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Preview: Star Wars: The Old Republic

Note: This preview is from the latest beta build.

Intro

I salute BioWare and EA for making for another Star Wars MMO. After everything Galaxies went through this project has risk written all over it. Not to say that Galaxies wasn’t a good game. It was, for a time. Just as SOE loves to do, SW:G was hit with numerous controversial updates that crippled the game’s sense of advancement and mystery. One of Galaxies’ best features was creating a character and hoping to the high heavens that you’d be able to someday become a Jedi. That was one of the things they did right. Not everyone born in the Star Wars universe knew they were strong in the force (or as the prequels called it, filled with Midichlorians). That sense of unknowing and hope made the beginning of SW:G a great feeling. You didn’t start with a lightsaber in your hand, you had to try your damnedest to earn it.

BioWare’s tackle on the online Lucasland heralds the return of great ol’ fun in a Star Wars MMO. You may be able to start as a Sith or Jedi, but they didn’t try and be a better Galaxies. EA didn’t want to try and fix SOE’s problems, they wanted a winner. BioWare delivers with a sense of ownership never felt before in an MMO. What do I mean? You don’t feel like “Warrior #50,000″ or “DPS #700,000″. The Old Republic mixes together a World of Warcraft with lightsabers gameplay and the immersion of BioWare’s amazing Mass Effect franchise. If you’ve played World of Warcraft or the countless similar but “oh-so-different” MMO’s you’ll feel very at-home here in the Old Republic. Don’t fret, though! This is great thing! The MMO market beckons for something new but that doesn’t technically mean you need to reinvent the wheel to appease fans. Rift’s main selling point was “you’re not in Azeroth anymore”. Well, you weren’t but you sure felt like you were. Rift took the everything Blizzard has learned and improved upon and used that as their formula. They improved on the WoW experience. Doesn’t matter if you played Rift or not, or even if you didn’t like it, that’s exactly what it did. Then you have games like DC Universe and TERA that tried to innovate with the real-time combat system. BioWare saw all of this and in the end I feel they took the right path.

Being a “WoW with lightsabers” is going to allow MMO veterans or newcomers be able to jump right in and start playing with minimal help needed. Every class is basically straight forward in how they play and the user interface is simple and good enough. You’ll easily get the experience of what TOR is quickly and you’ll immediately feel how it is vastly different then what else is out there.

I mentioned earlier that BioWare mixed in the adventures of Commander Shepard from Mass Effect. One of the greatest parts of that franchise is choosing what kind of Shepard you were going to be. Do I want to be a goody-two-shoes? Or should I be a complete ass to this NPC? Do I forgive or punish? Am I in it for myself or for the collective few? This is what The Old Republic brings into the MMO market. Your character is your character. You choose your path and you choose words. The sense of immersion and satisfaction in TOR is enthralling and fun. BioWare was able to come up with a ton of stories, a central problem, atmosphere, and gameplay that makes me feel like in the Star Wars universe. You will hear similar music and sound effects that have graced prior Star Wars games and movies. You will see some characters, races, or hear names that you may have seen before. All this goes into the pot to create one of the most in-depth experiences in the MMO scene, ever.

What I’ve Done

I don’t want to continue this article until I let everyone know exactly what I’ve done in the beta. Most importantly, my highest level character is level 12. Why did I stop there? Trying not to spoil the fantastic experience and story until I know I am keeping my character and it won’t be wiped for the next weekend or head start. However you do a lot in those first twelve levels. Your character will go through his or her origin planet, pair up with their first companion, experience group content, face many solo trials, pick an advanced class, and if you choose to, go through the first Flashpoint dungeon all before heading into the capital city for your faction.

For my time playing, I made around 8 characters but settled on the Sith Warrior for this weekend. When I reached the Imperial Fleet, I picked the Juggernaut advanced class and got my first tanking  ability. I tanked The Black Talon flashpoint and reached Dromound Kaas and the impressive Kaas City.

 

Story and Questing

I’ve touched on how Mass Effect’s storytelling and immersion are very present in TOR. Every class has their own story and quests. Most quests overlap other classes but yours may have different objectives within the area. This helps make leveling an alt less boring and something new to experience. The origin planets allow for two classes to go through their first ten levels. Out of all the origin planets, two of them were amazing to experience for a Star Wars fan. The Sith Warrior and Inquisitor start off on the ancient Sith homeworld of Korriban. Exploring the tombs of Marka Ragnos and Naga Sadow were amazing to do. On the Republic side, the Jedi Knight and Consular begin on Tython, the Jedi’s ancient home. The other origin planets are impressive, don’t get me wrong, but as a huge fan of Star Wars it is hard to top those two planets as an entry point for the game.

BioWare did a great job on the quest layout for the game. The point-and-retrieve system is very much alive but the hassle of picking up multiple quests is gone. Once you complete the four or five available quests, which are all in the same area, you’ll move onto the next area and find another group of quests. It may make the game feel sectionalized but it is hardly noticable as the quests are generally interesting to do. With the inclusion of conversations and the  deep connection to your character, you feel like what you’re told to do is vital to your journey.

The stories for each class are pretty top notch from what I have been through. My next higher character is a level 9 Sith Inquisitor. The difference between the Warrior and Inquisitor is action and investigation. You’re both on Korriban and exploring the same tombs but for different reasons. The Warrior is proving himself worthy by combat and the Sith Code. The Inquisitor is trying to produce rare and elusive artifacts to prove their worth. The end result sounds the same but the journey there is different. While these two stories have primarily taken my attention, the five levels I spend on the Bounty Hunter were exceptional and oddly emotional. From what I see in the chat panel, many are calling the Bounty Hunter’s story the best in the game. I can’t obviously comment on that but I am looking forward to playing the Bounty Hunter as my alt. I’ve never had an MMO make me want to roll more than one character and see it through completion. The experience here begs multiple playthroughs (hitting level 50).

