Posted on February 27, 2012
Star Wars : The Old Republic
I was determined to review what I could of SW:TOR after a week of owning it, but that seems kind of silly now because I underestimated the extent to which your character’s story continues through the game. I thought that after the starter area was done, you’d be thrust out into the real world and made to carve out your own narrative. Nope. Turns out destiny dogs me even beyond the starter area. So in as much as I’m only part way through a story of unknown length, I’ll tell you how it is going so far.
As much as any of may love the Star Wars movies – by which, obviously, I mean the real ones – playing this game has taught me two things about how visceral that love is:
1) The Star Wars movies are great, but John Williams’ score is a Masterpiece.
2) You could give me any news, even awful news if you used the intro music and scrolling text from Star Wars. I’m conditioned to be super excited about what is going to happen next, in a way that few things in life have conditioned me and most importantly, I’d bet there are a lot of people roughly my age who are exactly the same*. This doesn’t happen very often. It is the cork starting to move from the neck of a champagne bottle, it is the clasps of a bra sliding apart, the slowing of the rollercoaster car as it reaches the summit. SOMETHING AWESOME IS ABOUT TO HAPPEN.
Seriously, try it:
Really takes the edge off it, doesn’t it?
A bit about the game:
Players are divided into two groups, Galactic Republic and Sith Empire. Each side has four classes. Each of these four classes break down to two further specialities after 10th level.
Jedi Consular/Sage: Healing, Ranged DPS. Jedi Consular/Shadow: Tank, Melee DPS.
Jedi Knight/Sentinel: Melee DPS. Jedi Knight/Guardian: Tank, Melee DPS.
Trooper/Vanguard: Tank. Trooper/Commando: Ranged DPS, Healing.
Smuggler/Scoundrel: Healing, Stealth. Smuggler/Gunslinger: Long Range DPS.
Bounty Hunter/Mercenary: Ranged DPS Bounty Hunter/Powertech: Tank
Imperial Agent/Operative: Healing, Stealth Imperial Agent/Sniper: Ranged DPS, Stealth
Sith Inquisitor/Assassin: Stealth, Melee DPS Sith Inquisitor/Sorceror: Ranged DPS, Healing.
Sith Warrior/Juggernaut: Tank Sith Warrior/Marauder: Melee DPS.
All 16 possible character types have their own three-tree builds, with one tree shared between the other half of your class, but the other two unique to that advanced class. This gives you a fair amount of customization under the hood. Cosmetically, there is a decent character creator, allowing you to play Human, Cyborg, Twi’lek, Zabrak, Mirialan and Miraluka on the Republic side and Human, Cyborg, Chiss, Zabrak, Rattataki, Twi’lek and Sith Pureblood on the Sith side.
I’ve played through 12th level with Azun’Pen, my zaftig Twi’lek Jedi Sentinel, built by Overbo, using the Overbo Rule to great effect and through 11th level with Taberry, my enormous impassive snowman of a Republic Commando. So far I’ve found the Jedi the more enjoyable ride.
Pros: The game has a lot to commend it, although in many cases the benefits only seem evident because that’s not how they are done in WOW. But that’s true of the Cons too.
Questgivers: When you go up to someone with a quest to give, you click on them and the conversation between you and them loads. For the duration of the conversation – which is both decently voice-acted and summarized in subtitles at the end (vital when aliens don’t speak English) – the game is on pause. This is surprisingly awesome because the ALWAYS PLAYING aspect of MMORPGs gets old after a while. Anyway, during these conversations, you get to make choices, Light or Dark Side choices about how your character imposes themselves on the galaxy. Building up Light or Dark side points gives you access to certain items, and changes the quests slightly. It also changes your companions loyalty to you. So your interaction with Questgivers is more than simply picking up the number of Boar Pelts they want.
Story quests areas: Some areas are mini one-person instances; you walk into someone’s home and the game stops being an MMO for a while and starts being a regular RPG as your character’s story is advanced in someway. Sometimes these are just conversations, sometimes they are foes that you must face. This solves the problem that other MMOs have with people lining up to kill a named NPC: if they’re important in someway, you’ll get them. Areas you can’t get in have a red shading over the doorway – this means it is someone else’s story area. I haven’t played a Smuggler yet, but evidently a lot of their stories happen in cantinas. Again, if you find a quiet area of a story area, the game is essentially on pause – no new mobs will spawn and everyone will stay where they need to be.
Turning in Quests: Can often be done over your communicator sometimes (initiating another cutscene), which means you don’t have to leave the area to go pick up your XP and prizes. Combined with the ease of travel, it is never a slog to go turn quests in.
Grinding Quests on a secondary level: No-one gives you grinding quests. When you brutally burn your first moisture farmer to death, however, an italicized quest tracker pops up “Kill more moisture farmers 1/10” and when you complete it, you get a small bonus. So if you feel like grinding, good for you. If not, you can just move on.
Movement around the worlds: Every half hour, you can call for a shuttle which will whisk you away to any safe-ish location you’ve discovered. Also, almost every area has a taxi area, allowing you to jump in speeder bikes or taxi skimmers to get from one location to another, sometimes areas that aren’t even very far away.
Crowd Control Combat: You’re awesome. Against normal NPCs of your level, your Jedi wastes them one-on-one. So they don’t let themselves get isolated. Unlike WOW or LOTRO, where you run up to one guy and fight him for a minute, you engage small bands of NPCs, anywhere between 1 and 5, but usually 3. You gauge a fight not by whether you won or not (you’ll win) but how gracefully and smoothly you took everyone down. My Trooper delighted in surprising groups with a strong opening and then periodically stunning most enemies while working on killing one at a time. My Jedi opens quickly and then keeps attackers away from her while she works on her target. The game isn’t hard, but you start judging the execution of your combat, rather than the results. The few times where I have died in regular combat have been due to ambushes or accidentally more groups than I wanted to.
