Star Wars: The Old Republic: The Kotaku Review

While dozens of video games have strived to capture the hearts of Star Wars fans through previously untold tales of epic space fantasy, BioWare's massively multiplayer Star Wars: The Old Republic is the first that's attempted to tell eight stories to thousands of people at the same time.

From the early days of video games developers have used the medium to explore the shadowy corners of the Star Wars universe, defining and expanding the fuzzy edges of the franchise's fiction via interactive entertainment. No single developer has done this quite as profoundly as BioWare.

In 2003 BioWare released Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, creating an entirely new chapter in the science fantasy saga. Set thousands of years before the events of the films, The Old Republic setting was a playground for developers and fans alike, allowing both to tell a new set of stories without worrying about drastically affecting the established fiction.

Knights of the Old Republichelped BioWare establish many of the unique features that define its singleplayer role-playing games today. Cinematic storytelling, high-quality voice acting, emotional engagement, a strong emphasis on morality; these are the elements that define a BioWare RPG.

It's that same winning formula that powers Star Wars: The Old Republic, only instead of being applied to a self-contained story crafted with a single player in mind it's been expanded to cover the daunting framework of a massively multiplayer online role-playing game. When you stretch anything that thin some fraying is bound to occur.

It's a good thing those thousands of other players are there to break the monotony.

At the centre of Star Wars: The Old Republic lies the beating heart of BioWare's best single-player role-playing games. In fact it's quite easy to imagine the game as eight separate single-player adventures bound together by massively multiplayer trappings. Each of the game's eight player classes (four for each faction) features a distinct self-contained story easily enjoyable enough to have carried a standalone title. Had BioWare been less ambitious we might be playing through The Old Republic: Smuggler's Revenge right now, eagerly awaiting the release of The Old Republic: The Great Hunt for a chance to step into the boots of a Bounty Hunter.

Instead these eight stories form the basis for the game's single-player experience, helping to define the player's character through a combination of expertly-acted dialog, well-developed companion characters, and tough moral choices.

This unique single-player experience is satisfying enough that it's served as the basis for me recommending the game to other fans of the franchise. Even if you completely despise playing with other people you've still got eight excellent single-player BioWare role-playing games for the price of entry. You might only have a month to play them before you'll need to subscribe, but still.

Starting with a strong singleplayer focus may be a revolutionary way to develop a massively multiplayer online game, but it doesn't necessarily result in a revolutionary MMO. When you aren't basking in the cinematic cut scenes or losing yourself in your personal tale of good and/or evil you'll still encounter the same sort of drudgery you do in other role-playing games.

There's still a hotkey bar filled with various powers you'll be constantly clicking (more than average thanks to the purposeful omission of an auto-attack). You'll still be tasked with killing X number of Y creatures, or looting X number of Y items, or clicking X number of Y objects. You'll grind unrelated quests for experience points so you can advance to the next level and gain another point for your skill tree. While the presentation is unique to the genre the core gameplay is par for the course.

In fact long-time players of all things massive and multiplayer might take issue with the game's linear progression. There are two starting planets for each side. Once the missions in those starting zones are complete both sides move onto a single second-tier planet. Once the missions there are done, it's on to the next planet in the series.

It's a good thing those thousands of other players are there to break the monotony.

At its very best playing The Old Republic is like attending the world's largest Star Wars convention, only the lightsabers actually work.

Multiplayer interaction takes many forms in Star Wars: The Old Republic. There are Flashpoints, instanced missions with their own self-contained stories for two to four players. Once you've gotten some levels under your belt you can partake in Operations, large multi-group missions that some MMO games call Raids. Or you could simply hop into a group and run regular missions, relying on the safety in numbers principle to see you through.

I've found, as is often the case with MMO games, that the quality of the multiplayer content relies heavily on the quality of the people you are grouped with. The agonising delay in the multiplayer cinematic dialog system while waiting for other players to finish watching a cut scene you've already seen four times is lessened considerably when you've got a chatty group. An interesting mix of personalities can make even the most mundane fetch quest a memorable adventure. Even the game's player-versus-player content, which I've often called an unbalanced mess, can be enjoyed in the correct company.

That having been said, so far the community that's sprung up around The Old Republic is one of the best-behaved, most well-mannered, and most generous group of geeks I've had the pleasure of sharing a general chat box with. They've been considerably more helpful, mature, and tolerant than those I've encountered in other games. I'm the sort of player that shies away from grouping much of the time for fear that I'll screw something up and get booted, but so far I've yet to encounter such treatment, even after I allowed a gigantic insect to devour our entire party by breaking crowd control. How am I supposed to tell one swirly red light from another?

It's a group that not only respects other players (not once did I see anyone get yelled at for role-playing on the role-playing server!), but the Star Wars franchise as a whole. At its very best playing The Old Republic is like attending the world's largest Star Wars convention, only the lightsabers actually work.