 

Controls and Graphics

“Wow with lightsabers” wasn’t a collective remark on the entire gameplay experience but the controls and how the game plays overall feels very similar. If you’ve played World of Warcraft or Rift, you’ve “played” The Old Republic. The controls the nearly identical with some of the menus placed on different keys. The controls are responsive and do their job and you won’t be surprised here. This is not a bad thing. Players that tried to migrate to DCUO were met with a completely different setup and experience; not here.

The graphics are pretty iffy. The player models looks almost out of place up close. There is a sort of cartoony look to them while the terrain and structures do not. There are a lot of weird graphical problems with pop-in and screen tearing on any setting. My desktop can run the beta with every setting as high as it can go (beta goes up to High setting) and I’ve experienced these problems and NPC’s popping in and out of view. Those can be fixed, I’m sure, but the overall presentation of the world seems like a PlayStation 2 game. There are no wonderous textures and while you may revel in how nice Kaas City looks you won’t see anything breathtaking (at least in the first twelve levels). I’ve seen some screenshots of the other planets and they do look nice but I’ll have to see them in-game. As of right now, I’m very underwhelmed by the graphics.

 

Group content and Flashpoints

During my experience with the Sith Warrior and Inquisitor there are three group quests before hitting level 10. While their descriptions call for either 2 or 2+ players, you can bring more and the missions will increase the difficulty of the mobs. Finding players to help you is very easy as these quests are strung into the area you are currently in. Wasn’t hard for me to type in /say or /1 to find at least one person to venture in with me. Even if you didn’t pick up the group quest, content like this is marked by a green gate and hovering your mouse over it will tell you it is a group instance. Get the quest shared and head in!

The flashpoint dungeon I did was called The Black Talon. It was an option to do in order to reach Dromound Kaas. I could either find players to do the Flashpoint or take a regular flight to the planet by myself… with no excitement or loot. Screw that! Once again, the quest for the flashpoint was right at the exit point towards Dromound Kaas, which is the first objective after every Sith class finishes their origin planet. It is very easy to find people and if the other Flashpoints are set in areas like this, group content and dungeon runs will be much easier than WoW’s to get involved in.

 

Companions and Professions

Every class gets their first companion at a different level. My Sith Warrior got mine close to the end of Korriban’s quests while the Jedi Knight gets it relatively quick. Either way, the companions add an extra layer of depth to this already deep game. You have a chance to increase your relations with your companions as partners, friends, or lovers. BioWare has stated that same-sex romance will be introduced to the game after release which will add to the options as I like playing as the female Twi’lek more than anything.

Your companions will chat with you as you quest and have in-depth conversations in cantinas. Your choices in conversations with them and NPCs affect your relations with them. You can give them gifts (Dragon Age) and share gear and weapons with them. Their appearance will change and you can even further that with Companion items that may change their skin color or face. Don’t worry if you don’t like your first companion (I’m sorry Inquisitors) as you’ll find more during your journey.

Companions are vital to how crafting and professions work. Gone is the search, gather, and create method that is featured in other MMOs. The Old Republic brings in something from Torchlight where you can send your companion away to sell your crappy items or even search for goods. You pick three professions, two gathering and one crafting. You then send your companion off to gather items or craft. Each “mission” or craft takes time so your companion will be gone from anywhere between 1 and 6 minutes (6 is the longest I have seen). When they return, you’re respective skill will rise and the items will be put into your pack. Some may see this as a cop out for spreading resources around the world but it works here. Star Wars isn’t about sitting around mining or weaving equipment and BioWare doesn’t take you away from that and instead sends off your lackey to do the dirty work. I actually found this pretty fun and sat in the Imperial Fleet for about an hour sending my companion off and crafting a set of heavy armor for my newly minted Sith Juggernaut.

This should give you something to do or look forward to while just aimlessly sitting in town once you hit the highest level and you’re waiting for a group or raid.

 

Overall

Even though I only hit level 12, I did a lot of what Star Wars has to offer. What I didn’t hit, I am excited to see. The mounts, the different Flashpoints, PvP, and raids has me itching for head start to get here. BioWare has created a marvelous world out of a highly acclaimed and popular RPG series. Coupling this with novels and comics to help bring the story into light before the release of the game, EA has rightfully sunk a large amount of money into this. Thankfully with keeping Origin out as a requirement, I am very excited for The Old Republic. I was set on the Sith Inquisitor before playing the beta but after my 8 characters I am very undecided as every class has something to offer and are expertly crafted.

It is great to feel like a part of the world instead of a number. The Mass Effect style of immersion is a welcome addition into the MMO scene and helps keep me interested. The genius way of laying out solo and group content together brings more players together and encourages them to party up. The way conversations work in the group brings a dynamic experience to multiple playthroughs of the Flashpoints, as well.

BioWare and EA struck gold with The Old Republic. There is still some work to do on performance and graphics but the gameplay and content are there. Now it is up to them to continue providing the kind of support WoW players and general gamers expect. With two raids and a bunch of Flashpoints and multiple stories to experience, players will find a great amount of content to explore and get lost in with The Old Republic.

If you are a gamer who doesn’t care about story and wants things quick, stay away as this game is not geared towards you. This is a very in-depth game with a lot to offer. I see a lot of people complaining that the conversations got boring or repetitive and the game isn’t as quick as they’d wish. Either stay away or get used to it because the choices you pick effect your character in multiple ways.

 

Pros and Cons

Pros:
-
Story driven
- Companions
- Profession system
- Questing

Cons:
- Graphics
- UI is very basic




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