Party of one: You get companions, who have a few roles from which you can choose your favourite. Azun’Pen has a droid who (as well as having some of the best dialog) works as a mini tank. This allows you to take on the NPCs that can kill you one-on-one, elites. Heroic areas still require teaming up, but your companions help out as another PC would, without disappearing mid combat because their lady has something super important to tell them/because their chair collapsed due to MD20/20 induced acrobatic mishaps.
Crafting? What am I, a peasant?: Each Companion can learn three skills, of which one can be a crafting skill. My droid makes weapons, scavenges parts and investigates. This means that I can send him to do those things (as well as send him to sell all my vendor trash mid-mission) for a few minutes and he’ll come back with a weapon, some mechanical parts or some random item/money, respectively.
Flavour: Yes. This game has it. It really does feel like Star Wars and I don’t think it is just because the game is saturated in the John Williams-ish score. They do a great job of making this a Star Wars game without it seeming like they are marketing any current revenue streams outside of the game.
Animations: The animation is very good, even while the graphics are not. My Jedi’s acrobatic lightsaber shenanigans is enjoyable to watch and the facial animations are better than Skyrim’s.
Class Mechanics: Smugglers have a Cover mechanic, where they can duck behind cover while their big hits recharge. Troopers have an ammo mechanic, which spends from a pool of energy to make special attacks. Jedi Knights build their pool up with attacks, then spend them on big attacks. These are all well executed and evident from the beginning of the game – the Cover mechanic is something I hadn’t seen before in MMOs and was pretty cool.
If you strike me down, I’ll become more powerful than you could possibly imagine…: …because six seconds later I’ll pop right back up again and while you’re trying not to shit yourself at the amazing reanimating Twi’lek, I’ll eviscerate you with my lightsword. You can come back to life on the spot or back at the nearest medical droid, which are everywhere. You get diminishing returns on auto-return though, having to wait longer and longer before re-appearing between trips to the droid. That said, all classes can resurrect. So, if someone is nearby, they’ll usually get you back up again quickly.
Graphics: I’m playing this on my cheap laptop, which is evidently stretching its graphics capability. The graphics aren’t great. But you get an appreciation for WOW’s graphic choices because even at low levels, their chunky cartoonish style really did look pretty good. At low levels of performance, SW:TOR looks like Neverwinter Nights and that came out 10 years ago. With a super-duper machine, who knows what it might look like. Graphic texture pop is pretty common for me, as well as some characters in cutscenes being texture and colourless.
There’s no fucking attack button: There isn’t. You cannot autopilot fighting, as you always have to be hitting keys. If I want my Jedi to do anything other than defend, I have to periodically hit a button.
I can’t scroll out far enough: So I can’t see the whole of the combat if some guy is shooting the shit out of me from 20′ away. It shouldn’t take a CSI-style reconstruction of the trajectory for me to figure out where the dick is.
Movement isn’t great: Part of that has to do with the above, not being able to see everything. But mostly it is implementation. In WOW if you ran into a curved wall, you’d follow that curve, because the game assumed you didn’t want to be running in place. In SW:TOR, you’ll just walk over the wall if it is small or run in place. There’s no kind of glide around objects, so bumping your shoulder into cargo crate will stop you dead, rather then causing you slide past it. Also, you don’t auto select the closest enemy, so in the middle of a fight, moving on to opponent two means you have to tab to him, then move and fight. That’s probably my least favourite part of mashing the keyboard.
The Bioware Wheel: All of the currently existing complaints about the Bioware dialog wheel remain unsolved. Those flaws have been covered elsewhere but they are, roughly, that the top one is always goody two-shoes, the middle one is always a bit cynical and the bottom one is what your character would say if he was the guy that flicked jizz at Jodie Foster while she was visiting the prison in Silence of The Lambs.
“Help us Obi Wan, you’re our only hope.”
1) Oh, my. We must help this Princess Leia.
2) Damn… I’m two days from retirement…
3) Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck youuuuuuuuuuur eyes!
The other problem is that sometimes the brief response you think you’re giving turns out to be a bit more nuanced or has a weird inflection that you did not intend.
It is a bit easy: I actually enjoy the way combat goes, but it would be better if those easy brush-cutting exercises were punctuated more frequently with dangerous fights. That’s actually happening more and more as I open up more areas, so maybe it’ll find a decent rhythm.
I’m not interested in playing Sith: Cackle cackle, sneer, dark side, kewl black clothes and kewl bad guy gear. Yawn. Also, no Wookiees on that side, so fuck that. From what Dave B. tells me, it’s a bunch of 14 year olds anyway.
Summary: They wanted to make a MMORPG that was more story-based and by jingo they did it. I’m just not sure it needed to be an MMO at all; they’ve built in so many points where you can put the computer down for a while and go make a sandwich that it deosn’t feel as if the world is moving along without you. That’s convenient to people who have stuff to do; kids to feed and spouses to explain how Netflix works to, etc. As such, I may play it like a regular game and when done shelve it. I feel like I’m getting my money’s worth, but I can’t see where the game will have its hook when the story ends. For now, that’s enough and on more than one occasion I’ve been surprised by 1am while playing this game. Well done, Bioware.
* To be fair, John Barry’s James Bond Theme and wandering gun barrel effect kinda does the same thing.