After 8 years of development, and 130+ million dollars, Bioware and Electronic Arts released its Star Wars: The Old Republic on December 20th. Most major websites out there still haven’t released their official reviews yet as an MMO of this scale takes weeks to play (You can check out IGN for their excellent ongoing review of the game). I’ve had a the pleasure of playing SW:TOR since its Pre-release. Since then I’ve spend almost 70+ hours in the Star Wars universe and have decided to give a general review on the game. I’ll update this review once I reached the “end-game” content and write down my thoughts then. So without further ado, let’s get on with the review after this video.
This is the 3 cinematic trailers released yearly since the game was announced in 2008. As you can see, these cinematics are better than any scene in any of the previous Star Wars movies.
The thing that makes The Old Republic different and better than all the previous MMORPGs before is its story. Not just, the plot points, but each and every single quest, no matter how small or side quest, are fully voice acted. Even your own character has its own voice and you instantly feel more involved with the game. What Bioware did was use their award winning Mass Effect and Dragon Age franchises and blended it all into a shiny MMO. Each dialogue for a mission is an exchange between you and the NPC (Non-Player Character). Sometimes you can make critical story changing choices in the dialogue that leads to violence or leads to better quest rewards. One of the many stat meters for your character is the Dark and Light side meter. Some choices give you dark side or light side points which at a certain point changes your character look accordingly. It also affects the overall story and how your side quest goes. Going back to the voice acting, for the first time in my MMO experience, I actually got to know my quest givers well. I actually cringed when I played as a Dark Side character and decided to kill an innocent person in cold blood during a cutscene. You can hear the suffering and pain from the NPC that you torture or affect. Never in any MMO, will you find this. I played WoW (World of Warcraft) for a year and a half, reaching its pinnacle level cap, but I never felt involved with the story. With Star Wars, the Old Republic, you feel involved from the first 10 minutes.
At one point Bioware had 12 fulltime writers working on Star Wars: The Old Republic for 2 full years. They claimed SW:TOR had more content than any Bioware game combined and that’s saying something. Mass Effect 2 alone had a huge 40+ hour story alone. After 40+ hours, I’ve just reached Chapter One of the story. Apparently there are a total of 5 Chapters. On top of this enormous amount of content, each class has its own unique main story quests. There are 4 classes in each of the 2 factions, Republic and Empire. Each Class has 2 Advanced Classes to choose from level 10 onward. I’ve played every single class up to level 17 at minimum and each story is a stand out on its own.
Star Wars: The Old Republic is pretty decent in terms of graphics. The overall presentation is reminiscent of Team Fortress with its overall glossy look. There are 19 different planets with a fairly decent size map for each one. Tython, the beginning planet of Jedi classes looks particularly nice with its lush grass and stone variations. Another aspect of the presentation that really shined through were the animation effects of your character. If you are a lightsaber wielding character, the lightsaber accurately reacts with laser fire and also aligns magnificently with enemy lightsaber as well. Although I have to admit, sometimes a regular lightsaber attack doesn’t have enough of an “Omph!” and feels like you are swiping at air. The electric and force attacks also look very impressive.
The look and design of the armor and equipment you find and equip look great and have a nice Star Wars feel to them. That can’t be said about the Character creation part of the game. The Character creation definitely is disappointing on the number of faces, body type, etc. you get to choose from in creating a unique character. That being said, it is definitely a lot better than WoW and on par with DC Universe online. I’ve yet to meet someone who looks identical to my character and that’s a relief. Another nice touch is the limitation of your character name you can create. The character name creation does not allow numbers so it forces you to create an actual name rather than Something123, which in my opinion makes the whole presentation of the game a lot more civilized and clean.
The armor and weapons you equip are all nicely designed. They have a nice space 70s, retro look to them that is definitely fitting to the Star Wars universe. The loot you get also seems to be well planned out as you rarely look like a clown with clashing colours.
SW:TOR is definitely driven by the story. Nonetheless, Bioware tries to tie in multiplayer into their new MMO by having Flashpoints (dungeons that you and 3 other people participate in) and heroic areas (elite and strong enemies that you need a group with to complete a group quest). Bioware definitely did not expand gameplay-wise on the MMO genre and the overall action is as polished, but feels too much like WoW.
Each class has its own unique list of Companions (NPCs that play like pets) so you are never alone if you are solo questing. For example, if you are a light armored – mage type character like the Empire Inquisitor and Republic Jedi Consular, your first Companion you get plays like a tank (heavy armor and high threat) to improve your survivability. This part of the game is amazing and each companion contributes to your conversations with other NPCs. You can even customize your companion look as well as equip them with any gear that comes across your way that you yourself can’t wear. They also have their own special set of skills that you can select to be automated. Companions also can learn 3 types of crafting/gathering skills that they can embark upon anytime for you. This let’s the crafting system in SW:TOR feel fresh and less tedious for those who wouldn’t be bothered otherwise. You’ll definitely need to work on the crafting/gathering skills to get money for special gear and mounts when you hit the mid-20 levels.
The skills and abilities your character learns while levelling up make sense and feel balanced based on the 3 mmo-character types (healing, tanking, damage). You get to further specialize your class into one of two advance class types when you hit level 10. As for leveling time, 1-10 is relatively fast. After level 20, you definitely feel like you are leveling slower. This is a good thing as the cap of the game so far is level 50. Similar to WoW, each time you level up after selecting your advanced class, you get one point to use on your talent tree. Filling up and getting new perks from the talent tree is addicting!
The only thing that puts a blemish on this game is the space combat. All characters get their own unique ship, that you can also upgrade and modify different parts with. These changes do not change the ship aesthetically, but are important if you want to survive in space combat. Space combat are like quests and you can choose not to do them. They are basically a shooting mini-game where you don’t control the ship’s speed, but maneuver and shoot lasers. It feels really dated, and not at all fun. A lot of people complained, so there are rumors that Bioware will release a big update in the foreseeable future to revamp it up.
There is always something to do, as true to all MMOs, whether its trolling on the General Chat, joining a guild, fighting open world bosses, grouping up for heroics, crafting and auctioning, PVPing, ganking, and more. Before SW:TOR came out it was my honest opinion that WoW was the best MMO made, because of its polish and everything it did well. SW:TOR follows the same formula with its own twist which makes the gameplay feel new and fun. The game also encourages you to explore with hidden holocrons that give your players extra attribution points.
There are some minor grievances with SW:TOR. There are still bugs just like any other game, such as the Party chat not working or your guild members list not showing up, but these things will easily be fixed as all MMO games have constant patches. General chat can become annoying as many young players and trolls are abundant. However, the Ignore Player option can alleviate most annoyances. Some of the Talent tree skills feel under powered such as 1% increase of critical hits might not seem all that impressive. The planets are in general very well designed but some become a grind and many say Tatooine is too brown.
It is also a major drawback that you have to subscribe monthly to the game with a credit card or gametime card before you get to use the free month packaged with your game purchase. It is inconvenient for those who don’t want to use credit card and don’t want to commit to the game before trying it out. WoW never did that, so why did EA? It’s stupid and will make many potential gamers not pick up the game.
To fully appreciate and enjoy this game, you have to have some background of past MMOs, otherwise the learning curve is steep. You can always use the General chat to ask questions and most of the time, people respond helpfully. You would think that playing as a force user will be more fun than the other classes, but surprisingly each class is equally as fun whether or not if you have a lightsaber or blaster.
If you’re looking for the next best MMO game, SW:TOR is the answer. There are plenty of haters out there and fanboys of other MMOs, but you should definitely give SW:TOR a try to judge for yourself. You won’t be disappointed and let the Force be with you!