As if a million voices cried out in joy and were suddenly silenced by the hot pockets in their mouths.
STAR WARS: THE PREVIEW!
On December 20, legions of Star Wars nerds and Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Gamers will log in to play Star Wars: The Old Republic. Originally shrouded in secrecy since its birth in 2006, the game was announced officially in 2008, and has been in development since. This game, rumored to cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars, has been Bioware’s biggest project in company history. It has been reported as of this posting that there are over 900,000 (nine hundred THOUSAND) physical preorders of the game, and estimates have stated that, including digital preorders and projected day-one purchasers, this game will potentially have upwards of five million subscribers in the first 24 hours.
Bioware fans and Star Wars fans alike have stirred up a hype machine unlike any game has ever seen, and its engine has been running at full speed. I’ve been following the game’s progress since 2006, when a friend mentioned that Bioware had secured the patents and licensing, and after five years of doubt and fanboyism I finally took a crack at it during the launch beta and several testing weekends.
It is with my resounding joy that I can officially report back to everyone who reads this website that the game is motherfucking phenomenal.
Over the past decade, Bioware has become well known for creating immersive experiences. Ask anyone who knows the company’s name and they’ve never created a bad game – even their least critically approved effort, Dragon Age 2, was one of the better action RPGs in recent memory. They have an uncanny way of drawing you into the narrative, and have managed to bring honest-to-God storytelling to the MMO genre. You have eight class stories to enjoy over hundreds of hours, and dozens of quests that cover entire planets. As in most RPGs, you level up as you gain experience point, but the storytelling makes the quests that would normally bore your average gamer deliver you XP in a quick, immersive fashion.
Players can join groups of four and participate in multiplayer conversations with quest Non-Player Characters (NPCs) and even join each other for their personal class quests. You’ll never see a bigger grin on an MMO gamer’s face than you will when he rolls the highest conversation score (which determines which player gives the response to the NPC or makes the decision for the group) and summarily executes a group of innocent shipworkers when everyone else wanted to play goody-two-shoes.
Every class has a list of five companions to pick from by time you hit the top player level (50). Every single class has two full time, contracted voice actors (one per gender). Every player companion (which acts like a hyper-intelligent pet class in other MMO games) has one as well. Top talents include David Hayter (Solid Fucking Snake) as the male Jedi Knight, Jennifer Hale (every female voice ever, in everything – check out her IMDB page and I guarantee you she’s voiced an iconic role in something you love) as the female Republic Trooper, Lacey Chabert as player companion Mako, and Nolan North (Uncharted‘s Nathan Drake) as the male Jedi Consular class. Needless to say, the voice acting in this game is beyond stellar.
Anyone who has played an MMO will find SWTOR to be easy to learn, with the standard row of hot-keyed abilities to draw from. The combat is fast-paced and at times can even be fun for a third party to watch over your shoulder. Instead of the word “DODGE” or “PARRY” flying up above your head when the game numbers crunch away at those things, your character actually does them, which makes the lightsaber-on-lightsaber action hot and droolworthy.
PVP (player vs player) combat comes in two forms: World PVP and Warzone PVP. One is open to anyone and the other is done through instancing, pitting two eight-to-sixteen-player teams against one another. Check out Huttball, a Warzone map that plays a lot like American Gladiators meets NFL football, where you kill each other instead of tackling to grab the ball from the ball carrier and run it into the enemy’s end-zone through fire traps and pools of acid, complete with commentary by Steve Blum (Wolverine in Wolverine and the X-Men)
Each player gets their own personal, instanced housing in the form of a starship to fly around the galaxy in. If you’ve played the Mass Effect series, it’s very similar to the way the Normandy works, except there’s the option of inviting friends aboard and engaging in a Starfox-like space combat game. Eventually, there will be player trophies to display in your ship.
Flashpoints/Operations: These are harder quests that are meant to be done as groups, the same as dungeons and raids in other MMO games. Hard-hitting boss enemies and hundreds of smaller ones force you to work together as a team to ensure victory.
Here’s my nifty spoiler-free class similarities guide for people who want an idea of what to expect from the individual storylines:
Jedi Knight (Tank/DPS): Luke Skywalker through and through. Want to feel like a goddamn intergalactic hero? Choose this class.
Smuggler (DPS/Healer): Han Solo. Want to fuck bitches, get money, and save a princess or ten while rolling around and kicking people in the dick and dual-wielding automatic blaster pistols? Pick this one.
Trooper (DPS/Tank/Healer): A much darker version of Mass Effect. Very grey storyline. You have to do a lot of disgusting things in the name of the Republic.
Jedi Consular (DPS/Tank/Healer): Sexy librarian. If you like Star Wars lore and want to know more about the history of the Jedi and Sith, play this class. Not as action oriented as the rest of the classes in the beginning, but still fun as hell. Picking the Dark Side storyline will yield jaw-dropping results, though.
Bounty Hunter (DPS/Tank/Healer): Space badass. Even the nice responses make you sound like a greedy dickhole. Boba Fett eat your heart out and then fall into a pit accidentally and die.
Imperial Agent (DPS/Healer): Space James Bond. ‘Nuff Said. In his majesty’s secret asskicker service. Fly around and make Grand Moff Tarkin look like a chump. A lot of political intrigue in this one. Storyline reminds me a lot of the politics behind HBO’s Game of Thrones.
Sith Inquisitor (DPS/Tank/Healer): The ultimate scum of the galaxy. Do things that would make babies cry and mothers weep. Potentially the best storyline in the game as well, and I had no intention of ever playing this class.
Gameplay: Above standard MMO fare with immersive Bioware storylines to avoid leveling that feels like you’re grinding out experience points. Can be slow at times as you run around questing though, and some of the PVP can get repetitive because as of launch there are only a few PVP zones to enjoy before you hit level 25. Stories make you feel like the ultimate hero/villain you’ve wanted to be since you first saw Luke Skywalker blow up the Death Star in your Boba Fett footie pajamas. 9/10
Visuals: The game is gorgeous. It can run smoothly on nearly any computer from 2007 and beyond. Having a beefy machine will turn what looks like a prettier version of World of Warcraft into one of the most beautifully stylized games ever created. 10/10
Sounds: Hands down, the best souns in any MMO, potentially any game ever made. The voice acting is perfect from every single performer. The sound effects during combat and even in times of ambience are superb, and the musical score by their battalion of composers and musicians really does justice to the brand name, which is saying a lot considering the name behind the original Star Wars music. 10/10
Performance: As noted above, the game runs smoothly on nearly any setup. 10/10
Overall: The game is exactly what I’ve been expecting and more since I first took a stab at guessing that it exists in 2006 because of the legal jargon behind the licensing. I tried to take a biased look at the game and succeeded, but writing the review has been impossible to shy away from bias because playing the game will turn the biggest nay-sayer into a fanboy within 24 hours of gameplay. It caters to every type of MMO gamer. The PVPers have their toys, the questers have their enjoyment, Star Wars fans have the best extended universe Star Wars stories I’ve seen, explorers have a vast virtual world to explore and datacrons to find that give permanent stat increases to characters, and roleplayers have a delightful backdrop to put their own stories into.
FINAL SCORE: 9.5/10
There is so little negative to say about this game that I had to force (har har) myself and nitpick to not give it a 10 out of 10. Even the beta was more polished and engaging than 90% of the MMOs on the market right now. If you have any interest in MMO gaming, Star Wars, or FUN, buy this game. You won’t regret your time exploring in The Old Republic.