GKick Review: Star Wars: The Old Republic

FACT SHEET:
Star Wars: The Old Republic | Available December 20th, 2011
PC | Publisher: EA, LucasArts | Developer: BioWare

I can’t honestly remember an MMO with so much hype around it in a long, long time. Maybe not since before World of Warcraft’s release. The expectations about BioWare’s first MMO were very high. Some people hoped it would revolutionize the genre. Some felt it would finally do the Star Wars IP justice in an MMO setting, unlike the often maligned Star Wars Galaxies which came to a close earlier this month. There was a lot of hope for this game and a lot of very grand expectations.

The Old Republic does not disappoint.

While the game perhaps doesn’t completely revolutionize the MMO genre, it’s for the better. TOR feels very much like an extension of the Knights of the Old Republic titles, and considering this game comes from the creators of the revered original KoTOR and the Mass Effect series, it should be no surprise that the formula behind TOR is very much the same. BioWare’s focus with TOR was clearly on immersion. Unlike most MMOs where you click on a quest giver, quickly flip through the quest text and hit “Accept”, BioWare spared no expence by providing full voice-acting for every character in the game that you interact with, including some you don’t. Of course, this is also true for the various alien species and their miscellaneous languages, but it still brings the Star Wars universe to life.

There’s a lot that TOR does right and a few things that are still a bit lacking. Since the golden standard of MMOs is World of Warcraft, I’d like to compare and contrast against that game. By the end of this review, I won’t say that one game is better than the other, but you’ll at least have a good idea of what you’re in for.

Starting at the top, character creation is somewhere in the middle of WoW and games such as City of Heroes where you can scale and fully customize your character model. TOR offers you a selection of four various body types, over a dozen head shapes, complexion types, eye colors, hair styles, hair colors, and even certain speciality features such as a Zabrak’s horns or a Twi’lek’s head-tail patterns. Instead of splitting the Empire and Republic up by race, the game instead splits the factions by class. Each class has a counter on the opposite faction but is still very unique in their skills and abilities. For example, while a Jedi Consular might be countered by a Sith Inquisitor in terms of similar play-styles (i.e. a heavy reliance on the Force instead of their lightsaber), they both use their powers in different ways. Whereas a Consular might rip a chunk of earth from the ground and hurl it at their enemy, the Inquisitor will fry their victim with Force Lightning instead.

When you finally settle on a class and faction, you can then choose your race. Some races can be classes on either faction whereas Humans and Zabraks can be any class on either side. In some cases, such as with the Zabrak, this is explained by a separation of the races where the Sith Zabrak’s are often darker red, a la Darth Maul from Episode 1. Republic Zabraks are more tan or brownish in color, a distinction that is explained in the racial background. With all these decisions made and character created, you’re dumped right into your introductory in-game cinematic as your first mission is setup.

The beauty behind character interaction is that the game gives you choices on how you act and react in many situations. These reactions can actually affect your character in terms of their Light Side or Dark Side alignment as well as their relationship with companions. Even if the decision isn’t blatantly light side/dark side, you can still gain or lose affection with a companion depending on how you react. The personality of the active companion determines which response is favorable, which is a really creative twist.

Companions, in and of themselves, are actually very intelligent “pets” for your character. As you level, you’ll gain more and more companions that will ultimately become the crew on your personal starship. These companions fill valuable group roles such as DPS, tank or healer and can even be used in Flashpoint (group dungeon) scenarios or group quests to help round out a group. Companions will also give you quests depending on your affection level and even have separate independent storylines that occur, such as romantic options, betrayal, and more.

When you reach level 10, you then get to choose your character’s Advanced Class. In the way that WoW offers three distinct specializations for each core class, TOR takes it a step further and offers five different talent specs depending on the Advanced Class you choose. For example, a Jedi Knight can choose between being a Jedi Guardian which is a tanking/DPS role or a Jedi Sentinel which restricts you to medium armor but allows you to wield two Lightsabers and is solely for DPS. Both choices share one talent tree but each will have two unique options specific to that class. This means a Guardian can choose to spec into a tanking tree or split it up among the DPS trees, like WoW’s talent system used to operate before the latest expansion.

Choosing an Advanced Class is a permanent decision at this time. While that could change in the future, once you pick a path, you can’t go back. Like other MMOs, you can respec your talent points after assigning them in your various talent trees, but that’s it. I honestly prefer it this way and hope they don’t cave to the inevitable pressure to allow Advanced Class choices to be changed. Or, at the very least, restrict it to one-time only. In the meantime, character customization is high and you have a lot of choices of skills that will improve your effectiveness in PvE or PvP depending on your play style.

Another very handy aspect of TOR is the heavy amount of instancing that occurs throughout the world. While the main part of the world is open, many key quest areas, especially the ones that are heavily storyline driven, will often be restricted to either your party or to you individually. This also allows them to offer your class-specific story quests. The massive story quest that runs throughout the core of your adventure throughout the galaxy is very well designed to guide you from planet to planet. There’s also enough side quests to keep you hooked and exploring the many nooks and crannies. Players who wrap up the story quests on each planet will also be offered a Bonus Series, giving them a little extra reward in terms of Credits (the game’s currency), loot and XP.

Speaking of which, TOR’s loot system is fantastic. Instead of just dumping a handful of items on you at the finish of a quest, your quest rewards are tailored to your class and spec, meaning a Sith Inquisitor will not see a Heavy Armor chest piece as a quest reward. Instead, the game offers items that are either usable to your character, your companions (yeah, you need to keep them geared out too!), planetary currency or a lockbox with a random item inside. The planetary currency is unique for each system but will allow you to collect a bunch and purchase rewards only available on that planet. Called ‘Commendations’ in the game, these tokens are very similar to the Badge system formerly used in World of Warcraft. You can find Commendations as quest rewards or even just as random loot and they make a good alternative if no other items available are worthwhile.

Another way to improve your character is through grouping. Just the act of grouping together, questing and running Flashpoints will earn you Social Points which can also be redeemed for rewards. However, if you tend to play more solo, you won’t find yourself left behind in terms of item progression, as there are plenty of ways to get the gear you need to progress both as you level and at end game.

Though the removal of a key feature from the game called “Unify color to chest piece” or “Color Match” for gear sets is a bit disappointing, the fact that the feature will be reworked and reintroduced later is a positive. While it was nice during the beta to have all of my gear look as though it was from one set, despite how many times I upgraded it, I can understand BioWare’s concern that the secondary perk of upgrading gear - improving your look - is a bit lost in many areas when the color options are static.

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About Steve Perry

The owner of GKick Network, co-host of the GKick and Bottom Line Live podcasts, and hero to millions worldwide.