The first thing I should mention is that I am not a Star Wars fan. I’ve seen the movies of course – over 2 decades ago when I was a kid. I never had any of the action figures, I’ve never played a Star Wars game, and unless I hit Google I couldn’t tell you which movie features the Ewoks or which one has Luke losing his hand. You can call me an ignorant savage if you like (my fiance does), but I prefer old classic movies like The Lion in Winter or The Maltese Falcon, and as a kid I preferred Schmendrick to Luke. When it comes to MMOs, I don’t like story-driven games, I want to just go out into the wilderness and kill and kill and kill my way up the leveling ladder. Companions? If I want company, I’ll group or play a single player game like Dragon Age. Space combat? I’d rather go crawling through a deep mazelike dungeon. Jedis? Lasers are cool, but I’d prefer a nice dagger to stick into my enemy’s back after I’ve robbed him blind (I just love MMOs with pickpocketing, I get to loot my enemies TWICE!).
I thought the game was being overhyped simply because it has lightsabers, Jedis, spaceships, and Sith. So when I had the opportunity to sit down and play Star Wars: The Old Republic this weekend, I expected to have a few hours of ok fun, uninstall the game and walk away.
I was wrong. Not only did I not walk away, I preordered two copies.
The first thing that you see after the logos and server selection is a brilliant cut scene. It just blew me away. Usually I skip through MMO cut scenes, but I watched this one straight through and hoped that there’d be a way for me to watch it again. I was bummed by the certainty that the game itself wouldn’t be this cool, but that first cut scene was just amazing. Then I picked my faction, and watched another cut scene. It was still pretty cool, though not as amazing as that first one. Then I made my character, and watched yet another cutscene. This game is the land of cutscenes. Every single quest I
found had at least two cutscenes and I see no reason to believe the rest of the game is any different.
I’m of mixed minds about many things regarding this game, and the barrage of cutscenes is one of them. On the one hand – the voice acting and the scripting is actually good. I laughed out loud, I muttered many times about wanting to kill particular NPCs, I laughed some more; the story was just so excellent that I wanted to keep playing to see more. On the other hand, that’s a lot of cutscenes! I probably spent more time watching cutscenes than I did killing things.
When I first started playing, after the first one, I was very impatient. Just let me play the game already! It cuts down on replayability also, I couldn’t find any way of skipping the cutscenes that didn’t prevent me from taking the quest, and after running through most of the quests once I won’t want to see them again. Although I’ve been told since playing that spacebar will skip right to the dialogue options. But the story was well written! So I really can’t come to a decision as to whether I like the cutscenes or whether I wish they’d be just a little more sparse.
It’s both good and bad. There’s no annoying swirls, scrolls, or decorative crap blocking my view of the actual game. My first impression upon seeing the UI was ‘YES! Finally a dev team that understands I want to see the game and not the UI!’ Then I noticed you can’t customize your UI. Everything is stuck where it is, there’s no moving panels around, no resizing, and no addons. You can choose whether to have a few more hotbars displayed, but that’s it. So while it does get a thumbs up for simplicity, I ultimately give the UI a failing grade because a non customizable UI is just antiquated design. Bad move on that one, Bioware. Hopefully they’ll add some UI customization options by launch time.
Character generation is pretty easy. You pick your alliance, your faction, your class, your race, and then customize your appearance. My first impression of it was positive, there were quite a few options to make my character unique. Then I flipped through a few other races and discovered that this is race dependent. Some races have quite a few options, and others just don’t. I’m hoping this is changed before launch and many more options are provided. Still, for an MMO, it’s pretty solid. I’ve played plenty of games where you have a choice of 4 faces and 4 hairstyles and that’s it. This one allows you to customize a bunch of things. You have a choice of skin colors, makeup and everyone can have scars. Depending on race you might have a choice of tattoos, jewelry, horns or face ridges. Some of it is pretty cool looking.
Sadly I didn’t have time to play all the classes. The ones I did play were pretty fun, and I’m curious about the rest. I didn’t find them to be standard schlock MMO classes, which to this jaded gamer is a pretty impressive feat. The smuggler is particularly fun, it was cool to zip around in combat, hiding behind ledges, barrels and walls. Just like the movies, blaster fights were moving affairs, popping your head out of cover for a few shots then hiding again; I only stood in place and let the enemies shoot me head on when they were so much lower level than I was that there was no risk of dying. Although admittedly, if there was a death penalty I never noticed it. Perhaps there is one once you leave the newbie stages, but as I only had a few hours, I didn’t get that far.