I do worry how BioWare can possibly put out new content at a pace that will satisfy the players voraciously devouring it. Within a week of the game's release there were already entire guilds of players that had reached the level 50 cap, and with each new mission requiring hours of voice acting (both sexes of each character class, companion characters, and non-player characters) it's hard to imagine we'll be seeing a great deal of free content coming down the pipe.

As it stands, however, Star Wars: The Old Republic is one of the most unique, highly-polished products I've come across in my long and storied career as a massively multiplayer gamer. Now we have a way to share the experience of playing through a quality BioWare role-playing game with a few thousand of our closest friends.

Kotaku's MMO reviews are a multi-part process. Rather than deliver day one reviews based on beta gameplay, we play the game for four weeks before issuing our final verdict. Once a week we deliver a log detailing when and how we played the game. We believe this gives readers a frame of reference for the final review. Since MMO titles support many different types of play, readers can compare our experiences to theirs to determine what the review means to them. Check out our Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO Logs to see how things went.


Comments

    What the hell? Is this the same review thread started two weeks ago or a new one? This one reads like someone has started drinking the kool aid and pledged his bank account to the brotherhood...

    I've spent about 4 hours with this, and this seems a fair review. I bought it for the singleplayer experience, and see the MMO stuff as a bit of a multiplayer layer over the top.

    I really am not interested in needing to log in at 8.30pm because my guild needs a healer for a raid.

    I just want to play a Star Wars game when my work and life schedule allows it, and it's nice to see others hanging around doing the same thing.

      See... I'm playing as a single player, and it's really cutting out some content.
      I can't do and Heroic quests, and I'm finding some of the bosses and higher level monsters pretty damn difficult.
      Plus, the wait for respawn is shitting me to tears.

    From someone that was waiting a long time for this to come out, purchased the Collectors Edition, and who also put in many hours in game (50 Sage), it is the same old same old.
    WoW in space is pretty damn accurate.
    Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. However if anyone is expecting anything ground breaking or new from this besides it being fully voiced and having choices in conversations then you will be sadly disappointed like I was.

    Biggest problem for me was the game is extremely linear, like Rift was.
    Sure there are 8 stories, one for each "class" but you will still end up doing 90% of the exact same quests for each side. While I am not a fan of WoW I can at least appreciate the options you had in leveling. Don't like this zone? No dramas take your pic of some of these others. Not in TOR unfortunately.
    Don't like this zone? To damn bad.

    Lets not also forget how bad the crafting currently is. Not bad in mechanics as it is actually well thought out and has some good ideas behind it (reverse engineering), bad in that most of the crafting of gear (weapons, armour) is useless. Take any moddable piece of gear (orange) and keep the mods current and it is better than any epic of a similar level that can be crafted. And I tested this myself with synthweaving to 400 and at no point could I craft better than the moddable gear I was using. Even the epics from reverse engineering were not as good, especially considering how easy it is to keep the mods current in your gear.

    And lets also not forget how damn buggy the game is. To be expected for a game of this size sure but odd considering some of these bugs, duping items, massive quest bugs and huge graphical bugs (giant green neon texture) to name a few were also reported many many months ago in very early beta.

    To sum it up game is nothing really new. If Rifts linear nature bored you then likely this will to. If you are going to craft do not do Synthweaving, Armstech or Armourmech, not worth it, not by a long shot.
    Play it as a single player game and you will likely enjoy it more.

      I agree with this, people keep saying "8 DIFFERENT STORIES!" that's not true. Each class has it's own unique story chain through all the worlds/zones etc, but the majority of questing content is the same no matter what class you are. Which is actually worse than wow, because you dont have 2-3 zones for the same level with different quests, you go through the same planet/zone on every character in swtor.

        I was able to skip two to three planets without consequence. Theres is plenty of optional material that people are just ignoring and then claim the game is linear.

        Did you try PvP, Space Combat, Bonus Missions, Flashpoints? All of these give you insane XP and make it so if you don't like a planet, you just cruise through the storyline mission within 20 mins and bugger off.

          Referring to just strictly leveling and zones for that purpose. In that respect the game is linear, just like Rift. Rift also has pvp and dungeons etc. Does not make the game any less linear, the same in TOR's case.
          And as you said, the most you can do is to just hit a planet up for your class story and then grind out the levels via dungeons, space combat or pvp. Not a whole lot of options for those that dont do pvp. And considering a large planet, say Tatooine or Alderaan represents roughly 3-4 levels, that is a whole lot of pvp or dungeons you would have to do. Space combat does not really count as only the quests actually give decent xp which can only be repeated once per day.
          Pvp is also not really an efficient leveling method and is nearly half as slow as questing.
          Point of the post was that for questing its linear.

      I don't know if you've leveled an alt in post-4.0 WoW, but the first 60 levels are pretty linear like that now too.

