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Star Wars: The Old Republic review

AT A GLANCE
  • Voice acting and production value
  • Playing through the interesting stories
  • Load-free instanced areas are a game-changer
  • Glitches and missing features
  • End-game is lackluster
  • Lack of open-world content

3,600 years before Luke Skywalker was bulls-eyeing womp rats in his T-16, the galaxy was enveloped in an all-out war. After over 20 years of fighting, the Sith Empire and the Galactic Republic met to forge Treaty of Coruscant, a document that ended The Great Galactic War in an extremely uneasy stalemate. Battles and skirmishes still flare up in the years following this agreement, and the universe is on-edge at all times. It’s here, during this Cold War, that the most important MMORPG since World of Warcraft takes place.

The main reason for the high expectations comes from the developer: BioWare. Being the creators of the Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, Neverwinter Nights, and Dragon Age franchises means that the studio carries with it an air of quality, and not since Blizzard has such a well-respected developer entered into the MMO arena. It’s also a Star Wars game – and an expensive one to boot – all of which set expectations sky-high. Does BioWare break the mold? Or is SWTOR just “World of Warcraft with lightsabers” like many have predicted? 


Choosing your path

Above: BioWare totally captured the Star Wars vibe

Utilizing a setting thousands of years before A New Hope allowed BioWare a lot of freedom with its MMO, and it took full advantage of everything the era has to offer. Several hundred years after Knights of the Old Republic there are still plenty of Jedi and Sith rampaging about the cosmos, giving BioWare the license to include Force-using classes while abiding by the canon. Both sides have two Jedi and Sith classes, with the Sith Empire getting Bounty Hunters and Imperial Agents to the Republic’s Smugglers and Troopers. Breaking it down even further, each class is specialized at level 10 – a permanent focus that allows for extra customization. We could play our Sith Inquisitor as a healer or damage dealer by choosing to go Sorcerer, or as a double-sided lightsaber-wielding stealthy tank as an Assassin. Choosing a specialization provided us with a traditional talent tree to further shape our character, and though they’re arguably more impactful than those found in other MMOs, were still fairly recognizable to anyone who has played a game in the genre.

While BioWare took some strides towards reinventing the genre, much of their game is still locked in the past. Combat, for instance, is fundamentally the same as every other MMO on the market. You’re playing whack-a-mole with a few bars full of abilities, tapping the corresponding number when the skill you want to use pops up. It works, just as it did in EverQuest eleven years ago, but it’s a mechanic that’s begging for an overhaul. The basic system that alerts enemies to your presence, too, is in dire need of work – as gaming evolves it becomes increasingly puerile that foes in the same room as us will wait to be approached before attacking, even as we brutally murder their friends ten feet away. Some other areas of SWTOR aren’t even as advanced as other modern games in the genre: the UI isn’t nearly as customizable as it should be, and there are many convenience features (a competent looking-for-group tool and HUD customization) that are flat-out missing. 


That scrolling text at the beginning of the movie

Above: Watch the first few minutes of the Sith Inquisitor's story

But BioWare’s plans never included throwing the baby out with the bathwater. All along their goal was clear: put story first. And these promises were not oversold. The Old Republic is, first and foremost, a story-based game, and since there are eight different classes to choose from, it’s actually sort of eight story-based games. Each class follows a unique plot line with interesting characters, fun missions, and stories that live up to the Knights of the Old Republic name. We saw a few of the classes’ quests unfold, and it genuinely feels as though each could have been its own full game.

They would have been very different games, too - our Sith Inquisitor’s plot was very political, with Shakespearian twists and turns, whereas the Bounty Hunter’s story was more fun, feeling like a space western set in the Star Wars universe. Leveling up was much more entertaining than it typically is in MMOs, and everything unfolded naturally (check out our impressions of levels 1-15, 15-30, and levels 30-45).


