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Star Wars: The Old Republic Review

by on January 25, 2012

Star Wars: The Old Republic ReviewGame: Star Wars: The Old Republic

Developer: BioWare

Publisher: Electronic Arts/Lucasarts

Available on: Windows PC only

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…or, in more normal terms, on October 21st 2008, at an event that was “by invite only”, BioWare announced that they would be working on an MMO set in the same universe as their hugely popular Knights of the Old Republic games. The game was Star Wars: The Old Republic and it took another 3 years before we would finally get to create our character in the universe that a lot of us will have grown up adoring; the Star Wars universe.

The fan base for Star Wars is already massive, there is a lot of merchandise set within the universe, including a whole load of games as well as other types of media, so it’s not like we needed another Star Wars game. That being said, an MMO game is designed from the ground up to envelop the player within the universe that the game is set in so it’s not surprising that game developers would be targeting an MMO towards an already pre-established fan base. Is Star Wars: The Old Republic everything that we were hoping for?

A lot of people, especially the die-hard Star Wars fans will be more than aware that Star Wars: The Old Republic is the second Star Wars MMO to have existed. The first MMO (Star Wars Galaxies) has recently been totally shut down and SWTOR will now be the only MMO game set within the Star Wars universe. Some people might see this as a bad thing, but those same people will probably be totally turned around from the moment they start a new character in SWTOR (and if they’re Star Wars fans they will be getting SWTOR). If you’re in any way interested in Star Wars: The Old Republic, or even interested in Star Wars in general, then you’ve probably already got the game, started the game and maybe even hit the level cap – I wouldn’t be surprised, the game has been out almost a month now – but if you haven’t picked it up and were waiting to hear what it’s like then read on, you can even read while you’re downloading the game, you already know you want to.

Star Wars: The Old Republic - CyberGrim in Ord Mantell

STORY: The story in Star Wars: The Old Republic is going to be vastly different for each person playing the game, all eight of the classes that are available within the game all get their own story, which they can do at their own pace without having to worry about anything else getting in the way. Naturally these differing stories will change how you view certain aspects of the universe, and that’s how it’s supposed to be. These slightly differing points of view will change a player’s relationship to the story so much so that no two people’s experiences will be that same. That’s where BioWare really excel. In the Mass Effect series people marvelled at how different the same character can be for two separate gamers, Shepard is the same person no matter how you play him but the decision you make can change the people, and sometimes even the world around you. That’s exactly what BioWare have managed in SWTOR, only with eight different classes instead of a single one, and with a truly massive, non-linear story as their playground.

As this is a game set in the expanded universe of The Old Republic, there are numerous references to the Knights of the Old Republic games that were so universally loved. Events in this new entry to the canon occur 300 years after the last KOTOR game but players will still be able to walk through the same areas as before, with much better graphics and a more inviting environment of course. In terms of the story, it’s not hugely important that you’ve played those aging KOTOR games, but if you have you’ll be able to experience a richer world, with references dotted around in the most unlikeliest of places.

With the vast amount of story that’s available in SWTOR you’d be forgiven for assuming that once you’ve logged out of the game you have to do without any new information regarding The Old Republic’s universe. You’d be wrong. There are currently 3 novels available, the latest one ‘Revan’ is even written by the same person who wrote the story for the game, Drew Karpyshyn. These novels obviously aren’t required reading material for this new part of the Star Wars universe, but if you’re a fan of the game you should read them. They’re well written and add things to the overall story that just isn’t mentioned in the game. For example my character – a Smuggler – has had no introduction to Grand Master Satele Shan and I knew relatively little about her other than the fact that she’s in the introduction cinematics and that she gives me the quests for the flashpoints; other than that, nothing. Now I’m sure that the people that rolled as a Jedi Knight from the start get much more of an introduction to the character, butfor me, the first Star Wars: The Old Republic novel, Fatal Alliance, gave me the introduction that I so desperately wanted.

Star Wars: The Old Republic - CyberGrim and the T.A.R.D.I.S.

GRAPHICS: As many would expect from a developer whose name is as synonomous with quality as BioWare, the graphics in Star Wars: The Old Republic are excellent. If the only MMO you are used to playing is World of Warcraft then you’ll be pleasantly surprised by SWTOR. While the graphics are good for an MMO they’re not the best that can be seen on the PC, or even the console, but that’s only to make sure the game is accessible to as many people as possible. It’s better to have a massively multiplayer online game that’s actually populated with people than have the best looking game on the PC but only three people can get it to load. SWTOR uses the HeroEngine, an engine built specifically for MMO’s that has won numerous awards. It’s extremely scalable and while there were a few issues with the graphics when the game was released, most notably the fact that there wasn’t a way to make the in game graphics look the way they do in the in-engine cutscenes, the sheer amount of people that can run the game, given how good it looks, is commendable.

