Star Wars: The Old Republic review

A long time ago… in a galaxy that BioWare and EA recreated, the newest Star Wars MMO was born.  Like the mighty phoenix, Star Wars Galaxies ends and Star Wars: The Old Republic rises up from the ashes.  Trust me, by no means am I comparing Galaxies to Old Republic — that would be just, no, never.  With lightsabers and blasters ready, a new science-fiction MMORPG (massive multiplayer online role-playing game) blazes its place in the gaming scene.  Has the game lived up to the hype?  Is it a must for any Star Wars fan gamer?  Is this just World of Warcraft in space?  Enough time has elapsed; time to tackle the review for this massive game.

First thing first, the classic Star Wars intro doesn’t exactly work here since the game has only been officially out for two months now.  A whole lot has happened since those two months, though.  We have had nearly a patch a week, one major content patch, and revamps to PvP.  These have been some busy weeks for BioWare.

There’s no way to get into this without just getting down and dirty with SWTOR; where else to begin than with character creation?  In my opinion, a MMO need to have very involved character creation system.  Why?  Simple — the reason is because you are going to look at this character for potentially endless hours.  I want sliders, bars, and everything to be adjustable; I want so many options for character design that it’s downright stupid.  SWTOR does not deliver on this. 

The Old Republic character creation is quite simple with no sense of downright stupid options.  Depending on your class, your get a choice of four to five race choices on average.  There are no differences in the races outside of aesthetic appearance and a social ability.  You can pick your race, your gender, if you’re tall or fat, hair styles, hair color, face paint / scars, and tattoos.  That’s it.  I’ll admit the creation system was a letdown.  I’ve seen a few characters look very similar to my own.  End game it doesn’t matter anyways because anyone who is your class has the same armor and looks the same anyways. 

The two factions are the Republic and Empire.  Each faction has four iconic Star Wars mirror classes that are close to identical.  Each of the four classes for your faction has two advanced classes which can never be changed; so essentially, each faction has eight near-unique classes.  If you say to yourself, "I would like to make a Star Wars character like <insert iconic Star War hero / villain," you can.  The game caters to this concept.  The iconic smuggler gets a Wookie companion, and the Jedi travels with a droid.  You travel to hot and cold desert planets like Tatooine and Hoth, which are both extremely remote.  Sure, those planets have some use, but you only really go there because they are planets fans know.     

Alright, so you have your character and after a short video, you are into dialogue conversations.  The conversations are attached to choice wheels common to BioWare’s Mass Effect series.  There is an average of three choices, and sometimes these decisions include light side or dark side choices.  These classic good vs evil decisions push your character downthe path of righteousness or destruction.  Certain armor, weapons, and vehicles can only be unlocked by attaining a certain tier of light side or dark side.  The dark side takes a toll on your appearance, making you pale with red eyes and veins all over your face.  The cosmetic changes can be turned off with an option’s setting. 

The stories for each of the four classes are simply amazing (advanced classes share the same story as the base class).  The story missions tell you which planet you should be on for your level and progress in a linear style.  Having the element of a continuous plot adds a layer of fun to the regularly mindless leveling process.  While plowing through my class missions, I found myself getting drawn into my individual storyline and wanted to continue it.  I needed to know what was going to happen next.  Never have I experienced an MMO that has such engaging plots.

Let’s talk voice acting for a moment.  The entire game, minus vendors, is voice-acted with multiple speech options for each character.  That is a ton of voice acting.  When you consider that each NPC has multiple speech options with responses for each, times multiple planets, times two factions = mind blown.  No other game has ever had that much voice acting before — ever.

Throughout your story, you will pick up five unique companion characters and one companion that your entire faction gets.  These companions are NPCs that follow you and help you in your quests.  They come with different roles like tank, DPS, healer, hybrid, etc. — each with two "stances" for more versatility and control like pet characters in other MMOs.  You have affection with these characters, which can rise or drop with decisions you make during quests and dialogue.  Their affection can also rise with gift giving.  Certain members of your character’s opposite sex can be flirted with, courted, and even married.  While BioWare has not yet allowed for bisexual or homosexual characters, future expansions have said this will be implemented.      

