictive personality. It’s why I don’t drink alone, why I don’t go to local casinos, and why it took me over a year to try out the original EverQuest. It was just a hunch, but I was pretty sure booting up that game would lead me down a dark path of lost evenings and sleep deprivation. Boy, was I ever right.

EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, and Word of Warcraft. They’ve been the holy trinity of my MMO obsession. All engrossing. All time-consuming.

All fantasy.

I tried other MMO’s to break out of the fantasy rut. The Matrix Online. Champions Online. City of Heroes. Earth and Beyond. Star Trek Online. None of them really grabbed me.

I was giddy when Star Wars Galaxies was announced. Finally, a non-fantasy universe perfectly suited to the Massive Multiplayer Online genre. I tried to like it. I really did. In the end, though, it seemed more a generic MMO covered in a thin Star Wars veneer than an actual Star Wars game. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.

So when Bioware announced Star Wars: The Old Republic, I was a little more skeptical. A little more jaded. I loved the original game – Knights of the Old Republic. It was one of the few RPG’s I’ve ever played through more than once. But as an MMO?

I’d been burned before. Would this be another Galaxies? After years of World of Warcraft, could another MMO even capture my attention?

After a few days of playing, I have to say – so far, so good.

You must unlearn what you have learned…

There are two opposing sides to choose from when creating your character – Sith Empire or Republic. One could assume that breaks down to “good vs. evil”, but as WoW showed us with the Alliance and Horde, that’s not necessarily the case.

As for classes – do you want to run around with a lightsaber? Go right ahead. Rather sneak around or level everything with an autocannon? Those options are available as well. Each side has four character types to choose from, with each type having two “advanced classes” to choose from later on. They generally fall into the tank/damage dealer/healer roles that MMO players will already be familiar with, but with a very Star Wars feel to them.

My character

You find yourself without a ship in the beginning.

Your class storyline starts right from the opening cut scene. For my smuggler, that means landing on the planet Ord Mantell and promptly having his ship stolen, leaving him stranded in the middle of an uprising.

From the get-go, your quests feel different. Most of the NPC’s you fight are humanoids or droids. It feels a little more heroic than smacking 10 wolf pups for their pelts. In fact, most of the quests that require you to kill X amount of Y things are bonus quests you pick up during your travels. They are optional, but completing them will give you bonuses – so most of the time they are worth doing.

And did I mention yet that (almost) every quest is fully voiced? The interactive dialog tree is a Bioware trademark at this point and strongly reminds me of their previous efforts. In a good way. There are some text-only quests you get from consoles around the world, but so far those have been 10% or less of the quests I’ve received.

Choices you make during the dialogs can give you light or dark side points, as well as affect how companions you pick up during the way feel about you. It’s a reputation mechanic in another form – but again, with a nice Star Wars feel to it.

Eventually, it’s time to leave that first planet. For my smuggler, he followed his thief to the Republic capital of Coruscant by way of the republic fleet. You’ll usually hit this point around level 10 (6 hours of play time or so).

Did it go in? Negative, it just impacted on the surface…

There are rough edges to be found here. The game can get laggy when lots of action is going on around you (mostly other players battling npc’s) – and that was before the game was opened to everyone. Some quests are a little buggy, though when I encountered them a reset fixed the problem. And the AH (Galactic Exchange) needs serious work on it’s UI.

So far, though, my biggest gripe has been the insistence of my companion to pull people towards him – even though I turn that ability off. It defaults back on every time we change location. Hopefully, it’s an annoyance that gets fixed soon.

Let’s blow this thing and go home…

That all said, the state of the game is amazingly stable for an MMO that has just launched. Granted, this opinion might change once the masses log in, but so far the launch has been smoother than any of the other games I’ve played.

Most MMO’s I’ve played have thrown token class quests at you, but the stories have never been this involved. Nor have they given the sense of accomplishment I’ve already felt in 17 levels with my Smuggler.

You feel like you’re in the story. I can’t tell you enough how much voiced and interactive dialog quest lines help here. There’s a level of immersion that other MMO’s can’t touch because of this. And (maybe because of that) the stories are compelling. Finally getting my ship after going through the smuggler storyline on Coruscant felt like a victory, rather than just “hit level x, get mount y”.

My starship

Mission accomplished. Now let's get out of here.

May the Force be with you, always…

I can’t say how the rest of the game turns out – I’m only level 17. After playing a couple of space battle missions, I’d say that has a lot of promise (we’ll see). The end game is a mystery to me right now, but I’m in no hurry to get there.

If you’re a fan of MMO’s more than Star Wars and are thinking of making the jump from WoW, you’ll see a lot of familiarities. It’s too early to tell if this game will have enough to make the jump worthwhile, but I’d recommend giving it a try.

If you’re a fan of Star Wars though, looking for a new SW game, run – don’t walk – and pick up a copy.

As for me, I’m anxious to see what the rest of galaxy has to offer. I just hope they don’t announce a prequel expansion a few years from now.

Those movies were enough…

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