When a new World of Warcraft expansion is announced I look forward to seeing the cinematic almost as much as I do the actual game. Judging by the introduction cinematic for Star Wars: The Old Republic, I think things are going to be the same here too. I think a lot of people will think I’m over hyping things when they read this next statement but I truly think that the introduction cinematics for SWTOR have some have the best lightsaber duels I’ve ever seen; in any of the films. The way that the force users move through the air – almost as if they’re dancing – is amazing. This style of fighting comes across in the books, where the reader is essentially creating the fight scene in their own mind, but I’ve never seen it in motion before. It’s staggering. I’m sure most people aren’t anywhere close to being done with the main aspect of the game yet but, if you’re like me, you’re begging for expansions, just because that might be the only time we get to see more of these amazing cinematic experiences.

SOUND: It would be impossible to talk about the sound used in SWTOR without talking about the truly staggering amount of voice-over used within the production of the game. Every single quest has full dialogue, not to mention all of the different dialogue options that the player could choose while talking to the NPC in question. All of that happens for each of the classes too, four for the Empire and another four for the Republic, this accounted for over 200,000 lines of recorded dialogue which made Star Wars: The Old Republic the entertainment media with the most amount of recorded dialogue, TV, film or video game in history, as awarded by The Guinness Book of Records people.

Star Wars: The Old Republic - Atseearr Choosing Specialisation

The Star Wars films are famous for a lot of different reason but the soundtrack is one of the biggest reasons. Most people will be able to hum the Imperial March on command, and John Williams did a fantastic job at making every auditory pleasure instantly recognisable and memorable. SWTOR is no different, all of the music that’s used in the game is memorable and fits perfectly within the Star Wars universe. For hardcore Star Wars fans I’ll be surprised if (once they’ve picked their character and actually started the game) they don’t get tears in their eyes as the famous Star Wars introduction starts up, complete with music and yellow text disappearing into the distance. Your saga has truly begun at this point and the music plays no small part in letting each and every player know this.

Not only does the soundtrack help the player know that they’re a part of the massive Star Wars universe but the sound effects and ambience of the different areas do too. It would be surprising if a player spent any amount of time in Coruscant without knowing that they were in a massive city, populated with thousands of people, including some real players. You really get a sense that you’re a part of something huge when you’re in the main areas of the game and the sound effects help this no end. Sometimes you might forget that you’re a part of the Star Wars universe, you might get lost in the game and just keep playing, oblivious to the impact you’re having on the world at large, but there’s always something that snaps you back to the reality of the game. It might be a lightsaber being activated or a space craft whizzing past you with that distinctive noise usually attributed to TIE Fighters, whatever it is it will remind you that you’re now a part of the Star Wars story and your mind will be blown every single time.

GAMEPLAY: It’s difficult to know where to start when you’re talking about the gameplay elements of an MMO, there’s so many things involved and so many play styles that one person’s gameplay experience could include something that another person’s would never include. I could write 500 words on the intricacies of crafting, or the usefulness of solo questing, but if people never craft a single item in their whole SWTOR career, or only play the game in pairs then the information isn’t going to be much use. Just like in any other MMO, what Star Wars: The Old Republic boils down to is the fact that everything isn’t quite right with the world and you’re one of the only people who are equipped to stop it, and so after the obligatory “kill X sewer rats” and “bring me X amount of Y” quests, you’ll be sent on to something larger and altogether more epic. Perfect for the feel of the Star Wars universe.

Star Wars: The Old Republic - Space Battle

There are eight classes to choose from when you first decide to create a new character in the galaxy far, far away. On the Republic side of things there’s the Smuggler, the Trooper, the Jedi Knight and the Jedi Consular. On the Empire side there’s the Bounty Hunter, the Sith Warrior, the Imperial Agent and the Sith Inquisitor. With all of those choices, which all have two specialisations associated with them too, there’s something for everyone. Couple those choices with the choice of race on top of that and you’re almost guaranteed to get a diverse range of people with a massively different play style for each. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

As you would expect from a universe that’s been in existence for almost 40 years, the Star Wars universe is massive. With the films, the TV shows, the novels and the numerous comic books and video games only adding to the number of planets and other items available for use throughout the galaxy, SWTOR was always going to be nothing less than a massive undertaking. BioWare have done a good job with the galaxy and there are a good number of planets available for people to cut their teeth on, with more coming in the future as we get the obvious patches and expansions that will be coming to the game. Even the very first patch will be adding a new planet, hopefully that’s something we can expect from all the subsequent patches too. There are multiple travelling systems in place within the game too, there’s the taxi system, which enables players to quickly moves between areas within the same planet, the Quick Travel system which allows players to travel instantly to places that they’ve previously bound themselves to (which can only be used once every thirty minutes), and lastly there’s the inter-planetary travel system, which can be accessed once you’ve got your starship and allows the player to travel between planets at will.

