Star Wars: The Old Republic preview – it’s good to hear your voice

So there’s good news and there’s bad news: the bad news is that The Old Republic isn’t drastically different than the other MMORPGs you’ve played in the past ten years. You still talk to NPCs that wander around a small area, you’re still assigned arbitrary assignments that involve traveling to nearby locations, and you’re still going to be killing ten of these and collecting four of these. Sorry. That’s just the impression we got when playing through the first few hours of the game. If you think The Old Republic is going to change any of the genre staples you’re going to be extremely disappointed.

It’s still an MMO, just dressed up differently. The basic agro mechanics are the same (sadly), and instead of tapping the number two and hitting an enemy with an axe, you’re hitting the number two and hitting an enemy with a lightsaber. The animations are a little better, but it’s still typical whack-a-mole combat in the end.

Above: Eyes? Who needs eyes when you have the force?

But before you go leaping into a sarlacc pit, you should know that there’s good news, too. Sure, you’re going to be sent out into the jungle to kill ten Flesh Raiders, but you’re going to care about doing it. You’ll slash them apart, gritting your teeth as they fall to the ground. You’re going to actually know why you’re sent out to save the squadron of Padawans, and when you see them in the distance you’re going to feel genuinely relieved. You’re going to be connected to the plot and immersed into the world(s) of The Old Republic, and brought into an MMO’s story in ways you never thought possible.

It’s not that the missions are actually different; it’s just that they’re presented differently. Through interactive cutscenes with full voice acting, characters actually explain the story’s details in a way that makes you feel important. Other MMOs do this with text, but hearing it actually said makes more of a difference than we ever would have expected.

Above: The developers walk through Tatooine and kill not just the men, but the women, and the children.

It’s not uncommon for an MMO to feature some voicework, or interesting missions meant to pull the player in, but usually they end fairly early in the game. As soon as we stop hearing the characters’ voices there’s a disconnect – no matter how much we want to feel involved in the world, being greeted with walls of text is counterintuitive. Reading too much makes us feel like we’re wasting time, so we end up skipping the text and ignoring any semblance of plot.

In The Old Republic, the same care that goes into the first few levels of a typical MMO goes into every mission we encountered, from the early, plot-specific missions to the random missions picked up by strangers standing on the side of the road. We found ourselves not just not skipping the dialog, but enjoying it, and searching it out.

Hearing actors explain the context of the mission makes it more important to us, and being given the occasional branching dialog options (that can reward players with positive or negative morality) had us feel as though we were honestly, truly involved, as we do in singleplayer RPGs like Knights of the Old Republic.

Above: Different dialog choices actually have different outcomes.

If you would have asked us a few years ago if we thought it was possible for an MMO to actually have a story, and a good one, we likely would have laughed. We would have pointed out how hard it would have been to get voice actors for an MMO, and how crazy it would be to attempt to blend story into the persistent, multiplayer world. Yet here we are. Now to see if it continues through the rest of the game...

Oct 20, 2011

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  • maxmays - December 4, 2011 12:47 a.m.

    i haven't played any RPG MMO games before. hopefully i will enjoy this one. yes the trailers grabbed my attention. i looked through everything on the holonet. being that im not a real fan of MMO's im hoping the story line and information a customization will be worth it. if not i will no doubt send this back.
  • Yeager1122 - October 23, 2011 6:01 p.m.

    Doesnt sound amazing story aspect sounds appelaing but thats about it.
  • Elitepwnsface - October 21, 2011 10:29 p.m.

    Going to be my first mmo that i can actually know the reasons for the quests that i partake in. Hated reading small text in wow.
  • Ridgley - October 21, 2011 5:46 a.m.

    So what you're saying is, if you love mmos, you'll feel right at home playing SWTOR. I'm in the beta, so I know it's amazing. If only I could say more without breaking the NDA.
  • Joesicky - October 20, 2011 9:54 p.m.

    Try downloading the latest drivers for your graphics card, your computer may not have the required graphics RAM etc. for the game.
  • Crabhand - October 20, 2011 6:30 p.m.

