Players: 1+ Player Game | Release Date: 12/19/11 | Genre: MMO
Growing up as a boy in America I have always had a dream of living out my fantasy has a Star Wars character. With the dawn of dial-up Internet and games like EverQuest and Ultima Online, the idea of playing a character online with a bunch of others became a reality. Even as faster Internet became available through broadband services and new releases like World of WarCraft, nothing quite fulfilled me the way that a Star Wars experience would. 14 years almost exactly to the day, after the launch of Ultima Online, Star Wars the Old Republic has finally launched. Now that it is finally here, can it possibly live up to the hype? I have been dreaming about this game for literally half my life! Is this really the MMO to beat all other in MMOs? Like so many other things in our lives the answer is a mixed yes and no.
Starting out in The Old Republic, you are treated to an intense cinematic sequence that mirrors nothing like what you will experience in the game. Still, it looks nice and leads you into creating your character. You can choose between Republic and Imperial sides. Republic has the player choosing between a Jedi Knight, Jedi Consular, Smuggler, and Trooper. The Imperial has you choose between a Sith Warrior, Sith Inquisitor, Imperial Agent, and a Bounty Hunter. Once you choose your class, you are treated to a unique story for each of the four major classes. As you progress to level 10, you have the choice of an Advanced Class. This choice cannot be undone.
As you level up your character class, you are treated to the best part of Star Wars the Old Republic: the story. The story is treated like what you would find in a single player game. Every character has spoken dialogue and instead of reading about your next quest or mission, you are treated to fully animated cinematic scenes and dialogue choices like what you would find in the Mass Effect/Dragon Age series.
Like the Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic games, players will acquire companion characters. You can bring one with you and have your remaining crew gathering or creating items in crafting missions. Having a NPC travel around with you for the majority of the game makes sure you feel powerful enough to tackle the large majority of missions. Even the missions that required more than two players are sometimes even possible by just you and your companion. This also keeps you from grouping with other players and takes a lot of the “Massively Multiplayer” out of this “Online Game.”
If you are worried about breezing through all the content in The Old Republic, don’t worry. Unless you spend every waking hour at the computer, you are looking, at minimum, around 90 hours of gameplay time to get through the bare minimum of side quests and main class quest. Expect this number to go well over 100 hours if you tackle every side mission on all words you visit. Though other classes repeat some of the content, there is well over 800 hours of content if you play through the 4 main classes for both Republic and Imperial. Double that if you want to go back and play both Advanced Classes. Now that is a lot of Star Wars!
Sadly, the end game content is just not very exciting. Despite a few minor patches and a new Group Flashpoint since launch, it is going to take Bioware years to get to the place where Blizzard is. Many players I have grouped with have quit since launch because they rushed, as quickly as possible, to the end of the game. Once there, they were burnt out, bored, and not wanting to start a new character.
All is not rosy in the world of Star Wars the Old Republic. Bioware made a decision to choose an engine known as the Hero Engine to build this game on. The problem is, the engine is not optimized enough to use with a multitude of players on the screen. Going to one of the major hubs, the Fleet, Frames Per Second (FPS) can drop into the single digits. To put this in perspective, 60 FPS is optimal but a lot of console games run no higher than 30. When you drop below 30, things get very choppy.
Worse yet, all of the PVP I participated in over the past few months was an exercise in patience. Choppy animations, actions not taking place, and deaths I never should have had all result from a poorly optimized game engine that isn’t ready for play with more than 6 or 8 player characters on the screen at once.
Fortunately there are Flashpoints, or “instances” where you can participate in a story-driven quest that lasts anywhere from 30 minutes or more. These have a maximum of four playable characters, currently, and are much easier for the Hero Engine to accommodate. Bioware is remaining extremely silent about this issue and for good reason. Their development path led them here and there is nothing they can do short of a completely engine rewrite or a miracle. Sadly, neither will happen anytime soon—if ever.
Another gripe about Star Wars the Old Republic is how linear the gameplay is. Just like the Knights of the Old Republic, your path is set. Players travel from Point A to B, just like in other MMO’s, and the majority of settings feel very closed in. There are a few open areas but Bioware has made sure you can’t get off the path to explore any other areas. You are set on a linear path. For me, this is a minor issue but I wanted to make sure I address it.
Gameplay doesn’t bring anything new to the genre except for replacing your standard attacks and magic spells with Star Wars inspired actions with their own set of cool-downs and other restrictions.
One area where Bioware is breaking up the monotony of gameplay is with space battles. These are on-rail shooter missions similar to the gameplay in Star Fox. Once you gain access to your ship, around Level 20, you can begin upgrading your ship, playing daily missions, and getting EXP and monetary rewards. The missions are a bit repetitive and Bioware is promising to expand upon this portion of the game at a later date. Perhaps even cooperative or PVP space battles may appear in the future? Until then, it is a welcome diversion that breaks up the standard MMO gameplay.
So the big question remains, is Star Wars the Old Republic worth picking up? At a MSRP of $59.99, with one month of service, and the standard month to month rate of $15.99, the game can get rather expensive. But if you want to commit to a little over a hundred bucks, you can give yourself hundreds of hours of single player quality gameplay with social elements built in. If you are wanting to play PVP, skip this game. The game engine is not up to par for fun PVP. But for cooperative and single player gaming, this is a MMO that will make any Star Wars fan happy. May the force be with you.
Star Wars the Old Republic is rated Teen for Blood and Gore, Mild Language, Sexual Themes, and Violence but is generally safe for all ages.