GALACTIC REPUBLIC
Trooper

Commando:
Ranged DPS/Heal

Vanguard:
Close DPS/Tank
Smuggler

Gunslinger:
Ranged DPS

Scoundrel:
Close DPS/Heal
Jedi Knight

Jedi Sentinel:
Melee DPS (uses dual lightsabers)

Jedi Guardian:
Melee DPS/Tank (one lightsaber)
Jedi Consular

Jedi Sage:
Ranged DPS/Heal (one lightsaber)

Jedi Shadow:
Melee DPS/Tank (double lightsaber)
SITH EMPIRE
Bounty Hunter

Mercenary:
Ranged DPS/Heal

Powertech:
Close DPS/Tank
Imperial Agent

Sniper:
Ranged DPS

Operative:
Stealth/Heal
Sith Warrior

Marauder:
Melee DPS (uses dual lightsabers)

Juggernaut:
Melee DPS/Tank (one lightsaber)
Sith Inquisitor

Sorcerer:
Ranged DPS/Heal (one lightsaber)

Assassin:
Melee DPS/Tank (double lightsaber)

Each faction has a large number of quests that are shared between all of the classes, but all of the characters have their own dialog options, making repeating the same generic quests with a different class a fresh experience. The dialog never felt like filler, or a time waster, or a distraction. On the contrary; it made The Old Republic feel like the first MMORPG that was actually a complete game. It made us excited to replay the game once we finished our first run through, and anxious to see what the other side was like. But we didn’t have to do it alone. Besides being able to adventure with other players, every character will also end up with a ship full of Companions that can assist them in battle, each of which has their own unique personalities. We didn’t fall in love with each and every Companion we found – some were actually quite annoying – but we did end up with a few favorites. We liked that we could give them equipment to make them more useful in battle and gifts to raise their affection, which improves their proficiency at Crew Skills.

And, just as BioWare promised, the game is fully voiced, a novelty that never gets old. Production values are off the charts, with well-known voice actors playing major parts in the stories. There are some repeated sound clips from time to time, which becomes more evident as the game gets further along. It worked regardless, and made the game’s quests – which all too often dipped into the paltry pile of MMO clichés – have more meaning. Even though we were killing ten rats, blowing up six bases, or downloading data off of a computer at the end of a dungeon, we knew why, and we cared about it.

Above: Explosive battles? Awesome action? A Sith craves these things

More importantly, the stories do more than add context – they’re good, too. BioWare’s signature style of strong writing is consistent throughout the entire experience. Some dialog options will even have moral repercussions, sliding your player towards the light or the dark side of the force and giving them access to different cosmetic items depending on the side they end up on. Though we thought the choices were interesting and added to the story, we quickly realized that picking a side and sticking to it was the best way to get good items, essentially forcing our hand for the rest of the game.

More Info

Release date: Dec 20 2012 - PC (US)
Available Platforms: PC
Genre: Role Playing
Published by: LucasArts and BioWare
Developed by: LucasArts and BioWare
Franchise: Star Wars
ESRB Rating:
Teen: Blood and Gore, Sexual Themes, Violence, Mild Language

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  • JokerJ0613 - March 2, 2012 6:26 p.m.

    Blood and Gore? I can barely see red, let alone Gore. Maybe it's in some cutscenes. I know it can't be much, it's only rated T.
  • n00b - January 18, 2012 8:31 a.m.

    im sorry, but no matter how good this game is, the words star wars and mmo are a giant turn off.
  • Soxknight1127 - January 18, 2012 3:16 p.m.

    so far it plays great like a single player, i havent played it like an mmo very much at all and it still feels like kotor 3 to me
  • Soxknight1127 - January 17, 2012 4:40 p.m.

    this is the first MMO im playing seriously and so far im loving it. really into my jedi knight but def want to play one of the sith at some point too, the stories seem better
  • Cik - January 17, 2012 8:20 a.m.

    MMORPG Score: 3 Single-Player RPG / CORPG Score: 8 Overall Score: 5 TOR is a well produced Single-Player / CORPG in a multi-user lobby-system environment, though doesn’t hold an entertaining or remarkable continuous play value for $15/month for a prolonged period of time. It's definitely not a mmorpg, but a single-player rpg by a cinematic single-player rpg studio that delivers what feels & plays like having the least Massively-Multiplayer features & content of any mainstream labeled mmo aside from Star Trek Online. Should have been buy-to-play because it certainly isn't worth $15/month.
  • larkan - January 15, 2012 8:15 a.m.

    I don't understand why so many people complain about UI. When I played WoW, I was able to heal or tank with no mods and UI changes just as well as someone who had 4,000 mods to map every ability to 2 keys. The same applies here...UI and Class mods are another way of making people play the game on cruise control, and it's just plain lazy.
  • GR HollanderCooper - January 15, 2012 1:22 p.m.