    I think people are either acting too cynical or had let their imaginations get the better of them. For the last two years Bioware has been assuring people that they aren't trying to reinvent the wheel, but rather create a wheel that you can actually care about. If you don't think Bioware's excellent writing and voice work gives The Old Republic a little something extra, then the game clearly isn't meant for you. It's a Bioware developed Star Wars MMO. If even one of those things seems unappealing you've been looking in the wrong place.
  • Asmodean - October 20, 2011 2:41 p.m.

    I have to agree totally with Holly-coop... Coopster... Mr. Cooper? Having played the game for some time now I was blown away but what they have done story wise. I've never been so happy to do a fetch quest then in TOR. Sure it's the same get five of X but there a reason behind it all that makes it matter to the player. The morality ie. Light/Dark choices... Well that's a story for another day, one I'd love to hear Cooper's opinion on.
  • RedRooster - October 20, 2011 2:27 p.m.

    I played it for about 12 hours last weekend and was incredibly underwhelmed by the blandness of it all. I completely agree with the first two paragraphs of this article, and just as completely disagree with the rest of it. Here I am, a Jedi Knight, playing with a lightsaber, and bored out of my mind. I didn't care about anything or anybody. I guess I shoulda played Han Solo instead. This game feels like it was made 6 years ago.
  • gaseoussnake - October 20, 2011 2:25 p.m.

    world of star wars... sigh. cant help but wonder what a Knights of the Old Republic 3 would of been like on ps3 xbox. Greed's a bitch.
  • lemur - October 20, 2011 2:25 p.m.

    man I can't wait for this game! been waitin' since 2009 and it is finally comeing. I'm se excited!!!!
  • Reaper70 - October 20, 2011 2:22 p.m.

    In my opinion this game is going to sell millions of units. "Star Wars - Galaxies" was not a great game but it had tons of subscribers. I am not a die-hard Star Wars fan but I will probably check it out if they give us a free trial. From what I have read so far I am not impressed but it might turn out to be OK in the end.
  • Bawheidbob - October 20, 2011 12:20 p.m.

    I have this one on pre-order and i am going to get a 6 month sub - If the game lasts that long then i will be happy - I played Warcraft a lot and this should give me something a little different. If the game is still going strong after that time and i am enjoying it then all the better.
  • Spybreak8 - October 20, 2011 11:56 a.m.

    I didn't think Bioware would let us down. Ahh so that video and the speeder bikes part. Man those aren't really "speedy".
  • ObliqueZombie - October 20, 2011 11:38 a.m.

    This is good to here! I never actually had an opportunity to get into the MMO craze when everyone did, since I had a crappy family computer and no personal computer, let a lone a good gaming one. But now that I've played WoW for two months and got one character to level 85, I can say I'm stoked to enter more MMOs. And really, I've been looking for an epic story to quench my plot thirsts. Deus Ex can only be played so many times, and BioWare seems to be the perfect fit for someone like me who enjoys a great story, however small or scattered they man be. I'm getting beyond excited for this. This and Skyrim will eat my life away to innumerable amounts of days.
  • ChrisCultista - October 20, 2011 11:11 a.m.

    But will the grind freaks of the MMO community like it? Doesn't seem that story is the number one priority for most people who play MMOs. I thought that most of the stagnation of the MMO market cam from everyone copying WOWs mechanics. I know that im going to skip the dialog so that I can just level up and get the BESTEST LIGHTSABER OF THEM ALLZ! Because that is what MMOs are, a social space to get gadgets. Is this a story driven MMO that has some WOW mechanics, or WOW with a story draped over it? And does it really matter?
  • ObliqueZombie - October 20, 2011 11:40 a.m.

    You can't really boil down every MMO in that "must get better lootz" mentality, because then you could do the same with every game. The better loot and the amount of perseverance and time it takes is just one addiction that comes from video games, let alone MMOs. Anyone who gets this game is likely a Star Wars fan, a BioWare fan, or both. Story is going to be HUGE part of it. And do answer your question, I think it's a story-driven MMO with WoW mechanics. ;)