Not As Good As I Expected
While writing a review for The Old Republic (TOR) it’s difficult to not draw comparisons to World of Warcraft. Over the years, I’ve tried most of the latest MMOs to come down the pipe, (Age of Conan, LOTRO, RIFT, etc), and TOR feels like a progression of the genre but still not quite the WoW killer I hoped it would be.
Graphically, TOR’s art direction is somewhere between the old Star Wars Galaxies look and The Clone Wars animated series. It works for the most part but considering the extensive source material (and the awesome pre-rendered cinematics), I was left feeling disappointed. After wandering around the game world for a few minutes, I was searching on the TOR forums for the “high res” option, thinking I must have mistakenly installed a low-res texture pack. It just doesn’t look that good - everything looks very plastic-y for lack of a better term, like decent textures have been slapped over low polygon models. Strangely, when the game is running it heats up my i7 CPU and video card as much as Skyrim.
The environments aren’t as open ended as other MMOs. You’re usually being forced through a series of large rooms connected by corridors. These rooms and corridors are cleverly disguised as canyons, city blocks, and warehouses connected by alleyways. However you never really feel free to wander off in any single direction. Whole planets are summarized into maze-like zones that you could run straight across in a few minutes, if there weren’t all those artificial walls and pathways in place.
Conversely, parts of the game world are much more open than it needs to be. The non combat areas of Coruscant are perfect examples of this – vast expanses of empty courtyards and featureless building interiors that do nothing but prolong the time it takes to get to your class trainer or a bank. They could take the entire city and compress it to half it’s size and it’d still be too big.
Flight paths and bind points are far apart and since you don’t have the freedom to run in a straight line, you’re often stuck fighting the same packs of enemies simply to get to a rest area. The binding system is also strangely limited as you’re stuck teleporting back to roughly the same geographical area. It’s aggravating to walk through countless empty hallways and hangars to take a shuttle to the Fleet area just to find out that you have to retrace almost your entire journey to get to an area where you actually get back to your bind stone.
Every class gets a series of companions – the equivalent of pets in other MMOs. The companions have their own personalities and side quests, and the game does a good job of treating them as individuals instead of some cannon fodder that you just send in ahead of a pull to absorb damage.
Unfortunately, companions force you into a pet management roll. I am not a fan of Pet classes, but in TOR you’re forced to use one. Combat usually involves fighting small groups of enemies that do a mix of ranged and melee damage, and the damage output of these groups makes using your companion essential.
While this may add a strategic depth to your target selection and skill use, many times it just adds and unnecessary complication to simple fights. Alone, I’m not strong enough to defeat a group of enemies without significant post-fight downtime, but with my companion the same group of enemies is easy and routine.
Furthermore, you have to expend time and resources gearing out your companion. While some people may enjoy this flexibility, I found it a hassle. You end up with multiple companions, each of them having a different role like healer, tank, or DPS. The UI doesn’t make it easy to determine which gear your companions already have, or if the piece of gear that just dropped is useful to any (or all!) of your companions. Every green drop you’ll find yourself summoning each companion and slowly mousing over every item to determine if the drop should be used or sold.
Because the enemy strength progression is based on your strength WITH a geared companion, you’re forced into this constant gear adjustment.
You can also modify several pieces of gear (similar to enchanting or using gem slots) for both you and your companions – making inventory management time consuming and expensive.
Many classes have “trigger” abilities, meaning you use them after you dodge an attack or the enemy blocks on of yours. You spend a lot of time staring at your toolbar, waiting for the appropriate buttons to light up. The TOR UI cannot be modified – you can’t even move most of the windows around - and there’s no support for macros, both of which is odd in this day of customizable interfaces.
The crafting system is interesting, in where you send your companions out on “missions” to gather the various materials, and then you send them away to actually craft the item. They are then unavailable to you for minutes of in-game time while they complete their mission. This makes you think strategically, because your DPS companion may be better at finding light sabre parts, but if you send him away for 7 minutes you’ll have to compensate for his absence in combat.
All classes use some sort of rechargeable “mana” bar (called either Ammo, the Force, Weapon Heat, etc) that counts down as you use abilities. Many abilities also have their own independent cool downs. Furthermore, some classes have different recharge rates of their “mana” bar (ie at 0% mana the recharge is slower than at 75% mana), which further complicates the system. There’s no auto-attack buton, so you need to be actively involved in using a variety of attacks for every combat situation, even the ones far below your level. Without an auto-attack, you are quite literally doing no damage unless you’re on the ball with your hot keys, which means you have to be on the ball with your cooldowns.
I enjoyed the group conversation options in the Flashpoints and had a few good rounds of PVP. Flashpoints feel like well written chapters of a good sci-fi story instead of just another kill everything until you reach the boss Instance. PVP goes out it’s way to make sure teams and abilities are balanced. Both are welcome additions to the typical MMO formula. Having your own star ship with your own crew also feels great for the first few hours, until you realize your ship-based missions are on-rail shooters and your ship itself really just a flight path hub with crafting stations and bank access.
I probably won’t renew my TOR subscription past my initial 30 days. I’m glad I gave it a try and experienced some of the ways Bioware has attempted to keep the genre fresh. It does many things well, but still just doesn’t have enough compelling features to keep me interested. I have vivid memories of playing nonstop for hours with each WoW session, but with TOR I’m done for the night after about an hour. It just doesn’t bring enough to the genre to keep me interested. The source material is the major thing TOR has going for it.