Star Wars: The Old Republic Initial Impressions

So, I have been following The Old Republic, the new massively multiplayer online game from BioWare set in the Star Wars Universe, over the course of an 8 year development cycle. If that seems like a long time for a video game to be in development- it is. It’s BioWare’s first MMO and the second set in the Star Wars universe- the first was the sometimes contentious and soon-to-be-sunset Star Wars Galaxies, which I never got into, and my gaming friends tell me that’s for the best. What really interests me about this one is that BioWare is well known for creating 1-player RPGs that are usually considered the cream of the crop- some of their titles include Neverwinter Nights, Mass Effect and Dragon Age. That’s quite a pedigree- but this is their first shot at an MMO. A fully-voice acted, story-focused MMO where the individual player’s story is supposed to be the main focus. Sounds ambitious, no?

I signed up on the forums for the game way back in 2009, and plunked down my $5 to pre-order the first day you could do so, back in July of this year. I didn’t have a functioning credit card at the time, so I called on my good friend Anwar Rodriguez- literally called him from the car on the way in to work- to reserve the game for me, which he did with his typical good humor and generosity. This means that I had entered my pre-order code into the website before 8 AM that day. I figured I would get an early beta weekend invite and I did, back in September- but I gave it to a guildmate and sometimes guest columnist on this blog, Brian DeWolf, as I figured he’d enjoy it more than I would. Also, I had just played the Deus Ex leak 3 times and as I started the actual game, was feeling quite bored with the first 10 hours. I didn’t want that to happen with TOR, so I have kept myself relatively virgin, even unsubscribing from the various forum threads I was watching back in early August. See, I don’t like hype- I like games, but I hate the hype- it’s why I doubt I’ll never attend Comic Con again, that is just a week of wall-to-wall “charging everyone up to buy stuff they had already planned to buy anyway”. I was resigned to (hopefully) start playing on 12/15, and thought that was pretty good- still 5 days early! However, I got my email at 4:23 AM yesterday and was able to put in about 2 hours last night (after my wife insisted we watch the Boardwalk Empire season finale because she was sick of people almost spoiling it). I don’t have the game in front of me, but from memory, here are my initial impressions.

The cinematics are absolutely fantastic. The game opening cinematic and my character’s class cinematic were basically so well-animated that I’m legitimately questioning whether or not we need actors any more. The cinematics were nearly Blizzard-quality, and if you play Diablo or Starcraft, you know that’s saying something. There’s not a ton of backstory given when you start the game as to the overall plot or your character’s individual arc, but I expect that to be fleshed out.

BE CAREFUL WHEN YOU SELECT A SERVER! I spent two hours playing a character on the wrong server last night because I mis-clicked the server my Guild was assigned at launch by a few pixels. There are both PvE and PvP servers available; my guild is on a PvP server and originally, this made me nervous- but from what I understand and can glean from the perma-testers I’ve run across, you really do kind of have to be looking for trouble to get in a scrap with another player, as the zones for the two factions (Empire and Republic) are kept pretty far apart. Why am I uncomfortable with the idea of open-world PvP? Well, I am a Grown-Ass Man with a full time job, some side stuff, and a wife and a daughter to give some time to, as well. I can’t have what’s maybe the 45 minutes a day I might get to game interrupted by some asshat whose idea of fun is destroying my fun. And trust me, if you read the thread at Something Awful about the game, the mix of young fans and people in their late 30’s could lead to some potentially grieftastic situations. I just want to have fun, not live an alternate life online or get ganked!

I’m going to be frank about the next item I experienced- character customization. How can I say this nicely? It sucks. There are 4 races available in Male and Female varieties per faction, with 4 body types. On my female Twi’lek Inquisitor, it seemed to be a choice between “waif” and “beast”, with little differentiation between the last 3 options. I also found the “head” customization option a little weird, maybe because I was a Twi’lek- but my face didn’t start looking different as I clicked through the available “heads” until I put makeup on my character. There are a total of 7 or 8 things you can customize, but there are weird things I don’t like such as “if you change styles of makeup, you can’t change the color- certain colors of blush and mascara and whatever other face stuff are tied to certain makeup patterns. There are only 8 eye colors, only 8 skin patterns, etc, etc- I think maybe I was spoiled by using Skyrim’s character creator so recently- that’s a pretty tough bar to leap over.  Anyway, I think it’s going to be very difficult to tell characters apart at low levels, until players start gearing up and differentiating themselves that way.

Star Wars: The Old Republic basically lets you know from the get-go that it is fairly standard as far as MMO’s go; you will literally get a fetch quest from your first contact less than 3 minutes into the game’s opening dialogue (at least as an Inquisitor, I did). I expected that though- but if you were hoping that BioWare had reinvented the wheel, I’m afraid you are out of luck. What’s cool though, is the combat. I was expecting the standard “whack away with your lightsaber and see numbers pop if you get hits” but was pleasantly surprised early on. I ran too far into a zone past an enemy and as I realized it I backed up. The enemy still swung at me, but my character actually parried with a situationally appropriate move- the game mechanics actually translated to the visual representation of combat, which doesn’t happen in games much, much less MMO’s. I was quite impressed!

Graphics are honestly nothing special, but I expect that from an MMO anyway. I have a fairly beefy i7 850 with 8 gigs of RAM and a (shitty) GPU that still allows me to run Skyrim on Ultra and get 40 FPS. I don’t think I was getting 40 FPS in TOR, but it was certainly enough to be serviceable. As always, the sound design in all Star Wars properties is amazing, and TOR doesn’t disappoint in this area either! Ambient music, blaster fire- even the clicks in the menus to customize your character are Star Wars, through and through.

More to come- give me a week to play this thing first! Happy Holidays, everyone!


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