Why you should fall in love, with an MMO
I ask only that you do not judge this review by the meaningless star-rating that precedes it, but rather the content of this review. Star Wars the Old Republic (SWTOR) has finally been released, after more than a half decade in development and nearly 200 million dollar budget. Many are hoping (or arguably have been tricked) that this game will be a revolutionary hallmark of the MMO genre that will break new ground. This game achieves none of its promised glory, but is still an enjoyable crafted experience.
If you do not like MMO’s SWTOR will not win you over or change your mind about the genre. It endeavors to be a re-skinned MMO standard, albeit with above average gameplay for the genre. SWTOR’s clearly descendent from its mother game, World of Warcraft and grandmother Everquest. I cannot however give you my humble opinion of the game unless I elaborate on the MMO genre itself. All of the following easily applies itself to the SWTOR experience.
Massively multiplayer online games tend to be bad, or at least not great when compared to their competition of co-op dungeon crawlers, open world RPGs, and adventure games. MMO’s however are largely misunderstood by people who do not play them regularly. The goal of an MMO is not to entertain a player with great set pieces, likeable characters and fun interactive gameplay. Instead an MMO acts as a centerpiece at a table, where you and a bunch of people you know all come to sit and chat and play, the former is simply an afterthought. The MMO genre strives to create a long persisting world where you can play and interact with other people. People are key the ingredient to an MMO. I know this all sounds like a cop-out to excuse the genre from faults or judge the genre on a different scale, and you would be half right. Just keep in mind the ultimate goal of an MMO is very different from that of a regular game.
Finding a great community, or dare I say: guild, becomes the real hook which draws most MMO fans back into the game again and again. As you and this group of strangers becomes better acquainted over voice chat the experience changes from the umpteenth time you’ve tried to get a rare drop from a boss, into: Tuesdays regular dungeon run with Steve and Laura where we complain about work. The game fades a bit into an interesting background as your conversation turns back to the game and the challenges, then eventually swinging back to what your favourite restaurant is. This is a very warm and chosen example, but you will rarely find a truly dedicated WoW player (or MMO enthusiasts) who are not constantly bragging about their guild, and the people they have come across and interact with.
Now this need for community may speak something about a person on a personal level, but I am not here to venture down that gloomy path. Much like a good session of Dungeons and Dragons is less about how to kill a troll, and more about good beer, and jokes about why no one ever questions what race the HALF stands for when you encounter half orcs, half dragons, or half elves. Let us sink our teeth into SWTOR, now that we better understand what it is.
SWOR is an MMO, you will grind levels, reputation, badges all while using abilities themed to your chosen class and talent tree. You have buttons on action bars to use abilities, most of which have cool downs (CD) before you can utilize then again, these abilities require you to manage resources your character generates. Your poison comes in two flavours, player versus enemy (A.I.) encounters which can be random quest monsters, more challenging dungeons which require teamwork and where you will find better gear and lastly raids where a WHOLE LOTA people need to get together and co-ordinate to take down very challenging monsters for the best loot available. The other flavour of poison is player versus player, where you will fight with and against other players at specific locations while trying to complete your objectives and stop the enemy team from completing their objectives. There are also massive warzones on some worlds, where players will battle for control over territories. Notice the emphasis on teamwork and multiple people, in both modes of gameplay.
All of this is very standard for the genre but where Star Wars excels is with its modern technology and interesting twists on gameplay. Questing is broken up with in game cut-scenes, a jaw dropping amount of voice acting and the interesting class specific quests. This does add some much needed spice to leveling up and questing, but ultimately does little to disguise the fact that you are killing X number of Vine Cats or trying to collect X number of drops. Partying with other people greatly alleviates the grind as you can have group conversations with Non-Player characters (NPCs) when you begin quests or finish them. This is an interesting experience that I HIGHLY recommend, since the voice acting reacts dynamically to who is speaking and what that character saying.
Companions make a return in this BIOWARE game. I enjoyed my companions unique story, enjoyed that companions are unique to each class and thought it was interesting the way companions react to the environment around them. Companions are controlled by an action bar full of buttons which is separate from yours and help a player pretend they are not playing a multi-million player game by themselves.
There are also space-ships and space battles to be had, which operate like scripted air dog fights similar to STARFOX. I was extremely skeptical about these when they were announced but having played a few now and upgraded my ship, I can proudly declare myself a believer. As a take it or leave it mini-game within SWTOR I felt they were fun and helped break up what the player is doing.
The environments are all unique and expansive and beautiful. Because BIOWARE has an entire planet to craft they can focus on grandiose themes for each sprawling world. When you transition between areas the experience feels less jarring than in a fantasy MMO where you have a jungle-zone, fire-zone, and ice-zone all beside one another. There is a ton to explore, though rarely is it safe to go alone as players of the opposing faction (Empire or Republic) are also populating these worlds along with hordes of dangerous monsters. You can hunt for the hidden datacrons that are scattered throughout the universe and offer permanent power-ups to those adventurous enough to find them.
You may also gather materials from salvageable junk, flora, or chemicals to craft into useful items. All while listening to hours upon hours of gorgeous Star Wars music. Also, STAR WARS, YAAAAAY! Having this MMO set in the Star Wars universe is enough to get some people to buy the game; if you are indifferent towards the series then the game itself will certainly do the franchise no injustice.
If you are not a fan of MMO’s SWTOR will make no attempts to win you over. Not having the time to sink into the game, and people who populate your galaxy, will result in a very mediocre experience. If you do NOT like long BIOWARE dialogue and hate the idea of killing 18 Vine Cats to collect 5 teeth then you better live out the rest of your days as a good person, because SWTOR will be waiting for you in your personal hell. If you are on the fence about MMOs and SWTOR I cannot express enough how important it is to find a great guild, download voice chat, and have yourself a good time because it is all well worth it.
Star Wars the Old Republic earns 3 out of five stars from me, the highest honour a MMO can hope for when compared to other games on the market. It earns the half star due to the crazy fun people I am playing it with. Is that fair to single player games? No, but this is an MMO folks, and it’s all about the BROs.