by Jaime Skelton (MissyS)
When BioWare released Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (and its sequel), it made waves in the Star Wars universe. While previous Star Wars games had been action based, often space shooters or a console platformer, Knights of the Old Republic was different. The first major full-fledged Star Wars role-playing game, from the company that brought the world the Baldur’s Gate series, was an incredible offering.
Star Wars: The Old Republic continues BioWare’s original series, and the development team tried to stay true to the original Knights of the Old Republic experience. Originally a subscription based MMO, The Old Republic went free-to-play in November of 2012. Has this transition been successful, or have millions suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced?
"The Force is Strong with this One"
Players start out by choosing to serve either Republic or Empire, and then choose Human, Zabrak, or Cyborg for their character race. These are the only options new free-to-play characters have, although there are ten total playable races available. The final major choice is class. Each class on the Republic has a mirror on the Empire; for example, the Republic Trooper is the same as the Empire Bounty Hunter. The other classes are the Smuggler/Imperial Agent, the Jedi Knight/Sith Warrior, and the Jedi Consular/Sith Inquisitor. Each class gains additional subclasses later on for further specialization.
Visual customization is quite extensive, with dozens of hair styles, skin colors, and accessories (such as scarring, make up, or tattoos) to choose from. Like many major budget MMOs, it’s quite easy to get lost in customizing a character down to perfection. For a quick fix, though, using the randomization button gives you no dearth of templates to further expand upon.
"Don't Everyone Thank Me at Once"
The Old Republic is a very story-driven game, with the bulk of the story being given through the game’s hundreds of quests. Although most quests are given traditionally by an NPC, some are also found off monsters, by approaching specific locations, or by interacting with special objects. The main storyline quests help advance your own character’s story, while the wide variety of side quests gives a good look into the lore of the worlds you visit. As is true with many MMORPGs, quests reward experience, credits, and often equipment to help your character become stronger.
One of the early selling points for SWTOR was that every line of dialogue in the game is voice-acted. This simple (yet very complex) addition to the game gives every character their own personality, and - while sometimes not personally relatable - it provides players a nice basis of immersion into the world. The game uses a dialogue wheel, similar to other BioWare games like the Mass Effect series and Dragon Age II, for interacting with NPCs. Some choices have later consequences, usually the gain of either light or dark side points that will further influence a character’s story.
"Now I Am the Master"
Combat in The Old Republic is unfortunately lacking in expected innovation. Players must use a hotbar of skills on opponents in order to bring them down. There is also no auto-attack function in the game; however, right click will automatically use whatever skill is in the “1” slot of your skill bar. By default, this is usually a weak, filler attack to use when your larger damage skills are unavailable. In short: combat is simply an echo of every modern MMORPG.
One class does offer a sliver of something new to the combat system: the smuggler/agent. This class utilizes a mechanic called “cover,” giving increased defenses and the ability to use additional skills while hiding behind another structure. These cover-exclusive skills are their most powerful. Players looking for a more engaging combat system may want to select this class, even if the remainder of the combat system is dull.
"In My Experience, There's No Such Thing as Luck"
The Old Republic is not lacking in group content. The game boasts several instances to run, each with its own unique rewards. A group finder option for instances is available, making it much easier to find groups and get instances run quickly. Instances are done with the same storyline narration regular quests are done, but with additional group members, you can earn ranks of social points. Each decision made during a conversation gives a base amount of social points, and the winner of the roll (used to determine who speaks in a cut-scene) gets a bonus. Social ranks provide a variety of cosmetic items, some of which actually have practical use, like marking a target for others to focus their attacks on.
There are also several group quests throughout the game as your quest storyline progresses. These quests are often quite challenging for a single player to complete, but it also seems to prove difficult to actually find players willing to group up to complete them. Many of these quests also provide substantial loot rewards, becoming a major source of frustration for players that want to get the most out of their game experience.
"We, uh, Ran Into Some Old Friends"
For those more interested in competitive play, The Old Republic offers several different PvP battlegrounds. Each battleground has different objectives, offering a different experience each time you enter. Several require you to hold specific areas, each with special bonuses for holding: for instance, holding one point will set off a bomb, which wipes out any player that happens to not be in shelter; another set of control points will set cannons firing at the enemy stronghold.
Warzones, as they’re called, offer players Valor – another ranking system like Social points -- as well as commendations which can be used to purchase goods.These items help improve PvP performance, and are worth gathering if you’re serious about competition; but they also require a certain rank of Valor to be used – think World of Warcraft arena rewards.
"Jabba, You're a Wonderful Human Being"
Free-to-play players do have a significant disadvantage versus subscribers in The Old Republic. The most obvious of these is a currency cap: while this is quite high compared to some games, it still remains and is not difficult to reach early on. Another disadvantage is the limitation of only a single tradeskill. Most tradeskills require two supporting skills to help maximize their efficiency. Having only one is quite crippling, because crafting is a great way to build up your character power early on.
The cash shop of The Old Republic offers unlocks on a wide variety of the free-to-play restrictions, and buying something once also unlocks a preferred status, providing additional unlocks to restrictions. These unlocks can also be purchased on the auction house in game for credits, which most prefer, since earning cash shop tokens in game is tedious at best.
Final Verdict: Good
Despite the massive budget allocated to the game, Star Wars: The Old Republic fails to offer the “Triple A” experience you might expect. Combat is routine, similar, and mostly involves little player involvement outside of instances. While the storyline is interesting thanks to the voice acting and excellent writing, listening to every line of dialogue is time consuming, and bound to turn away those who wish to experience the story at their own pace. The reliance on cash shop purchases to completely experience a game touted as being fully playable in its free-to-play model is horribly misleading. If you’re willing to work for it, there is still a lot of content to be had – but this is bound to make even dedicated players often feel like enjoying the game requires too many chores. Ultimately, the quality of the game is what we’ve come to expect from BioWare, but too many standard gameplay features sag below the weight of EA’s deadline-driven agendas.
If you’re serious about playing The Old Republic, we would dare to recommend purchasing the Digital Upgrade Pack from the store. For about $5.00 USD, you receive a variety of useful items, including a mount to help with travel times. More importantly, this will unlock your account to Preferred status, giving you additional character slots, and removing many of the choking gameplay restrictions. This will provide a much better play experience for a one time investment.