Platform: Windows PC
Publisher: Electronic Arts For those unaware, this is the new Star Wars MMORPG. It’s Electronic Arts’ attempt at competing with World of Warcraft, a game I never got into but that everyone else on the planet seems to play. Set around 3,500 years before the events of the films, The Old Republic solidly adheres to the new Force-centric take on Star Wars media that’s dominated the property since the prequels’ release, as opposed to the more soldiers-and-criminals take on Star Wars the early tie-in media centered around, and which the first, now-defunct Star Wars MMO Star Wars Galaxies originally made its focus. I’m not a Star Wars fan as such. When I was a kid, my parents rented the George Lucas movies about once a year, and I liked those just fine. But I can’t say I ever spent any time thinking about them except when we actually had them in the house. Star Wars as an omnipresent fixture of geek culture, with a cartoon, a million novels and video games, and a full aisle dedicated to it at every toy store? That, I could stand to get away from. Unfortunately, “you can’t get away from it” is what omnipresent means. By precedent, Star Wars: The Old Republic should fill me with an all-consuming mild irritation and the desire to go do something else, especially since that’s exactly the feeling World of Warcraft inspires, and this game is very much World of Warcraft in space. But BioWare has done enough clever things with it to catch my interest. In 2003, BioWare released Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, a single-player RPG for the original Xbox, which Obsidian Entertainment followed up with the would-have-been-great-if-it-had-only-been-finished Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. Fans of both games long wished for BioWare to make a single-player RPG cap to the series, and, um, now they have. For an MMO, SW:TOR is a great single-player game. Each of the game’s eight classes—four Republic, four Sith Empire—gets its own full-length fully voiced solo campaign, which lasts from character creation to max level. Unlike in WoW, where your shaman will do shaman-related things until he’s out of the tutorial area and then the same stuff as everyone else until level 80, a SW:TOR bounty hunter will be hunting bounties until the endgame. The game’s dialogue is rarely bad and often entertainingly clever, and the stories offer more choice than you’d expect—you can play a Jedi who seeks the power of the Dark Side of the Force as a source of strength to help combat the Sith Empire, or a Sith loyalist who tries to remain ethically principled and adherent to the will of Force while protecting the culture she came from. Dialogue choices play out a bit like Mass Effect, with three options that give you the general gist of what your character will say but not the exact wording. To complete the single-player experience, the game gives you nonplayer party members you can bring into combat, with their own plots, dialogue, and romance options. I appreciate the character customization. Almost any given piece of gear in the game is available in slotted form, where its appearance is fixed but its mechanics are based on mods you slot into it—if you really, really like that first set of armor you ever found, and the way your character looks in it, you can probably get slotted versions of all that gear and use mods to keep its traits competitive with the high-level stuff. I also appreciate the way the game generally eschews “Bring me five spider eyes” quests, where any given spider has a 50 percent chance of dropping a spider eye, and instead just gives quests to go kill ten spiders. At this point it’s hard to say whether the game will last. MMOs depend on two things for success: 1) critical population mass, and 2) new content delivered post-launch. Everyone plays WoW because everyone else plays WoW—there’s no use playing a massively multiplayer game if all your friends are playing a different one—and everyone keeps playing WoW because it’s got six years’ worth of content and polish. SW:TOR’s been around for a couple of months. It doesn’t have either of those things yet. If people stick with it, it might eventually. But I can’t predict whether they’ll want to when WoW is right over there. While I don’t think Star Wars: The Old Republic will ever displace World of Warcraft, I hope the two can coexist. This review is based on a copy of Star Wars: The Old Republic purchased at retail.
Star Wars: The Old Republic
For those unaware, this is the new Star Wars MMORPG. It’s Electronic Arts’ attempt at competing with World of Warcraft, a game I never got into but that everyone else on the planet seems to play.