Star Wars: The Old Republic full review
Years in the making and costing more money than every generation of your family past and future has and will ever see, the second Star Wars MMO is a brute-force attempt to be an online hit. It exists to be a sci-fi alternative to the tall shadow cast by World of Warcraft, which is why you'll spot a rather familiar feature or two. or three or four or five or six hundred. Yes, much of what The Old Republic is unabashedly traditional for the MMO genre, but it redeems itself from being WoW in space with the addition of a heavily story-based, semi-singleplayer layer that tries to lend purpose to your adventures and monster-bashing.
The game's created by Mass Effect and Knights of the Old Republic creators Bioware, oft-hailed as kings of game storytelling. A legion of writers and voice-actors have been tasked with creating hours of dialogue and cutscenes intended to create meaty, epic stories for each of the game's player classes - and all of those having branching chat and consequences based on your moral choices. You can be a quasi-evil Jedi or a noble Sith-contracted Bounty Hunter, or vice-versa, or anything in between.
This being an MMO, there are of course big statistical bonuses to be had from min-maxing your morality, but if you want to roleplay, that options there. As a Bounty Hunter, I proved disturbingly willing to execute people in cold blood but stopped short of putting kids in any kind of peril. It's hardly deep and nuanced, but unlike the vast majority of MMOs it's a point of emotional connection to your character and their actions, rather than caring solely about their stats and armour sets.
The entertainment value of the classes differs a little; I found the nominally Light-side Smuggler to lean towards the bland, but the murderous derring-do and bloody competitiveness of the Bounty Hunter proved entertaining, sinister and packed with sharp dialogue and performances. Superficially speaking, the quests rarely escape the traditional kill x of x or collect x of x or courier x to x format, but because they're book-ended by a quick, fully voice-acted chat with someone, a sense of context beyond 'reward!' often creeps in.
You want to help this guy, or you have a negative reaction to that hissing, paranoid weirdo and decide not to pitch in. This is most effective when you're about to fight a named or boss character, and get to have a quick argument first - often including a shoot first/questions later approach or in some cases an attempt to talk them out of whatever skullduggery they're up to.
It's stronger stuff than MMOs tend to offer, a lavish world away from the scrolling text-boxes and frozen-faced NPCs of its rivals. At the same time, it can be hard not to wish it wasn't a fully-fledged singleplayer RPG with wider choice of actions and encounters that didn't always boil down to clicking a series of icons (or pressing number keys) to win another identi-fight. Plus the presence of other players, shouting and moaning and looking for groups and talking to NPCs who were, only moments ago, claiming you were their only hope Obi Wan Kenobi, can disrupt the fantasy. If this is supposed to be your amazing adventure, what are all these other guys doing?
In happy contrast to that is that the other players can boost the sense of this being a living, breathing place. Of course a space station would be full of other people all pursuing their own self-interests - what, you expected everyone on it to be waiting in a neat line to sell you new trousers and offer up quests? If you can deal with the noise of people's neediness, SWTOR can be a thrilling place to be.
It's just a crying shame that, a few key features aside (companion NPCs and, come the endgame, owning your own spaceship being the most notable) SWTOR cleaves so closely to the World of Warcraft model: quests and crafting and postboxes and flightpoints and skill trainers and PVP arenas and all. It'd be grand to feel more surprised by it, for it to be a voyage of discovery and wonder rather than of the same loot-crazed hamster wheel we've all spent so much time on already. That said, making laser guns and lightsabers fit that model so naturally is a respectable achievement, given sci-fi MMOs have by and large struggled in the past.
There isn't too much the game actively gets wrong, aside from some launch-fortnight tech issues, but if it matched the obviously lavish world design with something more than workmanlike it could have been the giant-killer it so clearly wants to be.
Star Wars: The Old Republic: Specs
- Processor: AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core 4000+ or better Intel Core 2 Duo 2.0GHz or better Operating System: Windows XP Service Pack 3 or later RAM: Windows XP: 1.5GB RAM Windows Vista and Windows 7: 2GB RAM Note: PCs using a built-in graphical chipset are recommended to have 2GB of RAM. Star Wars: The Old Republic requires a video card that has a minimum of 256MB of on-board RAM as well as support for Shader 3.0 or better. Examples include: ATI X1800 or better nVidia 7800 or better Intel 4100 Integrated Graphics or better