A longer time ago, in the same galaxy far, far away…
Recently, I joined the ranks of Force-users and bounty hunters on the new BioWare MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic, a game set in the early eras of Lucas’ Star Wars Galaxy, centuries before the events of Episodes IV-VI. (What Episodes I-III?) It builds upon some of the lore of that universe, and manages to provide a good setting to wander around in as a Jedi, Sith, Bounty Hunter, or other denizen of the Republic or Sith Empire. Like many MMOs, there are elements of PvE (Player v. Environment – i.e. beat up on AI monsters/characters), and PvP (Player v. Player – i.e. beat up on some other stranger out there playing the game), and each has their ups and downs. You perform quests, gain experience, make and collect gear, and interact with AI and human entities within the game environment, just like every other MMO out there.
It plays a lot like Star Trek Online, from what I’ve seen – at least the STO that was before some of the recent changes to make it a little more like a FPS – for ground combat, with a combination of ranged combat – usually blaster or missile based – and melee combat – typically with vibroblades or lightsabers. It’s fairly fast paced, with some combo elements to it, and is decently solid for an MMO.
Space combat is faster paced than STO‘s ship combat, with a simply designed mouse-based combat system. It plays much like Starfox did on the old SNES, where you fly a predetermined path on a mission, trying to shoot things down with blasters and missiles, and avoiding obstacles in your path. Capital ships are basically moving gun platforms, and you can blast the guns right off of them, in order to keep from getting shot up too badly. The missions are pre-timed (you can even see in your quest log how much time is left in the mission), and involve the destruction of key targets, or protection of an escorted ship. It’s pretty fun, and for those who know WoW, it’s a lot like a fancier, more exciting Outlands Bombing Run quest (such as the one in Hellfire Peninsula on the griffon/chimera).
Where it differs from previous MMOs is in the quest system, as most quests have a voiced dialogue portion, with dialogue choices which can influence the game in minor ways. Based on those choices, your companions (I’ll talk a little more about those in just a moment), gain or lose affection for you, and subsequent quest parts can be gained or lost (i.e. a dead quest-giver that you just killed can’t really give you more to do, now, can he?). Further, there’s a Dark/Light Side point system, based on those same choices, which can give you access to special gear as you progress through the game. This adds a little bit of flavor to the quests as you level your character, and keeps up the flavor of the Star Wars Universe.
Another way that SWtOR differs from previous games is that every class is a ‘pet’ class, so to speak. You’re given a number of ‘companions’ to adventure with – only one of which can be summoned at a time – that you use to fill weaknesses for your class – such as a Sith Inquisitor (mage/priest cloth class equivalent) getting a Tank companion early on to mitigate the class’ inability to soak damage well. Using these companions effectively, in conjunction with your class abilities is essential for surviving solo adventuring in SWtOR.
Last, the crafting/gathering skills are a bit different from other games. All of the skills are considered ‘Crew Skills’ which your companions perform away from the action. You get three skills to use (only one of which can be an actual crafting skill), which fall into three categories – Crafting (building stuff), Gathering (getting raw materials), and Mission (going out for special items which can enhance crafted items) skills. Each time you wish to use a skill (other than gathering an item that’s on the ground in front of you), you must send away a companion for a time to perform the skill or mission which nets you items. Fortunately, you can only have one companion out at a time, and by the higher levels of the game, you might have up to five companions, so four can be out on missions/crafting without affecting your adventuring. Further, you can breakdown crafted and items related to your crafting, such as looted armor for an Armortech, in order to recoup materials and to have a chance to learn how to make a superior version of the item in question.
The basic gameplay for this game is good, and the PvP is decent (though laggy on my older PC), with different types of ‘battlegrounds’ similar to maps and game types from WoW. I’ve seen a CTF (Warsong Gulch) variant called Huttball – which plays like a gladiatorial football match, a Domination-style map (similar to Arathi Basin), and a competition Assault map (similar to Strand of the Ancients). It’s a decent spread of PvP types, though I’m not sure if there’s any way to specify which game you want to play, as opposed to getting a random game. It’s a bit hardware intense, however, as this game requires a decent machine to run smoothly – my PvP, so far, feels like I’m watching a slide show, due to poor frame rate, at times.
Overall, I’m enjoying the game – the classes and role mixes are decent from what I’ve seen – not many single role classes (I’ve only seen the Sith Marauder, at this point, as a pure-DPS class, and I believe that the Operative Sniper is the only other for the Sith side. The Republic appears to have similar classes, just with different names.) The instances – called Flashpoints – are interesting, longer than the newer instances in WoW, with multiple stages and objectives to fulfill as you go through the instance. And I have no clue about raiding yet, since I’m nowhere near 50, but it seems to be creating some excitement with those in my guild that are at that stage of the game.
Now, for a few of the shortcomings… Fortunately, most of them are fluffy, rather than game-breaking…
1) Legacy names – At first, it looks as though your ‘legacy name’, which you receive about halfway through the leveling process (somewhere around 25-30, I’ve been told) just seems like your character’s last name. Simple, right? What I’ve heard is less obvious the first time through, is that your legacy name is the last name of every character that you make on that server, whether it’s Republic or Sith. It can be turned off, or used much like a guild title withbeneath your character’s name. I’m not sure why they chose to do it this way, and it’s caught many players off guard in the beginning, and once entered it does not appear to be changeable. I don’t think that this was a good way to handle the last name idea, though if it was separate from the last name of your character (i.e. you could have both a last name and a legacy name), it might be better received. I haven’t chosen mine yet, and I’m not entirely sure how what I would choose, though part of me thinks that if I’d known this was how it worked, I’d have chosen “Gundam” and named all my characters after various Gundam models that existed in that universe.