Your companions can do all of your gathering and crafting for you.  Each character can learn three crew skills, and each companion gets different bonuses to crew skills.  These skills are a mix of gathering, crafting, and mission skills.  Mission skills can get you new patterns, raise your dark /light side points, money boxes, and rare crafting materials.  In my experience playing the game, crafting crew skills are nearly useless.  Diplomacy is good for getting your dark / light side up and for companion gifts, then it is useless.  Biochem is the only true useful crew skill since it makes unique stims that give you hearty stat bonuses and can be reused.  After a week at 50, all crafting skills seems useless.  Level 50 PvE flashpoints / heroic versions get you better gear than the crafting options.  Not to mention, champion and centurion level PvP gear is thrown at you.

What makes flashpoints (instances) unique in SWTOR is that they are groups of four instead of the traditional five man setup.  While there is a 2-man flashpoint at level 10, it is not until around level 17 that there flashpoints up to level 50.  There are a handful of flashpoints which can be redone on harder difficulties once you reach 50.  There are also operations, which are similar to raids in WoW.  Operations come in 8-man and 16-man sizes.  

Many of the boss fights in flashpoints and operations have tricks and strategies to defeat them.  This keeps players on their toes and pushes the MMO away from traditional ‘tank-n-spanks.’  When there are only four members in your group, the death of one takes a huge toll on the party.  In operations, the trash mobs can hit harder than bosses, but bosses can take 5+ minutes to defeat.  There is nothing too unusual about these PvE options though: tanks, healers, DPS, strategy, wipe, wipe, wipe, and win.  Don’t get me wrong, they are still fun and entertaining.

PvP on the other hand is a whole different kit-and-caboodle.  Rampant faction imbalance, nearly across all servers, affects PvP in numerous ways.  The first and most frequent issue is warzone variety.  While there are a total of three warzones currently, you're almost always playing Huttball.  This is no random roll of the dice; there is a reason.  Of the three, Huttball is the only warzone that pitts the same faction against itself.  Due to the server imbalances, the chances of fighting the opposing faction are far more rare than facing your own.  I’ve faced my own guild mates numerous times.  While a little in-guild competition is fun, I’d much rather destroy the other faction.              


World PvP suffers a similar fate due to server imbalance.  Ilum, the world PvP planet, suffers from one huge side camping the other, smaller-sized side.  This ultimately demoralizes the smaller faction, making them less likely to even bother.  This reaction doesn’t allow the larger faction to do world PvP, thus ruining the system.  Ideally, each faction would have an operation-sized group fighting the other faction’s operation-sized group; what really happens is that one side lets the other kill everyone and then they tradeoff.  Why does this happen?  Because there is a quest to get 30 kills every day.  So yea, Ilum in its current state still needs work.

Outside of Ilum, world PvP is rare.  While there planets both factions go to, the areas they occupy on these planets are far from each other with little to no overlap.  If you are world PvPing outside of Ilum, you are searching for it.  This ultimately makes little difference in a PvE or a PvP server. 

The PvP gear system is a mess.  There are three tiers — from worst to best are Centurion, Champion, and Battle Master.  You can’t use battle master gear until you get Valor rank 60 (Valor is your PvP level you gain from participating in world PvP and warzones).  The system used to be that through daily / weekly quests and commendations you get Champion bags, which you open and randomly get rewards.  Most the time you just get three centurion commendations that you collect and buy Centurion gear with. There is also a chance of getting an unassembled Champion gear piece, which is then traded in for Champion gear; like if you get a boots token, you can trade it in for Champion boots.  The problem is that the system is entirely random and you get duplicate gear.  My friend has gotten two and a half full Champion sets, and I only have half of one — even though we are near the same Valor rank. 

BioWare fixed this PvP system 2/7/12 with the 1.1.2 patch; Champion bags now give a set number of Centurion and Champion commendations.  This change takes out the random element and makes all items obtainable through attrition.  This change was made during my review; I decided to leave the previous paragraph in to show how things were.    

