–By Brendan & John
When Bioware announced it was making Star Wars: The Old Republic, it promised to change the way we played MMOs by giving a fully voice acted story arch for every quest, as well as numerous other tweaks to the MMO formula that would be modified to act more like a Bioware RPG. Did they deliver on the promise? John and Brendan take a look.
First, an overview of the game.
SWTOR is an MMO. There’s no way around it. It might have new ideas and do things differently, but at the end of the day it’s an MMO. But don’t take that as a bad thing; the game offers so many choices to players, it’s a refreshing change of pace when it comes to MMOs.
For example, you may choose to roll as a Sith Warrior, which probably conjures up images of Darth Maul, or an evil force user bent on galactic domination. In reality, SWTOR’s story and light/dark side system would allow you to play a light side Sith. You could even play as an evil Jedi, a do-gooder Smuggler, ruthless Bounty Hunter or vice versa. By giving us options, no matter how few they are, it opens up new avenues of playing an MMO, and really makes your character feel unique and gives weight to you killing 10 enemy guards, then collecting 5 rock samples, etc.
The PvE is pretty run of the mill. The basic combat and quests feel like they could be in any MMO, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find some slight variations. For example, the game features no auto-attack, and even though I have two ability bars full, I use all of them at some point every time I log in. The quest objectives range from good to bland. You never do anything too awesome, but things get close. There are often bonus objectives or area-specific quests you get automatically, extending your gameplay and never leaving you feel as if you have nothing to do. Quests are also logically laid out and paced, so you don’t have to run all over to complete your current batch of assignments. It’s pretty standard, but still a nice touch.
While the combat may not be anything special, it’s the story points before and after each quest that shine. Quests are usually initiated by having a conversation with a character. These are cinematic, fully voice acted conversations, where you have a dialogue wheel to pick your responses — identical to most Bioware or EA RPGs of the past few years, especially Mass Effect. These conversations not only give each quest context and importance, they also move the story along, and even offer light/dark choices that affect your character’s alignment. As your alignment changes, you unlock different sets of equipment, but also lock yourself out from others. It’s not beneficial to play the “neutral” character, so pick a side and stick to it, you’ll have a better experience.
There is a second consequence to your actions, which comes in the form of companion affection. Each class has its own specific companions, and your choices and conversations can change how they feel about you. Companions are mostly used as AI party members and your means for crafting. Crafting is done entirely by your companions, which frees you up to continue questing. A higher affection rating will increase the odds of your companions completing a crew mission (missions you send your companions on to collect crafting materials) and to create better items through crafting. You can raise their affection by giving them gifts, selecting dialogue options they agree with, selecting light/dark choices they agree with, and by completing companion-specific story missions that occur now and again.
Throughout the story, you will find references to the Knights of the Old Republic series, whether it be a quick mention in a conversation, a quest line, or even an entire planet. For fans of the KOTOR games, it feels as if you’re really getting a sequel. It’s great to see how the galaxy has changed in the many years since Darth Revan, and the ramifications of what happened in those previous games.
Of course, being an MMO the game features plenty of PvP. The game features three separate modes, Civil War, Voidstar, and Hutball.
Civil War is rather self explanatory. Like the battlegrounds in World of Warcraft, each side (Empire vs. Republic) vies for control of spots throughout the map, engaging in combat with other players, and trying to maintain control while you whittle down the other side’s points.
Voidstar matches are objective based, where one side acts as defenders and the other as attackers. The attacking team must successfully complete all the objectives within the time limit to win the round. The defenders, naturally, must defend until the time is up to win. After that round, you switch, and the other team gets a shot at attacking. At the end of both rounds, whichever team made it the furthest while attacking wins.
Finally, there’s Hutball. With Hutball, you run a ball through enemy territory to score a point. You can pass the ball to other players in order to move it down the field faster. While you hold the ball, you are free to attack and use abilities, but a glowing ring around you alerts other players you have the ball. Other players can intercept the ball, and if you are killed while holding the ball, it can be picked up by your attackers. Essentially, it’s a big game of MMO football.