2) Choose your destiny now! (Lv 10.) – I like trying stuff out, and I like being able to respec, based on the roles you want to play at that time. My Death Knight, Arhys, for example, could Tank or DPS, and could before Dual Specs existed in WoW. It just cost a bit of money to do so. While you can respec in SWtOR, you cannot change your class specialization, which is problematic, in my opinion. It’s especially problematic for the Sith Warrior and Imperial Agent classes, as one of the choices is pure-DPS, and utility tends to be a premium at the endgame (assuming the hybrids can be built to do sufficient DPS). For example, the Sith Warrior can either become a Sith Juggernaut (Tank/DPS hybrid), or a Sith Marauder (pure-DPS). Once the choice is made, at level 10, the choice cannot be undone – and at level 10, I don’t believe that most people have seen enough of the game to decide on what they really want to be – the first time around, I mean. Personally, I don’t want to get to level 40, and find out that Sith Marauders are being overlooked for Juggernauts because of their flexibility (one respec away from a role change), and have to reroll a new toon. It would be nice if there was a way to change your specialty and buy the new skills, and just go from there, rather than being locked into the specialty from a point in the game where one might not know what they want to do yet.
3) Just how many lightsabers were there in the Old Republic? – It’s amazing how many of the deadly glo-sticks exist in this game. Yes, they’re iconic, and part of the reason why fans want to play this game, but it’s rather silly that half the character classes are lightsaber wielders – and this is not even talking about the number of NPCs that use lightsabers. There are Sith Lords, Jedi Masters, Apprentices, Padawans, and all sorts of Force users everywhere in this game, both on the player and non-player side, so much so, that it comes off rather mundane. Given that lightsabers were supposedly not mass-produced – each being constructed by hand as a part of the Jedi/Sith training, the fact that you buy and sell them on the marketplace in this game is comical. Swap out a mod, change the color of the beam. You’re evil? Ok, then, you can’t use blue or green – enjoy your red one. It’s made something that seemed cool at the beginning rather ordinary, and I’m a little disappointed about that. But then again, Star Wars Galaxies tried that, and everyone complained that they couldn’t be a Jedi. Go figure.
4) You only get one ship – Why? Sure you can reequip your ship like you reequip the rest of your characters, but not having the option to purchase or even choose your ship (it’s based on what class you are), is disappointing. Further, at least from what I’ve seen (the Bounty Hunter ship, and the Imperial Agent ship), you don’t get anything that looks iconic like the ships in the movies. They use more varying models for the background ships, but the ones that you get to pilot aren’t anything like those in the movies. No Slave I style ship. No X-Wing (or even Z-95 Headhunter) style ships – one of the things I liked best about the original Star Wars movies. No TIE style stuff. It’s a bit of a bummer.
5) Your companion choices don’t make sense, sometimes, and the affection mechanic is odd – I’ve played two or three characters on the Sith Empire side (the Dark Side, mind you), and I have to say, my companion choices for at least two of the cases (Mako and Vette, for those who know the game) just don’t seem to make sense. One tends to expect the Sith characters to be more evil, more Dark Side oriented, but these companions seem to have problems with anything you do that’s remotely evil (unless it’s revenge based on their behalf, I guess.) I’ve decided, for example, that my Sith Marauder is going to be an evil son-of-a-bitch, but my first companion Vette, seems to have trouble with most Dark Side choices, which leads to losses of affection points. Now, interestingly enough, your character can flirt with other NPCs, even to the point of a fade-out style tryst (or so it’s hinted at), and your companion has very little trouble with that (no affection loss), but try to sound like a badass and oops, you have lost some affection. Not that it matters much, gifts will often produce more affection than you can get in the interactions – so, whoops, I pissed you off, Vette? No problem, here’s an Underworld Hit List to make you smile.
Given that you can actually end up married to one of your companions of the opposite sex (no equal rights here?) it’s really funny that being promiscuous has little affect on them. Ah, well, must be morality in the Old Republic – no wonder it fell.
6) Finally, the Friends command needs to be mentioned – Why, oh, why is this the first game I’ve ever played that only allows you to add someone to your friends list if they’re online? Why does it say “[So-an-So] does not exist,” when you’re adding someone to your Friends list when they’re not on? It’s really frustrating because to add all of one friend’s characters to your character list, they have to swap them around online so you can capture them all. Ridiculous.
Still, the game itself is pretty fun, and I’ve not seen what these classes look and feel like at the endgame (or with a higher end system, for that matter – my system limitations make playing this game rough at times). It looks good, and carries the Star Wars mystique to it admirably. I’m still playing and enjoying it, and don’t have any real desire to touch WoW again at this point, though who knows how I’ll feel when the new expansion for WoW is released. Who can say no to Pandarens?
May the Force be with you.
My 2 yen,
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