Star Wars: The Old Republic PreviewA column article by: Dylan Tano
Let me say, first off I am a huge Star Wars fan. I have been since I was crawling around in diapers and flying my X-Wing; or to those that lacked an imagination, a box. I remember the excitement when the new trilogy was announced and the feeling in my gut after seeing Episode I. That feeling was a sense of disappointment in the new set of movies. Remembering this feeling I approached Star Wars: The Old Republic cautiously, not wanting to be let down again. I had faith in Bioware, they always make good games, and the Mass Effect series is one of my favorites to date. And with that in my mind I landed on Tython ready to learn the ways of the force.
At the start you’ll pick your side, Republic or Empire. I chose Republic. The art direction takes from the Clone War cartoons with a little blended in from the trilogies as well. I find that it works well with the setting of the game and a cartoonish blend to the art direction works well for MMOs. It allows the game designers to make a game look rather pretty at max settings but the cartoon designs tend to hold up better on a lower resolution than you would get with a more realistic stylized game.
You’re then given a brief summary of the current state of affairs of your side in the classic scrolling text. You’ll pick your class and race from here. All the races were not available for my build for the game. There wasn’t quite the variety you would expect out of a Star Wars game for the races you were allowed to pick and three of them, Human, Cyborg, and the ‘blind’ Miraluka just seemed to be a variation of the same character design. There is also the Zabrak, Twi’lek, Chiss, Mirialan, Rattataki, and Sith Pureblood.
I picked the Miraluka Jedi Knight, imagining myself a Jedi Zatoichi. From there it is a hop skip and a jump into battle as some Flesh Raiders are attacking the Padawan training camp and it is up to you to wade out into the fray, Vibroblade training sword in hand.
Each race is assigned an ability, but from what I could it was only an animation and had no effect on combat. This could be something they expand upon between now and release.
The quests are designed to move you forward. The dreaded kill quests; where you are told to go kill a certain number of enemies and then report back once you have, do make an appearance the game. They show up in the form of bonus quests that appear once you kill an enemy in a new area. You’ll automatically receive the experience once you complete it and a new level of the quest will open up, eventually ending up with you killing an elite character. You’ll receive an reward at that point, typically a choice between a commendation token and a piece of relevant equipment. Commendation tokens can be turned in to vendors for some nice equipment. They don’t clutter up your inventory, instead they go to a currency tab, and there is also a tab for quest items.
As for the quests themselves, they are designed to tell the story, a lot of the quests available as side quests are meant to be done along the way to you completing your class quests. Most of the Galaxy is busy recovering from the most recent war, so a lot of the quests early on are designed to have you wade into dangerous places to assist those in need. There is also a fair share of political intrigue involved in some quests.
Through out the quests, mainline or otherwise, there is voice acting. It is fantastic. Everyone talks. NPCs standing around in quest area will be holding conversations as you pass, and your companions will speak with you while you are off trying to save the galaxy. Through out the entire beta there was never a moment where I went, “Man I wish this guy would stop talking.” It adds to the immersion and the complexity of the story line. The emotions of the characters in the game come across in a way that I haven’t really experienced in an MMO before. You’ll feel a little rush every time you hear his voice as you match wits with a British sounding Watcher One; the leader of the Imperial Spy division. The stories are all well crafted and pull you along assisted by the voice acting. For once it feels like a story is actually being told to you instead of just simply having you read through a ton of text, which is why I never really cared about the story in World of Warcraft.
You’ll get companions a long the way as well, none more hilarious than the T7-O1 Astromech Droid. He’ll taunt and beep, get into shenanigans, and it is all translated for you in the chat window. There are other companions, filling out various roles and you can switch in and out on the fly, sending the others on various missions for you. That is where crafting comes in. You get three trade skills, one for gathering, one for crafting, and one for social interactions. Each companion is good at something but that doesn’t mean you have to stick to those particular skills. The crafting set up is great because it means there are no more countless hours farming for some material instead of questing and developing the story. It allows you to multitask, letting you focus on your character while a companion gathers materials or makes an item. You can also get equipment for you companions and they gain affection for you based off of your decisions.
Speaking of decisions, you have the option to go light or dark in this game as with the vast majority of Bioware’s games. So you can be a renegade Jedi Knight, forsaking the orders traditional approach for something a bit more passionate. This of course boils down to following the order’s doctrine verbatim or doing what you think is right, be it turning in two Jedi lovers or hiding some incriminating evidence on behalf of a senator. The light and dark points do influence some things, for instance, the equipment you get from certain vendors.
The combat is standard fare, but it flows so smoothly. Weapons clash in real time and the art really does its job here as it is quick and responsive. Fighting a fellow light saber user sent a jolt of excitement up my spine. Your companions hold their own in combat as well, dishing out a good share of damage.
If you’re looking at saddling up a group of 4 like minded individuals then I recommend trying out some of the games Flash Point instances. These work fairly similarly to WoW instances in the sense that only your group has access to it and the enemies inside are a lot tougher than the ones you’ll face alone. They typically fit into some of the side quests and you’ll find them mixed into almost every area. The group maximum of four lends itself to some interesting strategic choices as well, do you double up on tanks, dps, or heals? Working with a group is fairly straight forward, but a marking system would be great so everyone knew who to target first.
One thing I was thoroughly excited about was space combat. I read the rouge squadron books growing up and more than dreaming of being a Jedi, I dreamed of being an X-Wing pilot. That being said, space combat isn’t a total experience in and of itself, and I know it disappointed some people who were wanting it to be a game within the game. It does however add a nice change of pace to the game, allowing you a break from questing while still getting plenty of experience. I will say that if you’ve played Star Fox then you’ll be familiar with how it works here. You’re on a rail but you’ll move around the screen using your mouse to direct you. You’ll have access to ship upgrades, including new weapons and even pilot’s gear to further increase your ships stats.
I didn’t get a chance to try PVP or ranged combat, but every class has its own story to complete so there is plenty of replay value here, on top of the inherited replay value of an MMO.
I will be getting this game, the sound quality is amazing and they have music from all over the Star Wars universe. The graphics are good and the environments are beautiful, even on low graphic settings. It is the most fun I’ve had playing a Star Wars game since the original KOTOR. There is a lot to like about the game and if you stack being a fan of the source material on top of that then you have a game you’ll find yourself playing over and over.
Dylan Tano has been playing video games since before he could walk. He's scaled castles and rode on the backs of giants. He has lived many lives, and will live many more.