        Yeah I have leveled post 4.0 and still found it no where near as linear as Rift or TOR. Even one option of place to level from 1-60 is more than TOR gives you :|

    I share Mcgarnicals sentiments on the whole "work and life" thing. I want a game, not a second job that doesn't pay me, which a lot of MMO's just seem to forget.

    I found the main problem with the game is the story. Don't get me wrong, when its good its good (Not Dark Knight good, but it keeps my attention and makes me want to continue), but when it bottoms out it's like being bludgeoned by exposition. Like that game that dun' have the dragons and the talking in it.

    For example. Corusant and Nar Shadaa had me trudging through non-descript, pseudo bladerunner like area's that ground my enthusiasm down to a stub.

    On the other hand, Taris and Tatooine offered me a decent enough taste of adventure and decent enough plot lines (Buddy cops!) that I was genuinely interested in continuing my journey through them.

      Does Tatooine get better then? I'm not too far in and it seems pretty boring... I didn't mind Nar Shadaa, though that was primarily because it was vegas, the quests were extremely uninteresting in both nature and dialogue.

      As someone who likes but doesn't love Star Wars and pretty much despises Bioware at this point, I'm enjoying the game enough, ultimately I bought it because I have mmo fever from the lack of Guild Wars 2 in my life, but while TOR hasn't addicted me as such, I still find myself playing a few times a week, and that's all I really wanted. IF I'd been pinning this as my next big game, I have a feeling I'd be a let down though, take that as you will.

        Tatooine is boring. I didn't really enjoy it. A lot of open space and just a lot of walking/driving around.

        I hope you're level 25 (or close to) and have a speeder otherwise you'll be spending minutes doing nothing but walking.

        If you're on a PVP server - Tatooine is where you'll start to get ganked.

      Great to have the perspective of someone further in than me. I'm still on my trooper's starting planet.

      Although I think with me, personally, your comment about Coruscant missed the mark... because I goddamn love Bladerunner!

        Troopers are good fun man, just hit 26 on mine, they get alot better around 20 once you start getting more of your base abilities for your class.

        I'n finding I enjoy the outdoor planets alot more than the indoor ones, ala Nar and Coru. It feels more linear in the city planets, but maybe that's just me.

        The main thing that's keeping me into it (apart from chasing all the ladies eh?) is actually the linearity(?) of it. Compared to other mmo's where it's quest after quest with maybe a small morsel of storyline to follow, it's been quite nice to have a plot to follow along.

        I've played pretty much every MMO under the sun (RIP Vanguard) and this one feels more like an RPG, then an MMO and I'm ok with that. I was really sitting on the proverbial holofence whether to get this or not, and so far I'm glad I did.

        Sincerely,
        Rokkir, the most evil commando this side of tatooine.

          I realize I contradicted myself there. Derp.

          Awesome.

          Usually I play the good guy, but so far my choices are throwing up a pretty even mix of light side and dark side points.

          One I thought was pretty unfair. Give the medicine to the refugee boy, or to the soldiers? Sure, I can - when put like that - sort of understand the latter being "dark side", but they're not just soldiers. They're my brothers in arms. I'm in the same army, for goodness sake! The game made it clear I saved lives by giving the medicine back to the army. And it was stolen from them in the first place.

            Yeah I gave mine back to the Army too, For the Horde! Errrr Republic!

        Nar Shadaa is very Blade Runner. Unfortunately it's far too clean and sterile though. I find the more open worlds have been more interesting so far - Tatooine, Alderaan, Hoth. Taris to some degree. Hated Balmorra, it has pretty bad flow to the areas (I also had the same problem in beta with the design of Hutta, the Bounty Hunter / Imperial Agent starter world). Nar Shadaa and Coruscant are both a bit of a drag honestly. I think the main problem is how they end up feeling like a string of warehouses rather than parts of a planet-wide (or moon-wide, in Nar Shadaa's case) city. I couldn't imagine people actually living there.

          Wait until you get to Corellia...Amazing Planet

          "Nar Shadaa and Coruscant are both a bit of a drag honestly. I think the main problem is how they end up feeling like a string of warehouses rather than parts of a planet-wide (or moon-wide, in Nar Shadaa’s case) city. I couldn’t imagine people actually living there."

          This. This all over. At least it Taris/Tatt' it had a much better flow to it other then the city worlds.

          And no one was bagging bladerunner. Bladerunner was great.

    My very first MMO and im having a ball with it.

    Could be because it the first MMO ive played but im also playing with good company.

    Im enjoying the single player story alot (Jedi Consular) and ive only sunk maybe 5-6 hours into it.

    Damn it why did I load this page? I KNEW it'd make me wnat to get back to my sith warrior and my sodding video card died last night right in the middle of me shoving my lightsaber into tatooine wildlife

    Err thats not a metaphor for anything...

    WoW clones are so original lol!

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