The next innovative area is space combat.  For an MMO, this struck me as a big deal.  Sure it’s just a spaceship shooter on rails, but what a different way to gain experience.  There are daily space combat quests that get you a TON of experience for — especially for how long they take you to compete.  Your spaceship is like a character that you gear.  As you gain higher levels, you can upgrade your ship’s weaponry, missiles, shields, armor, and get abilities.

Space missions are fun because they are different.  I’m leveling an alt right now from space missions, PvP, and class missions alone.  The negative about space combat is that it gets old.  While it is completely innovative and fun, doing the same missions over and over again is tedious.  Many of the missions are just harder versions of previous missions, as well.  Once you get 50, you will stop doing space missions.  Sure, there are credits attached, but it just doesn’t seem worth it anymore — see next point.       

In SWTOR there is NO economy.  Yea, while leveling you have a credit shortage; abilities get expensive; and then they throw in speeder piloting and the speeder themselves, which set you back.  After a few weeks of being 50, you have nearly infinite credits.  I’ve had over a million and a half credits without trying.  I’ve upgraded all of my bank slots and carrying slots, bought gifts for my companions, and fully upgraded my ship.  I do a lot of PvPing and the system just gives you massive amounts of credits — win or lose.  When tons of 50s have over a million credits, how can there be an economy?  When everyone is rich, what is the value of money?  

A huge boon to the game is how user friendly it is.  SWTOR has amazing features for catering to certain disabilities.  Some of these features include a colorblind friendly mini-map, full subtitles, all lines being spoken, AoE looting, and the ability to queue up powers.  Not to mention the mail system one click and select every item in your inbox, and one more click to loot all attachments — genius.  The Star Wars enabling grants the ability to use on-screen keyboards, voice activation software, and mouse sensitivity settings for those who need it.  AbleGamers voted SWTOR as 2011’s Accessible Mainstream Game of the year.   

My experience playing Star Wars: The Old Republic has had its ups and downs.  The strong points of the game are the story and leveling.  There have been few MMOs where I looked forward to playing an alt for the sole purpose of playing though the story.  The game plays a lot like a single-player game, just with social aspects and other players around.  You only really need to group to complete heroic quests and flashpoints.  Through grouping, you get social points, but even in the end your social level matters little.  Trust me, I did heroics and flashpoints while leveling, but I never felt like I needed that gear to proceed.  This isn’t uncommon among MMOs.

However, because the story and leveling was so enjoyable for me, I feel like the game hits a wall at 50.  Sure, now operations and the level 50 PvP bracket opens up, but there isn’t much else to do.  All those companions you loved or hated have little to no use anymore, your individual story halts, you have infinite credits, crafting is useless, and there is no more need for space combat.  All that's left are harder flashpoints, operations, and PvP.  I know what you’re thinking: "How is this different from any other MMO?"  That's a fair point.  To me, it seems like in other MMOs, the game starts at max level; in SWTOR the game drops off at max level.  Due to the stories being so well done, the most alluring option is to create a new character or mindlessly PvP (Hutball after Hutball) until you get at least Valor 60.    

My final thoughts are positive towards Star Wars: The Old Republic — it really is a great game.  I wasn’t sold until I tried the beta.  Before SWTOR, I told myself I was done with MMOs, but SWTOR truly took elements from successful MMOs, tweaked improvements on them, and added features like no other game.  The main thing you need to remember is that it is a brand new MMO.  On top of that, it has already had a major content patch with another on the way in March, and possibly one every two months.  That’s pretty damn good.  The new content is mainly for level 50s — new flashpoints, operations, and even warzones coming in the future.  BioWare is on top of making changes and hotfixes, as well; they are definitely trying.  The mysterious "Legacy" system should be in effect this March, as well, and that is something to look forward too.  If you are a MMO fan or a Star Wars fan, I definitely suggest this game to you.  If you aren’t familiar with MMOs, I also feel like this game is easy to pick up and suck you in.  While everything isn’t explained as clearly as possible, the diverse options allow for a better gaming experience.  As a final note, the environments are absolutely beautiful and a huge plus in my opinion.  I promise there are no Gungans in the game.