Let’s ignore the utter clusterfuck that was ordering “Star Wars: The Old Republic” from Tesco Entertainment in the first place. I’m going to give my first impressions of the game itself and do not wish my fuming bitterness from having received my early access code just five hours before the games official launch to have any bearing on my opinions of this brand new, sexy and highly anticipated MMORPG. Neither am I going to let my numerous unanswered calls and emails of complaint and dissatisfaction taint my feelings towards Biowares online opus.
I find it quite hard to not compare The Old Republic to its predecessor, Star Wars Galaxies, I’m not sure why, possibly because they are both online role-playing games set in the Star Wars universe. I enjoyed Galaxies, I know it had its critics and from what I can tell, after visiting briefly a couple of years after I had stopped playing, introducing the New Game Enhancements was a poor decision. However I have many fond memories of my time there, as well as many folders of screenshots, naturally when I am playing The Old Republic I often think back to how it compares to my time in Galaxies.
So anyway. here are my initial thoughts following 17 levels of game time.
A single player MMORPG
Bioware promised a lot with The Old Republic (TOR) and on paper it is a very ambitious title but can they really change the face of online role-playing games? So far, I’m not so sure.
The Old Republic is a solid game at the core and it is certainly refreshing to have a lot more depth to the quests rather than the usual drivel of “kill 10 raving sloths” or “deliver a crate of fish to the Mountie”. Don’t get me wrong, these tasks are still there but the above average writing gives the impression that there is a point to them. All in all the single player experience, so far at least, seems to be thorough and enjoyable. However in my eyes the implementation of the single player experience is where the potential problem lies.
So far playing TOR feels like you are playing a single player RPG that just happens to have other people in it, rather than being a true group experience. I thought Bioware had cracked it, had found a way of having the type of depth and choice that KOTOR did within a MMO world but this is not the case and in fact it can limit the online experience. You have group missions, repeatable ones seemingly designed to allow people to type LFG in the general chat channel but other than that it can be quite hard to team up with others for the full experience of a standard quest. Level and class restrictions mean that you have to be quite meticulous in the coordination of when to do quests otherwise you will just have people tagging along for the fights, unable to be involved in the story and conversations, standard for an MMORPG I know but it kind impacts on one of TORs unique selling points.
Shrunken worlds, expanded life
The worlds, so far, are well realised, they look the part but they just don’t seems as vast as I would hope. This may change as I visit more places but currently I am lacking a sense of scale, I was hoping to trek across great landscapes, occasionally fighting wild beasts then making camp to tend to our weary e-bodies. But everything in TOR is very contained and compact, it can still take a while to travel from one side of a map to the other but the sense of huge just isn’t there. It’s also far too populated, you can’t find a place where there isn’t another player, enemy or NPC, it’s just too damn busy. In Galaxies you would leave a bustling town or outpost knowing you would actually be heading into the wild, it really felt like an expedition and you certainly had to be prepared. No such risk in TOR thanks to the convenient taxi ranks and quick travel posts dotted around the place.
It’s great to have a companion, someone to run errands for you, someone to cuddle up to in the corner of a cantina. What is not great is the pair of you running past another incarnation of your companion, either the original NPC you met before they joined you or as one of their many clones that appear to have latched onto other players. Why couldn’t they make you able to design the look of your companion as you would your own character? It seems like a simple solution to prevent these people spawning hundreds of copies of themselves across the galaxy. And while we’re on the subject of character design…
It is common knowledge that the best part of any RPG is designing your own character, I am sure I am not alone in spending many gleeful hours carefully adjusting my cheekbone height and forehead depth. So why have Bioware given us such lackluster character creation for TOR? There is no fine tuning, it is literally just presets, and sometimes presets with little sense. Why is there a setting for an extremely fat Twi’lek but humans only range from skinny to burly? Do humans in this galaxy have some kind of innate biological ability that prevents obesity?
Choose your destiny
TOR is a difficult one to judge, there are plenty of other criticisms such as the restriction of some races to specific classes, why can’t I be a Twi’lek imperial agent? Or the fact that you have to choose an allegiance at the start of the game, whatever happened to making decisions as the game naturally evolves? But there are a lot of positives too such as the overall mechanics of the game, which are solid if not standard, and it certainly feels like Star Wars. The voice acting is generally superb and varied, in particular the imperial officers have the expected snide, yet well spoken British tone about them, although I’m not sure that the occasional Welsh accent I have come across really fits, but then I suppose Obi-Wan was Scottish in his younger years. It is good fun to play and the single player experience could be a possible match for KOTOR, I’m just still not sure the multiplayer aspect hasn’t suffered from this and when the time comes I’m still not convinced I’ll be willing to pay £8 a month to play an online single player game.