One addition to the game that I was skeptical about when I first saw it was the Space Combat missions. These missions basically act as on-the-rail shooters where the player’s starship is guided along a path by the game and the player simply has to shoot down the enemy, destroying star destroyers among other objectives that will be given by the quest giver. A lot of people may have reacted the same way as me when they realised that an on-the-rails shooter was included within the game but after five minutes with the game mode (that doesn’t even really ever have to be played) most people will change their minds. It’s surprisingly fun to fly through space shooting down the Empire scum; that’s what Star Wars is all about through really isn’t it? As mentioned, these sections of the game don’t even have to be played but I can almost guarantee that you’ll find yourself coming back to them time and again, whether it’s for a few credits, the Space Combat Commendations (little medallions that you earn and, once you’ve got enough, can be traded in for items and equipment) or just the sheer fun of it. Mine was the latter.

Star Wars: The Old Republic - Battle

Another aspect of Star Wars: The Old Republic that a lot of people might find confusing at first is the companion system, especially if you’re new to the world of MMO games or have just never rolled a pet class such as a hunter or a warlock before. Basically the companion is a pet, but it’s so much more than a pet in other MMO titles, this one can do some pretty cool stuff. You’ll have a relationship with your companion (no, not like that!) and you’ll be able to influence how well that companion works for you depending on how well you treat them, whether or not you give them gifts and what dialogue options you choose throughout the game. At first having the companion might feel like you’re leaning on a crutch for your whole experience with the game, but after a while you might wonder how you played games without one. Especially seeing as you can send them off to do that things that you’ve never wanted to do anyway, such as selling low quality items, gathering materials from the world or just spending some time grinding craftables while you’re having a look around the shops. Having said that, the companion isn’t a waste of time, in the thick of battle they’ll be able to put out some serious damage, if that’s what you want them to do, or heal you if that’s more your style of play. However you want to play the game, the companion is there to support it and the game feels all the better for it.

Star Wars: The Old Republic is a BioWare game at heart and as such you’ll probably expect a dialogue tree as we’ve had with Mass Effect and Dragon Age for the last couple of years. Well you’ve got it, and there’s a lot more dialogue in SWTOR than those two games could ever hope to have! BioWare have really outdone themselves with the sheer amount of dialogue available in SWTOR, all of it feels genuine, important to the story that’s going on at the particular moment in time and well written. Not to mention that some of the things you say will have an effect on how your companion sees you (in the form of affection points) and the way that the rest of the galaxy sees you (thanks to light side and dark side points). Whether you choose to go towards the dark side or light side with your dialogue choices will also affect which items you can buy. Certain items can only be bought with an alignment with one side of the force or the other, further adding to the depths that the game can get to.

Yes, there’s a lot of gameplay in Star Wars: The Old Republic but as you can imagine, a review of a game such as this can only scratch the surface. There’s a lot here, but there’s so much more there to be discovered.

LONGEVITY: It’s almost pointless to add a longevity section to a review about an MMO, with Star Wars: The Old Republic, just as with just about every other MMO to grace the face of the Earth, the game lasts just about as long as each person wants to put into it. Even if all you want to do is get to the level cap and then stop playing (which almost nobody will just want to do), even that will take days and days of flat-out gameplay. A lot of people will argue that an MMO doesn’t even truly start until the player reaches the level cap and SWTOR is no different, there are plenty of things for players to do at the level cap, special level 50 flashpoints, PvP and plenty of other things hidden within the nooks and crannys of the galaxy far, far away.

Star Wars: The Old Republic - Showing Off

There are a lot more things to do on the horizon too, Star Wars: The Old Republic isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and BioWare are no doubt planning countless expansions to keep us invested in the universe that they’ve created. It’s hard to guess where we’re going to be going next but you can be sure that the moment it’s announced we’ll be commenting on it on GodisaGeek.com and on the Ding! Podcast.

VERDICT: The launch of Star Wars: The Old Republic has been a huge success, there are certainly things missing from the game that players of other MMO titles would like to see but this is BioWare’s first foray into the Massively Multiplayer arena so I’m sure that they’re already working on all those little things that we all want. The sheer amount of patching that has already occurred in this first month shows that the developers are going to be fully supporting the game for the foreseeable future; and that alone is an exciting prospect.

When you think about the sheer size of the universe in SWTOR it is easy to imagine how much work has gone in to creating the game and BioWare certainly need to be commended for what they’ve managed to produce. There are problems with the game, all you have to do is have a quick look at the official forums and you’ll be able to see the amount of people complaining about some of them, but I’m optimistic that if the problems are valid ones, BioWare will do their best to make SWTOR the game that we all want to play, as well as a game that they want us to pay for each month.

If you’re not already a part of the galaxy far, far away then you should be. Get the game, roll yourself a character (preferably not a Jedi, nobody wants to be a part of the “in” crowd), and come join the GodisaGeek guild on the Ula Vii server!


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