I found the force users to be pretty boring, although I will give the choices that determine light and dark side of the force an excellent grade. There are times when the light and dark side choices are pretty standard good vs. evil; like a choice between giving the starving kids money so they can get food and water, or driving them off to starve to death, but sometimes there’s a real tough choice to be made if you want to remain aligned with the light side. That bastard insulted me! And was trying to kill my friends! Did I mention he insulted me?! What do you mean I should forgive him and resolve this peacefully?
I don’t have much to say about the story of the game other than it is brilliant. I’ve always told people that I don’t like story in my MMOs simply because you can always count on it to be a pile of crap. Star Wars: the Old Republic is the shining exception. I don’t want to spoil it for those who want to experience it for themselves, so all I will say is for you story folks, this game does it well. The voice acting is actually good, the story really draws you in, and to top it all off there are dialogue options so you can have some shaping of your character’s personality. The story more than makes up for the UI’s failure.
If you need more convincing, you don’t start the game with a series of killing 10 Womp rats.
A very fun element of the game. Companions have their own stories, their own likes and dislikes, and you can even give them gifts to make them like you better. You can send them on little quests to gather resources for you, and they’ll craft. You can customize their appearances, and give them gear to improve their fighting.
It takes a bit of time before you can acquire your first companion, so sadly that’s about all I have to say about them – on first blush they’re pretty cool. And most importantly, you can toggle their AI on and off depending on how much control you’d like. Also – they’ll sell your inventory junk while you’re in the field. What’s not to love about an obedient minion who will take your vendor trash and bring you cash?
Sadly I wasn’t able to play around with crafting and harvesting too much. Usually this is one of the areas I explore first when I begin a new game, but so far as I was able to tell, it’s done via your companion. So the bulk of my playtime I was unable to do so. When I did get my companion, I had no idea how to get him to harvest or craft for me. By the time I figured out how to teach him, it was far too late and I was only able to look at the UI window and wonder how it worked.
Another unfortunate gap in my knowledge. I was enjoying my story so much that’s what I did. I didn’t group at all during my play, although I did see enough group content to know it’s there for those who want it. Grouping is also limited in the initial stages of the game since there are different starting areas for the classes. Also, the class quests only allow one player of that particular class – so while you can group to complete the quest, you can’t have another person of the same class as you, and the classes are split into different newbie areas.
It did look pretty interesting, so I’ll be checking that out after launch.
I didn’t play this game as long as I’d like for the purposes of writing about it, so this is really just a quick first impression. But after a few short hours of playing it, I went from knowing absolutely nothing about the game and completely uninterested to preordering it. I can’t say for certain how long I’ll remain subscribed, but I walked away with an overall good impression. The game runs like silk – seriously, I’d have to say hands down it’s the best running game I’ve played in years. It was a stress test weekend, with long queues of several thousand (yes, several thousand – most were between 1 and 2 thousand, although I tried one server where I was 5,347th in line), but once I was in the game it played beautifully. I maxed out the graphics options, and experienced no lag, no hitching, no abnormally long loading times, and I never crashed. That’s right – a beta stress test with servers so jam packed there were queues that took hours to get through – and I didn’t even experience a single crash. I did see an odd flickering once during a cutscene, and there were a few times where the voice didn’t sync with the video, but overall, I am very impressed with how well it ran.
Can I recommend it? Yes – provisionally.
I began frustrated, and wanting to get to the action rather than sit here watching cutscene after cutscene, but after a while, I suddenly realized – this MMO is a single player game that you can play with lots of people. The story is the whole point of playing. The cutscenes became less annoying after that hit me, so while I can recommend this game wholeheartedly, I do have to say that you should skip this game if you don’t want story. If you want the kind of game that I normally look for – more sandbox than themepark, with challenging gameplay – and if you don’t want story and cutscenes interrupting your play, you’re better off giving this game a pass.
But if you like a game with a good story, I can recommend it wholeheartedly. If you like Dragon Age, I can recommend this game hands down. It’s already been said, but it really is a lot like Dragon Age: Origins with lightsabers.