Review by Kayos90
"Should you visit this galaxy far far away?"
Star Wars: The Old Republic Review
In a Galaxy Far Far Away, is what I'd like to say before I start this review because honestly it's fitting that anything Star Wars related starts out like this. Having said that, it's actually important to discuss what is possibly one of the most anticipated and long and overdue MMORPGs this decade. The Old Republic is the killer app that is supposed to top World of Warcraft but does this grand escapade into the deep knowns and unknowns of space measure up to that expectation or is it something that should just be left unexplored?
If you want to explore the expansive universe of The Old Republic, which I will henceforth call TOR, then you might want to strap yourself in for what's in it. The game plays like WoW except for presentation differences. Everything in the game essentially has voiceovers. This means that all the quests and all of the cutscenes and all of the little things such as interacting with the NPCs around the world speaks. This is very different from other MMOs and it's what will essentially set it apart from other games. In fact, it's hard for many future MMOs to compete against TOR partially because of its presentation. The phenomenal effort that went into the voice acting really shows as your character interacts with the various citizens of the Republic and Empire spanning multiple planets. They talk with urgency, joy, sadness, and sometimes with insanity. All of the emotions that span a human spectrum is portrayed very well and really helps the immersion. It's typical of Bioware to exceed on all fronts in this aspect considering their track record and they certainly don't disappoint here. Just like the voice acting being absolutely phenomenal the soundtrack is astounding as well. While there are pieces from John Williams, not all of it is written by him. Don't be discouraged as the track holds up very well sometimes mimicking his style perfectly. Amazing Star Wars-esque battle anthems will queue when you enter a fight and cutscenes that need a dramatic tone to heighten the mood always comes in perfectly. It's these types of tight audio presentational packaging that truly sets TOR above and beyond the typical MMORPG.
The graphics in TOR is something you might've not expected. While it doesn't follow the extreme cartoonish look of WoW it doesn't exactly follow the realistic tone of Rift or Guild Wars. Instead, what you get is something in-between. Your characters look something of a more animated style reminiscent of Clone Wars if you've seen the show. It's very fitting for the game and allows the characters and the world to be rich with detail while not using a lot of effort to create a sense of immersive realism. It's the combination of being in a world that resembles Star Wars but at the same time crafting a new experience that can only be achieved by the artistic direction that TOR has taken. Your character's eyes glisten as they talk to their companions and their faces exert emotion the same way you expect from a high production value game. The subtle line that could've been crossed by making the game extremely cartoony or extremely realistic then merges to allow a new style to be undertaken where the Clone Wars-like graphics allow the players to feel like they are truly exploring the world in a unique way. Not many developers can pull this off but Bioware does this well. Unfortunately, you might need quite a powerful computer to run this game. The minimum requirements are the bare minimum and you will often time find yourself playing on the lowest setting, and the game doesn't look that great when it's on low. It's also weird that TOR didn't come packaged with high-res textures since the game would look absolutely stunning with them. Bioware has addressed this issue and the game will feature them soon.
It's sad that Bioware has created this wonderful art direction but fails to pull it off due to lackluster planet environments and design. Often times you will be exploring halls and corridors that are very plain with no personality or large open worlds with absolutely nothing exciting about them. For example, Taris is a planet full of rubble, ruins, and greens but executes them in a way that makes the planet boring and stale. Everywhere you look feels the same altogether and the sense of Oh, I've been there becomes all too familiar. While certain planets are excused from this, such as Tatooine or Hoth, due to the very empty nature of the planet, you can't help but feel a little cheated that perhaps these planets were chosen because it was easier to design than perhaps some of the more unexplored or unvisited planets of the Star Wars galaxy. Planets such as Nar Shadda and Balmorra are amazing to look at due to the clever nature of the planet design. The former captures a much darker and moodier Coruscant something akin to a space Las Vegas while the latter feels like a scene out of the Clone Wars with Drones, Sith, and Troopers fighting everywhere. It's moments like these that can be spread all throughout the game that can make visiting and exploring each planet worth it but unfortunately, it's just not there.The planets that are just a thrill to go through and explore such as Belsavis, which is odd considering it's a prison planet, and the very diverse Autumn-like planet of Voss come in very late into the game. It's a very odd design choice considering almost all of the boring, long, and dull planets are in the early stages of the character development instead of the end. Perhaps Bioware believed in the philosophy of saving the best for last, but knowing that you have to dread through dozens of hours to get to the awesome parts feels like a large flaw in the overall design of the game.
