Star Wars fans waited a long time for the launch of Star Wars: The Old Republic to be able to fully immerse themselves into the universe they know and love? Has the game lived up to that promise? Does The Old Republic capture the look and feel of a galaxy far, far away? Is the Force truly with SWTOR? Let us begin by examining five things that The Old Republic got right.
Please note that in discussing these features, I am focusing on the time period of the game’s launch and shortly thereafter. The main reason for this is that first impressions are critically important, especially so in the crowded MMO market. Players will flock to a new game, but the question is will they stay? SWTOR has to field this question just like any new MMO on the block. The biggest draw for players is how well the game captures the look and feel of the Star Wars universe mixed with fun gameplay. Now that we’ve gotten all that out of the way, let’s look at (in no particular order) five aspects of the game that BioWare got right.
When Star Wars burst onto the scene in 1977, it changed the look of sci-fi. Before that, futuristic settings were clean, sterile, and always looked new. All that changed with the original movie. In Star Wars, the environments looked both used and lived-in. Equipment showed wear and had grime, spaceships could be shabby, and spaceport cantinas could look seedier than a biker’s bar. The Old Republic really nails the look of Star Wars to a tee. The different environments that players travel through ranged from opulent (Alderaan) to dust-choked shabbiness (Tatooine). The equipment that players equip continues along this vein, such as body armor being scratched and chipped. Very few things, outside of the pristine Imperial sphere, look brand new or just out of the box. Traveling throughout The Old Republic, the setting exudes a lived-in quality that makes the world feel more real to the player.
The scale of the settings found within the game also fit the feel of Star Wars. The interiors of hangars and temples are built to a grand scale. While Star Wars had some small, intimate settings, there were a large number of structures built to a colossal scale and this same design philosophy appears in The Old Republic. Players can adventure in places as small as a hut to hearing the echo of their footfalls in the soaring recesses of a mammoth cathedral.
One aspect of the The Old Republic that fully immerses you into the game is the voice acting. I was originally on the fence when I heard that every conversation in the game was going to be fully voice-acted, but now I’m fully behind it. One of the things I loved in the Star Wars movies was that the different alien species had their own language, from the chirpy sounds of the jawas to the slimy, booming voices of the hutts. Hearing those languages from the movies in the MMO really bring home the feel of Star Wars. It just wouldn’t be the same if all the aliens spoke English, plus who doesn’t love the arrogant, disdainful tone of the Sith Imperials when you’re talking to them? Personally, I can’t get enough of the semi-groveling tone of my shipboard robot every time I go back on board.
One of the things that I enjoyed in the original trilogy (yes, I’m a prequel hater!) was the story. The storyline in the original movies was simple, but profound. You had good versus evil, redemption, totalitarianism versus freedom, and conflict played out on an epic scale. The characters and their struggles are what fans fell in love with, plus cool space battles. That’s why I’m glad that the story is strong in The Old Republic. Not only do players follow the various storylines as they travel from planet to planet based upon their faction, but that each class has their own unique storyline to follow.
While you’ll slay virtual galaxies of enemies, the reason why you’re completing quests is based upon the story and the context of that story. Killing pirates is all fine and dandy, but killing pirates to gain the good graces of an Imperial officer so you can draw out his superior for assassination? All the better! Having a different reason to go out and achieve objectives rather than the standard “kill/gather X of this creature” helps make the game more alive and enjoyable. Not to mention some of the cool companion storylines that you can follow. Those storylines really help flesh out your companion and make them feel real. I feel bad when my Bounty Hunter runs away and leaves Mako or Blizz to fight alone.
Combat is the crux of virtually every MMO on the market. To complete missions, you’ll have to kill a whole bunch of bad guys. Besides, when you play a game, you want to be a dealer of ass-kicking, not a tapestry weaver who can run a mean loom. Everybody remembers all the cool fights from the movies and there’s a reason why jedis are so damn popular. That’s why a good combat system is needed. Crappy combat equates to boring or frustrating gameplay, and who wants that? Fortunately, The Old Republic has really sold PvE combat that is fun.
Personally, I like the wide range of attacks that different classes can do from Force Lightning to Death from Above. There is a lot of flashy animation for the combat moves, which enhances my enjoyment of laying the smackdown on some baddies. Different classes have their own distinct combat styles and it’s really cool to see them in play. Players are going to spend the vast majority of their time engaging in combat, so having a fun and visually stimulating combat system is a must. The PvE combat in The Old Republic is just plain fun to play. I can’t get enough of my Bounty Hunter’s various missile attacks and close-range flamethrower. Eat hot flame, jedi!
The last game aspect that The Old Republic really gets right is having your companions do tasks. When I play a MMO, I want to be adventuring and doing heroic (or dastardly) deeds. I don’t want to waste my time with a bunch of boring crap. That’s why I absolutely love having my companions craft items for me or go sell my useless vendor trash that’s just taking up inventory space in my backpack. Now you don’t have to trek back to town to sell your excess inventory and then trek back to your mission location. With a wave of your hand, you can send your companion off to do the deed for you. That alone is such a huge time-saver for me.
On the crafting side, having your companions craft items for you is also a big time-saver. While you can debate the merits of the crafting system in The Old Republic, the fact that you, as the player, don’t spend your time crafting is awesome. Personally, I hate crafting and hate wasting my time doing time-sink gathering and then crafting the various components into an item. Having multiple companions crafting different items at the same time really takes the load off. Now you can spend your time doing fun things, such as shooting bad guys or enemy players.
BioWare has done a number of things right to fully immerse players into the Star Wars universe in The Old Republic. From capturing the look and feel of the setting, the full voice-acting from aliens to robots, fun PvE combat, intriguing storylines, and concentrating on the fun and not the grind by having your companions do mundane tasks all help make The Old Republic fun to play and enhance the gameplay experience. These five features make The Old Republic a solid game, but they also make you feel that you are playing in the Star Wars universe.
Think I’m a drooling fanboy? Keep tuned for the upcoming Five Things The Old Republic Got Wrong.