Welcome young padawan to a new MMORPG in the Star Wars universe. The Old Republic from Bioware and EA challenges you to seek out your destiny as one of a myriad of characters. On the level of a WoW or Rift, The Old Republic combines a variety of gameplay elements to create a new game that puts a new twist on these classics.
SWTOR immediately takes a step in a new direction with the storyline. While most of the well known MMO games focus on fantasy and the past, with the exception of Star Trek, this one looks to technology and the future. It brings the stories and emotions of the Star Wars canon to life and lets you live it, making the choices of good or evil.
Before going down the path of the Dark side or Jedi, first thing's first: installation. SWTOR ships on three DVDs, which is unusual for a computer game these days. The installation was easy, and I had one computer going through the disks and another downloading from the online downloader. Both worked admirably and the game was loaded within 30 minutes. After this, I had to go make an account. The website made this really easy, but learn from my mistakes; even though they give you a free month of play (which is really nice for evaluation), you have to put a payment option in before you can access the content. It took me 10 minutes to figure that one out, and that is ten minutes that I was not playing. By that time, the other game client was finished downloading. When I logged into the game, it not only asked me for my password; but also one of the five security questions that I entered. From having my accounts on other games be hacked a time or two, this was a nice feature to see, even though remembering what my answers were had me scratching my head.
After the game finished patching, which it seems to do every time I log in, I was finally able to pick my server. The game client did a good job describing the wait times and population of the various servers. I decided to give the game a true test and pick a high density server. Once I was in, the character setup was pretty straight forward, taking five steps to truly customize the look and feel of each individual character. To begin, I was able to choose between the Galactic Republic or the Sith Empire. Doing this actually defines what character classes were available to me. Each side has the same class dynamics, but the names are different to represent the role playing aspect that you are going to immerse yourself into.
Normally, I would have gone with a Sith; but I went Jedi since it was the honorable thing to do, plus my RPG friends went Jedi because they like being ìgood.î Once I chose from one of the four classes, then I got to insanely customize it by choosing the race, body style, characteristics, and name. I was surprised that both the Sith and The Galactic Republic could choose to play as the same races. This was something unique to most MMO's I have played and really added a unique dynamic to see human fighting against human.
I chose to represent the Jedi Consular. This is the healer, spell damage option for classes. As I began playing, I noticed one thing straight away: SWTOR focuses on a completely different aspect of the MMORPG genre. It revolves around the role playing aspects of this game, rather than placing emphasis on the group dynamic. I felt like it was a role-playing game that you experienced online with other people, almost exactly like Knights of the Old Republic that I could chat with other allies. There was a story line that I had to follow and could not break off of canon if I just wanted to randomly kill things and run dungeons to level up and explore, like I do in most of my MMO games.
For those of you who love role-playing games, you will love the long and in depth cut scenes that come standard here. On top of the long cutscenes, are the choices that I was randomly able to make while in conversation with NPCs. Once I chose from usually three different options, the dialogue changed, as well as the responses of the NPCs. Also, a number of these choices presented opportunities towards a level of goodness or evil, to become either a light Sith or a Dark Jedi, or vice versa.
Next up, the user interface. The first thing that I noticed is spell bar. It was in the middle of the screen like most MMORPG titles, but the unique thing about SWTOR was that my health and my target's health were right there on the bars. The menu was stuck at the top of the screen, along with the chat screen and the mission tracker. After playing for a while, this really helped keep down on the clutter that normally comes with these games. Since I am an avid MMO gamer, I have special keybinds and setups that I keep from game to game so the user interface is important to me. The preferences were a little confusing, especially trying edit the size and window mode. I actually created a new character to check it out again, and Bioware seems to have fixed the problems, and I was easily able to change my preferences. This update was a good sign, both for ease and to show that Bioware and EA are focused on fixing the bugs in the system; although that could just be my system since I had to take my friend through the convoluted steps to get a windowed mode.
Finally, after I finished playing with the preferences and the menu, I started playing. I was amazed with the quality of the character and world modeling. I noticed a few things that could use some smoothing, including the shadows, but this is minimal nitpicking with such a beautifully rendered game. I began collecting quests, which appear as a strange triangle on your main map or mini-map. My first quest was a slaughter quest, which happen to be my favorite, so I got to try out the combat system. With having so many of my spells be melee, I was expecting it to be blocky and hard to switch between multiple mobs. Frankly, I was impressed at the fluidity of the combat. It takes a bit to get used to, but after I did, it was easy to master the random clicking and range indicators.
After I finished killing mobs, I was also quite impressed with the loot system that SWTOR applied. First, when a defeated mob had something to loot, there was a beam of light denoting that there was an item to be collected. On top of this, was the fact that each beam had a color representation to the rarity of the item to be looted. Another nice feature was the fact that I could loot multiple kills at once. As long as they are close together, I could take all of the items from my defeated foes in one fail swoop. This is great, since it limits me having to check mobs with nothing on their corpses.