The narrative of the game is the absolute best feature about this game. Each of the 8 classes will have a story that stretches out from level 1 to level 50. This means that there is rarely a time where you will grind through a particular section of the game. In fact, if you do the main story quests and do side quests here and there, you can get to 50 without much trouble. Essentially, the developers made it so that you can experience the story without the grinding taking its toll. All the quests are voiced so this means that you will actually often times be listening and watching to the cutscenes. During these cutscenes a dialogue wheel appear where you will choose to answer the questions in a conversation a certain way. This immerses the player into the experience and while sometimes choosing a certain answer doesn't do much, since it's a means to an end, there are answers that will shift you to the Light side or the Dark side. These sides essentially dictate what gear you can wear and what you can't since equipment you receive later on are locked for a certain side. While the Empire storylines are often much more intriguing and mysterious than the Republic, both offer a particular style and this is all done due to its excellently crafted script. The dialogues feel very genuine due to the writing being very consistent and cohesive. It's clever in trying to bring about humor and urgency, and of course the voiceover I stated earlier improves upon this. However, not all is great with the story. The narrative, especially noticeable on the Republic side, can be very repetitive. You will be going from planet to planet with a single objective in mind and will repeat the process again and again. For the Consular you will be saving Jedi Masters again and again for a good few planets. While each planet has its own story arc and can be interesting, the idea of doing the same thing for a long while gets tiresome. Luckily there are 3 Acts to each class creating varied and diverse narratives. The Imperial Agent, on the other hand, makes you really feel like a secret agent spy much like James Bond and is excellently crafted to the point that it can bring your heart pounding.
Of course, while presentation matters heavily, if the game doesn't play well, it's not a good game. It's sad to say that the overall gameplay in TOR is rather disappointing. Players will find that they are almost playing the same game as WoW in terms of combat. You just click on a target and attack it with the various skills that are in your arsenal. While it may seem like a description of very single MMORPG, TOR does it in a way that's very bland and mundane. In fact if it wasn't for the fact that you had to click a button to attack, since there is no auto-attack, and a Star Wars skin over it you would think that it plays almost like WoW. It's almost as if Bioware made the combat not the main star in this game, rather it's the presentation. The monotonous combat is particularly annoying since combat is a big portion of the game. Whether you are questing through the storyline or going through Operations and Flashpoints, which are like raids, you find yourself just clicking buttons in a rotational manner that causes you to rinse and repeat certain moves. Almost all the skills feel exclusive to each other when the exception of a few and you find yourself just using stronger moves to kill stuff instead of cleverly strategizing skills to kill enemies. While it might not have a been a problem a few years ago, the MMO genre has becoming stagnant and this game definitely shows that the tried and true formula of the old is just not good anymore.
Questing also is a hassle due to the MMORPG Trinity that was created a while back. Every group will always need a tank to take damage, a DPS to dish it out, and a healer to obviously heal. This formula was first invented a while back and it's an absolute disappointment that it's reared its ugly head in this game. This allows for certain classes and roles to always be existent making it less compelling to play perhaps the other types of classes that the game has to offer. In fact, the classes that are offered are very interesting. Each Class branches off into 2 roles called Advance Classes at Level 10. These Advance Classes are specialized roles of the basic classes. Jedi Consular can become a Shadow which is like an assassin or become a Sage which is a mage. These various branching classes allow for 8 classes to exist in all; the Republic and Empire have counterparts for each class as to not disrupt the balance of the game. It's also clear that certain classes are just flat out completely useless. Maurader or the Sentinel feel like they don't deal out enough damage that players may expect especially considering they take an absurd amount of damage. There are definite class imbalances that exist and it shows as the characters progress through the various planets.
Throughout your time questing you might also find that your journey to be sometimes too empty and too lifeless. In fact, despite it being an MMORPG, the game often plays like a single layer with MMO elements. While this isn't particularly bad, it isn't particularly great either. The reason for this is because of the fact that the planets are instanced oddly. As you explore the planet you will rarely ever come across players and when you do it'll be once every 30 or so minutes. Perhaps this will be changed in the future but it's a little sad to know that there is hardly some sort of company to see as you explore the vast galaxy.