Don’t want to do PvP, and want a break from some crafting or questing? Well, luckily, SWTOR offers yet another option to gain experience, gear, and credits. Space combat is by far the game’s most unique aspect aside from story. Space combat plays like an on-rails space shooter, similar to games like Star Fox, or even a 3D Galaga of sorts. You have targets and objectives to take out like in PvE missions. With space combat however, those story moments at the beginning and end of a quest are traded in for highly scripted moments within the levels themselves. Dog fighting space craft, exploding capital ships and giant meteors make each level exciting and fun. You’re rewarded with credits, experience, and ship upgrades for completing the missions — which can actually be quite difficult at times. Each quest is daily, meaning you can do them over each day over and over, offering a fun distraction from the other aspects of the game.
Thoughts from the noob.
Well, I’m not really a noob, as the title implies. I’ve said before, I played Guild Wars, some WoW, and even Final Fantasy XI for a bit, but I never really got into them except for Guild Wars, which is much more like Diablo than an MMO. But because I only spent a little time with each, I never truly explored all of the mechanics and gameplay MMO’s have to offer. So, in that sense, I am quite the noob. Or, I was.
SWTOR is the first MMO I’ve ever really enjoyed playing. The previous games in the genre I’ve tried always left me feeling like I was climbing an ever-growing ladder, and to what? I would eventually lose sight of any goal, become bored with the repetition, and finally quit due to lack of interest. The funny thing about SWTOR is that it has a lot of those same elements, but this time I find myself enjoying them and wanting to play more.
This is all thanks to the game’s extremely well written — and well integrated — story mechanics, which are what have me hooked on this universe. Plus, I can send my companion to craft while I go kill things instead of wasting time making stuff, which was always something that bugged me about other MMO’s. I haven’t tried much PvP (you’ll hear more about that from John) or much space combat, and I haven’t hit any end-game content or done much grouping yet, but that’s simply because I’m having so much fun doing soloing my story quests. As someone who would normally be entirely scared off by a game like this, or just not interested in the first place, my time with the game has been surprisingly enjoyable, and with not much else to play right now, I’m happy to be putting so much time into the game. It might be a slightly better RPG than MMO, and whose knows just how long I’ll be playing it, but for now until the foreseeable future, I’ll be continuing my quest to controlling the galaxy as my Sith Marauder. I would definitely recommend SWTOR!
Thoughts from the MMO veteran
So, I’ve played several MMO’s in my time. World of Warcraft, Rift, Guild Wars, Warhammer Online, Mortal Online, Darkfall, Lord of the Rings Online, EVE Online, Shadowbane, Tabula Rasa, Everquest I and II…. I’ve played a lot of them. SWTOR is probably one of the best MMO’s I’ve ever played because it dose enough differently to be fun and compelling, and doesn’t make things feel like a chore like many MMO’s have.
Unlike other MMO’s, the journey to the level cap actually matters. My advice to the starting player would be: take your time, enjoy it. There’s an enormous story here to experience and it’s worth it. SWTOR is the best MMO on the market today, but it’s the content of the story before level 50, and not it’s end-game content, that make it so. That being said, the game does go through some rough patches.
As things go on, things kind of slow down. The story is good, but the Empire’s story is noticeable more exciting than the Republic’s. On top of that, like in most MMO’s there a slow patches, or areas that are not as well down as others. That’s to be expected, but since I’m right in the middle of one as my Republic Trooper, it’s a bit of a bummer. In that sense, I’ve definitely enjoyed the Empire better. The republic characters just haven’t been as interesting as they initially seemed.
PvP is fun, but it’s unbalanced at this point due to a higer number of Empire than Republic. The Empire is obviously the more popular of the two factions, as I’m sure you’ve gathered from my thoughts. But still, the mechanics of the PvP are good and I enjoy jumping in to matches when I can.
I’ve had a lot of fun playing SWTOR. The further I’ve played, especially on the republic side, it begins to feel like every other MMO. It’s not revolutionary, but it’s a step in the right direction. It’s definitely the best MMO out right now, and really with the way things are going for the game, it’s only going to get better. I mean it’s no Everquest, but I would certainly recommend the game to anyone, you’re not gonna find a better MMO anywhere else right now.