    No, I was talking more about being able to like, move the UI around or scale it. You can't even move your inventory when it's open, it just makes it unnecessarily hard to play sometimes.
  • SunniDee - January 12, 2012 3:13 p.m.

    "Insert fanboy rage here" great read and i hope the trolls roaming are low
  • Crabhand - January 11, 2012 12:50 a.m.

    Great review, you've really hit the nail on the head with the issues and praised appropriately. Not much else to say on that front. And I agree with you on Huttball. I was a little tired of it after the first few days of early access, but it has since grown on me. I'm a little disappointed when it's Alderaan and I'm completely disappointed with Voidstar. It seems like one team always steamrolls the other in Voidstar, while Alderaan is only irritating against premades. Empire gets a lot of practice at Huttball, so on the off chance we play against Republic players we tend to roll right through them =P
  • RebornKusabi - January 10, 2012 5:26 p.m.

    Damn the haters Coop, your 8/10 review has sold me on the purchase of this game far more than any review I have read of it so far. Specifically, the fact that it is a 4 page review and it's in-depth analysis of every facet of the game along with your video diaries which punctuated what new things would arise at certain milestones within the games progression from level to level. Great stuff!
  • Sebastian16 - January 10, 2012 5:18 p.m.

    I love the KOTOR games more than anything else I've ever played, but am unwilling to get into another MMO. I'l have to pass on this one - 1200 hours to get through the stories of each unique class? No thanks.
  • Pooka - January 10, 2012 2:58 p.m.

    Rofl @ GW2
  • lemur - January 10, 2012 11:45 a.m.

    "Note: This review is a living document." IT'S ALIVE! Great review I'm loving the game right now. Troopers FTW!
  • MrUnReAL136 - January 10, 2012 9:50 a.m.

    I enjoyed the review but I cant help but thinking that this would be a much better game if it wasn't a MMORPG and was just an RPG the story driven features you liked would remain but all the generic 'MMO' quest would be gone. I guess its just to do something different. I would love to see a Single player RPG version of this.
  • Darkhawk - January 10, 2012 9:25 a.m.

    Story: 150 hours per character. Hard to complain about endgame content after that.
  • JohnDagger - January 10, 2012 1:54 a.m.

    Great review Coop except for one thing. I'm sure you've already heard it a tonne of times, but in you synopsis of each class, you said jedi sentinel and sith marauder were stealth classes, they are not. That would be the jedi shadow and sith assassin. Aside from that great review. I'm loving the game and 8 is a great score. I hope to love the game more as I keep playing.
  • GR HollanderCooper - January 10, 2012 1 p.m.

    Made the change. They both get stealth skills, but, yeah, I suppose people shouldn't pick them if they're looking for a stealth character.
  • thatgurl - January 10, 2012 1:30 a.m.

    I enjoy the review. This is coming from someone who has played WoW (since Vanilla Wow), Guild Wars, Eve, Lotro, Runes, basically every MMO out there. SWTOR is actually the only MMO to keep my interest besides Wow. Unfortunately I have grow bored of Wow so maybe that's a big part of it too. Although i like to say that is always unfair to compare a brand spanking new MMO to Wow. It's been around for years so of course Wow has a lot more content and less bugs. But how many of the SWTOR complainers played Wow when it was initially released? How many of you had to deal with the hour long queues, the glitches, the 40 man raids where you spent hours cleaning trash to get to one boss, the painful grind of getting gold so you can buy your epic mount at 60 at 800gold ( yes at that time, that was fucking expensive) and so forth? To me, WoW and Tor are like apples and oranges. But had ToR came out when during the time I was in love with Wow, around early BC, I don't think it would have gained much of my attention. But there is no such thing as a perfect MMO.
  • 435 - January 10, 2012 12:30 a.m.

    Given that Coop put over 150 hours into this game to give us all a solid review, I hereby declare this the definitive document on SWTOR. And it's worth your money. For sixty bucks and fifteen a month, you get eight... EIGHT... ~150 hour games in the Star Wars universe. Approximately 1200 hours of entertainment. Now to get my bounty hunter to 30 so I can unlock my useless Legacy.
  • Thequestion 121 - January 9, 2012 10:12 p.m.

    I'm totally enjoying The Old Republic right now and reading this review was great. Being a new MMO player, it's interesting the consensus of the launch of this game compared to the other MMOs on the market. Great review.