While PvE seems bland boring and monotonous, PvP can be quite hectic. The insane amount of jumping, lightning, and explosions might turn off some players but don't let it discourage you from trying this aspect of the game out. Unfortunately, once you do, you might not return. The imbalance of classes in PvE spreads to PvP but in a much more damaging manner. You will often see certain classes dominating in the results screen and it's quite clear that the amount of Crowd Control moves make it so that death is even quicker to you. To top this disaster off, currently the bracket is set so that the level 10s can possibly enter a match against high level 40s. While there is a stat booster to make it even, the equipment stats don't transition making it a disaster. Having one or two more high level characters on the opposing side can make all the difference for ruining the match. How this passed Bioware's testing during any stage of the game's development is baffling.
However, not all in this game is bad. The game is a blast to play due to the addition of Companions. These are AI controlled characters that follow you around as you traverse through the different worlds. This inclusion is one of the best gameplay systems in the game and definitely alters the experience as a whole. Partying no longer becomes a hassle since you can just use a companion to fit a certain role. Not only this but each class comes with a different set of Companions. Each Companion has his or her own backstory that develops over time as you grow closer to them and allows for you to really care about them. Of course, if you're a Sith, you can just play your role and not care. Customization is very interesting in this game as you can reskill your abilities as often as you like since the costs of doing so are somewhat relatively low and you get a free reskill every week. It's this ability that allows the player to explore the various types of styles that your character can employ and it's considerate that Bioware included this. Certain equipment that you pick up can be modded by removing certain enhancements or attachments. This means that you don't always have to wear that horrible looking gear all the time. Instead you can just replace it with new mods that you might've picked up in the previous area. Looking good helps to drive the experience, though it may be a superficial thing. Not all the armors look good, most notably, the Consular outfits are just ridiculous, exceeding that of Lady Gaga's outrageous wardrobe.
Traveling to and from planets are done by spaceships. Each character will receive a spaceship once they leave the starting planet and you will use it to now proceed to explore the galaxy from there. This isn't the only use for your spaceship. In fact, your spaceship acts as a hub for completing quests, meeting up with your Companions, or storing goods. Beyond this, it also serves one major function: space battle. It sounds awesome, right? You control the ship with the typical WASD keys and aim with your mouse. Unfortunately that's about it. The space combat isn't even a fully fleshed out mini-game, if you can even call it that. It's a very watered down on-rails shooter that tries to disguise itself with the illusion of giving you control. While it may appear that you can move your ship with the WASD keys, you actually only move around a small radius of where your target cursor is. If it wasn't for the fact that this was optional, it would completely ruin the experience. While, Bioware hasn't really said anything about the ship combat, it's safe to say that this is the worst aspect about the game right next to the horrible PvP system.
The endgame is perhaps where it's the most interesting. Once you hit 50 and you've finished your class quest you have access to a planet exclusive for your level called Ilum. In this planet you will have a classic Raid like WoW and you will be able to continue onto the epilogue story. In addition to this you can tackle harder versions of Flashpoints as well. If you're bored of that then you can always make a new class since the unique story will draw you in. The game is full content and it's rare that an MMO will have this much content at launch. The first major Patch, 1.1, was just released adding a new Raid and Flashpoint in addition to some tweaks. Bioware has been very dedicated at delivering content for the players and have already begin to work on the Patch 1.2 and beyond making sure there is enough fun to go around until 2013.
Just like an MMORPG, I can go on and on about the game and detail every single thing that the game has to offer. In a nutshell The Old Republic is something that will feel very similar at the same time very new to those who played WoW. In fact, it's almost a cookie cutter type of game except for a few unique presentation differences, locale and setting diversities, and a high production value. Even so, the game is a thrill to play through. Presentation is very high and the end product definitely reflects this. The gameplay is good but it's definitely showing its age. All of the content, detail, and mechanics of the game combine to present a great game but one that doesn't stray too far from the typical MMO formula. While the game innovates the presentation of MMORPGs, it doesn't do much beyond that. If you have the time, money, and perhaps a strong inclination for exploring the Star Wars galaxy, then this deserves your chance.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 01/31/12
Game Release: Star Wars: The Old Republic (US, 12/20/11)
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