The quests led me through a massively in-depth story, which from my Star Wars knowledge, felt quite canon. There were optional quests throughout, but the main goals of the game seems to be to provide this role-playing experience. One of the most interesting, yet annoying, features of SWTOR is the connectivity of the multi-player aspects and the role-playing aspects. In order to ensure that the role-playing was completed, SWTOR creates personal ìareasî that are bound to individual characters, or classes. This means that, unless two characters are the same class, that they cannot play together. When looking at the prospects of playing this with a friend, this made SWTOR fall quite far from the mark. On top of this, was that half the classes were unconnected until level 10. My first flashpoint, which is the dungeon area in this game, I did with two Jedi Knights. I didn't even see the other two classes for 1/5 of the levels. While this was annoying, one of the features that made up for it was the inclusion of a crew. Each class has unique companions that help to counter that classes weakness. For example, the consul is a healer or ranged damage; so his first companion is a melee type tank. This NPC will fight for you and with you. Having an extra fighter, or ally, makes for some interesting experiences. They almost act like pets, where you can order them around; but they are highly specialized versions that compliment your character.
Speaking of companions, SWTOR presents another interesting feature. The companions are quite important. These crew members act as your gatherers and crafters, with each person being able to choose between one gathering, one crafting, and one mission skill for the crew members to have. After you choose these, the crew member is then able to go on missions, without you, to pick up supplies or create items. On top of this, is another aspect of companion: love. Once you get a companion, the decisions you make and the choices (1-3) that you decide to use in conversation will have an effect on the affection of your companion. Another interesting feature is that once you gain a crew member, you can change his weapons and armor to upgrade them. On the plus side, this means that you are always able to increase their skills, and on the down side, that means you have another character to gear up. Using these crew members to craft gear helps to free up your character to go exploring, or go through heroic areas and flashpoints with three other live players without worrying about professions.
Finally, once I followed the story line to get my companion, lightsaber, and complete my training, I was ready to move off the starting planet and head to the Republic Fleet for the next step on the journey to be a Jedi Consular. Once I reached the space station, I was given a few more quests and allowed to explore this area. Here was the first major hub in SWTOR. I was able to go on the auction house to sell my greens, choose my companions' professions, and most importantly, decide my character's path. Even though there are only four classes in the game, once the character gets to the space station, they can between one of two skill options to specialize in. Since I like being a healer, I chose to take the path of the Jedi Sage. This gave me the skill trees called Seer, Telekinetic, and Balance. I could then take my earned talent points and upgrade my three different skill options to better customize my characters play style. That being said, there were not many options for healers, and I could not heal at all up until this point.
While at the space station, I was also able to participate in the PVP battlegrounds. Sadly, this was the worst experience of this game. The PVP was disappointing on so many levels. First of all the teams were quite uneven. I know that it is war, but throwing level 10's in the same battleground as 35's is just plain not fun. I love PVP, but I was murdered over and over again by people that I could barely scratch. This difference in levels, power, and abilities destroyed the PVP experience for me. That being said, I must give credit where credit is due, and the PVP areas and games seemed to be really fun. The spaces for the wars were wide open, with plenty of cover and levels. On top of this, the areas had booby traps built in to them. This made you have to watch the area as well as your opponents. This combined with the new games, which was a capture the flag like adaption, created a unique feel in the PVP environment. If EA and Bioware can just cut down on the level discrepancies, PVP could be a strong part of the future of SWTOR.
After stopping off at this hub, I headed to Coruscant to continue on the canon story line of a Jedi Consular. From the space station, I was given two ways to get to the new zone. I could either take a direct shuttle, or get a couple people together and experience a flashpoint. Of course, I chose the flashpoint; which if you remember, is like a dungeon. The first thing that I noticed is that if the group is led by someone who completed the flashpoint, then you cannot experience the story line again. This feature means that, while you can still re-run a flashpoint for gear, you cannot re-experience the story without first finding a newbie to take the lead in the group. Frankly, this action and the fear of missing a story ark that SWTOR deems important was slightly annoying to me. That being said, the flashpoint was fun, and quite long. Normally, areas like this are quick, but in SWTOR, a number of the flashpoints can really take time and continue to promote
the role-playing feel of the game, while others are one-boss zones. There are the same long cut scenes and speech choices as the main story arc; yet playing with other people give a new dynamic to these flashpoints.
In order to combine the multi-player function of the game with the role-playing features, the developers created a social system. Here, you get social points when you complete flashpoints, cutscenes, or quests with other players. Using this feature gives you special rewards later on. This is the only real time in the game that I have found, minus the dreaded PVP, where progression is connected with other people. I couldn't get high enough to see what social points gets me, but I am hoping that it is good.
Once I reached Coruscant, the group disbanded and I was on my own once again to follow the path of the Jedi Consular. I met with my ìmasterî to receive my new quest chain, and set about exploring the new area while completing the quests that I was given. Unfortunately, While there were other classes present, it seemed just as lonely as on the starting planet.